Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Man the Toolmaker or the Tool?

 When I first began my studies in anthropology, I took a course in the introduction to archaeology. One of the assigned textbooks was Man the Toolmaker by Kenneth Page Oakley. One of the points I remember and carry with me to this day is how man's adaption to his/her environment through the emergence of technological development and evolution radically altered our evolutionary course.

About the same time I would also read Marshall McLuhan's The Media is the Message which makes a similar point. Reflecting on the recent events surrounding the pre Christmas 2012 massacre at the Sand Hook Elementary School in Newtown Ct. I could not but think back on these books and what they have to say about man and his tools. Especially that most sacred, to some, tool in American culture, the GUN.

A gun is a tool. It is a sophisticated, powerful instrument designed to throw stones -- albeit today's stones come with extra launching power, specialized shapes, configurations, etc. to improve their accuracy, lethality, and impact. Interestingly while civilians arm themselves with increasingly lethal guns -- police authorities are attempting to arm themselves with non-lethal weapons such as stun-guns, Tasers (http://www.taser.com/training/taser-training), mase, tear gas, water cannon etc. for crowd and situation control.

The problem we face with guns is that they are easy, relatively cheap, and require minimum training to operate (like a hammer or a remote control). (And very profitable for those who sell and market them). At the same time, the responsible use, proper handling, and effective application of the tool in dealing with human relations is far more complex, complicated and dangerous for both the person with the gun and the target.

It is for this reason that this particular "tool" needs to be regulated, the operator qualified and licensed, the liabilities of ownership (legal control over the tool) specifically assigned and those responsible made accountable for the results of the use and misuse of the tool. We do this for automobiles, construction equipment, airplanes, medical devices, manufacturing equipment,etc.

There is a positive side to the story. The NRA and like organizations began and still play an important part in filling this gap by addressing the training and education needs and issues. http://www.nrahq.org/history.asp. However, there is another side to the story.

In the USA, the 2nd Amendment argument is used to hide the fact that gun ownership is being used and has been since the 1970s as a wedge issue by the extremist of both right and left to justify arming themselves against civil authority. See for example: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/09/the-secret-history-of-guns/308608/

Like Grover Norquist, who would "destroy" big government by demanding a pledge of "no new Taxes" with the threat of punishment for failing to keep that pledge, the radical wing of the NRA 2nd Amendment agenda has a pledge. See: http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2012/12/19/my-personal-pledge-of-resistance-against-any-attemp-to-disarm-us-by-means-of-an-assault-weapons-ban/?cp=1

Finally, there is the 1984 Double Think marketing strategy of the NRA which seems to have as its goal to rewrite, - in the mind of the public - , Article 1 of the Constitution of the United State which states.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

They are doing this by claiming the 2nd Amendment is America's First Freedom http://www.nrapublications.org/index.php/first-freethisdom/. The Official position of the NRA would appear to add the qualifier "unless you have a gun."

We have seen this in the virulent, hate talk on the Internet and in the media against Bob Costas' and Pierce Morgan's recent statements about the official NRA reaction to Sandy Hook. The official denial of the fact that "guns" could be a proximate cause of the deaths or any of hundreds of other accidents, suicides, murders, and massacres points the disconnect between the fundamental founding purpose of the NRA and the extreme political agenda of today's leadership.

From an anthropological perspective: How and Why has this happened? Is it cultural or social evolution at the Superorganic level (e.g.Toynbee, Spencer, Kroeber, White)? Or is it just a psychological response to the forces of modernization, alienation, and isolation producing an irrational fear of our socio/cultural environment that we once held toward our physical environment? 

See also
A Modest Proposal: A Market Solution to Gun Control
Promoting change in America's Gun Culture 

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