If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be in Your Revolution.

After my previous post, the only arguments I got in favor of owning gun to keep tyranny in check were of the abstract “we’ll all recognize it when we see it and have a mass uprising against it” variety. Which is lovely, but not at all convincing.

Frankly, I think if the government were really afraid of armed citizens, all guns and ammunition would already be outlawed. The fact that they aren’t points to a more important idea: it isn’t armed citizens that are standing between us and tyranny, it’s our own laws, our own checks and balances. The darker areas of our government–and the businesses and the wealthy who fund the lobbyists that push for some laws and push against others–are far more concerned about information being in the hands of all citizens than guns.

I generally try to be understanding of other points of view. I try to be generous and give people the benefit of the doubt. But I’ll be blunt: if you think you need to be armed because the government might become a tyranny someday and an armed rebellion will spontaneously and righteously rise up against it, I think you’re being utterly paranoid. And your desire to be armed is not more important than my right to not be shot.

The arguments I see defending the 2nd Amendment as “the right for any and all citizens to be armed with whatever we can get our hands on” invariably become an argument about the rights of the individual versus the rights of the state. What gets lost is the rights of the community. I think a community’s safety is far more important than an individual’s desire for weapons. Never mind what the government is or might possibly maybe someday become. If you live in a community, your individual rights are subservient to the needs of the community when your individual rights threaten the safety, the security, the health, the very lives of other members of the community.

Yes, there are countries where might makes right, where the strongest with the best weapons hold dominance. The US was set up to not be one of those places. If you want to live in a country where your weapons make you stronger and more dominant, feel free to move there. I prefer to live in a country of laws, where differences can be and should be settled peacefully. Yes, sometimes you have to bloody some noses and kill others to defend that society. But that in no way justifies the kinds of lax gun laws we now have in the US. As other countries clearly show, you don’t need lots of guns in the hands of citizens to live a peaceful, democratic life.

So until you can come up with a better argument than “my guns make me safe and keep the government in check” (because they don’t), you’re not going to convince me that stricter gun laws are anything but necessary and justified.

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Sic Semper Tyrannis

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and the ensuing debates, arguments, and frenzied screaming from all sides regarding gun laws in the U.S., I’ve seen a number of people say that the reason the 2nd Amendment is so important is that private citizens need to own firearms in case the government becomes a tyranny and we all have to rise up in revolution.

This raises a lot of questions for me. But the main one is this: at what point is armed revolution against the government justified?

Now, I come from a family of rebels and activists. My great-grandparents were Communists and Anarchists. My grandparents were labor organizers and supporters. My parents were involved in the Civil Rights Movement and counseled draft resisters during the American involvement in Vietnam. I was raised to question authority, to fight for what I believe in, and to engage in civil disobedience when necessary. (My great-aunt was arrested for protesting police brutality in New York City when she was in her 80s.) Casablanca is one of my favorite movies, and of course I always root for the French Resistance.

But still, I wonder…

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always to tyrants!”) from the stage of Ford’s Theatre. He clearly saw Lincoln as a tyrant who needed to be removed. Were his actions justified? Was he right to assassinate Lincoln? What about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing? Was that a justified action? I think the George W. Bush administration’s actions and policies verged awfully close to fascism, so would I have been justified in legally purchasing arms and ammunition and striking out against the government? We’ve seen right wing rhetoric about Barack Obama being a “socialist dictator” (as laughable as that rhetoric is), so is taking arms against the current government justified?

Defenders of the 2nd Amendment love to quote Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And in theory, that’s all well and good. But at what point is violent revolution actually justified? If you truly think we need to legally arm ourselves to protect against a tyrannical government, what’s your definition of tyranny and what violence will you actually endorse and defend? How do you know you’ll recognize a tyrant, and what makes you think John Wilkes Booth or Timothy McVeigh didn’t recognize one? Or do you think they did and they were on the side of the angels? When we get away from the romantic notion of a popular revolution against a cruel tyrant (a romantic notion that I quite like, in fact) and get into the real business of arming ourselves against an oppressive government, whose blood do you imagine you’ll be spilling? When is the spilling of blood the right thing to do and when is it wrong?

If you can’t answer these questions–or if you can answer them without hesitating–then I think you have a lot of thinking to do. And I don’t want you armed while you’re thinking it over.

Dear Josh…

Dear Josh,

Dude, I know. You’ve been chastised ever since you were a little kid for being “irresponsible” and “inattentive.” You’ve been teased for being “unrealistic” and “lost in your own head.” You’ve never been good at showing up on time or meeting strict deadlines. You’ve made mistakes. Sometimes you’ve made the same mistakes over and over again. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s disappointing. You feel like you’re letting people down and you hate that. You’re worried someone’s going to yell at you, which you also hate.

Here’s the thing: you’re working on it. You’re sincerely trying to get your life in order, to sort out what’s really important and what isn’t, to learn from your mistakes and do better. You’ll still fail sometimes. It’s OK. Everybody fucks up. Everybody is scared, uncertain, insecure–just like you. Yes, people will feel disappointed in you. Some people might even get angry and yell at you. But you’re doing the best you can. So be good to yourself. Stop yelling at yourself. Stop telling yourself you’re stupid, incompetent, a fuck-up.

Tell other people they should be kind and merciful to themselves. They shouldn’t beat up on themselves too much. And while you’re telling them that, tell yourself that, too. OK?

I know it may not always seem this way, but I love you, man. Really.

All the best,

You

Christmas Past and Into the Future

Last week saw the premiere of the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special, which I find I have very mixed feelings about, just as I do about the current series* and the show as a whole. I’ve written before about my undying love for Doctor Who, and while I still adore the show–and very much admire Steven Moffat’s writing in general–I’m finding some large aspects of the new show are starting to wear out their welcome for me.

The classic series had recurring characters and places and some recurring storylines, including a few long-form story arcs, but for the most part, each story was self-contained. When the new show started, the first series had the recurring phrase “bad wolf” that turned up, mostly in the background, of many of the stories, eventually being explained in the final story. The second series did something similar with the “Torchwood Institute” being mentioned one way or another in many of the stories, but only really coming to the forefront in the final story. The story arc-ing got more involved in the third series with politician Harold Saxon (which built up to the final story of that series, which I wrote about not-so-favorably). The story arcs of each season have gotten increasingly complex, particularly after Steven Moffat took over as producer, and, in my opinion, increasingly intrusive. God forbid you miss an episode now or you’ll be completely out of the loop on the overarching story. Each series, and the show overall, has gotten incredibly twisty and complicated as long, loopy, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stories have played out over multiple series. It can be fun, but it can also be a huge weight on the show, and while I generally have a good memory for weird plot points in TV shows, I often find myself losing track of the story arcs and wishing for the days when I could watch a Doctor Who story without having to figure out what every scene and line of dialogue meant to some larger story arc.

When Doctor Who first started in 1963, the main characters–besides the enigmatic and cranky Doctor–were a dashing, young science teacher, a compassionate and smart history teacher, and an unearthly but familiar teenage girl. The idea was to have characters the audience could relate to. Similarly, when the new show started, we were introduced to Rose Tyler, a regular, working class Londoner who wasn’t particularly smart or clever or strong, but she had a good heart and a lot of courage. She was someone the audience could relate to, someone you could imagine being. Unfortunately, producer and writer Russell T. Davies was so enamored of Rose, she grew into a sort of uber-everywomen, kinder and more insightful and more inspiring than any other person the Doctor had met. When she left the show, it was played as an epic tragedy, one which Davies’ Doctor never really recovered from. Since Rose, the Doctor’s companions have been increasingly portrayed as this uber-everyperson, exceptional in their unexceptionalness, but also touched by some kind of cosmic destiny that’s played out in the larger story arcs. Companions wouldn’t just choose to stop traveling with the Doctor, they had to be forced to stop–by sacrificing themselves in some epic way that further showed them to be modern day saints. While I’ve very much liked the companions (and the actors who played them), it starts to strain credulity when we’re told over and over again just how wonderful and exceptional they are. (Because it’s not enough to show them doing great deeds, the Doctor and other characters have to constantly comment on how extraordinary they are.)

And this leads me to “The Snowmen,” the latest Doctor Who Christmas special. Like much of the current stories, it’s big on high, imaginative concepts, but sadly low on depth and lasting endearment. Much of the flash is delightful and fun, like the Doctor parking his TARDIS on a cloud that can be reached by an invisible spiral staircase and the titular snowmen, with their fearsome expressions. Some of it is amusing, like the Sontaran Strax, who is a charming bit of comic relief but otherwise serves no purpose in the story. There are some nice nods to the classic show, and Jenna-Louise Coleman is absolutely wonderful as the spunky new companion, Clara. But while Coleman is great, the character of Clara isn’t just anyone, she’s a temporal mystery, the same woman who keeps showing up in the Doctor’s adventures and then dying before she can be whisked away by the Doctor. I literally sighed and rolled my eyes when it was revealed that the Clara in the Christmas special wouldn’t really be the new companion (although that’s what was promoted over and over again), she was just another incarnation of some woman who keeps being reborn in different eras, and the Doctor will apparently meet her again in modern day England. Again, we don’t get a simple story, we get a piece of a large puzzle revolving around unusual and exceptional characters and situations. The villain of “The Snowmen” was built up throughout the episode, and then quickly, handwavingly dismissed at the last minute. Add in mawkish tugs at viewers’ heartstrings (“It’s not raining, it’s crying!”), and what we’re left with is an overseasoned, overly-complicated soup that’s tasty but leaves you feeling fairly empty. And that’s too much of what the show is now: fun, flashy concepts (“Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!”) surrounded by stories that rely too much on cheap sentimentality and avoid much real meat and dirt. Doctor Who used to be about realistic people in a daft universe with stories that encouraged viewers (mostly children) to challenge the status quo and question authority. Now it’s mostly just daft. Sometimes the daft is a lot of fun, but I miss the thoughtful pro-pacifism, anti-authority, anti-status quo stories of the classic show. The modern show seems to be becoming more and more like a snowman: pretty to look at, but all too quickly gone, melted away with the morning sun, leaving nothing in its place.

I would love to see the show move away from the large story arcs, the unusual and exceptional companions, and the flash-over-substance stories. I adore Steven Moffat’s wild imagination, but I’d like to see that balanced with thoughtful, provocative stories that can stand on their own and characters who are more like Ben and Polly, Ian and Barbara, Jo, Tegan, and the ever-popular Sarah Jane Smith–ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

* I’m using “series” here in the British sense, what Americans usually call a “season.”