Accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, the French writer, Albert Camus, said that "a writer cannot serve today those who make history; he must serve those who are subject to it."
It's a very French thing to say, of course, particularly in the Fifties, and I admire Camus for having said it. Human suffering matters, and while we can all find ways to lessen this suffering, Camus suggests that writers make this world a better, more humane place by revealing to their readers the many ways that we are "subject" to history.
For "subject to" read "oppressed by." Or "bullied by." Or "run over by."
In his essay, "Reflections on the Guillotine," Camus addressed capital punishment—an essay, by the way, that influenced Sister Helen Prejean's thinking on the subject—and he made one observation that is relevant to the open-carry movement in this country.
"Bloodthirsty laws," Camus remarked, "make bloodthirsty customs." He's speaking specifically about state-sponsored executions. Like this: once the citizens of the state allow their government to discipline its citizens by killing them, then killing citizens becomes a custom; the punishment becomes, then, customary, in Camus' sense of the word.
The laws rise from the consent of the governed, and once in place, they start to do their job: determine the culture of the country. The state's custom then becomes a little more bloodthirsty because the state's laws allow us to slake our thirst for blood.
It's not complicated.
The taking of human life, beyond the provinces of declared war, assumes its place in the government's repertoire of possible actions.
We see it over and over, though, in other countries where capital punishment is illegal—the thirst for blood, if ignored or outlawed, gradually decreases.
I had another look at the pictures of the forty or so open-carry demonstrators who had gathered outside of the Blue Mesa Grill in Arlington, Texas, and I thought of Camus. Inside the Blue Mesa were four—count 'em, four—women who had gathered to discuss gun-control issues related to the Moms Demand Action group.
The Open Carry Texas group that converged outside of the restaurant broke no laws. No one was shot. No one was injured. A group photograph was taken, of course, with the American flag and children and guns. This particular optics—guns, men, women, children, flag, public place—has become a meme now for the open-carry enthusiasts, and an image of great hilarity for the gun-control folks. I suspect Open Carry Texas will reconsider future actions of this sort—it's continually mentioned as a kind of social-media gaffe.
But these images, and the actions that give rise to them, are part of the gradual militarization of our culture, and when you militarize a culture, you must expect military solutions to civil disagreements.
That in a nutshell is the problem.
Carrying weapons openly into public places where they are not needed, but where it is legal to do so, exercises a right without understanding the far-reaching implications of having exercised that right.
Once we recognize weapons as part of the cultural apparatus—along with petitions, speeches, letters, tweets, marches, demonstrations, conversations, and ballots—that we bring to our debates, then weapons and debates become customary—think Camus—partners.
This, in my opinion, is a dangerous partnership, a bloodthirsty partnership, and one that all of us, whatever our views on guns, will live to regret. Some of us have already moved well beyond regret.
I wondered this morning how I might explain this to my daughter, who is four. How do I tell her that weapons and disagreements in this country have become, in some states, an inevitable and countenanced team? How do I constructively talk to her about the open-carry laws that allowed those members of Open Carry Texas to bring weapons to a lunch meeting of four women who held different opinions on gun-control? How do I explain those optics, and avoid the words that embarrass and weaken a culture? Words like intolerance, aggression, irresponsibility?
I realize, of course, that the militarization of a culture takes more than a few dozen open-carry extremists in Texas obsessed with a lunch meeting of four gun-control advocates. Violent cultures—and we all seem to agree that ours is a violent one—grow their violence in many fields and cultivate it in many ways. It takes a village, of course.
Not one of us, in my opinion, escapes this massacre unscarred. But some have acknowledged the massacre, others have seen it and work to relieve the rest of us from it, and still others have refused inexplicably to recognize it.
Those are the lines that I have drawn now. Others will draw other lines, but my hope is that one day all of them will go away.
The lines, I mean.