A Word on the Charleston Shooting (and Guns)

What happened last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is a tragedy, to be sure – despite what Bill O’Reilly says. (Apparently, an act of terror can’t result in a tragedy – as if they’re somehow mutually exclusive.) The pain resulting from the loss of nine innocent lives shouldn’t sting more because of racial motivation, but somehow it does. Racism in America still exists, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Watch Jon Stewart’s moving and heartfelt monologue for what will probably be the most reasonable and intelligent reaction to what happened in Charleston.

For my part, it’s fucked up and my heart goes out to all those affected.

But that isn’t my point or what I’d like to discuss. Instead, let’s talk about the weapon of choice here (a gun) and its consequences. Yes, I’m going to politicize this (if not come dangerously close) because a few things need to be said and reiterated.

Jon Stewart rightly prophesied about the aftermath, “[W]e still won’t do jack shit” about gun control or regulation. “And that’s the part that blows my mind.” How many shootings have to occur before we can sit down and finally have a serious debate about actual gun regulation?

Between 1982 and 2011, the US had 69 mass shootings, or about one every 200 days. Since then, the rate has almost tripled to about one every 64 days. Basically, one every two months. That’s insanity. (Note: The unofficial standard for a mass shooting, according the FBI, is four or more victims.) The data used excludes mass killings in domestic cases, making the data used here focused on public shootings.

Of course, having the right to own a gun – as we do – comes with consequences. As James Fox argued on CNN:

We treasure our personal freedoms in America, and unfortunately, occasional mass shootings, as horrific as they are, is one of the prices that we pay for the freedoms that we enjoy.

Yes, that’s true. And it’s also a ludicrous argument. The Second Amendment protects the people of this country from government tyranny, we get it. But the regulation of gun ownership as a attempt to prevent – or even lower – future needless violence is somehow seen as infringement.

It’s funny, because we have laws regulating the sale of alcohol and laws against drinking and driving…but that’s not seen as infringing on our ability to have a beer. Then there’s the argument gun control won’t work because bad guys will always find a way to obtain a firearm. Yes, much like illicit drugs, that will probably always be the case. However, the idea that regulation simply seeking to lower the rate of gun deaths is pointless because we can’t completely prevent them is absurd. By that same logic, we shouldn’t have laws against cocaine or marijuana at all.

The change in attitude towards drunk driving over the last 25 years, and the resulting increase in penalties, has seen a steep decline in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (down 36% since 1991) and in drunk driving fatalities with those under 21 (63% in the same time). Even more impressive, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities between 1982 and 2013 went from 21,113 to 10,076 – that’s a 52% decrease.

Legislation and lobbying efforts didn’t completely erase drunk driving-related injuries or deaths, but that doesn’t negate or even minimize in any way the progress already made. Similarly, gun control – even something as simple as mandatory background checks on any and all gun sales – could prevent some gun-related deaths. Trying to prevent any amount of gun violence – even one death – via regulation has nothing to do with your flag-waving bullshit. We on the side of gun control don’t want to take away rifle from a hunter or a collector. What we want is to remove the chance of another racist or mentally unstable person or felon or any otherwise run-of-the-mill nutjob from acting out their murder fantasies with a firearm.

A gun isn’t inherently dangerous – which is to say, a gun placed on a table and left alone won’t hurt anyone. Much like dynamite, a gun requires an outside agent for it to serve its purpose. I’ll concede the point that, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” because it’s true. That said, guns sure make it easy. And that’s the problem.


On Louis C.K. and Common Sense Politics

Louis C.K. is undoubtedly the finest comedian working today. He marries the absurd and the profane and, in so doing, he’s allowed himself the freedom to go anywhere with his comedy. He’s as fearless as any comic in history.

He’s openly called one of his daughters “an asshole” on stage as well as discussing how nothing she says at age 5 is worth listening to. He’s says “faggot,” “cunt,” and “nigger” on stage without any hesitation. (Within that bit is an insightful discussion on language.) And then there’s “Of Course But Maybe,” a piece of comedy that may well go down as both the pinnacle of his career and an all-time classic routine.

Which brings me to politics. Over the last handful of comedy specials, Louis has emerged as a comedian doing political humor without being a political or topical comic in the vein of Lewis Black or Jon Stewart. That is, he doesn’t make his living being political, nor does his audience expect him to be so. Instead, when politics comes up in his act, it’s because that’s where the humor happens to be for whatever point he’s making. That said, the point found at the end of “Of Course” seems to have become a hallmark of Louis’s worldview – namely, politically minded but based on common sense. It’s interesting to note that common sense in this appears to be largely leftist in nature.

See, “Of Course But Maybe” (taken from his 2013 special Oh My God) ends on what is not only a fantastic punchline but also a valid point. I won’t ruin it, but it has to do with how humans are shitty to each other, and perhaps that’s how we achieved things like the Great Pyramids, the US railroad system and smartphones – in particular, iPhones and Foxconn. As he rightly declares, “There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a fuck about a particular people.”

God also find Louis talking about how men are the most dangerous threat to women and wondering why the latter would ever willingly spend time alone with the former. And he’s right. Over the course of history, he argues, men have been “shitty people” to women and it is a miracle that any woman would accept an invitation for a date with a man. It’s so historically recorded, ingrained and, at least for part of the population, sadly systemic of the male psyche that a term was created to describe the viewpoint of a man approaching a women on the street: Schrödinger’s Rapist. It’s seemingly feminist in its delivery and viewpoint. And is also derived from common sense.

But it’s only the beginning of Louis’s argument. He’s expanded on that same point – that people are shitty to each other – to include all white people. 2011’s Live at the Beacon Theater includes musings on when Europeans came over to America and called Native Americans “Indians”…even though they weren’t from India:

They weren’t even Indians. We called them that by accident, and we still call them that. Like, we knew in a month that it wasn’t Indians, but we just don’t give a shit. We never corrected.

It’s not politically correct in its tone. It is, however, more in line with the movement to excise racism from sports than it is with the view that Redskins is “just a name.” Which is to say, a bit left. And, again, common sense: Why call a person born in America an Indian and not a Native American if you knew better?

He then goes on to argue white people might not be from Earth because “we don’t like it here.” He observes that we need “smooth surfaces,” “right angles,” and the temperature to be just right. Then he moves on to discussing environmentalism and Christianity – or, rather, that many who oppose environmental regulations because they hurt the economy are also Christians, and how odd it is:

If you believe that God gave you the Earth, that God created the Earth for you, why would you not have to look after it? Why would you not think when He came back, he wouldn’t go, “What the fuck did you do? I gave this to you, motherfucker. Are you crazy?!

He then imagines a conversation between a person and God, where God is asking why this person started drilling for oil. Louis imagines him meekly replying with “Because I wanted to go faster, I’m not fast enough” and because he was cold. God replies, “What do you mean cold? I gave you everything you need, you piece of shit.” The man responds, “Because…jobs.”

God then demands an explanation of what a job is and why anyone would need one. The man explains jobs are for money, for food. God says money isn’t needed because food is in nature. “Yeah, but it doesn’t have bacon around it.” It’s absurdist, to be sure. Yet, under the silliness lies some seriously biting commentary of people, especially Americans. Yes, Americans are stereotypically gluttonous and the phrase “bacon wrapped” is a microcosm of that. Go a little further, though, and you find the seedlings of leftist economic thought: Communism.

[I’d like to pause here to note something. When I suggest that a portion of a Louis C.K. bit might be communist or leans towards a communist notion, I don’t mean it pejoratively. I’m not using it to frame an American media “Us v Them” mentality or anything of the sort. I’m not trying to be a talking head spouting off crazy shit on a cable news network to secure ratings. I’m simply applying outside analysis to help make a larger point. (This is to say nothing of the fact that I have a political science degree and can actually explain what Communism is and is not.) I’m also trying to avoid any arguments later that might devolve into this.]

Louis’s point is: What did humans truly need money or jobs or an economy for when life as we know it began? Humanity did more or less have everything it needed before money or government was invented, so what’s the point? Which, effectively, is what Karl Marx envisioned: true Communism removes the need for wealth, jobs or government. Hell, you could easily argue that the Garden of Eden was the first Communist society. Perhaps God is a commie. (I’d love it if one day we found out God is a Marxist. Holy shit, would that piss off the Red States. I think Ted Cruz’s head would explode.)

Whatever your opinion of Communism or leftist economic thought, Louis simply worked backwards from basic logic to arrive where he did. In that hypothetical exchange between God and man, he cut away any excess in human life to get to “What do you need money for?!” in a spectacularly simple fashion. He path was abstract and silly, but that’s what makes comedy so great: Louis CK goes places no one else would go, or even think to go. It’s also what makes his politically-minded bits so powerful – they’re based on reason and logic, with emotion and stupidity completely stripped away.

This brings us back to the trifecta of faggot, cunt and nigger. Louis’s use of all three on stage is defended by the comedian himself through a very plain argument: they’re just words. On stage, he didn’t and doesn’t use them towards a gay person, a black person or a woman. The terms are just that, terms. People may use these three – or any “offensive” word – to hurt others, but that isn’t Louis’s intention. As he explains:

A lotta words, they’re not bad words. No words are bad, but some people start using them to hurt other people and then they become bad. There’s words that I love that I can’t use ’cause other people use them wrong – to hurt other people.

His belief in the freedom of speech, especially in extreme cases, is consistent with other common sense views mentioned above. It’s certainly a liberal viewpoint – “liberal” here being classical liberalism, not the left-right bullshit term used in the US – but that doesn’t make it any less reasonable.

“Reasonable” is perhaps the best way to describe his stance on gay marriage from 2006’s Shameless: “Who gives a shit? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any effect on your life. What the fuck do you care?” He then addresses the social component of those opposed to same-sex marriage:

Like when you see someone stand up on a talk show and say, “How am I supposed to explain to my child that two men are getting married?” I dunno, it’s your shitty kid. You fucking tell them. Why is that anyone else’s problem? Two guys are in love but they can’t get married ’cause you don’t wanna talk to your ugly child for five minutes?

Marriage, it should be noted, is how G.W. F. Hegel believed civil society should function: Everyone in a society should act as if s/he needs everyone else in a quasi-symbiotic relationship. It’s elegant in its simplicity and in its common sense approach. Or, to put that in Louis’s parlance: If we could all just be a little nicer to each other, we’d be so much better off. Which, again, is a leftist view. Perhaps more accurately, it’s more left than right. What’s truly noteworthy, though, is just how many times common sense has apparently led Louis C.K. to form left-leaning opinions.