Pacifism is Good Medicine for Gun Violence

Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.” And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day! Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.
Barack Obama, October 2015

I recently generated some unintentional hilarity at a dinner table when I said that pacifism was the key to reducing gun violence. “So," a friend said, "you’re not only gonna get us world peace in five years. You’re gonna get us gun control too.”

Well ... maybe so, though I won't do it alone.

Many of us are in despair about the rash of gun shootings in the United States of America. We're stunned and furious about our NRA-funded Congress's inability to pass gun control laws. Even President Obama seems to be resigned to short-term failure, since Congress is nowhere even close to passing serious gun control laws, and instead wastes its time blocking small measures like closing the gun show loophole.

The stakes are painfully high when we talk about gun violence: images of dead children on one side, rhetoric about the bloody tree of liberty on the other. Because the stakes are so high, our debates about gun control and gun violence tend to be harsh, shrill and unforgiving. That describes the state of the debate today: loud, shrill, painful but yet ineffective and without hope.

Since our nation is deadlocked on this terrible problem, it won't hurt to take a step back from the screaming battle lines and try to think more broadly about why we're stuck. The philosophy of pacifism has much insight to offer with regard to this major problem, and can be good medicine for gun violence for at least three reasons:

1. There Cannot Be Peace At Home In A World At War

If you talk to an NRA supporter about why guns must never be banned, it probably won't take long before the NRA supporter reveals the motivation we all know and understand: many Americans believe their country to be at imminent threat of foreign invasion, abetted by internal enemies who are already scheming to end America's tradition of individual freedom. The guns are a stockpile against this future threat, as well as a symbol of determined resistance.

This vision may seem paranoid to critics of the NRA ... however, this paranoia is stoked by the horrific realities of violence, dictatorship and totalitarian exploitation that exists today around the world, and therefore cannot be easily dismissed.

The United States of America cannot exist as a fortress of peaceful domesticity in North America while wars rage in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As long as war is the primary fact of life outside our nation's boundaries, guns will continue to be very popular in our homes. That's not to say that ending the epidemic of violent wars around the world (if such a thing could happen) would immediately solve the epidemic of gun violence at home. But the obverse seems to be self-evident: as long as violent wars are going on around the world, it will be that much harder to reduce the domestic paranoia that keeps the NRA in business.

The connection between global war and domestic gun violence can also be seen in the life stories and profiles of the sick individuals who commit acts of mass violence such as school shootings. These sick individuals show a variety of interests: sometimes they're obsessed with Batman, or with dogs, or with video games. But mass shooters have one disturbing characteristic: they tend to relate heavily to military themes, and are often obsessive guerrophiles.

2. Gun Control Advocates Must Treat Their Opponents With Respect

The great nonviolent campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were exceptional for always treating opponents with dignity and respect. Too often, those of us who support greater gun control laws today make the mistake of ridiculing and minimizing our opponents.We would do well to follow the examples of Gandhi and King and begin taking a higher road in the gun control debate.

This may be easier said than done, especially in some of the East/West coastal cities where insulting "dumb rednecks" is commonplace. (Sorry, but it is, and this needs to stop.) Gun control activists need to remember that NRA supporters are not stupid, are not uneducated, are not small-minded.

I have the privilege of knowing many different people who are passionate gun-owners, and have learned that there are many different reasons, some entirely valid, for their interest in guns. The tradition of pacifism reminds us that we should try to always avoid the mistake of categorizing, stereotyping or insulting those we disagree with. We need to take on the NRA directly, but we must do this from a position of dignity, empathy and respect.

3. We Can't Get Rid of the Little Guns Without Getting Rid of the Big Guns

It's no coincidence that the United States of America has the worst gun violence in the world, and also spends more money than any other country on weapons and soldiers.

We mentioned the "gun show loophole" above. But the photo at the top of this page doesn’t show some neighborhood gun show in some Missouri hockey rink. It’s the annual AUSA Conference in Washington DC: the biggest gun show of all, where USA military personnel gather to talk and drink and admire shiny new weapons.

The AUSA is about a hundred times bigger than any neighborhood gun show, and those shiny new weapons are paid for by taxpayers. That’s some gun show loophole.

Why don't gun control activists protest this massive conference, which takes place in Washington DC next week?

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Dear Friends: We are beginning our Indiegogo drive for, a new non-profit organization and website. We need to raise $10,000 and are 25% there. Please donate today.

Please Donate! Announcing Our Secret Project ...

My friends, we're ready to show you the secret project we've been cooking up for nearly a year. Literary Kicks is happy to announce that we are founding a new non-profit organization, website and social media presence called Pacifism21.

To find out what the name means, and to watch the cool video I directed myself (yes, I got my Scorsese on — are you talking to me?) please go to our Indiegogo page and, for God's sakes, please donate some money to this worthy effort.

If you are visiting me here on Literary Kicks, you know that the websites I build are built to last. This new project, a long-awaited spinoff from the Philosophy Weekend series that we closed down for improvements a year ago, is an attempt to construct a platform for a serious discussion of global politics and ethics from an existential and empathetic point of view.

Most importantly, Pacifism21 and the website are designed to fill a need, and to energize the already fast-growing community of smart pacifists around the world.

What We're Creating Next

I wonder how many years ago I first made the announcement: "Something new is coming from the Litkicks laboratory". I've been cooking up a secret project for a while, and I've really lost track of all the times I thought I was close to launching this thing.

Maybe the first teaser was this one, from January 2012, in which I hinted that I was looking for new ways to use the blog format to present a unique form of philosophical expression. Then there was this one, from six months down the road, when I was looking to bust out with a new blogging format but clearly hadn't actually drawn any closer to the big dream. Life intervenes, you know? I've often had to put family and work ahead of my creative plans, though I never stopped advancing in small steps. This has been a long time coming.

Well, my friends, next week I'm actually going to launch the thing I've been promising for a while. Yes, really. And I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about it.

Herschel Silverman, the Bebop Beatnik Candy Store Poet of Bayonne, New Jersey

It was very easy for me to meet Herschel Silverman, then a Beat/jazz poet of some renown, around twenty-five years ago when I began frequenting the downtown New York City poetry scene that swirled between St. Marks Church, ABC No Rio and the Nuyorican.

These were the years when Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso were still alive. Ginsberg showed up constantly at public events; Corso didn't. I can remember a hundred familiar faces from that era, but the memory of Herschel Silverman's gentle countenance brings a special smile. He was a beaming soul, a dignified and natty presence, soft-spoken and so humble that he really didn't seem to care whether he was on stage basking in applause or in the back of a room clapping politely for some greasy kid who wanted to win a poetry slam and become a superstar. Herschel Silverman was himself never a superstar, but he was a part of the fabric of the spoken word scene, and he had a magic way with words.

O chop liver 2nd Ave Deli free hors drovers for appetizer in skyrocket rental cite where Veselka newsstand had bad new Tienamen Square while sidewalk crowds walk cittee in peace St. Marks Place where Zen sushi sold and pita and pizza and Afghan sulfide where underground tapes & cd's comic books & outrageous cittee t-shirts shades & jewelry & Gem Spa cigar / candystore video game bing bing bing cite where chocolate egg cream dreams are fulfilled across from money machine bank near Ukranian Home Restaurant serving the best chopped beet salad & the old hotel called by a poet The Cittee Treadle where outside a group of heavymetal people with Mohawk-heads hang out with their ears nose lips tongues and what else hanging pierced with gold earrings and up the block around the corner on 3rd Ave the St Marks bookstore with Allen Ginsberg's books in window and the old Grassroots Tavern down the block that Allen pointed out years ago and on 2nd Ave the famous B & H Dairy restaurant with special soup of the day served with biggest hunk of buttered challah-toast and in middle of block St. Marks Pl the old Ukranian Hall became the Electric Circus now a rehab center hangout for drop-outs doing arts and crafts and something missing on 2nd Ave whatever happened to Fillmore East O this ever-changing cittee where stores come and go like yellow cabs O street festival cittee speed cittee whistling bicycle cittee Village Voice cittee and defunct East Village Other cittee Tompkins Square Park band-shell memories and the Homeless Tent cittee at times all seem become a video meat cittee and early 60's pome-vibe-Metro-Cfe now only an echo in trendee Telefone Bar O Bubble-Blessed Shabbos Chicken chunkee cholent here Tahttala cittee feeling ill go slurp 2nd Ave Deli Lebewhole's chickee soup better than penicillin and with lite as heavenly clouds kneidlach floating in cittee cittee go down easy East Village be Boho be Straight be Bi be Gay in everything goes cittee go condo go co-op go cable be magical in mystical cittee go see ancient graveyard with traffic whooshing spasmodic honking cittee go First and Second and Third Aves and Alfabet cittee A B C D you bet cittee and get your numbers zipped cittee 10003 10009 and telefone number 674 675 477 254 533 475 529 282 all East Village numbers in New York CITTEE CITTEE CITTEE
— Herschel Silverman, "Cittee Cittee Cittee"
Lift Off: New and Selected Poems 1961-2001

Does Nonviolence Work? Ta-Nehisi Coates and Maria Stephan

I've been trying for a while now to come to terms with the emergence of Ta-Nehisi Coates as the clearest voice of black defiance and determination during the police violence outrages of the past couple years. The appeal of Coates's basic message of empowerment through self-awareness is obvious, but I have a big problem with a second message that permeates all his works, which is that black activists may as well reject the peaceful methodology of Martin Luther King. "Violence works," Coates wrote last year in an Atlantic column that inspired this Litkicks blog post. "Nonviolence sometimes works too."

These are cutting words, and not necessarily wise or mature. I addressed Coates a second time in April when he wrote again of nonviolent resistance as an irrelevant and corrupt political philosophy:

When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

This is the familiar "Malcolm X" stance on nonviolent resistance, and many other black writers have taken this position as well. Martin Luther King was never universally acclaimed among black activists — though King's amazing achievements stand as great pillars of inspiration to activists of every kind in every part of the world — and it's hardly newsworthy that many reject his deeply principled approach to social change today.

But other engaged activists (like myself) find a vital lifeline for the future of the world in the philosophy of nonviolent resistance, and we ought to pay special attention to Ta-Nehisi Coates, who speaks as an influential voice of a rising generation. This author has the sheer talent as a lyrical essayist to reach large numbers of readers in the deepest recesses of their hearts. I finally began to understand the extent of Coates's unique potential late last spring after I read his delightful coming-of-age memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

The Internet Age Began on August 9, 1995

The Internet Age turns 20 years old this weekend, on Sunday, August 9.

I'm not talking about the Internet itself, which was born in the late 1960s when two computers on two different university networks first exchanged messages, thus establishing a network between networks, an "inter-net". I'm talking about the craze, the delirium, the stock market booms and crashes, the "everything is changing" meme that turned out to be true.

Two separate things happened on August 9, 1995, both by chance emerging from Northern California though they had little else in common. The first was a scheduled event: the initial public offering (IPO) by Netscape, a startup tech firm designed to make software to power the Internet.

My Summer Vacation at Willa Cather Camp

(Please enjoy this delightful photo essay by Sherri Hoffman Hoye, who has been a friend of Litkicks for many years but has never felt inspired to contribute an article until she made a recent journey to a town called Red Cloud, Nebraska ... -- Levi)

I grew up in rural Iowa. It's always affirming to validate your place of origin with literature, and I got my first taste of this by reading W.P Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, which later became the movie Field of Dreams. After college I moved to Omaha, Nebraska and became a high school teacher. My urge to acknowledge my space in literary terms remained. For the next 30 years I tried, and sometimes failed miserably, to illuminate the lives of my students by exposing them to a certain great writer from Nebraska. I often spend my summers discovering new ways to do this.

Each year the Willa Cather Foundation holds an international conference in her hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska. This annual event brings together scholars and enthusiasts who yearn to discuss this novelist's personal journey within her own space: the wide-open prairies of the great plains, amidst the personalities and legacies of past personalities who sought, not the promise of the West, but its opportunities for true freedom. I have my own reason to attend this conference: I appreciate Willa Cather's novels on a personal level, and I always hope to find new ways to make them relevant for my high school students, who are on the cusp of the custody of their own lives.

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