[I posted this yesterday on Facebook. It got absolutely no reaction. This makes me sad.]
These are waters I don’t often wade into. Nothing in what follows is meant to be a rah-rah for any sociopolitical side, and there should be something to make anyone uncomfortable. Because everyone should be uncomfortable today.
I’m in the apparent minority in today’s shouting culture, because I DON’T KNOW what can or should be done about our culture and its violence. What I do know is that the violence isn’t the problem per se (and the guns, being the implement of the violence, are even further downstream from the actual problem). There is a rot in the soul and the souls of our civilization, of which mass violence and suchlike are perhaps the most headline-grabbing manifestation. And I think I found a perspective on it inadvertently a couple of weeks ago, in a video I saw about a demonstration against cultural appropriation or imperialism or something of that ilk. The right-leaning person behind the camera asked a white male demonstrator about whether the culture being thus protected was somehow inherently better than the culture from which the white male demonstrator came, and the white male demonstrator bellowed, “We don’t HAVE a culture! We don’t HAVE a f***ing culture!”
I’m not sure what the demonstrator thought he meant. But I’m starting to see what that actually means.
John Adams famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Lesser known is the line he penned two sentences before this one: “[W]e have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion.” My takeaway from these lines isn’t that only a Christian or Bible-believing society can enjoy the blessings of liberty, but that a society which depends on big-G “Government” as its only governance is doomed to failure. A society without the rigors of standards, of mores, of ethical integrity not just as an abstract concept but as a foundation of a worthy character, will find itself growing an overarching external scaffolding to provide a poor substitute for the skeleton it no longer has.
America has often been described as an experiment in self-government. That doesn’t just describe a system of representative republicanism; it also denotes an experiment in self-governance and self-control. When the extra-governmental culture provides a full suite of commonly accepted standards and strictures, the government only needs to build the roads and collect the taxes to pay for them. If, however, “we don’t HAVE a culture,” then the most over-regulatory nanny-state can never compensate for the lack.
And all of that is exquisite and high-falutin’, but the real question on the ground today is, “What do we do about the guns?”
Unlike perhaps many people who lean right, I don’t believe the Second Amendment itself is something sacred, except as it is in an expression of the Rule of Law, of which I am a VERY big fan. The Constitution is the axiomatic foundation of all governmental authority in this country. It also contains the means by which it may be modified, which means have been exercised before. If the conditions set forth in the Constitution are met, then the Second Amendment could be abolished, modified, or recast. Otherwise, there is simply no legitimate way to circumvent it while also maintaining the claim that this is a country governed by law.
But if the Second Amendment were abolished or weakened, it would sadden me immensely. Not because I own guns – I don’t – but because it would be an explicit admission that we are no longer a nation of self-governance. We (by which I mean, “a not-insignificant fraction of us”) don’t have the moral wherewithal to be adults in any meaningful sense. We don’t have a culture; instead, all we have is its weaker cousin, government. Nor do I think that those who would work most energetically in the cause of weakening government recognition of the right expressed in that amendment, even if doing it out of compassion and a desire for the safety of others, would be doing it with an eye toward stiffening the nation’s moral fiber and then returning that right “when we can be trusted with it again,” as those forces doesn’t seem to ever want to temper their pity with responsibility, their inclusiveness with standards, their empathy with expectation. The moral skeleton would continue to atrophy under their compassion.
So what should we do? What CAN we do?
I’m going to have a Mormon moment here, so bear with me.
You don’t have to believe this, but you do have to understand it: The Book of Mormon presents itself as a thousand-year history of an otherwise unknown culture, compiled from primary records by Mormon, last in a long line of historian-prophets. After documenting and redacting his civilization’s rise, its golden ages and its cycles of wars and pride and tribalism, Mormon then gives an account of his own era, when the constant wars are a sign of the to-the-core depravity of both halves of the polarized culture. And there’s a point where Mormon looks at when and where he lives and realizes, It’s not going to get better. It’s just not. He continues to push back against the rot of his society, but he knows that the forces of darkness are going to collapse inward on him all the same. And they do.
More and more, I understand Mormon’s realization of a tipping point already past, of a downhill acceleration for which no braking is sufficient. I don’t pretend to be a prophet, and I hope that I am wrong. But I can’t bring myself to entertain that belief deeply or consistently. I suspect, more than I want to, that the cultural soul is too decayed to ever be brought back. Uphill from the guns, uphill from the will to violence and rage, is a font too mucked up to ever flow pure again.
Please, America. Prove me wrong.
I end with this, the recent single from my favorite band, Marillion. (It’s okay if you’ve never heard of them.) When the album which contained this single was released, I found it disappointing – too thin musically, too vapid lyrically. But with every incidence of soul-rot exposed in our country, it becomes more insightful.
I leave this not as a solution or a final pronouncement on the subject, but simply a comment in the conversation.