Nowadays we outsource our madness to the movies. The violence enacted there channels our irrational rages and tantalizes us with our own dark fantasies until they're finally fulfilled in a climax of third-act satisfaction. Some say that Jesus died for our sins; action heroes kill for our sins.
At least, they used to.
The defenders of entertainment violence say it sublimates our darkest impulses, while its critics say that it provokes some of us to act them out. We don't know which is correct, although neither theory justifies censorship. But violence is done to our logic as well as our bodies when people say that gun control is "an attack on our rights." It's not an infringement on your rights to apply for gun ownership any more than it is to apply for a driver's license.
There is a Lewis Carroll, looking-glass corner of this world:
It's a place where your "rights" are trampled by New York City's handgun restrictions, but not by its parking restrictions.
It's a place where people will sacrifice liberties they claim to hold dear to avoid terrorist attacks, but are outraged at the thought of filling out a form which would make those attacks less likely.
It's a place where people would violate someone's civil liberties because of the language they use for prayer, but will talk of revolution at the thought of checking someone's background when they want to buy instruments of death.
That place is called is the United States of America.
As is so often the case, there are deeper economic forces at play. And the deeper into them we delve, the darker the vision becomes.
Guns are money. Firearms and ammunition sales rose 45 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone. "Guns sales are a bright spot in a mostly depressed economy," Forbes reported without apparent irony. US weaponry is a four billion dollar industry that “has had nineteen months of growth in an otherwise anemic economy,” as an industry spokesman boasts.
Neither the reporter nor the spokesman discussed the possibility that there's a relationship between a depressed economy and soaring gun sales.
As is the case with so many other forms of profit in the United States, gun money is other people's money - specifically, offshore money. Three of the top five manufacturers are non-US and, as industry researcher IBISWorld reports, "Imports will satisfy a growing portion of domestic demand, rising at a substantial rate over the next five years."
The more we shoot each other, the more of our wealth is acquired by other countries.
But the real money behind our gunplay isn't in the guns or ammunition themselves. The real money is in the fear and the hate. There's a reason why gun manufacturers called Barack Obama "the best gun salesman of all time" after the 2009 election. The polite explanation for the surge in gun sales that followed is that people were afraid Obama would "take away their guns." The less polite explanation lies embedded in all that rhetoric about "taking our country back."
From whom, exactly?
"ALEC," the corporate-funded group which is rewriting our laws to benefit corporations, is a major promoter of "Stand Your Ground" laws like the one that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin. Why? We can only speculate, but consider this: As long as Americans are responding to their fears by bearing firearms instead of casting votes or marching in the streets, they're being distracted from the real threats to their way of life.
Florida's economy was decimated by Wall Street fraud and a bank-fueled real estate bubble. An entire army of young men in hoodies couldn't carry away the wealth that bankers took from Sanford, FL. George Zimmerman surrendered to economic exploitation the moment he picked up a gun.
The madness will continue. The ALEC-backed prostitutes on the Supreme Court will continue to support "gun laws" over human safety. The gun frenzy helps corporate-backed politicians gain and keep power. So does the fear of dark-skinned people - a fear which impels terrified Americans to boast of courage they don't possess, even as they lock and load in trembling terror against the corporate-sponsored phantoms of the night.
After the shooting Michael Moore employed a mental exercise I use a lot myself: trying to view our world through the eyes of scholars from a more civilized future. "I fear anthropologists and historians will look back on us and simply say we were a violent nation," he said, "at home and abroad." Well, yeah. After all, there's money in it - for some people, anyway.
I've had my criticisms of Michael Bloomberg, but I'm glad he's out there saying what needs to be said this week: "Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be President of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it … instead of the two people – President Obama and Governor Romney – talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place …"
They didn't, of course. The President's statement was a case study in moral avoidance: "If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile," he said. "Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another."
What also matters is the courage which we bring - or don't bring - to our responsibilities as citizens, as human beings and, in the President's case, as a leader.
Do me a favor: If I'm ever lost to one of these acts of "senseless violence," please ask the platitudinous politicians to point out that one of the best ways we can "love one another" is by making it harder to kill one another.
There's big money behind fear, and guns, and death. Where's the money that supports courage, strength, and life? "Violence isn't always evil," Jim Morrison once said in an interview. "What's evil is the infatuation with violence." What's even more evil is the exploitation of that infatuation for financial gain and political power.
But as another songwriter, Bob Dylan, once said: Money doesn't talk, it swears.
In The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross writes that "Spiritual persons suffer great trials from the fear of being lost on the road and that God has abandoned them." If we were truly a spiritual nation we would be feeling that way right now. In the meantime, a question remains unanswered: Is our country a project in the betterment of our individual and collective selves, as its founders intended, or is it just a playground where we can indulge our ugliest impulses without considering the suffering of others?
I hope Michael Moore's conclusion is the right one, that eventually those future observers will note that after a lot of death and suffering "in due time human decency won out and the violence ceased." Other societies have evolved beyond their own unique barbarisms, like apartheid, and we can move beyond our addiction to violence. We're in our dark night right now, but it may be worth remembering that "Aurora" was the name the ancient Romans gave to the goddess of the dawn.
We know that's not much comfort for the people who were in the line of fire, or for those who loved them. Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go to the victims and their families, who may be among the many people who feel right now as if dawn is far, far away.