It’s a premise of all my work that civilization is a frail structure through which the forces of barbarism can break at any time. Although I’m not a gun owner, I strongly suspect that liberal hostility to guns often springs from a sentimental misinterpretation of reality. Tim Hartin, who began our long-running gun debate, writes again on this matter from Mount Horeb, Wis.:
I was delighted at the way the anti-gun responses in your last column proved the very point I was trying to make: namely that support for gun control is an emotional/cultural/class issue that has nothing to do with the facts.
There is almost no correlation between the level of gun ownership in a nation and the level of criminal violence in that nation. In the U.S., we have guns and violence, but guns were not used in nearly three out four violent crimes, and 99.8 percent of firearms will not be used to commit a crime in any given year. In Switzerland, they have an assault rifle in every house and little violence. In England, they recently confiscated all the guns, and were rewarded with a crime wave.
In the U.S., there is a direct correlation between gun control and violent crime. Almost without exception, jurisdictions with gun control have higher crime rates than jurisdictions without gun control. The historical record shows that when gun controls are loosened, crime goes down, and when gun controls are tightened, crime goes up.
Gun controllers continue with their crusade in the face of these facts, demonstrating 1) that they are not rational on this topic and 2) that they are not really trying to reduce crime or violence but are instead after something else.
I speculate that their motives are an unhealthy mix of the following:
1) Fear of the unknown (guns). 2) Fear of those unwashed “others” who might own guns. 3) Insecurity about their ability to protect themselves, with or without a gun. 4) Childlike desire for some big, burly father figure to protect them. 5) Childlike desire for a soft, pink, fluffy world with no sharp corners, threats or dangers. 6) Sublimated fear of penises/male power, as embodied by phallic guns. 7) Deep denial about the roots of violence in human nature and, by extension, their own capacity for violence. 8) A self-righteous belief in their own moral superiority.
When the Second Amendment was passed, a “militia” was commonly understood to be a group of armed citizens, such as those unofficial groups that resisted the British during the early days of the Revolutionary War. The old concept of a militia is best preserved today in Switzerland, where every male of military age belongs to the militia and keeps a fully automatic assault rifle in his house.
Thanks, Mr. Hartin, for yet another eloquent litany on this explosively controversial issue, which the media (with help from a whiny President Clinton) are already maneuvering front and center for the presidential race. As I’ve indicated in the past, I firmly agree with this view of the Second Amendment as the crucial recourse of private citizens against government tyranny, which world history shows can arise with stunning speed.
I’m very grateful for a just-arrived letter from John Coates, who notes of a column of mine from over a year ago that the great sociologist Erving Goffman (from whom Michel Foucault shamelessly pilfered) was not, as I said, American but in fact Canadian. This flabbergasted me, since Goffman’s entire career was spent in the United States. Sure enough, it turns out that Goffman (like Marshall McLuhan) was born in Alberta and received his B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1945. He received his graduate degrees from the University of Chicago, where he began teaching.
As a fan of Goffman from my college days, I wish I could have cited his Canadian roots in my Feb. 17 lecture at Fordham University, “The North American Intellectual Tradition,” the Second Annual Marshall McLuhan Lecture co-sponsored by the Canadian Consulate.
While the excerpt published in Toronto’s Globe and Mail did not mention Goffman, the original lecture did. I traced Goffman’s classic 1956 work, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” back to Thorstein Veblen and noted that both Veblen and Goffman were invoked in the pioneering work of Norman O. Brown.
I called Brown’s 1959 book, “Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History,” one of the great nonfiction works of the 20th century and declared, “It is what Michel Foucault longed to achieve but never did.” Throughout the lecture, I denounced the fatiguingly idolized Frankfurt School (notably Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno) for their “overschematic” and yet “imprecise” system of thought, which I find completely useless for analyzing the age of media or culture in general after World War II.
Finally, my top pop moments of the past three weeks:
1) Ava Gardner, with her moist red lips and bright green dress, lip-synching “Lovin’ That Man of Mine” in “Showboat” (1951), broadcast by Turner Classic Movies. This is the hypnotic scene that, when I saw the film at its first release (I was 4), turned me into a lifelong idolater of pagan goddesses.
2) Audrey Hepburn flouncing charmingly about as Holly Golightly (“Quel rat!”) in one of the seminal films of my adolescence, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), also broadcast by Turner Classic Movies. Like Kim Novak in “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958) and Hayley Mills in “The Parent Trap” (1961), Hepburn represented a physical and spiritual freedom that was electrifying in that cloistered, conventional era.
3) Bo Derek being interviewed last week on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” Derek’s mediocre acting career as a simpering, vapid Southern California blond did not prepare one for her amazing warmth and natural intelligence. Even her diction has Euro-class. How centered she seems! Derek has matured beautifully in ways that Madonna, for example, hasn’t, despite the latter’s still-manic claims of magical transformation by motherhood.
4) Congratulations to Maxim for yet another sensational cover photo. The March issue, with its blazing red headline, “Return of the Ultra Vixen!” fairly lit up the sky from 500 feet away at airport newsstands. Maxim’s talented art directors sure know how to feature a bust: The smoldering Jenny McCarthy in her bursting black-vinyl brassiere and short shorts looks like a bold ship’s figurehead — the Winged Victory of Samothrace on a midnight pirate raid. Month by month, Maxim is driving the last nails into the coffin of American Puritanism.