Reflections on the Trump Era: Part I

[Just a heads-up: this trio of posts are approximately book-length when taken as a whole. It occurred to me that some people might therefore prefer to save it to something like the Pocket app and read it gradually over time — that’s how I prefer to read very long articles myself — so here’s all three posts stitched together in case it’s more convenient to have it in that form.]

The difficulty of writing this piece

To tell you the truth, over these last four years I probably could have sat down several times a month and written a post about President Trump/his administration or the events happening in his orbit. And, in a sense, I very much wanted to. There was such an enticing deluge of scandal to dissect and weight in on. I was keeping up with it all so closely that I was continually accruing a build-up of undisgorged strong opinions, which is about as comfortable a condition for a writer as, say, kidney stones. But two considerations ultimately stayed my hand nevertheless.

The first was that I worried it would become tiresome and monotonous to keep writing about essentially the same topic all the time. (For both me and the reader.) This type of thing is subject to diminishing returns: at some point, you become keenly aware that there’s only so many ways you can harrumph and say “my god, what a disgrace this is!” To be fair, if you’re going to write about politics to any extent, you need to make sure you have at least a few trusty equivalent phrases tucked into your back pocket, because much like pen, paper, cynicism, and hypertension pills, they are part of the essentials of the trade. But I suppose I did rather wonder whether I had it in me to draw upon the nearly endless supply of them I would need over the span of four very looooong and ignominy-ridden years.

That’s not to say that it’s never worth droning on about the same thing and risking being boring. If the subject matter is important enough, that’s a very small price to pay for shining needful light upon it. And I certainly respect the reporters who have no doubt profoundly wearied themselves — like, deep in the core of their being — by making the meticulous cataloguing of Trump and co’s misdeeds their particular beat. It really can’t have been a very pleasant way to make a living. You probably clock out just feeling so dirty from having had to fixate on this grimy sphere full of scoundrels all day long. It’s a bit like being a warden at an asylum for the criminally insane and, sitting in front of a big wall-mounted bank of CCTV monitors, having to maintain a log of exactly who is smearing their faeces on the wall at any given moment and exactly how they’ve opted to do so. Only, I suspect that such a position is far better paid than those in the struggling and contracting journalism business. But, anyhow, they perform a crucial public service and we should be glad that there are those willing to do it. (What’s more, one ought to remember the unbelievably hostile environment which they have had to conduct their work in. Watch those videos of wild-eyed MAGA-hat freaks screaming ‘FAKE NEWS!’ at camera crews at the top of their lungs and until they’re red in the face, and I don’t think I’ll even have to prompt you to recall my asylum analogy. These are people who could pass as escaped inmates any day of the week.)

My point being that it’s one thing if that’s your job, but quite another to take on that depressing chore voluntarily. And I can also tell you that, personally, I’d worry about descending into obsessiveness. I could see myself chasing a sort of vaguely completionist documenting of all my problems with Trump’s reign, no matter how minute or of-the-moment. The danger being that you’ll get so caught up in trying not to miss anything day to day that you’ll lose sight of the bigger picture. On top of which, I guess I just had this feeling that it would probably be better for my sanity if I simply got it all out in one go. A cathartic thought-dump to purge this stuff from my system.

The second consideration was that I knew the best vantage-point to analyse the Trump years from would be in hindsight. In order to view them — their effects and their lessons — as a whole, rather than merely indulging in a piecemeal examination of this moment or that moment, and whilst you’re still trapped in their particular sinkhole of myopic, ephemeral outrage to boot. I think there are some things which, even if they do indeed piss you off and shock you at the time, you just can’t appreciate the true craziness of because you’re still living through them.

Trump having been evicted from the White House for some months now should provide enough distance for my purposes. Of course, I’m not only going to be reflecting on the past, I’ll also be talking about what’s been happening recently and even venturing some speculation about the future. As aforementioned, I won’t be able to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. And I will no doubt read this one day and be like “shit, I can’t believe I forgot to talk about [BLANK]! I’m such an idiot! [BLANK] made my blood boil when it happened! How could it slip my mind later on?!” That’s kind of just par for the course. But I’ll try to hit as much of the major stuff as I can.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part II

How relieved I was that he lost, and what might have happened if he had won

During the run-up to the 2020 election, I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was a foregone conclusion. I was sure that Trump would win again. And nothing could sway that, nothing could assuage my fatalist melancholy. Even when polling swung in Biden’s favour, it just gave me — and anyone else with a memory surpassing a goldfish’s — flashbacks to 2016 and the widespread smug certainty that Hillary would win. I mean, she had a 98% probability of victory, remember? I certainly do. I also remember that we even had our pick of more sober, cautious, even downright skeptical projections, such as her having a 85% probability or a 71% probability. I learned a lot from the fact that those people whose polling data and forecasting models were so inconceivably, unbelievably wrong were able to so easily live it down and go on plying their trade. They just slapped themselves on the wrists, maybe threw a self-effacing tweet or two out there, and then carried on carrying on. Marvellous, isn’t it? A brief pretence of collective soul-searching was thought to suffice. As though that level of error is just bound to happen from time to time in any predictive field. As though meteorologists sometimes tell you there’s going to be a baking hot day and then it rolls around and a snowstorm occurs. Only in this case it was even worse, because it was a four-year blizzard we were treated to. Just think about how many Democrat voters saw all those headlines practically already celebrating Clinton’s inauguration and complacently sat home that November as a result. People expected — and I know this is shocking but bear with me — that the pronouncements of the pollster/analyst class would have some reasonably strong correlation to reality and I don’t blame them for their misplaced faith. They were sold a fraudulent bill of goods, and I don’t find it difficult to decide who should be paying the price for that.

Anyway, in 2020 it actually ran a bit deeper for me than merely being dead set upon not getting fooled by errant polling again. (Though that was indeed a part of it.) Trump getting re-elected just seemed like this horrible transcendental certainty. It had such an aura of inevitability to it that it was almost hard to even dread it; it became more a case of just pre-emptively steeling oneself to accept it coming to pass. I don’t know, it just seemed like all the prerequisites had snapped into place for it. I mean, conservative voters hadn’t exactly become less Trumpy during his first term, had they? Quite the opposite in fact. And Trump was going to have the GOP establishment wholly, full-throatedly on his side as he campaigned, rather than the somewhat ambivalent and/or halfhearted support he received from them back in ‘16 when they were tangibly still struggling to acclimatise to the embarrassment of having this dope as their standard-bearer. Plus, his campaign strategy seemed a bit more polished and his campaign staff seemed a bit more professional this time around. These various advantages added up to an obvious conclusion in my mind. So I just found myself thinking: here we are at this crucial turning point, this American penumbra, with one foot already firmly planted in midnight and the other foot not far behind. It really struck me as a done deal, I must admit. Trump seemed to have things all sewn up on his end.

I was also really flummoxed at the Democrats’ rather unpromising choice of champion. And more than a little mad too, given the paramount importance of the battle itself. Listen, I don’t necessarily have anything against Joe Biden. In a sense, I don’t really have any strong feelings towards him whatsoever. I know his policy platform and definitely have my issues with some of it — as I would with any Democrat candidate in the current climate, to be fair — but in all honesty I don’t know very much about him as a person. (I also haven’t yet boned up on all the particulars of his long history in politics, which is probably why I’m able to take refuge in relative apathy. Tell me if I’m wrong: it is sadly so often the case that the only way to preserve the non-loathsomeness of a given politician is to neglect to read their Wikipedia page in depth.) Just considering surface level stuff, he’s fairly likeable and, excluding a few unbecoming moments of ill-temper on the campaign trail, he at least projects the public persona of a decent man. It’s also hard to object to any of his very nice boilerplate about the need for a return to unity, civility, compassion, high-mindedness, reason, science, etc. For all the platitudes though, he really does talk like someone who authentically understands what’s wrong with the dire historical moment the country finds itself in, and feels deeply about how urgently it must be redressed. These are all box-ticking qualities which used to just be so par-for-the-course that they barely even registered, but the sad truth about having a wanton fucking hobgoblin in the White House for four years is that such things regain their importance and utility. It may make us uncomfortable to admit it, because it’s easier/cooler to insist that we only concern ourselves with substance not style, but there’s a real value to a president presenting themselves in a certain way, to a president not unashamedly being a dirtbag. Even if it really is just a pose of propriety or virtue, that still pays a sort of compliment to the electorate, because it acknowledges (and, in an odd meta way, reinforces — therein lies the value) that voters want someone with some moral fibre to represent them because it’s what they aspire to themselves.

My problem with Biden being selected as the Democratic nominee was primarily because I thought he was an unwise choice, practically speaking. I just didn’t think he had what it was going to take to win. First and foremost, there seemed to be little palpable passion for him as a person. There was just a lot of clamouring for anyone who could boot Trump out of the Executive Residence and a lot of talk about how a Biden-type could be a safe pair of hands and we could probably do a lot worse and so on. My point being that it just seemed like hardly anyone was excited for Joe Biden to become the president. Sure, he has a sort of charming good-natured grandpa-ish quality that some people enjoy and even on the other end of the spectrum it’s not exactly easy to find people who downright hate his guts (which, true enough, is a feat there’s definitely something to be said for.) And my impression is that in political circles he’s generally afforded a certain degree of respect as this old-school guy who somehow has good relationships with everyone of note in D.C. and knows how to get a tricky deal hammered out in a backroom if it comes to it. But, on the flipside, it just didn’t seem like all that many people felt a genuine emotional connection to him or his campaign, or that he really had much of a unique ‘message’ to sell the electorate on. It was just so hard to imagine him delivering some stump speech which gave you goosebumps, y’know? He could be saying all the right things but he just doesn’t quite have that rare oratorical gift where they actually penetrate and make you feel something, where for a brief thrilling moment they actually seem like so much more than just trite, focus-grouped rhetoric.

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Reflections on the Trump Era: Part III

Trump voters

It’s impossible to talk about the Trump phenomenon without talking about ‘Trump voters’ themselves. I’m not going to go into too much depth here because it would basically require a lengthy piece unto itself to do it full justice, but there are definitely a few points I want to touch on. And just to preface: although it would be the obvious — and, arguably, most important — thing to dwell on the entire time, I’m actually going to be mostly putting to one side all the abhorrent -isms that Trump played on in order to garner support from the more unsavoury quarters of the electorate. That’s something I’ve already explored earlier on in this piece, and not exactly in a glancing way either.

It’s now just conventional wisdom that one of the main factors which motivated many people to pull the lever for Trump in ’16 was a desire to really stick it to the political establishment. In fact, I once heard this quite memorably described as Trump being employed like a ‘murder weapon’. I suppose the naive hope was that Trump could be fired at the beltway status quo like some precise laser-guided weapon that would only destroy what it was intended to destroy, cleanly and efficiently. Kinda like a human version of that nightmarish variant of the famed Hellfire missile which doesn’t even explode, it just shoots out long blades on all sides upon impact to impale and eviscerate the assassination target. (Haven’t been able to forget about that bad boy since first reading about it. It’s jarring how something designed to reduce unintended casualties can seem so disturbingly barbaric in its own right.) Once Trump actually got into office though, it became clear that the things he was damaging most were the fabric of American society and the proper governance of the country, and I think the motivated reasoning of his supporters had to shift a fair bit to keep up. It seemed to morph into viewing Trump as being more akin to chemotherapy: alright, yes it’s a messy process and it’s unfortunately going to harm the whole body too, but it’s worth it because it’ll eliminate what’s really ailing you. To crib from classic five-stages language, this combines both ‘denial’ and ‘bargaining’ into a neat little package deal. And oh man did a lot of the MAGA faithful snap up that deal and lean on it like a crutch for four long years. They told themselves that the country had already been so abominably ruined by the Democrats and was in such desperate, urgent need of rescue that it was acceptable if, to echo that infamous battlefield quote from the Vietnam war, “Trump has to destroy America in order to save it.”

What I’m getting at is that I can at least comprehend both these rationalizations. I’m not saying I agree with them. (I would hope that after having spilled so many thousands of words about how severely I loathe Trump and Trumpism that would be abundantly, even painfully, clear.) I’m also not saying they actually made sense or passed any kind of moral checksum whatsoever. They didn’t. Not even a little bit. They were based on wildly faulty reasoning and fundamental misjudgements about Trump’s motivations, Trump’s goals, and really just the way that the American political system functions. That being said, it is possible to see how people let themselves be gulled by a steady stream of chimerical promises. That’s what I’m trying to get across here. The conclusions they arrived at were illogical, but there’s still a sort of comprehensible logic to both how these people were deceived and why they then also self-deceived to fill in the gaps where necessary. It isn’t because Trump’s so spectacularly gifted in the charlatan arts. As I expounded upon earlier, he is actually drastically and shockingly untalented as a con artist. Which in turn makes it so remarkable that he’s surely also quantifiably one of the most successful con artists of all time. (He makes that guy who managed to ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times look like a piker with no vision. But then again, in the hierarchy of grifting, nothing really compares to making a play for the presidency of the richest, most powerful nation on earth, does it?)

His meteoric success, I would say, testifies merely to the fact that his millions of marks were in such a prime state to be duped. Conservatives were so incredibly desperate for anything which could revitalize their movement. They knew it was fast becoming enervated and drab from its reliance on conventional, buttoned-up Mitt Romney types who possessed only a sort of limp, hopelessly overstretched charisma at best and who were still stuck playing the political game like it was played thirty or forty years ago. They needed someone who could reinject some colour into the GOP and — gasp — maybe even make it seem interesting or exciting again. Whatever it took to turn the tide back in their favour. Whatever it took to recapture the White House. I mean, there’s no denying that the Obama years had really done a number on them. They were as exasperated by his massive, transformational cultural effect as they were infuriated by his various policy initiatives. And it’s not hard to imagine how that kind of thing can really eat at you over eight long years. Seeing someone whose political program you hate being feted by so much of the world as a beloved figure. Their nerves were frayed. They were worn out and very much dispirited by how the electoral and culture-war losses kept piling up. And once they had gotten to this place, they were willing to buy into any amount of lies and back any old creep if it meant that their side would get back on top and they wouldn’t have to grind their teeth every time they turned on the news. Enter Donald J. Trump, lying mega-creep extraordinaire. It wasn’t just some weird coincidental timing, okay? Whether consciously or unconsciously, he was drawn to that situation by the stupendous gravitational pull of such a glaring opportunity. Or to put it another way, his political career was willed into existence by all the people who prayed for some magic fix for their sickly, no-new-ideas, no-new-blood party, instead of doing the hard work of remedying its real problems. Because there is almost nothing in life which you can get simply by wanting it, but this is one of the notable exceptions: if you wish to be taken advantage of, your wish will be granted.

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So, about that ‘Karen’ and Birdwatcher kerfuffle…

Let me preface this post with a word or two about timing and ‘lateness’. I guess I just feel like I should lay this out explicitly, as a potentially useful standing point going forward. I’m well aware that “The Central Park Birdwatching Incident” — which is how it’s grandiosely referred to on Wikipedia, like it was some diplomatic snafu that soured relations between two countries — happened like three months ago. Do I think it’s weird that I’m just getting around to writing about it now? Negative. Not at all. Listen, I don’t consider myself shackled to recency in that way. I’m fine writing at any time about anything that happened at any time. (What a see-saw of a sentence.) If I had strong feelings about Edward the Black Prince conducting the massacre, sacking, and razing of Caen, Normandy in 1346, I’d pen that impassioned op-ed like it had just happened yesterday and the motherfucker was liable to turn on his wooden laptop tomorrow and read what I had to say aghast.

I don’t write about current affairs for some clicks-over-substance news website, so I don’t feel the need to rush out some sloppy, slapdash, ill-considered 800-word spicy-hot-take four hours after something happens. That just isn’t me. I get to things when I get to them. And I like to dwell on the subject matter for at least a little while before I put pen to paper fingers to keys. Then I end up getting even more time to stew on whatever it is as I’m articulating whatever my opinion about it is, because I’m a slow writer and, even worse, a distinctly glacial/OCD-debilitated editor of my own work.

(I tried to check out a little vial of cocaine from The Hunter S. Thompson ‘Write Faster, Dummy’ Creative-Stimulant Lending Library established as a private foundation in his will, whose services are free to sluggish writers the world over. I was hoping that it could give me a kick up the backside and improve my productivity. But the nice bespectacled lady at the front desk with the chest tattoo and the undercut and the vanished septum told me that my membership card had expired and also that she suspected I was a quote-unquote “fuckboy narc.” And when someone treats you to two different reasons why they can’t help you, you tend to get the message loud and clear. Hey, that’s fine with me. But they ain’t never getting that tupperware container full of peyote buttons back. I don’t care if the late-fees accumulate forever. Fuck ’em.)

I’m also often busy with other shit. Other pieces of writing, other creative projects, personal life stuff, et cetera. So yeah, I get to things as soon as I can, but that usually isn’t exactly soon-soon. It’s more like how that weird film ‘The New Mutants’ has repeatedly been scheduled to come out soon, we promise for the last three years straight. (I don’t know if there’s a way to bet against a film being successful, kinda like shorting a stock, but in this case that seems like it’d be a pretty sure bet. If you can find me one person who was genuinely thinking to themselves “gee, I’d love it if they made a self-contained horror-movie spin-off of the now-finished X-men franchise,” I’ll let an empty-stomach build over a few days, then grab a knife and fork and a bib and head to my nearest hat store to chow down on some millinery cuisine. I thought the last few mainline X-men films weren’t even worth watching, so I’m definitely not enticed by the prospect of a posthumous add-on now they’re done…)

I’ve just had to make my peace with my slow pace as best I can. I will say that there are two frustrating things about constantly nursing a lengthy backlog of things I want to comment about though.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part I

Y’know, it’s… tough. On the one hand, and to state the obvious, for the last few months it’s been hard to think or converse about anything but Coronavirus. Yet, now that I sit down at the keyboard, I also can’t help but feel like it’s difficult to know what to actually say about it.

Sure, it would be easy to just vent the swirling anxiety word-vomit we’re all feeling, but trying to figure out some intelligent comment to offer is a very different matter. Don’t let this elbow-patched lab-coat fool you; I’m not an epidemiologist, nor do I possess expertise in any other relevant field; I just found this rather confused garment in a thrift store. Even though I try my best to look at the data and listen to what the experts are saying, there’s a complexity to the whole thing which is just mind-boggling in the truest sense. I mean, I wonder if I’m alone in struggling to overcome the instinct to just mutely point at this insane situation we, as a species, find ourselves in. To jab a finger at it with mouth agape and eyes wide, just mouthing the words “holy fuck, not good, holy fuck, not good” over and over.

And yet, well, I’m not sure just uploading a JPEG of me doing that (or maybe even a GIF — by the way, hard-gee pronunciation, heathens — so that you can lip-read my silent exclamations) is a blog post unto itself. So I’d better come up with something vaguely coherent to say. And fast. Because this cruise-ship internet café I find myself toiling away in has electrified seats which activate once your time is up. I even had to sign a waiver confirming that I don’t have a pacemaker, which an errant jolt might disrupt. Joke’s on them though. I do have a pacemaker. Suckers.

Besides, you maybe already know my dumb shtick by now: I do a little bit of hand-wringing because I surely haven’t got much to say, then I give you 8000 words. I doubt this piece will be that long but you get my point. (Hmm, am I jinxing myself there?…)

[*record scratch* NARRATOR: “He was.”
RYAN FROM THE FUTURE: “The piece ended up being more than double that. And was groaning beneath its own weight so much that it had to be cleaved into two parts. I make no apologies. I really just never know how many things are gonna pop into my head to comment on until I actually sit down and pull open that word-hole incision on my forehead with both hands.”]

Anyhow, with my accustomed throat-clearing out of the way, let’s get into it.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part II

COVID-19 has killed countless thousands. It will undoubtedly go on to kill many more. It is a horrifying scourge, impassively ripping family members and friends away and roughly depositing them in the quiet of the grave.

But it has also granted us a range of crucial insights. It is not insensitive to those who have perished to heed these. In fact, it would be downright disrespectful (not to mention foolish) to ignore them, given the suffering and loss which were viciously inflicted as their cost.

Yes, COVID-19 is not just a vile fiend, it is also a brutal teacher. It has lifted the veil on so many things. It has disabused us of cherished illusions.

Some Revelations

One such illusion is that our governments know what they are doing, that they are competent and well-prepared for anything, that they will put the welfare of their people above all else. I mean, if you still believe this now, I can’t imagine what would disprove it for you. It must be some kind of treasured, unfalsifiable ‘axiom’, placed deep in the foundation of your mind when the concrete was first being poured, which helps you sleep at night. (Personally, I think you should brave being a little insomnious if it means seeing what’s actually happening around you. Just a thought.)

There is a temptation to think of the pandemic as an unmalleable ‘act of god’. To take refuge in the excuse that “well, gee, I don’t know, it was always going to be bad no matter what.” (Which, admittedly, there is perhaps a grain of truth to. But just a grain.) Do not be duped by this line of thinking. It is an evasion of responsibility. It is a shirking of the proper, crucial allocation of blame. Make no mistake, what was coming one way or another was intensified manyfold by the bumbling governmental response to it.

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Jewish Britons planning to “flee the country” if Labour wins are, alas, hysterical fantasists

Recently I have encountered, several times, the claim that a certain number of jewish people believe with utmost sincerity that if Labour wins this next general election, they must take flight from Britain for their own safety. And in many cases they have even devised a concrete plan for how they intend to do so. Now, this claim was put forth by ostensibly credible figures, and I have not seen it disputed. So I am inclined to take it at face value for argument’s sake.

I don’t mind telling you that I do not follow British politics exceptionally closely. I just don’t find it very interesting. But, given that I do happen to live on this unhappy little island, its relevance is rather inescapable. As such, I try to at least keep up with it from a bird’s-eye-view. The broad strokes of what the hell is going on at any given time, and then a heightened focus during the lead-up to an election. That kind of thing. So when I hear that there are members of a marginalized group who are literally planning to run for their lives if one of the two major parties — and the left-leaning one, at that — takes power, my ears do perk up just a little bit, it must be said. I think to myself: ‘boy, I must have missed something pretty fucking big!’ For such an incredible claim to be true, there must be some crucial gap in my knowledge you could drive a busload of frightened émigrés through…

Because as far as I personally have ever seen reported — and one imagines such a news story would not be little-covered — the Labour party itself does not officially have any antisemitic ideological positions or policy proposals, and Jeremy Corbyn also has not espoused antisemitic beliefs.

So why then is the prospect of a mini-exodus of self-preservation hanging over this election?…

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On ‘Milkshaking’, the latest form of funny, trivialized Political Violence

I freely and unequivocally admit that figures like Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson are difficult — or perhaps impossible — to extend any sympathy or compassion to. It would require something approaching a herculean effort to make one’s heart hurt when hearing about their misfortunes. I imagine that would hold true even for a Buddhist who had spent a lifetime practicing the form of mediation meant to cultivate a deep sense of indiscriminate loving-kindness. Everything has limits, after all.

So I wouldn’t dream of appealing to your sense of pity here. Nor am I going to waste your time by issuing the (implicitly mandated) lengthy, perfunctory disclaimer about how vile I find the above-named figures. I’m long-winded at the best of times, so I’d probably just end up writing a few thousand extra words eviscerating them and the seething bigotries they represent. But you already know all the things I would say, don’t you? You’ve heard them a million times before. (A rare repetitiveness I’m actually glad of.) Besides, the reasons why they and their ilk are so morally repulsive also happen to be elementary. We ought to have taken them in with our mother’s milk. So if you’ll just lend me the small assumption of basic decency and sanity, we can skip straight to the point, y’know? I’m sure you have other things you’d like to do today, and I mean to respect your time.

I’m simply going to tell you why even if you (understandably) despise them and their crypto-racist anti-immigration politics you should still be appalled by the ‘milkshaking’ trend. Not to mention, appalled that the attacks are being glibly cheered on by so many dolts. Because these were acts of violence intended to punish people for their political stances and forcibly disrupt their ability to campaign for elected office. That is just about as fundamentally anti-democratic as can be.

I’d like to get one thing straight right off the bat. Physically assaulting someone in any way is not a legitimate form of protest whatsoever. It just isn’t. In a civilised society, protesting should be purely about communicating an idea or message. Via words. Not fists or improvised projectiles. And I don’t care how loudly or crudely or vitriolically you choose to express yourself, go nuts. I would defend, to the hilt, your right to scream and shout and march and wave flags and brandish inflammatory placards concerning any subject you happen to be passionate about. No matter how much I disagreed with you on it. Because that’s the cornerstone of any free, pluralist country. It’s something that was hard-won. And it’s something that we should be proud of and protect.

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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 allotting merciful treatment 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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