Mitch Benn: We need to fight war on fantasy

PUBLISHED: 15:00 25 May 2018

Mourners gather following the shooting that killed 10 at Santa De High School. Picture: PA

Mourners gather following the shooting that killed 10 at Santa De High School. Picture: PA

SIPA USA/PA Images

The American obsession with guns fails to stop dangerous obsessions with fantasies, says MITCH BENN. Something has to change to stop those fantasies becoming reality.

I’m about to make what may or may not be a startling admission. See what you think.

I had, all things considered, a pretty happy time at school. I guess I was a bit lonely in my first few years at grammar school; I was, after all a weird, blabbermouthed, over-achieving fat kid with all that this entails, but by the time I was about 15 or 16 I seemed to have the measure of the place and it, moreover, seemed to have the measure of me.

I was doing fine in most of my subjects, I had a little gang of loyal and equally nerdy mates; it was more or less all you could wish for at that age.

And yet, looking back, I don’t think a week went by when I didn’t at least idly contemplate what it would be like to turn up to school with a machine gun and lay waste to the damn place.

Like I said, I’m not sure if that’s a startling admission or not; I’ve asked a few of my (male) contemporaries if they’d experienced similar urges during their adolescence and most of them have answered in the affirmative. But the point is that idly contemplate laying waste to my school with a machine gun was all I – or any of my British contemporaries – ever did, because the possibility of enacting that fantasy was precisely nil.

You don’t – unless you really do have some serious psychological issues – fixate upon those desires that you know can never be acted upon.

Since I, and my fellow limey nerds, knew there was no chance of ever getting our hands on a machine gun – or indeed any gun – that grim impulse remained a gruesome shadow in the back of our minds, never to be explored or elaborated on. If, on the other hand, we’d known that our dad’s rifle was in the garage, or that there was a loaded handgun in our parents’ nightstand drawer... who knows whether that fantasy might have started to assume a tantalising tangibility, until one day the temptation to ‘show all those bastards’ became too great.

I was reminded of this last week as news broke of yet another mass school shooting in the US, in Santa Fe, Texas, this time and I beheld, once again, American political and social commentators performing the most bizarre moral gymnastics in order to pin the blame for the tragedy on literally any factor other than ‘that which must not be spoken’ – it’s way too easy for Americans to get guns.

This time we’ve heard the problem is schools have too many doors (?); we’ve had a call for a ban on trenchcoats (they can have my trenchcoat when they pry it off my cold, dead shoulders) and, of course, the parade of usual suspects: violent video games, hip hop, poor mental health provision, the internet and the teaching of evolution in school.

What nobody, or at least nobody in a position of political influence, seems willing to admit is that all of these things are just as prevalent in every other country in the developed world.

What isn’t happening in every other country in the developed world is a mass school shooting every two to three months (or all but a few of the other 33,000 gun-related deaths a year in America).

What we’re seeing in the American political/media establishment with regard to the gun issue is nothing less than a kind of wilful insanity; the truth of the matter is staring them all in the face, but everyone is furiously trying not to see it. There’s an elephant in the room, and he’s holding an AR-15.

But we mustn’t sneeringly dismiss this as a uniquely American malaise; rather it’s the most tragic American manifestation of the disease which is afflicting public discourse all over the world. The biggest threat to human welfare right now isn’t terrorism, or climate change, or war – it’s the thing which sustains and underlies all these things: belief.

The American pro-gun position is a matter of faith; every available fact or datum tells pro-gun Americans that gun proliferation is making them exponentially less safe, but this doesn’t impact their belief that it makes them safer. Faith positions aren’t based on facts, so no amount of evidence will alter them.

Similarly, every bit of information we now have about Brexit confirms what we Remainers have been saying for more than two years; it’ll diminish our country in every imaginable way. But this has no effect on the belief of the hardcore Brexiteers that it’ll be the saving of the nation (even if they couldn’t tell you what it needed saving from). The fact that everything Jeremy Corbyn has done since the referendum demonstrates that he’s an ideological Europhobe doesn’t alter the entirely baseless belief of his pro-EU supporters that he’s playing a long game and will unfurl his true Remain colours in due course. And, while I’m here, the fact that Brexit will hurt the poor and working class worse than anyone has no bearing on Corbyn’s belief that the interests of the poor and working class can only be served by the implementation of true socialism, even if he has to enact Brexit (and hurt the poor and working class) in order to achieve this.

The battle now isn’t left versus right, or east versus west, or even rich versus poor. It’s between facts and fantasy, between reality and faith, between free thinking and wishful thinking. Each political ‘side’ has adherents of both. Perhaps it’s time to abandon tribal loyalties and forge alliances with sane members of all parties.

So, British Rational Party, anyone?

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