Fear, Violence and the Absurd

Nearly a month after the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the ensuing “debate” over gun control and gun violence still looks less like the exchange of ideas and discussion on systemic violence we need to be having, and more like an absurdist tragicomedy; the latest “act” of which is, of course, the recent “interview” between TV tabloid hack Piers Morgan and conspiranoid* fear-mongering talk radio host Alex Jones.

Ostensibly, the two got together in the same room to “debate” each other over gun control. That was how the show was billed, and what appeared on the lower third graphic when the exchange finally aired. And this makes sense: for the last several weeks Morgan has been calling for measures that many — if not most — libertarians and anarchists would no doubt oppose, while Jones is without a doubt one of the the most outspoken (some would say vitriolic) gun rights advocates with access to a microphone and Internet connection.

Those who saw the interview know that nothing like a reasonable conversation actually took place. For those who didn’t watch, this short analysis by fellow C4SS writer Jason Lee Byas captures the spirit of the spectacle nicely: “Within two minutes, (Jones) starts screaming. Within five minutes, he challenges Morgan to a boxing match. Towards the end he begins mocking Morgan’s accent.” In other words, viewers of the program were treated to a dramatic teleplay of epically absurd proportions.

It’s immediately clear that both players were aware of their assigned roles, and they performed them beautifully. Jones was the court jester (or perhaps a more apt description would be rodeo clown?), responsible for keeping us, the audience, riled up and agitated — and more importantly, entertained; Morgan was the quintessential “straight man,” a stoic voice of reason, remaining steadfast after Jones’ whirlwind of irrationality died down. You can find evidence of this in how Morgan described the interview during an appearance on “CNN Newsroom” early Tuesday:

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Jones’ interview last night. […] It was startling, it was terrifying in parts, it was completely deluded.”

It almost sounds like Morgan was describing a particularly effective horror movie from the 1930s. “You’ll scream! You’ll shake! You’ll come back for more! Witness the horror masterpiece of the century!” you can very nearly hear him exclaim. In fact, the interview is so scary that it compels viewers to swing right back around to a pro-gun stance; as Laissez-Faire Books editor Jeffrey Tucker wrote in a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, “If we get gun control, what means will the people have to protect themselves against Alex Jones?”

Joking aside, what no one — not Jones, not Morgan, not liberals or conservatives, nor (to a lesser extent) libertarians and anarchists — is willing to admit is that the problem of gun violence, and violence in general, is a wicked problem, eluding easy answers completely and teasing more complex ones unfairly. It is, like poverty or climate change, an absurd problem.

Liberals want a more powerful regulatory state concerning gun rights. Conservatives and right libertarians oppose this on constitutional grounds, and left-libertarians and anarchists oppose it on the grounds that they don’t want a stronger state, period. Conservatives want a bigger police state with armed guards in every school. Liberals (or, as Roderick Long calls them, the “aristocratic left”) agree with this proposal but disagree on the uniform the guards wear, while libertarians, anarchists and individual progressives (the anti-privilege left) definitively oppose it.

Right-libertarians would like to see a less-regulatory state and more guns in the hands of individuals for self-defense, which liberals oppose. Conservatives play lip-service to it but would probably oppose it if it meant the “wrong” people getting their hands on guns. Of course, left-libertarians and anarchists by and large want to dismantle a state that advocates and promotes violence on a systemic scale; this solution is one that liberals and conservatives alike strongly oppose.

The possibility no one will admit exists — or, at least, they won’t in any serious sense — is that there may not be a solution to gun violence. For all the good a conversation on systemic violence, state violence, militarism, etc. might do for a small percentage of the population, the fact that at the end of the day, the current state still exists, will serve to nullify that good. People will still deify military service. Children will still be raised to want to be police officers. And the absurd problem will continue on a systemic level. Therefore, we must, as oppositional forces often do, commit to an absurd answer; we must struggle to teach our own children to reject killing, to reject domination over each other, to reject that systemic violence.

*(portmanteau of conspiracy theorist and paranoid)

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