April 19, 2007

Strakon Lights Up

The Blacksburg massacre
"What are we going to do about Koreans?"

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Visiting Virginia Tech after the massacre of April 16, NBC's Brian Williams asked President Bush, who was also visiting, "What are we going to do about guns?" The mindlessness of that question — a barely disguised call for further state oppression of gunowners — is equal to the mindlessness of this column's title, and they dovetail into the same bizarre unlikelihood: That a northern Oriental, of all people, would ever commit a gun massacre in this country. America has a tradition, well-established by now, under which gun massacres are perpetrated only by goblinesque whites.

That leads me to conclude that young Mr. Cho, in addition to the other deformations of his soul, was fatally over-assimilated to what passes for American culture. We find convincing evidence of that in the nihilistic-narcissistic multimedia package he sent to NBC, the sentiments of which parallel the sentiments of those other philosophers of homicidal exhibitionism, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Certainly Orientals have committed horrible crimes of their own, in their own countries and in the countries their armies have invaded, but Mr. Cho's crime was not Oriental in type; it was distinctively American.

The most powerful enemies of freedom among us would, of course, never propose restricting the immigration of Koreans; they leave that sort of thing to the authoritarian Right, whose influence among the ruling class is infinitesimal; instead, our dominant adversaries propose something much more congenial to them but just as nonsensical: restricting our means of self-defense. So they are echoing the propagandist Williams — and one, at least, is echoing him almost verbatim. I refer to a man of whom I have never been a fan, Fort Wayne's former mayor Paul Helmke, the totalitarian Republican who now heads the Brady conspiracy (the "Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence"). In the wake of Blacksburg, Helmke said, "I think after today, what we're doing and what we want the American people to do is start asking our elected officials: 'What are we going to do about this?'" ("Virginia Tech and Gun Control," by Robin Toner, New York Times Blog, April 16)

However inconvenient a fact this is for today's tyrants, in the time before earlier tyrants imposed modern gun control and began babbling about how intrinsically evil guns were, gun massacres of the kind we're seeing now were unknown in America. I'm referring specifically to the innovative mass-murdering rampage that so satisfies the urges of the murderer that he is willing, or even eager, to pay for it with his own life. But even beyond that, gun crime in general was far less common before modern gun control than it is now.

The disarmers like to point out that pistols with high-capacity magazines are more common now; and apparently they mean to imply that that makes all the difference. I offer three observations, if you can stand a little tech talk:

First, the pioneer among high-capacity 9mm autoloaders, the Browning Hi-Power, carrying 13 rounds in the magazine, has been around since 1935. It is true that high-capacity large-caliber pistols have proliferated in our time, but the Hi-Power has been widely available in this country at least since the late 1960s: a friend of mine owned one in those days, and it was the first autoloader I ever handled. Moreover, Smith & Wesson introduced its first high-capacity 9mm pistol, the Model 59, in 1970. Carrying 14 rounds in the magazine, this pistol had the advantage of double action, superior to the single action of the Browning Hi-Power. Unlike the Blacksburg-type mass murder, high-capacity pistols are not a recent innovation.

Second, the advantage of autoloaders over revolvers is the speed and ease of reloading them, and that applies to the old-style seven-round Colt .45 Government Model (developed in 1911) just as much as it applies to newer-fangled 9mm autoloaders such as the 15-round SIG or 17-round Glock. The shooter drops his empty magazine, slams in a replacement, and continues firing with only a momentary interruption. Certainly he loses a second or two if his magazines aren't so generous in their capacity, but that fact is arguably relevant only if he is in a true combat situation where someone is firing back. Some gun writers have even maintained that, in combat situations, shooters with high-capacity pistols — especially less-experienced ones — tend to "spray and pray," and God help them if they come up against a true pistolman who can accurately deliver one 230-grain .45 slug from a rusty old Government Model.

Third, and most unfortunately, no one was firing back at Mr. Cho with anything, not even a single-shot target pistol. The reason for that may have something to do with the fact that guns were prohibited on the VT campus. Eureka! I've just come up with an ingenious new slogan: "If guns are outlawed ..." Oh. You say you've heard that one before?

Those who expatiate on the dangers of today's advanced, high-capacity autoloading pistols insist that "no one needs such weapons" because they assume (or pretend to assume) that the advantage in using them will always rest with aggressors instead of defenders. Well, if that is true it will remain true only until Helmke and all the other enemies of self-defense get the hell out of the way.

In my column about the Nickel Mines massacre, "Teratogenesis" (October 2006), I dwelt at length on the cultural context of our modern atrocities, and instead of restating all of that here, I'll let another writer do some of the heavy lifting. A few days before Blacksburg I'd started reading, finally, a book I'd had sitting about for many years, Jeffrey Burton Russell's Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (1972). On page 140 he explains the thinking of the antinomians of the 13th century, focusing on their notion of "internal justification":

Since all things are God, there is no evil. Evil, like good, comes from God and is God. Since we are ourselves God, they argued, we need obey no law.... Urges to lust, greed, or other so-called sins should be fulfilled as soon as possible, since they come from God: the only evil is to resist these feelings, which come from Christ himself. The language, but not the sentiment, seems strange today, when people are again arguing that there is no guide to conduct but feelings. [Second emphasis added.]
Russell was writing in the early 1970s, after the cultural revolution of the '60s had firmly established the modern American anti-epistemology, at least among those who were then young. Since that time it has expanded and flourished, to the point that thoroughly modern people are much more likely to say "I feel" than "I think." But as an old Randian I can tell you that emotions ("feelings") are not a primary, irreducible phenomenon; they are only the psychosomatic result of cognition. To feel sad at the death of one's mother, one must know she is dead, and one must think about that fact in the context of what one knows about death, among other things.

It is profoundly, blackly ironic that a time that is often described as the era of "self-awareness" should have seen the false elevation of "feeling" over thinking — to the point that people are not even aware that I think; therefore I feel. If one considers one's feelings as primary, he is disabled from thinking effectively about his own thinking — less able to detect and mend contradictory premises and irrational judgments that threaten his own well-being and that of others. Less able, that is, to suppress, manage, or reform his own evil.

I cannot prove that those propositions are relevant to Mr. Cho and his crime; I only point out that his distinctively modern crime coincides with a distinctively modern kind of anti-thinking (distinct even from the Mediaeval heresy, since the modern anti-thinkers do not frame it in religious terms). But I will insist that asking what we are going to do about Koreans, or what we are going to do about guns, is fruitlessly to evade the pressing question: What are we going to do about ourselves and our bad thinking?

Of possible interest: "Nets Blame Virginia's 'Lax' Gun Laws, Gibson and Couric Press Bush on Gun Control," by Brent Baker at Newsbusters.org.

April 19, 2007

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