Two Ways of Seeing the Past

Loosely based off of Mark Twain’s “Two Ways of Seeing a River” 

A fly buzzing around the nose, the car coughs, but does not sputter, “We’re Sorry” read the factory letter, a Tower crumbling on TV, an unspeakable slur echoes from next door, a dead man with 3 holes in his black chest in the morgue, a society of discomforts, a damning reality. A retreat is necessary, an escape imperative. The past offers a succinct retreat. After all, isn’t it easy to look back, and dream of a time long since past? Recline the head, close the eyes. Roll far back to a remote escape where the romantic image of a simple life persists. There is a trusty, browning car, chipped and flaked, with a crack shining a brilliant orange in the distant, hazy sunset; a family waiting around a laden table lit by an ebbing ember aglow; a neighbor at the fence who drawls “‘ello, ‘ow you bin?” on the saunter home after hours; a sheriff who’s calloused hand hails to ask “Anything I could do?”; a wizened brown figure licking their inwardly curled lips whilst swaying upon an ancient rocker, muttering tales of a time past; a factory from which spilled a sea of clouds whose reflections shone in the glass waters of the pond teeming with fish; a man whose white undershirt is stained with oil, whose sweaty, ebony skin glistens in the late afternoon light as he carries a crumpled paycheck in hand, nodding “Suh”.

Who wouldn’t wish to return? Upon arrival to the memories of past, the problems of reality dissipate, an easing of the downpour of difficulties that rain down from a personal thunderstorm. One day, the past will cease to deceive. The romance becomes lost in a burst of blinding light. The trusty Chevy did not start start on cold mornings as its mileage was far past the normal quantity; the family was split between capitalist and communist views and argued all dinner about who would clean the ashes from the fire; the neighbor at the fence would return at night drunk and angry about his draft slip; the sheriff was on his way to disband a civil rights protest; the old man in the rocking chair was unable to move after a Nazi bullet shattered his spinal cord and spent his days muttering the name of his less fortunate friend; the factory would pollute the atmosphere with clouds of CO2 and would render the pond inert with a deadly torrent of mercury; the African American passing by was clutching a paycheck only worth half of what his white coworker made.

Knowledge only served to illuminate the darkness held within reality. Perhaps for some, this dark light is a constant within their lives. The astrophysicist, for whom the stars don’t twinkle and glow while lying on sand in a dark desert, but are merely balls of burning gas seen in equations and telescopes. They are seeing the past. They see millions of years ago, but do they appreciate the gift of literal hindsight? Perhaps knowledge of the past is necessary. But can it compare to the bliss of ignorance?


Why I Don’t Stand For The Pledge

I have issues with the Pledge of Allegiance for two reasons: it does not foster free thought and it violates the secularism of this nation. The pledge is taught to children at a very young age and is more brainwashing than a pledge. First graders just beginning school will hardly know what allegiance is, much less what “the republic, for which it stands” is. Six and seven year olds just repeat the pledge repeatedly everyday, like mindless drones, not actually pledging their allegiance to anyone or anything. A society that values free thought and speech should foster an environment where free thinking is nurtured rather than quashed every morning. Americans should have the right to choose whether or not they want to pledge their allegiance to this nation when they feel like they can make an informed decision. In addition to being anti free thought, the pledge is not secular. Our nation was founded on the principle of separation between church and state, and suggesting that this is a nation under god runs counter to this. “Under god” is widely accepted due to the large and powerful Christian majority, a group in which many people would find”under Zeus” or “under Allah” to be objectionable. God was not an integral part of the pledge and was added during the red scares, when the US was at odds with the atheist USSR. A time, I will add, when the US illegally experimented on its own citizens, regularly violated constitutional rights, and treated blacks as second class citizens. It is my belief that the pledge stands counter to all America stands for and I refuse to support the systematic brainwashing of American youth. Everyone has the right to remain seated as affirmed by the First Amendment of the Constitution as ruled in the 1943 Supreme Court case, Barnette v. West Virginia State Board of Education.

Peddlers of Death

Guns are an addiction exclusive only to America. Boasting the most guns and gun related deaths of any country, the US still remains surprisingly backwards in gun legislation. Even in the wake of mass shootings, gun sales remain elevated, sometimes even surging upwards. It still remains unclear as to why anyone would require a civilian version of a military grade firearm. Fun, yes, but practical, absolutely not. But even though 10,000 americans a year are murdered with guns, lobbies like the NRA prevent even gun research from passing. The NRA directly profits off weapons, and has used a variety of arguments to ensure that the US remains a cesspool of violence. The most common arguments used against any kind of gun legislature are the second amendment, home defense, Switzerland and a defense against government tyranny.

Government tyranny is an excuse often used to justify the ownership of military grade weaponry and the formation of right wing paramilitary groups. The idea behind this is if the government becomes tyrannical we will have the ability to fight them and regain our freedom. On paper it makes perfect sense; the citizens train to be citizen soldiers, and stockpile weapons to ensure a free democracy reigns. The constitution also supports this as it affirms the right of militia members to own arms. In real life, the quasi military formations created by far right wingers are completely unnecessary. The National Guard is a state run militia that essentially ensures the states will be able to combat the Federal Government in the event of tyranny. The National Guard is far better equipped, organized and disciplined than any other unofficial militia. So why don’t these people join the National Guard? An organization that not only ensures liberty, but that helps support citizens in the wake of natural disasters. I have absolutely no clue as to what the answer to that question is, but I suspect that these unofficial militias have more to do with having an excuse to play with guns and pretending to be soldiers than they do with actually helping people. Besides better alternatives, the unofficial militias and military grade gun ownership is unpractical. Let us imagine the the government does indeed turn tyrannical, and the national guard are somehow in league with the wily government or maybe incapacitated. How on earth are a few hundred unofficial militias going to do against the United States Military? There are nearly two million troops in the military, not to mention a veritable fleet of aircraft, warships, and drones. Having membership in a militia or owning a rifle that spits out some puny 5.56 rounds from a tacticool 50 round drum is not going to save anyone from a hellfire missile launched from a drone that levels a house. Of course there is the argument that the drone operators, pilots, seaman, and soldiers will refuse to attack their homeland. However, the government would not tell the troops they are marching off to kill their family members in cold blood, they would tell them they are off to quell a small rebellion of people willing to kill their families. Also, it is completely unclear why a tyrannical government would even bother fighting some small militias. A few SWAT teams would be more than enough to disarm some unruly citizens. All in all, militias and military weapons would be absolutely useless in fighting any kind of tyrannical government. Just join the national guard.

A more logical and more often used defense of gun ownership and a favorite argument of the NRA is self defense. The NRA loves pointing at crowds of gunned down people and saying, “their only mistake was not having a gun”. But even if everyone carried a firearm, crime would not go down, but probably spike. It would probably lead to more crimes of passion than anything positive. If you were to drive up to a friends house and find your spouse in bed with said friend, the urge to use that tool of “self defense” would probably be overwhelming. Sure, maybe a few mass shootings would be a bit less massive because the shooter was stopped in their tracks, but crime would most certainly rise and collateral damage would to. For example, if a few people in the Orlando Club had a gun, and the shooter enters and starts spraying, the shots fired in return could easily miss and hit more people. In such a confusing environment, it would easily become unclear to who is defending and who is perpetrating the shooting, and a massacre could devolve into a full on multi-sided firefight, in which more people could be killed. In the case of home defense, I will cede that perhaps a pistol is necessary depending on where you live, but a rifle most certainly is not. Besides being unmaneuverable in a house, a rifle also sports a much more powerful round. A round through a wall or a window could easily end up killing a family member or neighbor. Hollow point rounds fired from a pistol completely negate this, as they will fragment upon impact with just about anything, and will probably  leave a fist size hole in the exit wound of your adversary. A rifle would do just that, and could still go through a wall and blow the head off a kid. But this is worst case scenario, I would recommend not killing home intruders, but just calling the police, most home invaders are looking for some form of valuable, not someone to murder, as that carries a far heftier punishment. A knowledge in martial arts, and maybe a knife or club should be enough to scare off a home intruder, as most would rather run than potentially be thrown in jail. Killing an intruder could also pose a legal issue, depending on the state you live in.

The second amendment of the Constitution is seen widely as a support for gun ownership. The second amendment affirms that all members of  the well regulated militia have the right to bear arms. 10 U.S. Code § 311 states that the militia consists of all men ages 17-45 and all women in the national guard. Technically, this means that anyone above the age of 45 does not have the right to bear arms along with most women. We have to keep in mind that at the time of the founding fathers, there was no professional army. The army consisted of the citizenry (the militia) who would be called upon in times of war. Essentially, the second amendment is saying that a well regulated militia to protect the free state should have the right to bear arms. It has nothing to do with owning guns because you want them or because you like them, it only ensures the right to bear arms so that, when called upon, the citizenry will have weapons to bring to war. It is more in line with what Switzerland has: only militia members can own guns that are issued by the government. The second amendment has been completely misinterpreted and used as a tool to peddle death.

Incidentally, Switzerland is often cited by gun owners as an example of high gun ownership gone right to justify America’s lack of laws. This is in complete ignorance of Swiss gun laws. The Swiss maintain a real militia, not the quasi militias full of gun enthusiasts, where males are trained at the age of 20 and are part of the militia till 30. For this period of time, they are issued a government weapon, but no ammunition, which can only be acquired in times of emergency. Acquiring a gun for personal use is the same as the US: ID, background check, and residence. Militia weapons may be acquired after a militia member leaves the militia at age 30. This seems very similar to the US, except for one key difference: ammunition. Ammunition in the US has no restrictions. It is practically handed out like candy, walk into the gun store, and you can walk out with a box of fresh rounds, no questions asked. Switzerland, on the other hand, requires a valid permit for the firearm, only allows you to buy ammo for the owned gun, and requires all things needed to buy a firearm. Rounds can also be bought at ranges, but they all must be used before exiting the range. A common criminal practice in the US is to steal a firearm or have a family member hand it off, file off the serial number, and then head to the gun store to pick up some ammo. A practice like this simply wouldn’t work in Switzerland as ammo is impossible to buy without proof of ownership for a specific gun. Switzerland is far safer in terms of gun laws than the US.

My personal vision for the US is a Swiss like state. Where ammo is heavily regulated, and military grade firearms are only government issued, and cannot be privately owned. Where there are no “unofficial militias” only the official militia and the national guard. Instead of  a professional army we should have a draft (more on that later) made up of militia members. All males and females should be required to train in the militia, this will probably foster a sense of real patriotism in the American community and perhaps a greater respect for human life. Gun owners are right, Switzerland is the perfect place of guns gone right, but they are wrong if they think the US is anything like Switzerland.

The Human Seal

I recently watched a video of a seal jumping aboard a boat to escape some orcas attempting to eat it. I was amazed by the willingness of the seal to throw itself aboard an unknown, floating object, with strange creatures aboard. Of course, it makes perfect sense considering it was probably seconds from death. I had seen plenty of videos showing the deaths of animals, but this one hit me with a sudden insight. Rather than being just a hunk of flesh being chased by a cheetah, or a lump of fat getting minced by a shark, the prey in this video became real. It was no longer just prey, but a specific prey. This wasn’t any seal, but a specific seal, a seal different from every other seal that could possibly exist. All because I seen one primal emotion within it: terror.

Isn’t it odd? These animals live on the razors edge all the time: at any moment a predator can jump out of nowhere and end their life. It seems so simple when just talking about the circle of life or how prey is food for predators. But when you look at the seal, and see the terror in its eyes, it, all of a sudden, is no longer just whale food, but a living being with thoughts and emotions, about to die. Instead of a faceless piece of meat, it is a live, breathing, thinking animal, one of a kind, about to be extinguished forever. It is something terrifying, the idea that a creature can be killed at any point in time, simply to supply energy further up the food chain. This specific seal, was about to die, not because something hated it, or because it believed in an idea, or because it had committed a crime, but because the seal is food.

Natural violent death is practically unknown to humans, we haven’t been prey in hundreds of thousands of years. None of us know what it’s like to be food. We don’t experience the hatchet, the bolt pistol, the fish hook, or the harpoon. The idea that a being such as we can be killed for food is repulsive. Yet, why is it any different from the seal? The difference is we recognize every human as unique.  Thinking that a person was autonomous and perhaps had a family, perhaps had some odd thoughts, or perhaps wore size 7 1/2 shoes. These things, that make us all separate entities, are what create disgust for the simple killing of a person for food. If we were all drones, exactly the same, it wouldn’t make a difference. It is the idea that an individual can be reduced to a basic meal that is horrendous. But for animals, we don’t see individuals. We see predator prey. We see a thousand black and white cows, all quietly slaughtered, all the same. We see a caribou running to survive. We don’t see the terror it is feeling, nor its simplistic thoughts. This is why the seal is simply a seal to us, because it looks and acts the same as any other seal that was ever eaten. But I saw the terror within the seal, and with that, I understood that it was just as unique as any human.

In the end we are no different from the seal.