Gunning with Philosophers: An ‘Age of Violence?’ [Contest Entry]

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By Brandon R.

Occasionally, you have to come up for a bit of philosophical air in the gun debate. The “conversation” over gun rights is so consistently down in the weeds of statistics, hyperbole, and ad hominem, the core values of both sides often become obscured. Anyway, that seems to be what University of Texas Philosophy graduate student Simone Gubler tried to do in her opinion column in the New York Times titled, Philosophizing With Guns. You know, come up for air. Sort of . . .


Gubler’s central premise seems to be giving voice to a now palpable fear that the presence of legally carried guns will stifle the academic freedom of professors and students to discuss and debate controversial topic in safety:

It is my worst fear that, one day, when teaching problems like [suicide], I will have a Young Werther on my hands. And, to my mind, the normalization of guns on campus enhances the probability of this event. So what are we to do if we want to be responsible teachers?

I find delicious irony in Gubler’s attempt to lay blame for “trigger warning” culture at the feet of her gun owning students. Think about it. She tries to build the case that guns are not, in fact, inanimate objects, but actually totems violence, with a supernatural agency of their own; their mere presence turning people into objects and perpetrators of violence.

But the gun in the classroom also communicates the dehumanizing attitude to other human beings that belongs to the use of violence. For the use of violence, and of the weapons of violence, is associated with an attitude under which human beings figure as mere means, and not as ends in themselves — as inherently valuable. Adapting Simone Weil’s characterization of force in her essay, “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force”: violence is “that x that turns anybody subjected to it into a thing.” When I strap on my gun and head into a public space, I alter the quality of that space. I introduce an object that conveys an attitude in which people figure as things — as obstacles to be overcome, as items to be manipulated, as potential corpses. A gun is an object that carries with it a sense and a potency that is public and that affects those around it, regardless of its wearer’s intentions.

Then, by accident, our intrepid muse eludes to one of the core issues at the heart of the gun debate in America that many – including angry philosophy professors at the University of Texas – seem to miss.

We live, as the philosopher Richard Bernstein has observed, in what might be called “The Age of Violence,” immersed in a soup of real and fantastic violent imagery. And it is difficult under these conditions of cultural saturation to forswear the correctives that violence appears to offer to itself. But when we arm ourselves and enter a classroom, we prefigure others and ourselves in terms of force, as “things” — and not as equals in speech and thought.

I fundamentally disagree. We live in a time, and specifically a country, where violence is not the norm. And I don’t mean just homicide. We live in an age of unprecedented prosperity and security. The average America is entirely shielded from all forms of actual violence and tragedy at a level never seen in human history. Accidents are rare, elderly die in bleached environments far from our homes, deceased relatives are viewed after a visit from a makeup artist and a hair stylist rather than spending a few nights in your living room, diseases become extinct every decade, our wars are fought by a few skilled professionals, and even our meat comes slaughtered in faraway places by systems and machines meant to isolate us from the necessary gore. Yes we have violent video games, movies, and literature, but these media relegate violence to a form of fantasy. Violence is not documentary, but pornographic. I am not sure whether simulated violence is either good or bad, but the most important point is that that vast majority of Americans will live a relatively violence free existence in comparison to the many billions of people living around the world, and in humanity’s bloody history.

And here in lies the rub of Gulber’s “Austin-tatious” musings. There is no class of people in America more removed from violence and the simple hard realities of human existence, than our modern ivory clock-tower dwelling philosophes. Few have ever held a job outside of academia, most are middle and upper class American citizens who have won the “privilege lottery.” For these people, real evil, real violence, and the depths of human nature are as abstract as Kantian Dialectics. This is why America’s academic classes have to go to such great lengths to imagine potentially violent situations, because real violence is so fundamentally rare in their sub culture. I am unaware of any class of Americans more self-important and privileged than starry-eyed graduate students of philosophy; a class of people paid with tax payer dollars to sit around and “think” in the austere halls of “higher learning.” Our entire culture is certainly blessed, in one sense, to enjoy the fruits of the Pax-Americana, but this group of academics so much more so.

One of the great stories of our time is that violence has continued to decline, even with an increase in the number and lethality of weapons in civilian hands. Americans own guns for a plethora of reasons, but I would argue that the common theme uniting all is the belief that evil and violence still exist and are even necessary at times, no matter what the politicians or social theorists say, and that facing that human reality – whether in our meat production or self-defense – is about acknowledging the full spectrum of human experience, and not placing other people between ourselves and the “ugly bits.”
Finally, Gubler utters what we have all hoped humanities professors everywhere – the propagators of so much of what plagues American politics today – would propose,

Perhaps we should abandon the big, morally important questions… perhaps, when we teach contemporary moral issues, we should avoid discussing abortion, race and gun rights.

May it always be so. Not “because guns,” but because you obviously can’t handle these issues with any rational clarity.

comments

  1. avatar Rokurota says:

    Bravo.

  2. avatar Alex waits says:

    Pretty good.

  3. avatar Jason says:

    Well said. Abortion and gun rights, the ultimate form of hypocrisy.

    1. avatar Yawnz says:

      As in being pro-abortion and anti-2A is the ultimate form of hypocrisy?

      1. avatar Daily Beatings says:

        There’s enough hypocrisy to go around for everyone. That a blob of fetal tissue no bigger than my thumb is a sentient human being while at the same time an inanimate object somehow has animistic qualities that control its user are both ideas way outside the normal thought process of most rational people.

        1. avatar PW in KY says:

          You think your argument there is a little more convincing than it actually is. From the moment those cells begin dividing, that is a growing and developing human being. Now I’m not trying to come in and say that I favor legislating these sort of things, but to claim that all rational people are on your side is the kind of useless oversimplification that causes the debate to sputter right out of the gates.

        2. avatar 16V says:

          A human being in the same way your breakfast eggs are a baby chicken. Doesn’t matter what the rooster does if you get them soon enough.

          http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2013/01/facts-and-myths-about-fertile-eggs.html

        3. avatar Curtis in IL says:

          Daily Beatings must have slept through Biology class. Missed all that stuff about genetics, chromosomes and DNA. The concept of forming a new and unique individual through the process of fertilization is beyond his comprehension.

          A simple chromosome test of a single-celled zygote can definitively identify it as human (or not, if it comes from some other species). Coming to grips with the tragedy of abortion requires at least a grade school level understanding of basic biology.

        4. avatar Sunshine_Shooter says:

          Trying to compare eating baby chickens and killing baby humans… Unless you are a cannibal, you seriously missed the point.

  4. avatar Mudshark says:

    The age of violence, what a joke. What about a roman empeorer toasting people in a brass bull while they dined to the screams? Age of violence, it wasnt violent to hack someone to death with a sharp rock. Age of violence, feeding christians to lions in a football stadium full of cheering fans. Oh yeh we are a real violent bunch of pussy’s now.

  5. avatar Ian in Transit says:

    “If you are for gun control, then you’re not against guns, because the guns will be needed to disarm people. You’ll need to go around, pass laws, and shoot people who resist, kick in doors, and throw people in jail, and so on; rip up families, just to take away guns. So it’s not that you’re anti-gun, because […] you’ll need the police’s guns to take away other people’s guns, so you’re very pro-gun, you just believe that only the government (which is of course so reliable, honest, moral, virtuous, and forward-thinking) should be allowed to have guns. So there’s no such thing as gun control, there’s only centralizing gun ownership in the hands of a small political elite and their minions.”
    Stefan Molyneux

    1. avatar wrightl3 says:

      AMEN.

  6. avatar Mudshark says:

    Age of violence, like a roman empereor dining to the screams of his advissaries burning in a brass bull. Age of violence, like the germanic tribes breaking thieves legs on a spinning wheel. Age of violence, like native Americans stretching intestines from a living person. Oh yeh we are a real violent bunch of pussy’s now

  7. avatar Cockatoo says:

    “Hegelian” Dialectics. That’s the domain of Hegel and Marx. Kant dealt in absolutes, such as the categorical imperative, or purposiveness-without-purpose. He was amazingly abstruse about it, though.

    1. avatar Brandon R. says:

      You’re right! Grrrr!! I had Kant on my mind when I wrote this. Why I didn’t say Hegel I am not sure. Stupid error that one. Let say it was a joke?

  8. avatar Alexander says:

    Although the view is expressed in childish manner and not convincingly on its own merits (no doubt the result of infintile college “education”), I can see a basis for this view. When one understands that socialist upbringing and lifestyle consists of elimination of free will and personal choice, replacing them with narrowly structured behavior to fit pre-established molds, one can see the straight jacket, restrictive mentality that results. As is evident in any extremely restrictive culture, being on the basis of religion or secular despotism, when these people, with no experience of responsibility or personal control, are released from the chains, they go out of control. There is indeed much hatred and evil bottled up inside the peace-professing progressives and subconsciously they recognize it. Thus, they animate inanimate guns; they understand that they will not be able to control themselves with so much power available in front of them. If you utter such apostasy as, for example, denying global warming, they are likely to shoot you.

  9. avatar Pete says:

    Winner winner chicken dinner. And I really liked the letters of marque entry as well

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      Yep; both are good.

      We have some excellent writing here during these contests. Amazingly so.

  10. avatar Docduracoat says:

    Is no one going to make the connection between more guns and less violent crime?
    Guns sales are up and crime is down
    Maybe it is cause and effect?

  11. avatar Gun_Dealer says:

    She writes
    “The “campus carry” bill that brought about this situation represents a 50th anniversary gift of sorts from Texas state legislators. For when the law comes into effect on August 1, it will be 50 years to the day since a heavily armed young man ascended the clock tower on campus and shot 45 people, killing 14 of them, in the first mass shooting at an American college.”

    I find it interesting that she brings this up because at the time the police department called upon the citizens with hunting rifles to help because they (the officers) were not equipped with firearms that could reach Whitman.

  12. avatar Matt says:

    Excellent writing and you got my vote even if I end up submitting my own piece.

    A common criticism of Mill IIRC, that he was in academia his whole life. It frustrated me to no end when other students in my classes couldn’t think outside of the idealism and philosophy bubble they were stuck in.

  13. avatar Ad Astra says:

    “When I strap on my gun and head into a public space, I alter the quality of that space. I introduce an object that conveys an attitude in which people figure as things — as obstacles to be overcome, as items to be manipulated, as potential corpses. A gun is an object that carries with it a sense and a potency that is public and that affects those around it, regardless of its wearer’s intentions.”

    Ah yes because we all remember in physics class that firearms are discussed in the in the same chapter with black holes. Their very presence distorting time and space.

  14. avatar Ad Astra says:

    “But when we arm ourselves and enter a classroom, we prefigure others and ourselves in terms of force, as “things” — and not as equals in speech and thought.”

    “Perhaps we should abandon the big, morally important questions… perhaps, when we teach contemporary moral issues, we should avoid discussing abortion, race and gun rights.”

    Simple protectionism, leftists have always harbored totalitarian leanings and have viewed the use of force in order bring others into compliance with their views as a viable option. So of course he fears that others will resort to the same tactics. His mind simply can not function outside his own ideological imposed limits.

  15. avatar Arnie Zander says:

    You all need a statistics class.

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