Must-read piece of the day: guns don’t secure freedom — they destroy it

So much has already been written about the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown. And yet, so much more remains to be said. There’s a lot that I want to write about this, but it will have to wait until my blogging stint this weekend. To write about this subject, I need to learn more, and read more, and that will take some time.

I do, however, want to strongly urge that you all take a look at this powerful piece at the New York Times’ Opinionator site, by philosophy professor Firmin DeBrabander. DeBrabander makes a compelling argument about how, contrary to the perfervid fantasies of the right in this country, guns don’t guarantee our freedom — in fact, they corrosively undermine it.

Now, I don’t entirely endorse DeBrabander’s argument. Certainly, there are times when violence is necessary to bring about political change. But since those times are the exceptions rather than the rule, I think his thesis generally holds. Here are the key grafs, though of course you should read the whole thing:

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee