By George Templeton
By George Templeton
“Man knows himself only to the extent that he knows the world; he becomes aware of himself only within the world, and aware of the world only within himself.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We are more a process than objects. That is why it is easy to change our minds but not our hearts. That is why we are hard to understand.
The mass murder in an Orlando gay nightclub raises questions about the killer’s motivation. Why did he choose hatred instead of hope? What couldn’t he endure? The Old Testament, common to Islam and Christianity, teaches that homosexuality is punishable by death. Was it the blending of fundamentalist religion with political ideology that mattered most? Was his massacre an act of self-deceit?
There are some things that cannot be adequately captured by words. Freedom, faith, and courage are examples. Our understanding of what such words mean comes back to their manifestations, but those are always incomplete, situational, and personal. We encounter these as experiencing, feeling persons having needs; love, belonging, esteem, and fulfillment of life’s mission. But sometimes, self-actualization can run amok, ruined by guilt and a focus on what one is not instead of what one is becoming. We have to fit with what we are growing into. When things don’t make sense we try to find a way to make them reasonable. Personal flaws and disadvantages, accepted responsibly, give life its power.
Paul Tillich, in his book, The Courage to be, explained how self-acceptance was part of the striving of being and becoming. It is that striving that makes us what we are. Without it we will not be. The self evolves. It becomes part of a much larger narrative. When it fails to adjust, it dies.
Self-affirmation is the opposite of selfishness. We can affirm ourselves; accept our errors, shortcomings, and misdeeds as things that we will try to overcome. Individuals can be free without destroying the group and they can defy irrational authority, but without participation one becomes an empty shell and nothing more than a possibility.
The Unbroken Circle
The circle of life is a self-referential ambiguity, a spiral of objectivity and subjectivity. A simple idea that is wrong will spread more rapidly than a complex one that is correct. Truth is like the mythical perpetual machine. It all comes back to something unseen, simpler and deeper than the mechanism that attracts our attention.
Consider two parallel mirrors facing each other. The first mirror sees the second, but the second mirror sees the first seeing the second, and so on. It wants to go on forever, but can it?
In electronics, amplifiers use feedback to improve fidelity. Like people, they can become unstable if the “loop gain” isn’t properly controlled.
“This statement is false.” If the assertion is false, then it must be true. If it is true, then it is false. Reality and fantasy spin forever leaving authenticity in limbo. Was the mass murderer trapped by irreconcilable dissonance?
Is Donald Trump trapped by his freedom to defy political correctness? Crooked Hillary, Creepy Cruz, little Marco, and low energy Jeb are memes. They will influence elections and be remembered, copying, and whirling in the minds of others like the repetitious musical jingles of advertisements. They create a slanted reality that springs from the meme’s ability to replicate and spread like a disease. Is this the way we should be electing presidents? As a people, we lose faith in government when we allow the integrity of our leaders to be impugned.
The writings of philosophers and theologians through the ages reveal that morality and ethics are complicated subjects. The business psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, sees morality as cultural. If we don’t object, permissive values will set the precedent for future elections.
When will we realize that Donald Trump is what he says? The fractured impermanence of video and audio clips is less accurate but more extemporaneous and truthful than the contemplated written word. Words form a character revealing composite. It is a reach too far to think that Donald is being misconstrued. He alleges honesty but instead deceives. He determines the force of himself though he neither accepts nor knows what he advocates. He wants citizens to shoot the bad guys.
Good Guys and Bad Guys
On the TV, Wyatt explains to his posse that the rustlers have captured the ranchers and are leading them out of the canyon on horseback. Each good guy is tied up and his horse is guided by a rope held by a bad guy who rides ahead to lead the way. Wyatt’s plan is to ambush and shoot the bad guys. That will cause the horses carrying the good guys to run away. It’s simple and “beautiful” as Donald Trump would say! They would be rounded up and set free later when the job was done. As the caravan rounds a boulder, Wyatt’s men open fire killing all the bad guys and Wyatt’s plan is successful.
In real life, things are not so clear. Was Wyatt blameless when he made the decision to take the law into his own hands? What about the possibility of injury to a rancher? Is this the kind of law enforcement we admire and want?
In the mythical old West, everyone was armed. Disagreements were potentially a matter of life and death! In reality, they could not afford all those guns, but even if they could, common sense tells you that there is something wrong with this image. The cowboys always wore two six-guns and a belt full of massive 45 caliber rounds. Do you realize how heavy those things are? I was hunting pigs during revolver season. I had one of those holsters mounting the big gun on my belt. By the time I returned to my Land Cruiser, it had scraped all the flesh from my thigh.
In old movies, the revolver does not stop at six shots. They never aim, preferring instead a motion that seems to sling the bullet out of the barrel. Any piece of wood, regardless of how thin, will stop it. In real life, the person who fires a 357 indoors becomes both blind and deaf because of the muzzle blast. What’s worse is that one shot can kill the good guy standing behind the bad guy.
The Deer Hunter
My introduction to deer hunting came by my father’s bolt action 30/40 Krag. It must have had a 96 inch barrel, because I could not see the front sight, but that would not be an impediment to the fun of hunting. Deer hunting was so popular; the schools experienced a de facto closure. But even so, hunting was a secluded quiet experience. In those days, the gun of choice was a bolt action rifle. They are accurate and much more powerful than assault weapons. You have to aim, but only one shot is needed.
Twenty years later, my Land Cruiser growled through the Arizona forest, beneath fallen trees that barely cleared the roof rack, around tree stumps and rocks, and up the hill. I had chosen that location because it was remote and away from other people. The squirrels must have known that it was not their season, because they hung from tree branches and scolded me while I ventured on my way. When I came to a clearing, I stopped and set up my campsite. I retired into the back of my vehicle and went to sleep, awaiting the opening of deer season.
In the morning, I was greeted by the loud booming reverberations of a military battle. The other side of the hill erupted in sustained rapid gunfire with dozens of rounds expended over the next few minutes. I could not see any of the shooters. I had not seen any vehicles or campsites on the way in. Had I seen any, I would have kept on going. It was unexpected and surprising. Only the fusillade was revealing.
What were they shooting at? Were they all lined up shoulder to shoulder and firing at a running deer? On that trip, as on some others, I never fired my gun. I wondered about the prudence of the distant shooters. I did not want to be within range or sound of the unhinged chaotic crowd. It was just too busy for me.
Clues to the recent mass murders can be found in the unrestricted availability of instruments of war. We lived without them in 1970. Why do people think that they need them now?
Recently, the fair and balanced news channel explained that the AR-15 assault rifle was a “single shot long gun”. Liberals incorrectly blame cars for crashes! Although it is hard to see the relationship between a car and an instrument designed for killing people, I could only think of the price of insurance for a 750 horsepower car.
More people are killed in car accidents than by gun violence, but people fear guns more than cars. Unfortunately, more people commit suicide and have gun mishaps than defend themselves with firearms. People know about such things, but mind viruses spread because they are emotional. Our culture of gun violence feeds a peer pressure that is like the free cigarettes passed out on 1960 college campuses by attractive women.
Forgetting that compromise is the ground of civilization, the propaganda machine then turned to the bill that would prohibit potential terrorists who had been investigated by the FBI and placed on a “no fly list” from purchasing hardware for mass murder. We can’t lock up people because of what they say, but we can make it difficult for them to purchase assault rifles, thousand round boxes of ammo, and body armor.
The news claimed that government would use the list to take guns away from conservative patriots. Such statements are not only false; they are irrational. They have been effective in causing us to lose our sense of values. They will go on for generations, just like the 1955 cigarette ads, until we realize that too many guns everywhere are not good for everybody.
Guns are an anachronism that has morphed into an old-time religion supporting a mythical world that never was and a survivalist future that sees only the bad side of man. Like tobacco and smoking, it will take fifty years for common sense to prevail and reverse the current excess. All long journeys are taken one step at a time. The important thing is to start and keep going.