hould I start this piece with the customary bona fides, listing my stints as hunter, veteran and skeet shooter? Should I mention that my father was a policeman and my three brothers served in the military? Did I mention that three nephews and nieces have also served in the military or on the police force? And yes, one is waiting impatiently to join the New York National Guard. Furthermore, I haven’t ruled out serving as an auxiliary policeman in my home town.

Why do I feel compelled to begin a piece about guns with my semantic defenses at full bore, trigger finger itchy to preempt the thoroughly predictable responses to what I hope is a reasonable four-minute read?   Why do I feel I am back in Semantics 101, trying to remember the full consequences of my phrasing and whether I somehow slip from reporting language to judgment to inference and finally the full symbolic tumble into what is politely known as the gun debate?

If I have read one article I’ve read a hundred post-Sandy Hook pieces that remind us that a majority of Americans, including NRA members, want reasonable gun regulations, including universal background checks. The last piece I read at the Huffington Post was by an ex-Navy arms expert and hunter, who is currently in the security business. The article was reasoned, specific, and will end up on the well-intentioned, post-Sandy Hook journalism pile.

Why did this murder of children and teachers quickly become the fertile ground for Internet trolls, You Tube videos, and speculation about another government plot? A quick online search will show that this kind of fantasy coverage far outweighs serious journalism on the subject. More often than not, the so-called mainstream media demonstrates a certain mock fascination with those who desecrate playground memorials in Newtown and remind a grieving father that his daughter really did not die in the massacre.

My semantics teacher might say that when you have hard and inflexible positions around a certain subject, there’s plenty of room for the crazies to seep in. Good as the good professor was, he is now inching out of the semantics lane and into that broad highway called archetypal psychology, home to big ideas that might shed some light on the intransigence we detect in our conversations about guns. I would not be surprised if the warrior god Mars walks in on the conversation.

I have studied archetypal/Jungian psychology for twenty-five years, but I am not a psychologist. For that, I will go to the late James Hillman, MD, author of “A Terrible Love of War” which should be required reading, especially by our Christian brethren. But that subject is for another day.

The chapter headings for this book lay out how commonplace war is in the popular imagination: War Is Normal, War Is Inhuman, War Is Sublime, and Religion Is War. The language and cadence underscore Hillman’s essential point. War is ordinary and we love the bloody thing. General Patton is the poster boy for this exquisite anthem: “I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than life.”

Hillman finds the strains of this martial rhetoric in discussions about disarmament and gun-control. He writes that “The fond belief (verging on paranoia) that one is solely responsible for one’s own salvation and that self-preservation is the first law of nature (Protestant Darwinism) in a mobile, anomic, class-ridden society may provide grounds for American volatility and insecurity, but not enough ground to account for the American idolization of the gun.”

He concludes that “There must be a myth at work. It is as if the gods have combined to manufacture the guns, are in the guns, as if the guns have become gods themselves.”   Throughout history, weapons have been preserved as art and worshipped as on an altar. They are our precious collectibles. Given this adulation, Hillman suggests that it is “foolish to believe we can enforce licensing and regulation. No society can truly suppress Venus.”

Hillman finds more than a touch of hypocrisy in calls for gun control from politicians, preachers and professors who turn a blind eye to the American armaments industry. The country is in the gun-running business. This is the cornerstone of our gun culture and a central part of our Innocence Myth, built and assembled entirely at home. In the author’s words, “the United States is the Great Gun Bazaar.”

Hillman refers to our “Invented tradition” that “promotes an idea of freedom that requires a vigilant, gun-keeping citizenry pointing, for example, to the heroes of Lexington Green in 1775. Images of these Minutemen, muskets in hand, muskets shouldered, muskets at the ready, costumed and marching to the music of Fourth of July parades, pasted on ads of real American products, affixed to menus of New England inns, are an exaggeration if not inventions.”

The author acknowledges there are some questions about how extensive gun ownership was during Colonial days, but has little doubt about how much our “invented traditions” have served to mythologize the gun and the gun culture. Hillman asks rhetorically, “How in god’s name can gun control find its way through the American psyche?”   And the rhetoric answers back: there is no easy path.

Hillman takes us on a side trip to Japan for an example of gun control between 1543 and 1879. By 1560, courtesy of the Portuguese, guns became the decisive weapon in Japanese wars. The Japanese became masters of the gun, using more in battle than the European nations of that time. But by the time Commodore Perry arrived in Japan in 1853, there were no guns in sight. As Hillman observes the “gun was absent from consciousness.”

With the gun the skill of engagement moved from the soldier to the manufacturer. That didn’t sit well with Japanese tradition. Guns made everyone equal. It might sound quaint now, but guns threatened the ruling class. Perhaps even more important, Japan had no external “gun” enemies. Furthermore, Japan considered guns a foreign import and therefore an “outside” idea.

“CallipygianBased on his research, Hillman suggests that the sword was preferred over the gun for centuries because the “cult of the sword was ancestral, symbolic, and religious—and also aesthetic.” Moreover, when the governing power no longer ordered guns, the gunsmiths turned to swords. In the 19th century, before Perry’s visit, whalers reported seeing extensive forts that on closer examination were found to be fortifications and guns painted on a lengthy piece of cloth. Art was keeping raiders at bay.

Hillman finds neither moral nor nostalgia in this tale but is interested in the possibility of aesthetics slowing down the war machine, noting numerous historical examples of less bloody wars during cultural progress, such as the Age of Enlightenment, when Europeans were falling in love with the mind. European and Asian potentates fought their wars but built cultures that outlived their reigns and their names.

This could be Hillman’s fantasy but one well worth considering. But while culture might restrain war elsewhere, that doesn’t seem to be happening in the U.S. Hillman observes that in the United States the “idea that culture restrains war is being proven in reverse. Along with the American state’s promotion of bellicose militarism, it withdraws from the arts. That impoverishment is furthered by debasing the language, neglecting education beyond occupational training, and narrowing the rich complexity of religious studies to one’s own favorite brand.”

Here Hillman seems to be a cross between a cultural anthropologist and an archetypal psychologist on steroids. He refers to his writing in terms of conducting a military campaign. He draws large and startling figures. And the doctor takes few prisoners.

If there is a note of hyperbole in the voice of this brilliant, tough-minded gentleman, there’s also an invocation to use rhetoric a as weapon, a way to slow the war talk down. From Vietnam to Iraq we have entered wars based on lies, mendacity, and martial rhetoric that debased us as a nation. Where was that American original, Slow Talking Jones, when we really needed him?

To extend Hillman’s analysis, I would suggest that America badly needs a heavy dose of the feminine (Aphrodite, of course) in our politics and in our discussion of war and guns. As the author notes, these discussions have usually been fueled by the influence of the hot-headed Mars. We need other gods in the room.

I have been following the work of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which is modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The organization has recently joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which was founded by Mike Bloomberg, long-time NYC major. The Gun Sense group is hardly radical, proposing innovative security features for guns, tighter regulations, or pointing out the dangers guns pose to children. “Mother Jones” magazine has observed that since women have started to voice their collective concerns, “The vicious and often sexually degrading attacks have evolved far beyond online trolling, culminating in severe bullying harassment, invasion of privacy, and physical aggression.”

“Mother Jones” has a trove of articles describing this kind of behavior, especially in Open Carry states like Texas. It’s worth perusing. Horrible as these actions are, they suggest that Mom’s Demand Action is touching a nerve and exposing the primitive psychology at work. As “Mother Jones” notes, the vitriol often begins with a paean about fighting for the right to carry guns and ends with calling the enemy, in this instance a high school teacher, a “stupid bitch” and a “motherfucking whore.” These remarks are intolerable. They might also represent a breakthrough. Psychologists call such outbursts, a “feeling-toned complex,” which is an emotional utterance that is usually tribal and unconscious. I am showing my weakness and inferiority. This is frontier mythology all over again and the women are the real warriors. They will recognize the infantilism and the dangers in these aberrant male fantasies, with debased sexual metaphors at the trigger ready. The “whore” metaphor is always close at hand when he needs her.

What’s seems to scare these gun enthusiasts are not the numbers, per se. In my opinion, it’s the presence of the feminine archetype. There are myths playing out here. The women in these organizations project themselves as caregivers, nurturers, and creators of life. After all, how do your battle a life force? And this scares the hell out of their detractors.

Hillman is right; we can’t suppress Venus. She is in the room and will likely have a lot more to say about gun sense.

(Note: In the spirit of Hillman I wrote an epic poem on the psychological, mythological and religious implications in the gun debate. It’s dedicated to Dr. Hillman and available at Amazon [click here]


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