United States has a love affair with guns. Lately, it has become more noticeable as a result of the increasing number of mass shootings that have been occurring. Everybody in the States has been wringing their hands and crying out how awful this present state of affairs is. But as long as the Republicans can block any meaningful legislation, it is highly doubtful that the massacres will stop. In contrast, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister from our neighbor to the north has just passed a law designed to prevent people from acquiring and using any handgun. At least, Canada is civilized. The question is why the United States, alone among first world nations, has this obsession not only with guns but with a person’s right to do with a gun anything that he sees fit to do, short of injuring and killing another human being. Except in self-defense.
As usual, I would say there are probably several layers of causation. But I am going to focus on the layer that is most related to the ideas I have been espousing in this column. As the wealthiest nation in the world, Americans have access to more electronically-based entertainments and conveniences than any other nation in the world. With regard to conveniences, Americans increasingly are outfitting their home with the Internet of Things. This is where different devices are connected to one another and can, as it were, speak to one another so that they can work in concert to give their owners an increasingly frictionless mediated life experience. In general, Americans are grabbing any device that can make their lives a little more frictionless and mediated.
And then, of course, there are all the screens that Americans use. Movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones, and tablets. Americans are immersed in their screen reality. On a screen, a person can avoid experiencing any abrasive physical stimulation by immersing himself in a vacuumized two-dimensional living environment. Of course, for many of us, the vacuumized living environment will increasingly be three-dimensional as people begin to explore virtual reality more and more. Talk about a living environment that will make people numb from being so frictionless and mediated.
At any rate, as Americans increasingly immerse themselves in different layers of an experiential vacuum, and, as a result, increasingly sink into deeper layers of numbness, they look for different phenomena in their fields of experience that can pull them out of the numbness. Some people look for the kicks obtained from certain psychotropic drugs and plants. Some look for the kicks obtained from kinky sex. Others look for the kicks obtained from guns. What better way to pull out of numbness than the sharp angular defined discrete stimuli that come from firing a gun. The big bang that comes from firing a gun is the perfect antidote, at least temporarily, for the lifelessness generated by immersion in a vacuum. It compresses experience into a spatial dot and a temporal instant, into an explosive experience that fills the external world of a person with an incredible tension pocket, that, at that moment, lifts a person completely out of his experiential vacuum.
And, of course, the tension pocket is even greater when it is used to fire at something. Firing at a target gives a person some relief from numbness. But not nearly as much as using it to kill some organism. Hunting for wild animals, for instance. And yet nothing shocks a person out of his numbness more than killing another person. Particularly, when it is killing another person for no reason. Killing another person is the purest way of taking that person and sinking him into the deepest experiential vacuum. And almost as if it were a phenomenon in rebound, the perpetrator of a meaningless killing bounces momentarily out of his own numbness with an intensity that few other experiences are able to give to him. The one experience that gives him an even greater sensory impact is committing suicide. Granted the escape from numbness is but an instant as the person then sinks himself into the ultimate experiential vacuum of total death. A person has to be pretty desperate or crazed to take such a course of action. And yet it is a course taken by many mass killers. Killing other people provides some relief from numbness, but it is not strong enough and it doesn’t last long enough. And although the experience of suicide is not long lasting, it certainly is an experience of great intensity.
What an amazingly powerful instrument a gun is. It is the perfect antidote for people who have become quite disconnected from the organic stimuli of traditional natural environments. Or who, as a result of sustained immersion in modern technology, have lost the capacity to properly absorb organic stimuli, even when it is present. It is the perfect vehicle of expression for the person who decides to become a mass killer.