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PROFESSOR MEETS GUN: Part Seven: Shame, Shame.
June 23, 2008 - 11:34am



Stop me if you've heard this before, but it's sort of new to UD. If you've read this series, you know she's had a peculiar, sheltered, life.

But if Mark Tushnet (see post below this one) and others are correct, and if gun control/gun rights is ultimately about the culture wars, then maybe UD's making some progress in her effort to get closer to guns in noting the shame/beauty divide.

Many gun control people think guns as objects are intrinsically shameful, something to keep hidden, or, better, something to make go away altogether. Recall UD's friend who compared a gun museum to a women's underwear museum -- any interest in guns betrays the malsain fetishist.

Or consider this recent opinion piece condemning the "open carry" movement, in which Americans are encouraged to wear their guns so that they can be seen.

The author begins in the confessional mode:

Long before I tasted the temptations of sex, I yielded to an irresistible prurience by opening [my father's gun] drawer. Initiation into obscenity.

He offers an historical theory:

...[T]he use of weapons against fellow animals seems ... to have imbued humans with a sense of shame, which spawned post-hunt rituals of sacrificial atonement, the genesis of religion. Only the weapon made it possible for humans to better beasts, but only shame enabled humans to moderate the weapon's use. Otherwise, the human species would have plunged quickly into self-eliminating extinction.

I'm not sure how convincing a theory this is. Why would we, having discovered weapons, have turned them against each other and assured our extinction? Is it only shame that keeps me from finding some weapon and murdering everyone around me? Recall UD's George Washington University law colleague's observation, in a Washington Post piece, about the attitude of some of his neighbors toward his boys playing with guns:

[O]n the playground there seems to be a palpable fear among zero-tolerance parents that boys harbor some deep and dark violent gene that, if awakened, is likely to end years later with some sort of Hannibal Lecter situation. Of course, there are at least 100 million men in this country who probably played with toy guns or swords as children and did not grow up to become serial killers.

Surely our basic motives toward and away from destruction are more complex than these points of view suggest? Yet the opinion piece author goes further in the direction of shame:
The answer [to the question of gun violence] is buried deep in the national psyche, and I am a case in point. The gun is a totemic object, with meanings that drill far below surface arguments about self-defense, the sport of hunting, standing militias, or the intent of the Framers. Children die because these deeper meanings of the gun go unreckoned with.

UD's first question: When, in this primal story of the evolution of human shame in regard to weaponry, did it turn out only to have to do with Americans? Why is it only our national psyche that works this way?

UD's second question: Why does this guy assume his particular pistol bildungsroman has universal resonance?

UD's third question: If you've got a problem with guns, why not try to solve it, rather than shoving it back in the drawer? I don't wanna overplay the sex parallel, but did this guy decide to keep it in his pants for the rest of his life?

It's kind of like Amitai Etzioni -- the GW sociologist -- arguing (scroll down) that scholars shouldn't pursue Second Amendment scholarship that might undermine gun control. Put those ideas back in your pants. You ought to be ashamed.

The underlying view of humanity here seems to be that we are intrinsically inclined to murder and rape, and that only major daily exertions in the direction of self-control stay our hand. Part of this exertion involves an evolved culture of confession, in which, like the opinion piece writer, we reveal ourselves as cases in point -- exemplars of vicious instinct wrestled down through self-denial.

So on one side you've got gun control people (they're not all like this, of course) mobilizing a shame-based philosophy in which we've all got a hair-trigger temper, a quick-draw lust. Civilized life involves the confiscation of objects like guns, because guns arouse these destructive drives.

On the other side, you've got the idea - expressed in the NRA film welcoming people to its gun museum - that guns are a "beautiful marriage of art and technology" that "awaken memories and strong emotions."
In my next post (after extensive Googling on the subject), I'll write about guns and beauty and awakened memories.

Oh. One final thought on shame and shamelessness. There's an outfit selling campuses a twenty-minute video about how students can avoid getting shot. The video costs $495.


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