Robert A Heinlein, a science-fiction author that I have only a passing familiarity with, was either a melodramatic hack or a social critic of such Swiftian subtlety that he is mistaken for an ultra-conservative crank. He may be a mix of both. In 1942 he gave us the quotable axiom that “an armed society is a polite society.”1 That phrase has been dragged out regularly in the most recent ritual pantomime of social and legal debate about gun violence in the United States.
I would be neglecting my pedagogical responsibility as a student of violence if I did not try and comment with some informed opinion on this issue. While I am unqualified to discuss the peculiar American relationship with guns and their pseudo-sacred rights to personal arms, ill-defined in their founding documents, I can make an argument about the utility of arms and their relevance in maintaining social order and protecting the vulnerable as it applies to the American context. Fair warning, however, that this may get contentious.
[Edited on the 16th Dec. to cull commas and sharpen the argument]
There is a rhetorical quirk that, if it were common in any other circumstances would be so irrelevant as to preclude mention, but its use in the context of violence makes it jump out and slap me in the face. I have only occasionally commented on current events, usually when it connects with my academic interest (or responsibility, depending on my mood) but I feel that vague obligation to do comment on this one detail.. There is a habit amongst commentators discussing large-scale ‘senseless’ acts of violence to add the qualification that the victims were ‘innocent.’ It’s delivered in an unconscious, almost ritual, way but it indicates an unacknowledged sub-text behind Western ideas about crime, punishment, guilt, and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of violence.
Graffito from Pompei, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is public domain.
I try to avoid comment on current events at PBS because it’s outside the blog’s mandate and the kind of opinion is the uninformed opinion. Honestly, the internet is dangerously overpopulated with uninformed opinion as it is. That is not to say that I don’t hold opinions, only that I think there is little value in airing them online unless I am prepared to spend the time and effort to provide an informed one. For the sake of personal development, and out if a vague feeling of obligation to the mysterious readers of this blog, I have made that effort in a rare break from the usual fare at PBS. What follows are some thoughts on the recent events in the US, and its relevance to my area of growing expertise, the history of violence.