Alan Sanborn: Ascent Of The Greedy, Ignorant And Power-Hungry

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool

And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled

Oh, man is opposed to fair play

He wants it all and he wants it his way…

…who’s gonna take away his license to kill

– Bob Dylan


As a parent, I still live with the adorable small children who my two boys no longer are. These two tall, talented young men will always be the smiling, trusting young souls that I once cuddled with.

Back then even a dream could leave me shaking for days – a nightmare of seeing one of my children lost in a war or drowned or just not coming home on the bus.

To this day, I remain haunted by the terrifying dread of the real near-misses. The just-learned-to-swim seven-year-old being somehow all of a sudden out in the middle of the current in the Trinity River. Seeing a head snap back at the neck from a fall off an overhang. Or losing a two-and-a-half year-old in a huge crowd at night. When any of those moments surface in my mind I can recall the numbing suspension of reality –what could have happened still scares me.

Yet, I don’t think I can even begin to comprehend the pain of the parents of the children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I picture them returning home to a small pair of pants still in the dryer. A first-grader’s drawing still stuck to the refrigerator door. I don’t know how one could remain the same person after losing a child – especially a young child, especially in such a horrific way.

President Obama visited and did what he does best. He said the right words. He said them with the right humility, tone and respect. And he said that we need to act as a nation to do something to end this random violence which is becoming all too common.

What he didn’t say, though, is that our nation, under his command, is doing the same thing again and again from Yemen to Pakistan. Mothers are left wailing in horror as their children are reduced to body parts by American drone strikes – mothers who will ask themselves for the rest of their lives “why didn’t I go for the firewood instead?”

Why is this different from Sandy Hook? This is, week after week, a story of stealth and awesome fire power visited on people who have no way to defend themselves –who have nowhere to run, nowhere to be safe, and no way to know where or when if if they might be the next target.

Why can’t we muster so much as a tear for the Pakistani mother who is left alone in a tiny earthen home with only a drawing or a tiny bracelet from her dead daughter’s arm?

Why is this really different from Sandy Hook? Because U.S. drones are not killing American children.

In that sense we are probably not that different from any other people. We feel death intensely in our immediate family and perhaps our extended family. As we are further removed from death and mayhem, we are interested, but it doesn’t change our lives significantly. And when floods and murders happen to our “enemies” or people halfway around the world we care little, if at all.

Nonetheless, Sandy Hook is happening every day around the world, and often in our name. It’s our history as a nation. We are a nation of guns and weapons – and we use them like no one else ever has. It’s our leading export industry. It’s our means of insuring an empire built on the idea that America has the right to all of the world’s resources. America still manufactures two things well – weapons and enemies to use them on. And woe to any Congressperson who says no to an arms contract or the NRA.

Since 911, we’ve had no end of military worship, weapons expansion and violent media. We’ve always maintained this reverence for all things military, whether we were liberating Europe or slaughtering Native Americans, going after bin Laden or trying to steal Iraqi oil.

We are a country that spends umpteen millions of dollars on the upkeep and ceremony and cult of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – but there is no National Monument to the Embattled Inner City Teacher, and no Eulogy for the Unfunded Mental Health Care.

Cut teachers’ benefits, gut social services, badmouth police, bust workers’ unions. But don’t think one impure thought about our men in uniform – or even consider cutting a military budget nearly as large as the whole rest of the world combined.

Less clean air, less clean drinking water, lower wages, fewer family-owned homes, less Medicare, less Social Security, less “government intrusion,” less healthcare, less social services, fewer mental health facilities. It seems that the only thing that Americans agree on is that we need more guns.

The logic seems to be that once everyone is packing a weapon, we will finally be safe. That would mean that everyone in every bar, every night would be carrying, everyone involved in a road rage incident would be armed, every hormonal ranting teenager would have a gun in a drawer nearby. The logic fails me. Is there anyone in the world who feels safer with the increasing power, the sophistication and the sheer number of weapons that we’re surrounded with today? I don’t.

Is it really all that strange that a confused and lonely young man, raised in a country that often solves it’s problems with belligerent power and weapons, chooses to do the same thing?

We’re all familiar with the experiments that have shown when you put more and more rats in a cage you get more and more abhorrent behavior. Since we’ve pushed our planet past its ability to sustain us, we can probably apply that idea to ourselves. It might be interesting to repeat the same experiment, but then throw in a dizzying number of little rat automatic weapons.

My experience with Americans is that we are not, as individuals, vicious or violent. Rather, the vast majority of us are caring and compassionate. I’ve traveled enough to believe that people in other countries aren’t all that much different than we are (although generally not as well-armed). My faith is that most people, given a choice, will choose health care over atomic weapons, education over belligerence and care for the planet that sustains us over blowing things up all over the world.

Most people want to pursue a career that they believe in, feed their family and breathe clean air. Unfortunately, the most insecure among us have the strongest desire to pursue power, money and guns. So they end up with the most power, money and guns. And because they have the power, the money and the guns, they get to manipulate the system and impose laws according to their own insecurities. Their laws are based on a fear of the future and not on a faith in their neighbor.

Congress will most likely start talking background checks and trigger locks – and doing something at least symbolic regarding gun-control. Once again, we will probably deal with symptoms and miss the underlying problem. As I see it, the real problem is that democracy is eroding – that the power of a caring, compassionate people is constantly being eroded and placed in a few greedy hands. The result is as Dwight Eisenhower pointed out so well:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Alan Sanborn is an Arcata father, husband, son and artist.