BOOK REPLIES (2014): Various (1994–2014) Plays About Gun Violence [part 1 of 3]

29 May 2014

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Yes, but what about gun violence itself?

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: Various (1994–2014) Plays About Gun Violence [part 1 of 3]

Lately, I have had the opportunity to read 40+ plays, ranging from 4 pages to 137 pages, that people sent in response to a call about gun violence. The results seem like a Rorschach test, because it’s intriguing and curious to see what people think fits that category.

I’m not going to talk about specifics, but after reading many plays it becomes clear that “gun” provides an adjective while “violence” provides the noun, i.e., people submitted plays that dealt with violence, whether guns figured centrally or tangentially. In a technical sense, a play about gun violence should turn into a different play if you remove the gun or substitute a knife, but not so for many pieces submitted.

Not a huge surprise, since the problem in “gun violence” centres on the noun (“violence”) not the adjective (“gun”).[2] And it pays to treat adjective with care. For as soon as one says “brutal rape” this implies “non-brutal rapes” as well. Or an “unjust war” implies “just wars”—and, in fact, some enemies of humanity have spent time (and still do) busily trying to find a pretty wrapper for this heinous human behavior. In both cases, as also here, the adjective changes the course of the discussion. And importantly, where “brutal rape” and “unjust war” (inadvertently) provide a grounds for an apologetics of (non-brutal) rape and (just) war, so does the adjective “gun” lay the ground for a similar apologetics for violence.

Self-defense makes the most obvious case of this. Someone breaks into a single woman’s with malice aforethought; she shoots him—voila, violence in the service of self-defense. So-called justifiable homicide also. And then, along this same continuum, you have George Zimmerman murdering Trayvon Martin under the rubric of Stand Your Ground, you have Michael Dunn murdering Jordan Davis because of loud music, you have Police Chief Robert T. Finney or Officer Daniel Norbits murdering Kiwane Carrington for unclear reasons, you have Officer Mehserle murdering Oscar Grant on BART for no good reason at all, &c.

As a matter of principle, I doubt I would ever accept that murdering another human being (in self-defense, in the line of duty, for sheer sport) makes for a morally defensible act. And the fact that in some cases it gets deemed legally non-culpable provides no moral argument. Whatever conceit the process of Law takes respecting its morality or not, morality and legality remain separate domains. Morality merely provides the argumentative framework for persuading people to pass a Law. Moreover, the academic question whether law and morality can coincide remains merely academic, in its empty sense. We like to dislike theocracies around here; if we take that seriously, then we will resist any attempt to make morality and legality co-terminal or identical.

So it offers no argument to me that the woman threatened with attack did the necessary thing—and necessity usually comes with a terrible price. I see in the fact that the circumstance exists where men can crawl into isolated women’s apartments as already a stark condemnation of the society we live in; the resort to a gun to address that wrong does a disservice to everyone involved. I know a woman who has a gun in her home and says she feels safer for it; she states also that (1) she knows how to use it and (2) has no desire in the world to do so. Given a less drastic alternative, she’d embrace that.


[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] It pays to treat adjective with care. As soon as one says “brutal rape” this implies “non-brutal rapes” as well. Or an “unjust war” implies “just wars”—and, in fact, some enemies of humanity have spent time (and still do) busily trying to find a pretty wrapper for this heinous human behavior.


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