Category: Social Issues

Guns and R̶o̶s̶e̶s̶ People

Guns

Guns are more important than people in America. There’s no “here” here. Nobody is going to go first, and just do what is right for the country.

During the Civil War, when soldiers — who were not professional soldiers, but conscripts or volunteers who came to the battlefield as members of a state militia — when soldiers would step up to the skirmish line, they knew that the first row of soldiers to advance would almost certainly be killed in short order. They just did it. It’s impossible to overemphasize the courage of the Civil War soldier, North or South.

That kind of courage no longer exists in America, except for the isolated individual, here and there. And, especially, it doesn’t exist among gun owners. Those guys in France, who disarmed the nut ball. In America, the American gun owner would have said, “I wish I had my pistol,” and sat silent. Those guys gave a lesson that went unlearned: what is needed to maintain order without firearms is courage. The modern American gets courage from a gun, the way the coward in a Hollywood movie gets it from a bottle. So weakened has become the American citizen’s fortitude, that he needs to take his gun with him to buy a burger at Burger King.

Less than 30% of homicides are committed by strangers to the victims. 30%. Three out of four people murdered in America, will be murdered through violence by someone they know.

Of violent crimes committed by strangers to the victim, less than 10% involve the use of a firearm. The violent criminal with a gun is a scary monster with psychological impact, but no empirical validity. The person in possession of a firearm is more likely to use it against family or friend, or himself, than to use it in commission of a crime or in defence against a crime.

People

If gun owners decided to support background checks, regulation of the size of magazine clips, creation of a database to track gun sales, requirements for safe storage and transport, licensing for gun ownership, and insurance requirements, could we reduce the amount of homicides by firearm? Damn right, we could.

It’s not going to happen. The wife shot by her estranged husband, the bloody corpses of little children strewn about a school, the moviegoers lying in pools of their own blood, the neighbor girl shot in the head by the toddler who found Daddy’s gun under his pillow, — those deaths are the price gun owners are willing to pay, the suffering gun owners are willing to inflict on others, to maintain their right to keep and bear arms.

Do We Still Love Torture, Really?

The squib below is taken from Michel Foucault’s book, Discipline and Punish. Have we come a long way in 250 years, or have we just taken a really long time to get here?

What I note here is that the execution was carried out publicly. In the 18th Century, such a spectacle as described here was not considered out of bounds, unacceptable, to its witnesses. Nor did the executioners object to the roles they played.

The open question is, are we better human beings for now finding this behavior repulsive? Many people today make casual reference to torture, and to mistreatment, as though they were as indifferent to the inflicted suffering as the 18th Century witnesses of and participants in this execution. Is that even true, are people still able to embrace this behavior? Is repulsion at this violence evidence that we have become “namby-pamby’?


Foucault, “The Body of the Condemned” 1

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris,’ where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds;’ then, ‘in the said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected here, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulfur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulfur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds’.

‘Finally, he was quartered,’ recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. ‘This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints …

‘It is said that, though he was always a great swearer, no blasphemy escaped his lips; but the excessive pain made him utter horrible cries, and he often repeated: “My God, have pity on me! Jesus, help me!” The spectators were all edified by the solicitude of the parish priest of St Paul’s who despite his great age did not spare himself in offering consolation to the patient.’

Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: ‘The sulfur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, the executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

‘After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. The the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

‘Monsieur Le Breton, the clerk of the court, went up to the patient several times and asked him if he had anything to say. He said he had not; at each torment, he cried out, as the damned in hell are supposed to cry out, “Pardon, my God! Pardon, Lord.” Despite all this pain, he raised his head from time to time and looked at himself boldly. The cords had been tied so tightly by the men who pulled the ends that they caused him indescribable pain. Monsieur Le Breton went up to him again and asked him if he had anything to say; he said no. Several confessors went up to him and spoke to him at length; he willingly kissed the crucifix that was held out to him; he opened his lips and repeated: “Pardon, Lord.”

‘The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally,after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

‘Finally, the executioner, Samson, said to Monsieur Le Breton that there was no way or hope of succeeding, and told him to ask their Lordships if they wished him to have the prisoner cut into pieces. Monsieur Le Breton, who had come down from the town, ordered that renewed efforts be made, and this was done; but the horses gave up and one of those harnessed to the thighs fell to the ground.The confessors returned and spoke to him again. He said to them (I heard him): “Kiss me, gentlemen.” The parish priest of St Paul’s did not dare to, so Monsieur de Marsilly slipped under the rope holding the left arm and kissed him on the forehead. The executioners gathered round and Damiens told them not to swear, to carry out their task and that he did not think ill of them; he begged them to pray to God for him, and asked the parish priest of St Paul’s to pray for him at the first mass.

‘After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.

‘When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

‘… in accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes.’


  1. Foucault, Michel. “The Body of the Condemned.” Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995. 12-14. Print. 

“Pro-Life” or Pro-Life?

I have a thing about sourcing citations. Whenever I see some cite online, and particularly one that is agreeable, I want to know its provenance. A lot of “quotes” are nothing of the sort; Edmund Burke did not write, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil…” In fact, nobody wrote it. Or said it. It just appeared in the common speech.

We’re all familiar with the Benjamin Franklin trope, “Those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

What he actually wrote was:

Those who would give essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.1

It took me a long time to find that source, as I’m not a Franklin scholar. But, until I did find it, I tended to be shy about deploying that particular “quotation.”

Recently, a quotation by Sister Joan Chittister surfaced (or, resurfaced).

But I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking. If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed and why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.2

I am familiar with the Sister, and an admirer. This nugget struck me as something she might have said, or written. But where — what was its source? With the power of Google, I was able to track it down.

Within the context of the interview, this observation makes sense. And, she means what she says. She’s not advocating for abortion (which, come on, would be right out). She’s making the valid point that Christian responsibility does not end at birth. And, the observation makes sense on its own.

What is “pro-life”?

The foundation of “pro-life” is white supremacy. The “pro-life” movement was created by Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell as part of a campaign against the forced desegregation of “Christian academies.” 3

The private Christian school was the refuge for the thousands of white southerners who did not want their kids in schools with blacks, and these “white flight” schools mushroomed across the south.

Weyrich was looking for a way to lever Evangelical Christians into voting Republican, and Falwell was looking for a way to keep Christian schools white. Falwell had previously rejected Weyrich’s overtures to get involved in the abortion debate. He changed his mind after Carter announced his plan to get the white flight schools to desegregate.

As late as 1976, the Southern Baptist Conference, hardly a bastion of Godless liberalism, had reaffirmed its long-standing position that abortion should be available for women, “under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” Some notable Evangelical theologians, with distinguished careers, had published and taught varying positions on social issues like abortion, the death penalty, and evolution. As the Falwell-Weyrich Axis gained political power, it purged all the politically incorrect thinkers from the Evangelical ranks.4

The coalition of savvy politico and charismatic preacher was an outstanding success. Evangelical Christians were driven into the political process and remain there to this day. Increasingly, however, the single-issue voters who have adopted the anti-abortion banner have diverged from the (supposed) Christian underpinning of that banner. As Sister Joan so astutely pointed out 15 years ago, Christian duty does not end when the baby takes its first breath. Christ gave us a laundry list of proper behaviors, that has been tossed aside.

Sister Joan emphasizes that

Scripture is not a driving test. Scripture is a challenge to the heart and this moment. Scripture is the whole scripture. But we don’t believe it’s frozen in time.5

The political Evangelical movement has lost that connection to Scripture. Lacking the intellectual strength and moral fiber that comes from thinking, questioning, and agonizing over answers, the heirs of the Weyrich-Falwell Axis have wandered so far from the path, they now advocate for the parental rights of rapers, deny marital rape, and propagate bizarre theories like “women don’t get pregnant from rape.” They curse poor women who have babies; they denounce any government program that feeds, clothes, shelters, educates, those babies.

What’s wrong with the “pro-life” movement is not that its members oppose abortion. Very few, if any, people are “for” abortion. They’re for the right to choose. No, what is wrong with the movement is that its members are not pro-life — not for doing everything in their power to make life on earth precious for each new inhabitant. When that baby is born, it is one of God’s creatures. That was Christ’s message when he walked among us. That’s still his message, today.


  1. Franklin, Benjamin. “An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania.” Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin. Ed. William Temple Franklin. Vol. 2. N.p.: M’Carty & Davis, 1840. 48. Print. 
  2. Moyers, Bill. “NOW with Bill Moyers. Transcript.” PBS. PBS, 12 Nov. 2004. Web. 01 Aug. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript346_full.html&gt;. 
  3. Balmer, Randall. “The Real Origins of the Religious Right.” POLITICO Magazine. Politico LLC, 27 May 2014. Web. 01 Aug. 2015. <http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133.html#.Vbyl2B8Syzd&gt;. 
  4. Balmer, op. cit. 
  5. Moyers, op. cit.