The imminent gun ban in New Zealand is Foolish Practically and Wrong Ethically

In the aftermath of the recent Mosque killing spree, the New Zealand government have announced that they will be banning “military-style semi-automatic” guns (which, despite the oh-so-scary buzzwords in apposition, evidently just denotes most modern firearms under NZ law). The intention being to prevent further such attacks.

I’ll put it bluntly. This plan is remarkable for being both stupid and immoral.

To explain why that is, allow me to delineate a crucial distinction.

I vehemently despise and oppose the wide-ranging firearm prohibition here in the UK. It is disgusting. It is an utter disgrace. I’m appalled and disheartened that there is not public outcry about it every day. And I have felt this way for a long time. It’s one of the very first political commitments I remember becoming passionate about.

However, I will concede something important. When someone argues for maintaining (or even intensifying) the strict gun control here, that is – at the very least – not an infeasible proposition. On the face of it anyway. For there are relatively few legally-owned guns in the UK. I have read estimates that there are a little over 1 million shotguns as well as half a million ‘other’ firearms in private hands. And, yes, that’s unquestionably far more than most people would ever guess. But you also have to keep in mind three counter-balancing facts. Firstly, those figures apply to a country of nearly 70 million people. Secondly, because individual gun-owners often have multiple (or even very many) guns, they constitute a much smaller group than those figures suggest. Thirdly, there is a de facto national registry of every single legally-owned firearm. And so, advocating that guns continue to be tightly regulated and largely kept out of the hands of the populace is – sadly – achievable. It can, therefore, simply be debated in terms of whether it is right or wrong.

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“The horror! The horror!”

I find I cannot help but think of this famous, chilling line from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. (A novel which I greatly admire.) Specifically, its connotations of being overwhelmed to the point of a sort of semi-dumb stupor, robbed of all eloquence or power to elaborate, by the sheer horrificness of something. It is like one’s very soul is gasping for air, having been punched in the gut by the world being so heinously unlike how it should be.

When the news broke several days ago about the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, I… found I just couldn’t bring myself to read about it in depth. The news sites I frequent had already divulged enough in their blunt, formal headlinese: Dozens Dead. Shooter Live-streamed Killing Spree. Racist Manifesto Discovered. Those kind of summations, alone, sufficed to give me a sense of how unbelievably awful this tragedy was, how especially twisted and monstrous the plan behind it was, how stomach-turningly sick its perpetrator was. And I could not will myself to seek out and absorb any further details. For even the outline of the story was so dire, so depressing. Such a large number of innocent people attacked in such a nightmarishly brutal and callous way. I believe that the current count stands at fifty killed, fifty injured. (And the youngest victim was just… two years old.) Good god. But, of course, it doesn’t even end there. One ought to spare a thought for their families too. Who must be going through nigh-unbearable grief and sorrow.

It occurs to me that words cannot properly capture or convey the sheer evilness of such a thing. And there would be an absurdity in even trying to make them do so. Nor does the mind fare much better. It reflexively recoils in disgust and fear and abhorrence, failing to grapple with the true extent of the crime’s hideousness. This limitation is, perhaps, a small mercy. Even if the universe should have cared more about alloting merciful treatful to the victims instead.

In point of fact, I usually do click on these sort of news stories and, unpleasant though it is, make myself read about what happened. Half because I think it’s important to stay apprised of what the fuck is going on in the world; half because of – I’ll be totally candid here – an irrepressible morbid curiosity. That’s why this choice not to was significant. I’m not quite sure why I made it. I guess I just finally felt like I could imbibe no more of the horror. It might be that it was just a gradual wearing down of the mental fortitude needed to read such things and not let them destroy your day, or even a few days in a row, with vicarious sadness. As there is undoubtedly no shortage of these grisly stories to perpetuate that chipping-away effect. Just today, it’s being reported that there was an attack in the Netherlands, where multiple people were shot whilst riding a tram. And it seems that, at the very least, several times a month one wakes up to find just such a story dominating the news. “Oh look,” you say to yourself, “some unbelievably vicious act of unbelievably idiotic violence has claimed yet more lives.” This grim internal-monologue remark has become a continual presence in modern life. It is the only thing which springs to mind anymore. And its matter-of-factness is jarring, yes. But remember that that’s born from the self-reproaching apathy of compassion-fatigue.

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Y’know, I think you may miss the Social Media Monopolies if they’re Dismantled…

Elizabeth Warren recently pledged to break up tech and online companies which have a monopolistic chokehold on their particular space. (She named Facebook, Amazon, Google and, later, Apple as some examples.) I read the written version of her proposal, which is much more detailed than the talk she gave at SXSW.

I have three comments I want to get out of the way initially:

Firstly, I was kinda surprised by it. In a positive way, I mean. I expected that it would probably just be a salad of lazy populist-fawning and empty stick-it-to-the-data-barons grandstanding. [Look, hyphens were on sale at the punctuation store. What am I supposed to do? Not buy in bulk?!] And… sure… there are a few requisite sprinkles of both. Politics is still politics after all. And cheap emotive rhetoric remains the gold standard. But those exceptions notwithstanding, I found it to be a fairly substantive, soberly-written proposal with, regardless of my opinion on them, some well-considered points. It shows a certain respect for the reader (i.e. the potential voter) which I think is creditable. In relative terms at least. Most politicians – by which I of course mean their speechwriters – talk to their audiences as though they’re drooling simpletons who will likely need painstaking instruction on how to insert the ballot into the ballot-box. This causes any discourse which dares to rise above a third-grade reading level to suddenly seem like fucking ‘War and Peace’. Go figure.

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Thoughts on the Jussie Smollett fiasco

Let me just say a few things up front. Before this whole scandal unfolded, I did not know who the actor Jussie Smollett was. And, moreover, I obviously do not know whether he truly did fake the assault upon himself. I have not seen the evidence amassed against him. So I will be talking from the hermetically-sealed chamber of hypotheticals at various points throughout this post. (Shit. I hope I remembered to turn on the oxygen valve in there.)

To be completely honest, I must admit that when I first heard the lurid details of the attack, there was just something about them which did strike me as… well, I’m not sure quite how to articulate it. A little too on the nose? A little too perfectly despicable? A little too… theatrical? (I know I am far from the only person to feel that.) But, of course, I also knew that faint hint of weirdness doesn’t mean anything at all really. It was certainly no reason to doubt it genuinely happened. I mean, so what if it seemed oddly theatrical? When deranged individuals decide to attack celebrities, they do sometimes plan it out for quite a while beforehand, sweating the little details. Trying to get everything just right to convey the intended message, to achieve the intended emotional effect. Because they’re hoping to get into the news, to spawn eye-catchingly fucked-up headlines. They’re hoping to make some kind of disturbing statement with the nature of the act itself. In that sense, the attack itself almost becomes half violence, half utterly depraved spectacle.

However, now that Smollett has been charged with making a false police report – a felony – it’s officially alleged by prosecutors that this event was just a twisted attention-seeking performance. On the one hand, I believe wholeheartedly in the virtue of the presumption of innocence (and not just in the stuffy confines of a court of law either.) And it must be noted that Smollett is still insisting that he is not guilty. But on the other hand, if the prosecutors do indeed have the wide range of conclusive evidence they claim to have, I’ve got to imagine that this will be an open-and-shut trial in their favour. Like, we’re talking a total cakewalk here. Don’t even bother showing up, defense attorneys. Treat yourself to a vacation.

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The Labour MPs who just left their Party should not retain their seats in Parliament

So, seven eight MPs – this updated count may well be added to further in the coming weeks – have just made a big grandstanding to-do about leaving the Labour Party. Whether their stated motivations for doing so are valid is an interesting question, but I’m going to put that to one side for now.

Because I just find it absolutely astonishing that they presume they ought to still keep their elected office.

Now, lest you think that this reaction is merely a partisan tantrum – as though I might just be a rabid Labour and/or Jeremy Corbyn devotee who’s feeling wounded by this ‘betrayal’ – I’ll preface with a few things. I do not support any political party, nor any political figure, and never have done. Yet it goes far, far deeper than that. Let me put my cards on the table. In point of fact, I deeply abhor the entire system of representative democracy itself. Even in theory. It is a fundamentally and profoundly and irredeemably flawed setup. Its chief effect is to placate people with the illusion of control whilst distancing them from any power to directly alter the way in which they are governed. (If you care to, you can hear me talk about my reasoning for this stance at greater length here.)

That being said, I also think that given that representative democracy is the system which happens to be in place, the people should at least get what little it’s supposed to grant them. Which is the right to choose who represents them in Parliament, based on that person’s political affiliation and stated intentions.

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