Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guns, Belligerence and the Loss of Neighborliness (Wendell Berry)

If I put up many signs on my property, saying that I will shoot all trespassers, then I greatly increase the possibility of two bad outcomes: that I will eventually have to shoot a trespasser or that a determined trespasser will come armed and shoot me. If I want to forestall such possibilities, and at the same time protect myself, then I will have to do much more than withdraw my threat. I must change my relationship to all potential trespassers. I must be a good neighbor to my neighbors, not out of fear, but in recognition both of our mutual advantages and of the possibility that I may like them. If all else fails, I must think of ways to make my point and protect myself and my place without destroying myself or my neighbors, my place or my neighbors' places. This, of course, would not be easy—but, then, neither would be the alternative. 
Quote from pp. 88-9 of Sex, Economy, Community & Freedom (Pantheon Books, 1993)

Here's one of Berry's recurring themes which I'll summarize as follows. When relations between members of a community become characterized by mutual distrust and suspicion -- and when the retributive principle is the dominant paradigm -- then the good life becomes nearly impossible, no matter how affluent or technologically advanced that society may be.

One sees this played out in tragedies such as the Trayvon Martin killing. Whatever the facts of the encounter between Martin and George Zimmerman on that fateful evening -- and we may never know for sure what happened -- the possibility of being a good neighbor in that community has been dealt a grievous blow. With neighborhoods and streets awash in guns, and a significant portion of the citizenry walking around half-cocked, can there be any doubt that more such misunderstandings will escalate to a fatal result? Now is the time for citizens of the heavenly kingdom to demonstrate a more excellent way. It's here that Berry's prophetic insight and moral imagination can help us.

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