I want to write about violence.
I want to write about violence but I don’t want to say anything stupid. I don’t want to say violence is bad. I don’t want to say guns are bad. I don’t want to say anything is bad. Because we all know it’s bad.
I want to write about violence because of the school shootings today in Connecticut. I guess that goes without saying.
I’m not really an emotional person. Friends don’t come to me for comfort. I don’t wear my feelings on my sleeve. I don’t cry easily. And so I surprised myself by being near the edge of tears for most of the morning; one or two of those tears might have even jumped the wall of my face. I surprised myself by walking to my son’s school and lurking outside the gates. It was a primitive, almost biological, impulse, and I gave into it. I felt ashamed as I did it. Ashamed of not being in control.
I don't think "people" are violent. Most people are not violent. We all carry the potential of violence inside of us, but most of us never realize that potential, never really want to, though we might fantasize about violence. I know the scientific literature, because I read the literature as part of my work; those studies are in my head right now like background static. The literature says most of us avoid violence at all costs. Most of us must be trained to take life. And people who learn to kill people must first learn to see people as targets, not people. Killing other people is unnatural.
I’m talking about healthy people. I’m talking about people who love, who hurt, who worry about other people. But not all people are healthy and not all people are healthy all the time. Sometimes, I am not healthy.
In my worst moments I have forgotten that other people feel as I do, and I've forgotten that they deserve respect and dignity and understanding. I have had too many of those moments. Those are the moments when I allow the other me, the one I hide, the Mr. Hyde that everyone hides, to reveal himself. Most of the time my violence has taken the form of words. But I have, in my life, hit and shoved people. And afterward, it hasn't seemed real. I have had to struggle to own those unreal moments. And when I do, I am ashamed. Ashamed of not being in control.
Just like all of us, I have been the target of violence. Guns have been pointed at my face. I've seen people beaten and shot, and I have stood by in confusion and animal fear. I am ashamed of those moments as well. Those moments when I was helpless. When I was not in control.
There are people I know who believe in violence as an act of control. Most people believe in some form of controlled violence, believe that violence can be controlled, believe that violence can be used to bend others to our will. They believe we need police, they believe we need well-regulated militias. Some people think we should arm teachers, and then, finally, schools will be safe. That we will be in control. Some people I know believe in revolutionary violence—in rising up against our oppressors, in destroying anyone who stands in the way of the peaceful world we want to live in. They have theories, elaborate theories. They believe their theories of change will control the violence of the change.
It's not my purpose to disagree with the theories. I’m not going to say we don’t need police or militias or bloody revolutions or even armed teachers. I don’t want to say that violence can’t change things for the better or that we should always turn the other cheek. I would certainly fight in defense of my child, though I would do so incompetently, incompletely, ineffectually. If a police officer stood between my child and a person with a gun, I would most certainly want the police officer to kill that person.
And yet I’ve also wished violence on my child. I have, and I think that makes me average. I am not willing to say that those parents who claim to have never wanted to strike a child in anger are liars. But I will say with some confidence that most parents have, at some point, wanted to strike a child. They've known that anger. That drive to bend our children to our will through violence. Most of us have lost control, if only for a moment. And after that, the shame. Many of us know that shame. Of having lost control.
Now we’re at the root of the thing I really want to write about. My child. I want to write about violence and my child. I keep envisioning the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can’t get those pictures out of my head. Again, the loss of control. Again, the shame, my shame. I couldn't do anything to protect those children. If it had been my child, I wouldn't have been able to protect him.
I’m not going to disagree with your theories of violence. You can keep your theories and I’ll keep mine, for the moment.
But I want to write about violence because I want to remind myself of something horrible. Which is that our violence cannot be truly controlled, once we allow ourselves to be violent. And that violence, when we give it permission to exist, lives by its own rules. That violence doesn’t give a fuck about our theories of state and revolution and emotion. That violence, in fact, doesn’t give a fuck about us. Violence wants only to live and it lives by eating us alive. In the face of a monster like that, we are all small. We are all helpless. We are all children.
That's what I wanted to write about violence.