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Thomas Hardy gets wasted, sells his wife and child, and thinks, "This is an awesome idea for a novel."

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September 2010
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The Silence and the Fury

speakers corner

In the spirit of stimulating under-stimulated minds, my high school would convene assemblies to hear speakers debate the issues of the day. That was the occasion for an event that still rankles me to this day, and, in part, explains the appeal of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and all of our friends in the T-Par-T. It also explains why, to a trifling but measurable degree, many of us write.

The school hauled out a local yokel from the NRA to do battle with some liberal hippie teacher about, you guessed it, gun control. After they had gone through the expected pantomime of debate—the liberal decried the scourge of guns in our cities, while the NRA representative, honest-to-god, actually said, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”—the floor was opened for questions.

Of course, being an NRA member, the pro-gun fellow trotted out the Second Amendment time and again, really never defending the primacy of or need for guns other than the usual “you have to be able to protect yourself and your family” canard. And I had a line of inquiry for him: What if there were no Second Amendment? Why are guns “good” things to own in a modern world when most of us don’t hunt for our grub? Would people really be defenseless without semi-automatic weapons? Would a citizen’s militia really be able to hold off a government takeover by the military?

I don’t think these were half bad inquiries for a 17-year-old boy, especially since 94.7% of 17-year-old boys’ brains are fixated on sex. Unfortunately, I never got to ask them, because when the moderator pointed to me when I raised my hand, a classmate sitting behind me named Miles jumped up, and, in a voice trying to be far more mature than his years, blurted out the following: Hey, man, how can you say that guns shouldn’t be illegal when the whole point of them is to kill people?

suburbs
When she was good

In retrospect, it isn’t as stupid a question as I’d like to remember it being, but just imagine it being asked in a disaffected voice with a snarling lip and finger pointed at the stage. Miles was Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” without any intelligence, charisma, good looks, or any semi-redeeming feature. Though I had full sympathy for Miles’s point of view, I had nothing but contempt for how he asked it—or really, I was contemptuous that he got to ask his question and I was silenced.

Granted, I guess Miles was par for the course. Teenagers really aren’t particularly bright or mature, and I couldn’t expect my fellow classmates to be Cicero or Clarence Darrow. But the incident eats at me still, 28 years after the fact. I envision it repeatedly, thinking that had I actually gotten to pose my questions and debate the NRA bozo, I would have annihilated him in battle, and won the gun-control debate. Q.E.D.

My recurring desire to relive that moment is much to my discredit, showing my self-centered nature and desire to be the center of attention, no matter how right or wrong I might have been. Which, if you think about it, is really what makes Glenn Beck go, since we have a college dropout convincing much of the nation that he is smarter and knows better than a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, not to mention a gun-totin’ “grizzly momma” who thinks plain ol’ common sense (which those pointy-headed liberals lack) always trumps nuance or pointed inquiry, and that complicated problems don’t require complex solutions.

suburbs
Before he discovered carbohydrates

People want their voices heard, and would rather have their own ideas validated than challenged; there is comfort in having someone “speak” for you even if it means they have no command of fact or total command of prejudice. Even though Beck and Limbaugh may actually believe the hateful drek they spout, they realize it does their bank account well, and would say it no matter what they actually thought.

That’s actually one reason I write: nobody speaks for me but me, and I have enough ego and not enough humility to believe my ideas actually matter—you don’t have to read between the lines to see the anger in my voice.

And I still want to throttle poor Miles, who I understand now works at the Kerplonsky’s Carpet Discount Warehouse, supervising the guy from the NRA.

4 comments to The Silence and the Fury

  • J

    I really like this post. Please keep writing. Every day.

    There are stories crawling all over your words.

    …Also, Glen Beck makes me want to hold my breath until either I pass out or he simply spontaneously implodes.

  • Have you read any Nadine Gordimer? I know I go on and on about her, but she strikes me as someone who must have been furious on a day to day basis about the situation she found herself living in, and a party to, in some respects. And yet she still managed to create stories, good, compelling stories, about her world. I’ve yet been able to write a single good story in response to a perceived injustice, or some other infuriating contemporary reality, I can’t seem to get the distance required to think about it within a story frame. Very tricky stuff.

    And yes, I agree with J…keep writing!

  • Rob S.

    Your assertions that you would have annihilated one NRA rep are absurd, your arguments are the most common of tripe that isn’t backed up and is based more in rhetorical questions than fact, and the NRA imagery is from a New Deal era government administration and not the National Rifle Administration. If you can’t get the basics right I can hardly see you being able to one-up a “local yokel.”

    It really cracks me up that someone apparently opposed to guns speaks of wanting to annihilate someone in battle, verbal or otherwise. I’ve heard more left wingers reference acts of violence in their diatribes out of a sense of holding the moral high ground than I have ever heard from the other side.

    Do yourself a favor and do a little research before you mouth off.

  • Rob, to borrow a line from a gun-totin’ movie star, you just made my day.

    Whether my arguments hold water or not on gun control is immaterial. The whole point of the blog entry is that people want their voices heard rather than be challenged; memory is faulty and designed to buttress our previously held opinions rather than access the truth; and that we always overestimate our own righteousness and when our pieties (liberal, conservative or otherwise) are spoken through proxies like Glenn Beck, they take on the patina of unassailable truth.

    If you weren’t so shaking with anger, you might have read “That’s actually one reason I write: nobody speaks for me but me, and I have enough ego and not enough humility to believe my ideas actually matter…”, you might have understood this.

    Or perhaps, “My recurring desire to relive that moment is much to my discredit, showing my self-centered nature and desire to be the center of attention, no matter how right or wrong I might have been.”

    I won’t step into the doo-doo of gun control or otherwise. But it is rather humorous you really take the “annihilate” metaphor so seriously. You’ve just “annihilated” all of us left-wingers with your “argument.” Bravo, Rob!

    (And yes, I know that the “NRA” logo is from the National Recovery Administration. Look at the caption. If I have to explain the joke, you’ve wandered onto the wrong reservation.)

    Do yourself a favor and take your meds before you mouth off.

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