It is the condition of our present state to see more than we can attain, the exactest vigilance and caution can never maintain a single day of unmingled innocence, much less can the utmost efforts of incorporated mind reach the summits of speculative virtue. – Samuel Johnson
Just this afternoon, I was minding my own business in the Jolly Mariner, reading some book, when I was rudely interrupted by a text. Now, every text, by definition, is an interruption. It is one human flinging a thought, or question, or command, often at random, at some unsuspecting victim millions of miles away. The worst is, of course, the automated text from some computer. Then, there is the text meant for another person, in which no context prepares us for the folly we read. I suppose if someone were to somehow combine these two misfortunes of modernism, the ill-applied automated text, he could create a great deal of chaos. But we must truly consider our society regarding these interruptions. In what other context do humans stop all of their daily toil to respond to such trivialities? If I was boiling water and preparing dinner one evening and one of these humans, without knocking, barged in and said, “It is seventy-seven and rainy here, how’s Vegas?” only to turn and leave, I might be likely to rush at him with the water for an answer.
That my generation is the laziest generation yet to walk the earth, none can deny. The character of my age is the man who says, “I want clean clothes, but I don’t want to washmy clothes,” or “I am sick of eating cardboard meals; but cooking is such toil!” And then he slouches in his sweaty shirt and chows down a frozen pizza as he binge watches a television show and feels sorry for himself. This man is all about ends. He has entered a world in which means and ends are completely divorced. He has entered a push-button society, a trigger happy populace, who believe bread and games should forever be at their finger tips. He knows nothing about how his food is produced – how the cow grazes, how it is slaughtered, what part he eats; daily pleasures like coffee come in twelve ounce shots, a simple snap and strike and you have a drink that, the further removed from preparation, the less it is understood. I would not be surprised to find that much of our frustration in life comes from a mindset that expects an end without a mean.
Like some slave I sauntered over to my phone to read the text. My heart leapt to my throat; I said a silent prayer. I’m almost starting to sense that our society is beginning to expect these texts. It’s occurring so frequently now, that when I saw the words “Active Shooter” and “UNLV Campus,” I was almost not surprised. That afternoon, like every other, I had planned on biking to the gym. So I waited a few minutes, and when the “all clear” was sent, I gathered my belongings and headed to campus.
Because I live in this country I am forced to think about guns, and as a good citizen, I suppose I ought to have an opinion. But, quite honestly, I do not. I do not, in the first place, think that a gun is intrinsically evil any more than an automobile is intrinsically evil; it is a mere tool. Like the automobile, it is not the gun that is the problem; it is the invention of the gun. Indeed, the world would be better without guns just as it would be without cars, televisions, computers, phones, and the internet. But if, say, we demolished all the automobiles in the world, I gather some idiot in Detroit would built a factory and start the madness all over again. The same is true for the gun. The whole matter is spiritual; the whole matter is a mindset. The first murder was done with hands. We call that barbaric but only because we have little, if any, imagination. It’s unlikely, but I suppose Cain may have crept up on his brother from behind; more than likely, he may have wrestled him to death. To wit, Cain did not snipe Abel like a coward from hundreds of feet away, or even creep up on him with a six-shooter, pulling a trigger an placing a bullet in his back. He did not set a land-mine and return to the fruit of the ground, drop a bomb from a plane, sit at his desktop and blow up his brother with a drone. His murder was more personal, but it also was, in a sense, more human. He stared his heinous act, and his dying brother, in the eyes.
As with murder, so with hunting. Let us consider hunting with a gun, or with a bow. One of these noble weapons is artistic, the other is rather more noise and efficiency. The first hunter who said to his fellow hunter-gatherers, “Enough of this toil. I could kill this deer much easier with a gun,” did not abandon the bow as much as his art. The first hunter who bowed his body to the American gods Ease, Comfort, and Efficiency may have decided that killing the deer with lead, gun powder, and a trigger would be so much easier than a stick, a bow, and a string. But if Ease and Efficiency are the mere ends to hunting, he may as well gather up all the deer into a large factory and march them down to the guillotine. He may as well tell future generations to line up, place a quarter into a slot, push a button, and watch the deer lose his head; he may as well do what all good advertisers do; that is, he may as well lie and call it hunting, or worse, call it art. The gun, like the guillotine, is a mere easier means to kill something; it requires holding steady and pulling a trigger. The archer uses his whole body. The archer uses his legs to balance, his upper-back muscles to lodge the arrow. He finagles it with fingers, pulling back with biceps and triceps and forearms, aiming with eyes, narrowing in on the target, and nearly creating music, or poetry, with his craft. The real solution to the gun issue is to teach men how to be human instead of machines, to replace guns with bows. Guns won’t go away; they may, though, very quickly be taken away. And if this is the case, I reckon at least one archer will rise from the dead.
I contemplated these ideas, not for the first time, as I rode to campus. A police car was just leaving. Speeding by, I overheard a group say the words “crises situations.” But, otherwise, the great organism that is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas seemed un-phased. Campus almost seemed too calm, as if we needed some protesters on Free Speech Walkway. Passing Lied Library, I observed nothing askew, and besides the fragmented conversation, all was as it should be. I gave the man my card and heard him coolly tell a couple “you should be fine – we’ve been given the go-ahead” as they left. I nearly started grilling him for information, but decided to play it cool with everyone else, a plan that typically backfires and singles me out.
While I lifted, I observed the usual gym characters: “Staff,” “Tattoo,” “Spaghetti Strap” (male), “Ex-military,” “Chicken Legs,” “Pony Tail,” “Diva,” “short shorts” (male), and “The Group.”* I almost oddly felt at home. I have little in common with most humans but that I am human. Like others, I have my faults and make mistakes, and I’m sure someone there, familiar with my routine, says to himself each day, “Looks like the Skeleton’s back.” But as I said, I felt at home with my fellow humans that afternoon. In that moment we were not individuals in my mind but a single unit of living, breathing creatures. It was good to be living, good to be a species. And that unity only brought out their individual quirks all the more. I noticed Pony Tail, untie his braid and let his hair flow; I noticed this because his flowing hair was attached to a human body. I observed Staff and Diva chat with great energy; I observed the distinctness of human conversation, that its harmony draws out the unique tones produced by throats, tongues, lips, and teeth and creates something like a melody. It is true; the mass murderer may take out an ideological or minority group. But he ultimately takes a life, an individual. It is no harm to the world that groups are demolished so much as individuals. And the mass murderer, in destroying individuals, destroys one of the most beautiful aspects of the world. For the individual transcends groups; the individual is a character, and I almost said he is a caricature. To wit, groups are grim shadows of individuals, stale and stagnate, more like blobs than souls; but the individual has his own special strengths, goodness, quirks, faults, and mistakes. Mistakes that are all too common. Mistakes that all men make. Even campus security officials fail tests. Even officials send out erroneous texts and false alarms.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Ave
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 6, 2016
Painting: “A Good Day”
By Friedrich Voltz
Oil on canvas, 1875
*For a fuller, more comprehensive list, see R. Eric Tippin’s, “Trifler No. 14.”