Out Shooting With the Boys

It was a bit of a pre-birthday celebration and something of a dying American tradition.  A little friendly competition on breakin’ up clay pigeons and dusting off and zeroing a couple of rifles.  Nothing fancy….no bonfire, beer, or victuals as has been my past routine for “shootin’ barbeques”.  But a nice bit of American fun.

Too bad most of the country hasn’t a clue any longer:  a) just how natural it is for boys, in particular, to compete this way, b) just how important it is for humans to master technical and athletic pursuits, c) just how firm a foundation the shooting sports help to lay for a free society, d) just how far we’ve strayed from the traditions and institutions of our past free society.

Then, on Sunday, 60 Minutes presented a (reasonably well-balanced) report on the recent tragic shooting in Arizona.  They included an FBI profiler who asserted that (among other signs) a sudden interest in shooting practice should serve as warning that a mentally unbalanced person may soon become violent.  And, of course, despite all the political hullabaloo in the days following the shooting, we can be assured that this was and always was a mental health problem.

What we can’t seem to acknowledge is how important those traditions and institutions are to such things as mental health.  In this age of prescribed emasculation – if not to the institutional motherhood of the state itself, then to the psuedo-virtual-combat of the gaming world or big-business-sports culture – should we be surprised that some boys seem never to quite figure out how to grow up and be a man?

In a culture that increasingly simplifies notions of sacrificial service to family or any other cause as being “chumped” by the system, is it any wonder that frail psyches seem ever more willing to latch on to victimhood like a black hole sun?  It’s a continual wonder to me that the US is even able to raise a volunteer army and, God forbid, I can’t help but wonder how many of them are simply living out their “Call of Duty” fantasies.

In fact, I finally did get a chance to watch the film Restrepo recently and recommend it for the clear-eyed view of tough duty in Afghanistan that it is.  No value judgements here…..it is what it is.  See it and you’ll know what I mean.  There’s just a little bit of conflicting truth in all such settings and, as such, it provides some reasonable opportunity to try to untangle our moral and ethical policy problems.

The upshot for me:  We ought not take the masculine nature for granted.  We ought not stifle it outright on the basis of its competitive potential for violence.  As one who retains some fondness for the honored traditions of the past, I suggest we re-learn how to temper or balance those attributes with a well-grounded understanding of useful and honorable service.  

We certainly ought not pervert it in childhood and then simply throw it into bloody, unfocused, unwinnable, and possibly unjustified political-media-circus-events.  And, barring insufficient restraint on those paradigms, we ought to get used to the idea of just how easy it is for individuals to now orchestrate their own political-media-circus-events.

Dads – I recommend you take your sons (and daughters) shooting or hunting this Saturday and, of course, then to church on Sunday.  Mom – go a head and give junior a pat on the back when he shows you his target, but send him to the woodshed if he points his BB gun at his sister.  Those used to be pretty workable, common-sense rules, don’t you think? 

Harry Tuttle

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