Many of you will read this and think, “Wow, this guy is really stretching his point to infinity and beyond” (to quote a famous American) But this hit me today, as I was out walking my two canine colleagues and the essential Truth of it was so undeniable that I decided to let you in on it.
The question of my rationality is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
A chance remark I heard on television, about two years ago, sparked a couple of my remaining brain cells as I was lathered up in my shower one day, and it has stayed with me ever since: “What would you give your life for?” My subconscious’ bad grammar aside, it’s a good question and one that, I believe, helps you get to know yourself better. I realized, standing there dripping, that the answer was complicated. I would gladly and without hesitation die in place of any of my grandchildren. I know this like I know my own name. I don’t even have to wonder if I’d chicken out, because,if I did, I’d have to die, anyway, because I couldn’t live with myself as that much of a coward. I’d die for my God-sent domestic partner. If terrorists kidnapped her, I’d offer myself as a replacement in a second. But the person who asked this on TV specifically said, “…and it can’t be your family or friends. Something outside yourself…something that would be purely unselfish.” I scoffed at that, because any reason you would die for something would be selfish. If it weren’t, you’re dying for nothing.
Mine surprised me: I would die to rid this country of guns.
The sudden and complete conviction with which my heart and mind kicked up that fact was…well, it was breath-taking. Literally. The realization of essential but unverbalized truths about ourselves will usually have that effect. I would die to rid this society – this culture that my grandchildren and my son, daughter, stepsons and stepdaughters and Judye have to be immersed in daily – of the scourge of those little death-dealing mechanisms that are, for the most part, wielded by people who are characterized by their absurd fixation with and obsession for a romanticized image of an America that really only existed in TV and movie westerns and history books. It is one of our most persistent and irrational American character traits, this juvenile mania for these objects that have outlived their usefulness by 150 years, by now, and the asinine and totally erroneous notion that owning one and waving it around with five or six of your buddies in parking lot of at a Chik-Fil-A is somehow manly. It is not…and it never was.
(And please note, here, that I an NOT talking about rifles as used by hunters. I hunted as a child in the mountains of Virginia and, even though I gave it up as no longer justifiable for me, I have no quarrel with hunters and target shooters. If somebody comes down the street with a rifle, I can see that coming. I have a reasonable chance to get away, as opposed to that random yahoo who walks up behind at a bus stop and decides, finally, to see what shooting that thing he claimed was for “self defense” really looks and feels like and what delicious damage it does when you use it. The moral justifications for hunting are everyone’s personal cross to bear. It’s just not for me.)
Guns are about Fear. That is the bottom line and the absolutely inarguable fact. Those of us who don’t jump at every shadow, imagine intruders lurking outside our bedroom windows, obsess about that moment when some nameless, shapeless Boogey Man decides to target us and our families as the next random victims of random violence, don’t feel that panicky impulse to Arm Up and Throw Down. We don’t constantly worry that – out of a population of 280,000,000 – the terrorists are looking specifically for us to take hostage and torture in the name of some whack-job ideology. Ask any gun nut and that’s what you’ll get: a litany of those faceless fears, those shadowy suppositions about what could happen…even if they live in a place where those things are so statistically remote that they are, functionally, in NO danger at all.
I was thinking about this today, while going back and forth in my head on the topic of declining sales of the insipid BudMillerCoorsPabst fizzy yellow Pilsners which, for 100 years, were the totality of this country’s beer experience, when the bells rang and the tumblers fell into place:
We don’t need to seek some convoluted legislative remedy for our national Gun-As-Pacifier whackiness. All we really need to change…is us.
Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Pabst…all these beers are now Doomed. Their corporate bean-counters are getting a whiff of this already. That’s why we read anguished ruminations from clueless types like Pete Coors, in The Denver Post, who trotted out some of the most convoluted and nonsensical logic ever spoken aloud to try to convince tavern owners that displacing his swill in favor of craft beers is a huge mistake. (In this piece, he also referred to Coors as a “premium beer”, probably the first time that has happened in maybe 50 years.) Similar alarms are going off in the boardrooms of other mega-brewers, as with the unnamed Bud executive who told an audience of affiliates and brewers, at an AB/InBev convention in Chicago, that “we cannot allow the paradigm to change“, in speaking about the rapid upsurge of craft beer. This little nugget was dutifully unleashed upon a world that already hates AB by one of the staffers of the newly-acquired Goose Island Brewing and quickly evoked howls of derisive laughter from all us craft beer fans who know damned well that the paradigm has already and inexorably shifted.
But…how was that shift achieved? The answer is the key to my epiphany: we all just decided we wanted Something Else.
We do not actually need the permission and validation of congress to rid ourselves of anything in our lives that we think has become obsolete. To quote Richard Pryor, “Money Talks and Bullshit Walks“. No Mo’ Money = No Mo’ Of That Thing. Is it not possible that, after 100 unbroken years of drinking NOTHING but an endless succession of watery, insipid faux-Pilsners, we might all be a little sick of ’em? Ditto for our swaggering, posturing, faux-macho idealization of an instrument which has NO other purpose but the taking of life. The majority of Americans decided that we wanted to elect a younger, more vital, more intelligent, more capable president than that endless, rote parade of Old White Guys who know how to work the mechanisms of the Political Machine but have little or no understanding of what faces ordinary Americans in their daily lives (Bush Senior didn’t know how to work a debit card!). We twice elected a young, vital, smart African-American man, which drove every conservative in America into such a froth of repressed racism and righteous indignation that a sitting US president – TWICE elected by a clear majority – has been subjected to character assassination on a scale never seen in this alleged democracy. But we did elect him twice…which proves that change can be achieved if enough of us want it to.
I’ve gone into this logic at some length, so I’ll just thumbnail it here: kids growing into their teens in the mid-1980s were the first generation of American kids in more than a century who did not grow to adulthood opening their fridges and finding nothing with the word “Beer” on the label but one of that handful of same old-same old Pilsners. Children tend to emulate the patterns and life choices of their parents and, suddenly, those bottles and cans carried names like Rogue and Boulder Beer Company and Deschutes and Great Lakes and Sam Adams and Anchor and Full Sail and North Coast. As more and more Americans discovered craft beer, those old labels began to disappear altogether. New habits were formed. New programming was activated. And the numbers, as was inevitable with a populous over-saturated by sameness, tell the tale. We – Americans like you and me and your beer geek pals – Changed The Paradigm. There was no organized Movement, no petitioning of Congress, no cadre of lobbyists (quite the opposite: the mega-brewers have armies of lobbyists and they’re still losing!), no needed validation by the editorial boards of the New York Times or Washington Post of The Wall Street Journal. We just did it one by one. We used peer group pressure – watery corporate Pilsners became Uncool – and the subtle but immensely powerful and totally irresistible Force of consumer demand to shake the foundations of what has traditionally been one of the most powerful and smugly confident manufacturing segments in America.
This is how we get rid of the guns: One By One. No, that is NOT the answer that anyone in favor of gun control wants to hear. It will take a long time and most of us will already be dead by the time it happens but, at least in my own case, that’s beside the point. I don’t care if MY world is safer and more sane in my own lifetime. I would just like to know, before I shuffle off my saggy-ass mortal coil, that the future for those grandkids looks brighter, more free from Fear, and that the well-proven FACT that more people are killed by guns handled by people they know and/or love than by total strangers. And I am convinced that fundamental change like this can ONLY be achieved by the will of the Average American Citizen, acting independently, one by one, until that change is achieved.
We need to make guns Uncool. We need to tell those grandchildren the truth of the things: that those who cling so fiercely to them and, in many cases, put their ownership of them ahead of the welfare of their own families and society in general, are motivated solely by Fear – not by some warped and outdated concept of the American Cowboy or gun-toter as Fierce Individualist or battlefield savior, but by the common, overwhelming fear that Something Will Happen. We need to provide homes free from guns for our kids to grow up in. We need to provide examples of true Fatherly and Motherly character and courage – a strength arising from within, not from some metal totem they wave around to feel omnipotent. In short, when each successive generation of American kids opens our metaphorical fridge, they will see personal strength and courage, physical fitness and the confidence that carries with it, thought valued over mindless posturing and phony “action”, and not just an endless supply of pistols and ammo and the fetishistic trappings that accompany that pathetic lifestyle.
We have already, in very real and practical terms, conquered one of the most persistent and recalcitrant Boogey Men in the history of American culture: the “All American Beer”. Within 20 – 25 years, BudMillerCoorsPabst will be a mere curiosity at the end of the beer aisle. We did that.
Within 20 – 25 years, yes, there will still be guns. But there can also be fewer guns and a significant glimmer of hope for a safer, more rational, more mature culture. And we can do this…one by one.