Archive for November 23rd, 2004

Violence Is Our Inheritance

3

The strange case of the Hmong
hunter
in Wisconsin who
gunned down six fellow hunters in a turf battle for a deer blind continues
to fascinate and horrify America. Frankly, we can’t see why. If you go
into the woods with a loaded gun, and know there are dozens of other
armed maniacs in the vicinity, you should be prepared to be shot at.

After all, it’s not like a madman blowing away a half
dozen innocent children in some Compton schoolyard. Hell, the victims
were armed, or
should have
been, wandering in the woods during hunting season. Playing with guns
has long been America’s real national
pastime, and when stressed-out civilians tramp around in an unnatural
environment like a forest, armed to the teeth and with itchy trigger
fingers, well, accidents are going to happen.

In spite of the best efforts of both the government
and the news media (yes, my innocents, despite appearances these two
often
act
in
concert
when
a higher cause is on the line, like keeping the game going, the game
on which they both depend) to scare the bejeezus out of ordinary
citizens, in reality we are not at great risk of violent attack, relatively
speaking.

The number of murders and violent crimes is lower than
it has been in decades, and is continuing to decline.  What
is going UP is the amount of sensationalized media coverage of violence, for some very
simple reasons.

The government knows that if we are in fear for our
safety we will be more tolerant of infringement of our rights.  The
media, basically, have discovered that fear sells, that alarm captures
eyeballs, and that
violent crime is edgy. It’s like the roller-coaster effect.  People
love to be scared, especially if they think on some level that they aren’t
really in danger. Stories of violent crime being perpetrated on other
people also please in another way:  People like to feel lucky, and
when bad things happen to people they don’t know, they do.

The fact is, we live in one of the least violent corners
of the globe during one of the least violent periods of its long and
gory
history.
Even the
reality that six people being killed in a wilderness turf war was major
national news speaks to the exceptional pacificity of our society. As
the season of Peace on Earth approaches, we should count our blessings.
Peace is not the norm, now or ever.

Sudden, deadly violence is the norm in many, perhaps most places
on earth. As close to our shores as Haiti we can find an infernal empire
of terror, torture and death. More than six civilians probably disappear
there EVERY DAY, and it doesn’t make the news. Nobody even wants to talk
about it.  They’re scared shitless.

In the deepest heart of the Amazon River Basin in western
Brazil, along inaccessible and inhospitable tributaries and forests,
live some of the few remaining indigenous tribes of humans who have
avoided all contact with modern culture. Anthropologists are fascinated
with these isolated groups, because they represent what we all once were
– natural, pristine, unsullied tribes, in harmony with their forest and
their place in the Universe. Well, guess what. They spend most of their
free
time figuring out how to kill members of neighboring tribes, competing
for women, status and hunting rights, engaged in mythic wars with deadly
results.

The story is the same all over the world.  In our
Wisconsin protagonist’s Hmong homeland, the Communist government of Laos
continues the indiscriminate
slaughter
of Hmong women and children. In Somalia, the central government
collapsed almost 20 years ago, and since then the country has existed
in lawless terror and anarchy. People disappear there all the time,
and there isn’t even anybody to report it to. In response to the horrors
going on as we write in Dafur, concerned musicians are putting a BandAid on wholesale genocide. A handful
of missing hunters
would never be noticed amidst the ethnic cleansing going on in that part
of Africa.

And so it has been since the dawn to mankind, including during the entire
brief run of that sophisticated cultural extravaganza we call "Civilization". Most
of human history is a long and bloody litany of war, rape and savage
sacking of cities;
invasions, fights to the death, plagues and vendettas; crusades, campaigns,
enslavements, occupations and exiles.

When the Mongol hordes swept
in from the steppes of Asia sowing death and destruction across a swath
of Europe, entire cities and town were erased from the map. During
the plagues of the middle ages, 15, 25, 30 % of the population could
die in a single year. Within the lifetimes of many of us, the Nazis managed
to kill 20 million human beings in the 5 years their thousand-year Reich
lasted. Life is cheap, in the grand scheme of things.  It
always has been, and in most places it still is.

Even here in the United States, little over a hundred
years ago the entire western half of the nation was a lawless wilderness
where most
men went armed and shoot-outs in the streets and lonely canyons were
normal, regular occurances.

Face it, people killing other people is the norm.  It’s
what we are – the baddest-assed, most bloodthirsty predators on the planet.
We’ve held the title for at least a half a million years, and a few centuries
of lace doilies and literature aren’t going to alter our essential nature.
We have murder in our genes, bloodlust in our veins and terrible crimes
in our collective past.

So, with all due respect to the families of the dead hunters, lets not
make a major national issue out of a measly hunting accident.  We
will never get rid of violence completely, nor should we.  We live
in a violent and cruel universe, and if we couldn’t fight back, we would
have disappeared long ago, like the Hobbits
of Flores Island
.

It seems to the Dowbrigade a much more noble and practical
goal is to get rid of human suffering, or at least to keep it to a minimum.
Of course, any esoteric or serious Eastern philosophy worth its salt
will
tell you that All Existence is Suffering, and without suffering Life
has no value. Suffering needs to exist, if only to be transcended.

At the same time, the only worthwhile goal in life that we can see is
to minimize suffering, our own and that of our fellow travelers.  In
fact, it seems to us that the only reasonable justification for this
whole existence thing is to minimize suffering.

How can suffering be the key to life and its great nemesis at the same
time? This is the Great Contradiction – the Existential Oxymoron. It’s
not logical, yet we know it to be true. Logic cannot come close to unlocking
all of nature’s enigmas.

HAYWARD, Wis.Nov 23, 2004 – A Hmong immigrant suspected
of killing six fellow deer hunters in the Wisconsin woods told investigators
that
he opened fire after they took a shot at him first and hurled racial
slurs at him, according to court papers filed Tuesday.A judge set bail
at $2.5 million for Chai Vang, 36, of St. Paul, Minn., who was jailed
on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

from the AP