A good friend of mine took to his blog, Saturday afternoon, an idea about violence and its endemicity in America, titled Causation. I am interested in responding, or supplementing, having a bit of a back and forth, and seeing where we land. Thanks for playing Jake.
Causation (and Intentionality)
In highschool I tended to sit up late in the den of our house in southeastern MN and, some nights, think about the rightness of violence. I dated a girl with whose family I made, what turned out to be for me, an exceptionally important intellectual journey. That second pair of eyes, which sees politics, and relationships between nations and masses, were just beginning their blurry blinking-open in the year after we invaded Iraq. Their house sat toward the dwindling end of a gravel road which ran away from town to the northeast. It banked south over little Pine Creek, and continued east to stretches of farmland and patchwork forest, and then, farther out, if you were lucky, the prairies. Their house evoked a sense of agency, an organism unto itself. It felt prehuman and creeked from its foundation or deeper. When I walked around, it seemed to breathe, like they were a family whose presence in a beast had been bartered and later earned, a family on the trajectory of returning to the earth.
Now, its tough to hear clearly the muted rumbling of small town politics when you're a kid. Adults shelter the young enough. But it always made contextual sense that they did not live in town. I suspect they regarded it appropriate, and so might have several, more conservative, dynastic families within the city limits. They treated visitors like family and never came within earshot of strictness. Their agnosticism and political progressivism smacked of contemporary hippiness, except their sense of freedom impelled responsibility into its recipient. I argued religion and philosophy and sex and politics with Wendy, the matriarch, in their candle-danced screen porch and in the kitchen, which still pulls poems from me years later. I imagine that we ran exactly the trails in our minds toward which this particular house existed to divert.
We had commonality in our respective proximities to mainstream thought. That is, neither of us felt close to it. After fumbling around with dated versions of Christianity, I had started grasping what I revere as the heart of the gospels. It's true that I paid a good bit of attention to the passion narrative and my neck ached with the accompanying guilt. Regretfully, I invested effort into loading others with the same weight. I spent much of highschool scanning faux-science texts for immutable evidence of Yaweh, from the protective cloak of Jupiter to the unassemblable folds of proteins.
But with Wendy and Hannah I found myself testing a new domain, a toe at a time some nights, where the grips of god were tightest around the notion of making space for one another. I found that idea revolutionary. At its outset, this prospect brought to (even divine) plausibility the peaceful coexistence of profoundly different peoples and conceptions of value. But, more importantly, it urged something better than tolerance. It recommended porous divisions where we deemed them necessary, through which we can be intentionally in favor of one another's wellness, if only through the small port holes where we peer one-eyed into each other's lives. Several nights, I walked to a frozen car a few hours ahead of the sun, looking at the unmolested celestial perfection that exists out there and trying to reerect the assumptions of peace and violence that had been laid waste by our little sojourns in the country. And I'm thankful to have never succeeded. As for my companions, in the palm of this mysterious little country house, Wendy was already doing it, had already, for years, been intentionally making space for others.
It is for all this that still I remember Wendy insisting, there exists no such perversion as "just war." I can still cast arguments at this purported wall between justice and violence. And it is violence, I would argue. To draw a difference between war and violence is an inflation of the relevance of our delineations, a demeaning of those against whom we're "willing" to make war and a disingenuous exaltation of those against whom we say we're not willing to be violent. If you can justify violence, you can justify war. Nonetheless, I think I can. Violence was categorically restricted from human goodness only until it was used, and then back to the cast we must go, for we're faced with the tenuous conviction of halting violence which seeks to destroy, with violence that seeks to defend. I think the argument, undressed, looks like that.
I just don't think it matters much. The worthiest question remains, how do we exist more intentionally in favor of one another's wellbeing, how do we make space for life? Certainly, the conceivable role for violence is tiny and indicates that we have otherwise failed. Certainly, we should not partake in self-congratulation finding our destructive genius to have been enthroned above our other faculties. No. Nothing we love is created there.
So then how do we read the current of contemporary American dialogue on gun violence? I am very much in favor of tangible restrictions. We know that, at least as far as we're willing to trust math, altering access to and usage of dangerous things keeps more people alive; it's an epidemiological reality of virtually every other domain which is allowed to be studied by the CDC or any other establishment devoted to understanding why and how people die. It's a simple numbers game that ensures us that we have reasonable restrictions, yet to be put in place, that respect the integrity of amendment rights and will reduce gun death. But ours is a demand-side crisis, albeit, a monster reminded of and returned to its violent tendencies by the cloud of death it's emitted. At best, collectively, we float without intentionality between patience and the flagrant whims of our animality, and somewhere along the line, just to flavor the story, we also happened to endow ourselves with a god-given right to individual armament. It is a social decision to grip more tightly, our intentions to construct a more decent society, or our gun stocks.
I imagine sackclothed Telemachus walking out to the center of the flavian amphitheater, trying to throw his voice above the Roman audience. I can imagine a terror inherent there, even an understandable incontinence in the presence of gladiators at work beneath their thousands of red-seeing admirers. In the name of Christ, he beseeched them, exercise this terrible obsession and go elsewhere for your entertainment. And by most accounts, was slain for it. And I'm hard pressed to conceive of more powerful images. But then I make it a point of watching Minnesota hockey players rattle the boards with their opponents, weekly. And in that place, I'm not sure where tradition and violence must part ways and make room for citizens, so intent on conserving their neighbors' space to live dignifiedly, that they're willing to constrain their own freedoms, to come down from a place of entitled defiance, open their living homes, and leave the Coliseums to ruin.