You have to ask American Senator Ted Cruz, who’s propaganda is he and the gun lobby defending?
"Why only in America?"
US Senator Ted Cruz walks away from @Stone_SkyNews after being asked if "this is the moment to reform gun laws" https://t.co/d2oBaP4KvW#TedCruz #America #Texasshooting #gunlaws pic.twitter.com/gL4TYeg04t
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 26, 2022
Do we ennoble savagery, and do we falsify civility? These are the questions for the times, and it goes to exceptionalism for personal and national conceit.
Exceptionalism is the condition of being different from the norm. For nations, it is the belief that characteristics are not global, but unique to what persons want to believe is a very large ‘national community’; the norm. For persons, it is a legitimation of identity.
The world population has become so drugged on entertainment that it is too less perceived outside of critical reflection. Let’s take one pertinent example of screen entertainment.
Black Sails is an American historical adventure television series set on New Providence Island and written to be a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island. In the Rousseauan thinking of this era and place, savagery – violence and discord – was virtuous, ennobling, and it was civilisation which was false. Captain Flint is a persona of James McGraw, a young British naval officer, who falls foul of those establishment figures who resisted a scheme to civilise Nassau, the colonial outpost of the 18th century Atlantic empire for the British crown. Captain Flint, not only brings on younger crew members as they fight for the survival of New Providence island, but he also reinvents piracy as an all-out war against empire.
There is clearly a presentism in the entertainment. Colonialism is the modernist enemy. Piracy, however, was not virtuous in this way, but only in the way that ennobles violence and needless death of an enemy; a person, a human being. There is a twisted thinking that makes civility false when thinking, correctly, that that those who speak hypocritically of ‘civilisation’ are being false. War then becomes an ultimate solution, and here is where the stupidity sets in, since it becomes perpetual conflict with conceit and self-justification. The cognition is self-assured (conceited) and believes in its own flawed legitimisation. James McGraw becomes Captain Flint when the betrayal against him, and against the idea of civility, is twisted into the desire for vengeance and a destruction of authority. There is no better reasoning, no compassion, and no care. It is a reckless culture-history war. A new authoritarian regime take the place of the old.
The description of the conceit goes to the work, Ian Tyrrell’s American Exceptionalism: A New History of an Old Idea (2021). Tyrrell opens the book with a reference to the Republican Party’s formal adoption of national exceptionalism in the first decade of the new century. It came upon President Obama’s conclusion, in 2009, that exceptionalism for the United States might not be what Americans think it is, when the populations of ‘other countries’ can also be so conceited. We have seen in this week President Biden talk of ‘other countries’ in relation to gun violence for the United States. He has a critical point, but the exceptionalism which he refers to is not what rabble population thinks, those who ennoble their position as ‘pirates.’ The greater challenge is that an American political party also ennobles such violence upon its own people in the exact same way; ‘the American Way’. American exceptionalism, in the history of the United States, has become a cognitive tool to reject the ethical lessons from the ‘world out there’. Our war has noble purpose because we are an exceptional people, and I am an exceptional person. The world is then hated, for it is the norm.
Is there a better way of thinking?
In ancient terms, there are the compassionate Christian faith and the classical learning of the humanists. Both have had distorting turns as its ideas became dogmatic doctrines of faith and politics. There is a better way because common sense with critical thinking can show that savagery and violence is not to be desired, no matter the justification; and, for good or bad, we exist as civilised beings – persons in the bright metropolis or its shadow. It has been this way for millennia, and it is not about to change, unless we make the choice for an apocalypse. If democracy matters, then democracy says a no to an apocalypse. When does a population vote deliberately for its own species destruction? Only in war, with physical blows or as culture-history.
To then divert away from war, is to do what Joseph Rouse (2015) describes as ‘Articulating the World.’ Rouse has a deep technical argument on philosophical naturalism, and this swings us back around to the Rousseauan thinking. The critical question is the idea of ‘human nature’, a tug of war, not merely between Rousseau and Hobbes, but between Hobbes and Locke; for it is Locke who opens ups the possibility of having both liberated human nature and civility.
The postmodern era has put an end to the confidence in the Lockean project, which is why we have screen films like Black Sails. In rejecting the Lockean view of civilisation, we have become pirates. What I suggest, however, is a humanism against privateers (pirates in its original conception), and a humanism for public and educated dialogue. It is not a war I propose but peace in the educative process.
REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READING
On the technical arguments re: the gun control debate, see the well-designed argument from ‘Steve Hofstetter Presents’
Arendt, Hannah & Canovan, Margaret (1998). The Human Condition (2nd ed. / introduction by Margaret Canovan). University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Baker, D. (2015). Collective Learning: A Potential Unifying Theme of Human History, Journal of World History, 26(1), 77-104. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/43818826
Grayling, A.C. (2002). Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age, Oxford University Press.
Harris, J. (2003). Hiding the bodies: The myth of the Humane Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal History, 27, 79-104. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/24054261
Lydon, Jane (2015) H. G. Wells and a shared humanity, History Australia, 12:1, 75-94, DOI: 10.1080/14490854.2015.11668554
Matherson, Francois, Translated by G.M. Goshgarian (2003). Louis Althusser: The Humanist Controversy and Other Writing, Verso, New York NY.
Olin, John C. (1987). Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus, Fordham University Press, New York, NY.
Rouse, Joseph (2015). Articulating the World: Conceptual Understanding and the Scientific Image, The University of Chicago Press.
Sartre, Jean-Paul (1947; 2007). Existentialism Is a Humanism, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
Tyrrell, Ian (2021). American Exceptionalism: A New History of an Old Idea, The University of Chicago Press.
Image: Giambattista Vico, Hannah Arendt, Black Sails