Ah, Saturday nights. The refuge of the gods. For me there’s nothing quite like them. Don’t get it twisted, I’m a family man, so I don’t party. I don’t stay out late. I don’t drink much. I just enjoy the fuck out of the fact that THERE’S NOTHING GOING ON. Literally. Nothing matters because tomorrow’s Sunday and there’s no impending doom hanging over the day. It’s literally pure freedom. Not like Friday evenings, which have to be “earned” with work earlier in the day, or Sundays, whose bountiful charms are always tempered or suppressed by the imminent, grim phantom, not just of Monday mornings, but of the glum workweek as a whole, which hovers like a fart all over the entire scene. (Jesus—talk about mixing metaphors…) But Saturdays, on those most charitable of evenings, I can watch a movie. I can sleep. I can make a big dinner. I can go for a walk. I can write poetry. Whatever. I could even do something “productive” if I so choose, but why would I use my freedom in such a wasteful way?
This past Saturday, I chose to watch an episode of Dateline, which was about a man named Chad who, on one particular Saturday night in 2011, chased a car full of young men down a desolate mountain road in northern California. He then emptied the clip of his AR-15 into the car, injuring 4 of the 6 passengers and killing one. His rationale for doing so was that they were “terrorizing” his family since they had stolen several of his solar lights on two separate occasions.
“I was protecting my family,” was the refrain from the shooter’s mouth through the entirety of the two-hour program. “I was thinking about my kids.”
For their part, the victims of the shooting admitted to stealing the solar lights and insisted that they thought they were partaking in a harmless prank. You see, just like any young American males worth their salt who live in the middle of fucking nowhere, these boys were driving around the backroads drinking cheap, shitty liquor. They were somewhat tipsy and had stumbled upon a warning sign in the darkness of the wilderness that stated that they were entering the “Republic of Chad.” (Chad being the name of the guy who did the shooting, obviously, and he’s probably of the ignorant American type that is unaware of the fact that there already exists a Republic of Chad.) According to the sign, only “Red-blooded Patriotic Christian Americans” were welcome. Anyone not of that description was to be dealt with in the most American of traditions—”deadly force.” The boys may have been drunk, but were still smart enough to detect the absurdity of the whole thing. They decided it would be funny to fuck with whoever put such a dumb-shit sign up and stole some solar lights. Then they returned the next night and stole some more. Then they were shot for their troubles.
We don’t need to get into the specifics of the case, except to say that he fired a warning shot at the boys after he saw their car drive onto his property. Chad then grabbed an AR-15, jumped in his truck and chased them down, shooting at them a number of times, until they made a wrong turn towards a dead end where Chad was able to empty his gun into the vehicle. Some of the particulars of the situation are in dispute by the two parties, but those are the facts generally agreed upon.
Now, the things to note here are this: the boys definitely shouldn’t have been fucking with Chad’s solar lights. Nobody’s making the claim that the boys were in the right, and it’s easy to see how a family could’ve been startled or put at unease by the situation. Chad maybe should’ve called the cops, but he didn’t have cell reception at the cabin, so he left the house, he claims, to follow the boys and get their license plate number. He also had two guns on him at the time, both of which he admits to shooting while simultaneously driving. Thus we’re expected to believe that he can shoot and drive, but not drive and somehow record a license plate number. Furthermore, the boys were leaving the house, retreating from the situation and Chad decided he was going to follow them—which, from where I sit, does not qualify as “self-defense.” He had protected his family with the warning shot and the boys posed no threat to his family at the moment that they were trying to flee. After Chad had fired on the car several times, the boys even waved a white t-shirt out of the window to signify that they didn’t want anymore trouble. The situation was clear.
I bring all of this up because of the fact that Chad shot a bunch of people—and killed one—who committed a crime that is not a capital offense. They stole some of his property and they paid dearly for it at the hands of a vigilante. And yet…there are plenty of people out there who think Chad had every right to do so.
And this is the point I’ve taken the long way to getting to: this entire incident, from Chad believing he had to shoot motherfuckers for stealing some fucking lights, to the people who defend that decision to do so, indicates the presence of a malignant, highly contagious, highly fatal disease that has infected our society. It has very little to do with guns, though, as some people seem to think, and much more to do with how we choose to view the world around us.
Before we move on the the next part of this discussion where I elaborate on this idea—and just to provide some closure to the story—let me point out that Chad was eventually found guilty of Murder in the 1st, after his defense tried to prove—unconvincingly—that the group of boys he was chasing shot at Chad first. Chad, who had also claimed to have been a decorated Army Ranger, was shown to have been a piss-poor soldier who was asked to leave the military after he wore badges signifying he saw combat and was a Ranger when he had earned neither. Now, Chad, who was supposedly just trying to “protect his family,” must try to do so from the highly inconvenient position of being incarcerated for the rest of his life. Good going there, Chad. You really achieved your goals on this one. And, in the meantime, two families have been utterly destroyed by your efforts. Fucking groovy.
Now, let’s get something out of the way before we move on. Not that it has any real bearing on my argument, I feel like I need to clarify my stance on the issue of gun control before proceeding. Again, not because it’s relevant at all to anything I’m about to write, but because people have a tendency to read what they want to read—and love getting Angry about all the stupid shit they think they read, but don’t actually read. Often, the entire points of many arguments are missed utterly because people get stuck on the tangentials of the discussion. So, with that said, I want to make it clear that I am in no means arguing for what is commonly referred to as “Gun Control.” On a personal level, having been a hunter in my teens, and having “gone shootin’” a couple dozen times, I have to admit that—at least since I’ve exited my adolescent years—I don’t find shooting guns to be all that exciting. I find the whole gun-fetish thing to be perverse, grotesque, dangerous, and disturbing. However, as we should have learned from the “War on Drugs” criminalizing certain things does very little to fix the problems associated with their use. And, overwhelmingly, the only people who get punished by breaking such laws are brown people and/or those with lonely wallets.
So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. I’m not advocating going “after” anyone’s guns. That’s not my intent here. It’s not even what I’m really interested in. What I am interested in is what the abundance of gun fetishists, and people who think it’s ok to shoot people for very little reason, says about our culture and society.
When we cut through the bullshit, what we’re dealing with are people who are eager to pursue—and who are often times even eager to dispense—what amounts to vigilante justice. These are people who are interested in the concept of “Revenge.” In essence, when people find it reasonable to want to shoot other people for various transgressions (both perceived and real), what they really desire is to “get back” or “even” with someone who has harmed them.
Here we have to delineate between Revenge and Justice. I realize now that I’m wandering in the realm of abstract language games, and, dare I say, even “Metaphysics,” but these imaginary ideas, unfortunately, have profound consequences in the real world. The idea of Revenge does not equivocate with the idea of Justice because there is a single difference that is accepted by most reasonable people: Revenge is irrational. There’s no telling whether the avenger is going to respond to a slight in equal terms or if the avenger is going to fly off the fucking handle and, like, slowly use a spoon to carve into someone’s skull and filet the brain because that person, perhaps, stole several solar lights. That’s not Justice. Revenge is wild and unpredictable and very often quite cruel and unnecessary. On the other hand, Justice is, if not perfectly rational, much more rational than revenge. At the very least, it pays lip services to rationality. Justice most often includes the investigation by and judgements of third parties whose involvement in the inciting incident is somewhat cold and removed. Objectivity, they call it. And the arbiters of justice, in theory, have to report to society. They answer to the culture at large, and therefore are less likely to dispense excessive punishments. It’s not a perfect system—or even a perfect delineation between the ideas of Justice and Revenge—but it’s what we have to work with. And even if a system of justice is corrupted—as it most certainly is in our society—it’s still better than the alternative of just letting pissed off motherfuckers with destructive weapons dispense justice on their own warped terms.
And this is the precise reason why the concept of Revenge continues to lose traction in most “Civilized” societies. Revenge is always conducted by people who are Angry, and therefore in no condition to think rationally about anything.
Anger: the most destructive force in mankind. Much more destructive than even greed. More destructive than envy or jealousy. More destructive than the much more maligned sloth, or laziness or apathy. For even emotions like greed can inadvertently lead to good things, if those good things can help the greedy person get what they want. For all their evil actions, you gotta give Nike credit for making comfortable shoes. Wal-Mart, for all its transgressions, sells clothing at affordable prices to people who may not be able to afford clothing from other places. McDonald’s feeds people at relatively reasonable prices, and, sure, it’s poison, but it’s also better than starving. Again, we can go into the larger picture here and state that each of those entities produce far more suffering than they soothe, and I would agree wholeheartedly, but that still doesn’t change the fact that there are the occasional good things that come out of the greed.
What good has anger produced? All Anger is irrational. Some people (including myself, in the past) have argued that there is such a thing as “Righteous Anger.” That things like the Civil Rights never would’ve occurred without a justified anger. But I don’t think so (anymore). When I look at the Civil Rights movement, I see anger in the White Supremacists (in this case, meaning every American who favored apartheid, not just the asswipes in white sheets or whatever) and their police forces. Their anger and hate blinded them to the only rational conclusions inherent in the conflict: that Black people were human beings and deserved to be treated with the same rights and respect as they, as White Americans, expected for themselves. That they were going to lose the conflict. That history was going to frown upon them. And so on. People say that this stuff is obvious “in retrospect.” But it was obvious then, if you weren’t blinded enough by anger not to see it.
Certainly, people of color who were victimized became angry. But the movement was successful not because people became angry, but because people became rational. People slowly, and over (too long a period of) time came to realize that things needed to change. A new society needed to be built, rather than the old one needing to be destroyed. When we look back on the racial issue of this country, we see numerous instances where people became angry, and responded with anger, and they were wholly unsuccessful. Change did not come from John Brown or Nat Turner or any of the numerous other slave revolts. If anything, such actions momentarily reinforced the very system they were justifiably rebelling against.
But that’s the thing about anger—even when it’s justified, it’s still not intelligent. And the reason for that is because anger seeks to destroy, never to create. And the person in possession of the anger will willingly and even happily destroy themselves in pursuit of their vengeance.
If you don’t believe me, ask Chad, who destroyed his life, his wife’s life and his children’s lives in his angry drive to “protect” all of the above.
And History is rife with examples. Entire movements destroyed themselves in the pursuit of satiating their Anger. The Bolsheviks. The Nazis. Perhaps eventually American Democracy. Even in our own lives, how many of us have said things in anger that we didn’t mean? I do it several times per day. And some idiots believe that, “You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t feel that way,” but that’s stupid. We say hurtful things because we’re angry and are more interested in serving that master and destroying things or people than we are in saying and doing what we really mean.
Check out Spike Lee’s Do the Right thing. I think the riot and its inciting anger at the end of the film is completely justified, but what was the result? Did the rioters get what they really want?
Do any of us?
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