Waking up to news of the Parkland high-school shooting.
I don’t like to talk about politics here. Not because I don’t care about current affairs but because I would much rather discuss philosophy than policy. From experience, I think it’s more constructive to explore various ideas (the role of the state, the legacy of empire, the viability of military interventionism, etc) through writing than it is to grab someone by the scruff of the neck and shout at them, which is sadly what most political discourse is these days. Get people to think, get people to confront their own ideals, get people to engage and you have a more constructive process.
But there comes a point when this feels dishonest. As a writer I’ve always struggled with the aspect of professionalism that requires one to be diplomatic and, to an extent, emotionally distant. Eventually, I knew the veil would fall and I’d have to wade in on one side or the other. It’s inevitable, right? Especially in an increasingly polarised world.
You know what I’m talking about. There’s been another shooting in a US school and several kids are dead. America, once again, is in mourning. I don’t know when the last period of mourning ended, and by now it feels like a constant thing, a vast and incessant parade of public agony, but now the news anchors are weeping and people are calling for better gun control. Once again, people across the pond are lecturing you on how to run your own country.
Now, I know that the philosophy of ferocious individualism runs deep in American culture. You don’t like outsiders telling you what to do, and many of you like to think that you have enough firepower in your basement to take on drones, battleship-mounted railguns and Navy SEALS if the government decides to go full Stalin. You like to stand alone. You like to say ‘don’t tread on me’ instead of ‘don’t tread on us’ because solidarity sounds like communism to you. Decades of libertarian dogma can’t be deprogrammed in a heartbeat. But the US is also a country in which the spirit of community looms large. The first three words of your constitution are not “I the Individual” but “We the People”. And as one, you can change things. Individuals can stand together without losing their independence of thought, without losing their own little chunk of the American Dream. So when I say that, on gun violence, Europe is with you, the UK is with you, don’t be threatened by that. This isn’t some call for you to put on overalls and overthrow capitalism. It’s a message of unity. We feel your sadness. We don’t want to see parents in tears and their kids in the ground. We don’t want these sorts of wasteful, miserable, gut-twisting acts of slaughter to happen again. Anywhere.
So who does this three-eighths-Irish Brit think he is, poking his nose in your business? Well, despite my lack of geographical proximity I’ve got a stake in this too. I love the US. Growing up, my favourite TV shows were American. My favourite comedy show of all time is Seinfeld (Only Fools and Horses runs a close second). My favourite band is Smashing Pumpkins. My favourite poetry came out of the Modernist period, which involved Americans coming over here to show us how to get our mojo back. So many of my favourite movies and plays are American. I can’t count how many hours, how many years of joy your nation has given me. So when I say all of this, it comes from the heart. It comes from somebody who absolutely and categorically gives a shit. Somebody who, many times in his life, the lowest and most difficult times I’ve ever had, found kinship and solace in the work of American artists. Someone who might not have made it through his teens had it not been for Billy Corgan, a libertarian from Chicago. Believe me when I say that I have a vested interest in your country healing itself.
You stood up to the British Empire when it subjugated you. In 1941 you stood up to the Axis when it threatened to overpower the whole world. I’m pretty sure you can stand up to a handful of middle-aged men who run the NRA and the politicians nestling in their pockets.
I have faith in you. You’ve never given in to powerlessness and inertia before. Don’t start now.