October 2, 2015

Frontiersmen no more

We seem to be having a very loud and confusing conversation about who is authorized to do violence in America.

We do not consider ourselves to be a communal people, in which one person willingly sacrifices powers to the benefit of their neighbors. In America, we are individualists – what is mine is mine, I am what I am, and very few authorities are allowed to intervene. Or we like to think so, anyways.

One of the rights we retain is the most fundamental one – the right to inflict violence on other people. Americans tend to feel that, in our hearts, we are authorized to harm one another if we feel the circumstances allow. It’s up to our discretion to determine those circumstances. But we like to think we do have that authority.

Except in Oregon, while the shooting was taking place, one man on campus was authorized for concealed carry, and he had a weapon on his person. Yet he chose not to use during the shooting.

His reason was very simple: he did not want to get shot by the police.

So this is an interesting convergence: those who FEEL authorized to do violence – which is presumably why one applies for concealed carry, because you feel authorized to use violence to defend yourself and others – and those who are ACTUALLY authorized to do violence, and have been rigorously trained to do so.

And if the latter group sees someone unauthorized to do violence – some dude with a gun, basically – running around the scene of a shooting, they are absolutely allowed to inflict lethal violence on that person without hesitation.

We don’t question this.

We have recently become keenly aware of American law enforcement’s utilization of violence. I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but surely one of the reasons must be that American law enforcement is policing a populace whose members feel that they are authorized to do violence, and have abundant tools to do so.

Except when it really, actually matters, we know we don’t. There is a reason why most police officers dress differently than civilians, wearing a uniform with a bright badge and many symbols upon it: it signals to the populace that they have different authorizations. They are officially allowed to do different things. They have had these rights bestowed upon them by the powers that be.

In other words – there is a very clear reason why, when you see the SWAT team, your first instinct is not to pull out a gun and go help.

And this idea might be what galls Americans so: the idea that the right to do violence is not one we are born with, but something that must be earned from a government authority. This disputes our own mythology: that, when given a weapon and proper courage, each American is transformed into a rugged, veteran frontiersmen, the indisputable authority of their own land, free and independent of any government oversight.

But we are, on the whole, frontiersmen no more. We’ve specialized labor to free ourselves from all the miserable labor that goes with such a person. We do not draw our own water or farm our own vegetables or kill our own meat or build our own houses or treat our own wounds. We have people for that.

And, by and large, we no longer violently defend ourselves and our property.

We have people for that. And though we might dream otherwise, when it matters, we step out of the way and allow those people to do their jobs.

We have abandoned the way of the frontiersmen, for the betterment of everyone. It’s time we abandoned the myth and all the tools and ornamentation that go with it, too.