28 April 2014
Gunplay in the home of Uncle Sam
When I was growing up, I lived in an apartment in downtown Troy, New York. Often on weekend nights I'd be awakened in the middle of the night, or distracted from the TV if I was staying up late, by screams and yells directly outside. My building was next door to a bar and there was another across the street. They catered to different crowds, one town, one gown, and I fancied that the patrons fought one another in the middle of the street. I remember vividly one tussle that had two guys rolling and grappling together as cars dodged them. It was always drunk people being stupid, but that was thirty years or so ago. Had I lived in the same place last weekend, I would have been awakened, or distracted, by gunfire. Somebody fired into a crowd outside a pizza shop next door to one of the bars and wounded five people. While investigators believe it was a targeted attack, but that not all the people hit were targets, it's unclear whether the shooter, who remains at large, intended to kill anyone. It looks like all the victims were hit in the legs, and none of their injuries are life-threatening. Still, guns! In a case like this it's questionable whether the assailant could have done much less damage with a knife, but a crowded sidewalk is probably the last place you would have wanted to see a "good guy with a gun" at a time like this. That being said, I don't want to make it about guns this time since guns only exacerbate an existing volatility that's nothing new in crowds on cities in weekends. We're dealing with problems in human nature for which there are no simple "left" or "right" solutions. I doubt whether more economic security, as liberals would want for everyone, or more morality grounded in religious tradition, as conservatives would call for, will keep people from getting drunk or high, or keep some of those from getting competitive, jealous or belligerent. It may take more than either of these solutions to change human nature, if our nature is changeable and change is desirable. Many people say change is good but they usually mean change for the society around them, change in other people's backward minds, rather than change in themselves. But as long as people draw lines against progress exempting themselves from change, believing themselves fine as they are, society is likely to remain "fine as it is" despite the persistent evidence to the contrary. These may be grim observations after a non-fatal incident, but that incident looks like further proof that society is still getting worse, at least locally, while the possibility of real change continues to dwindle and the imagination of radical change remains in disrepute. This city's slogan is, Ilium fuit, Troja est: the Troy of classical mythology fell, but the present Troy endures. Yet it will take no army hidden in a gift to bring it all down.