One Man’s Angel Is Another Man’s Demon

Haruki Murakami

The “victory lap” the NRA/ILA took at their convention last week for having defeated the already flimsy gun-control measures in Congress was so appalling that my opinion was numbed for a few days, my mind snickering in ongoing disbelief. They even trotted out Sarah Palin, looking and behaving ever more the nightmarish ventriloquist’s dummy in a remake of a 70s horror movie. I would say the whole show was “unworthy of America,” but that would be idealistic and disingenuous of me—if it wasn’t exactly worthy of us, it was certainly typical.

I suppose there is some small consolation that there were no book burnings.

Speaking of which, I’m finally reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, something I’ve meant to do since it was published in 2011, but forgot about—I go through lengthy periods of not reading fiction. But all of Murakami’s works, weak or strong, get my attention at some point. So far, three-quarters through almost nine hundred pages, 1Q84 is one of my favorites, if not the favorite.

1Q84_bindingHow is Murakami’s book related to gun control, and not just to guns, but all things that I consider evil, but which vast numbers of other people see as being good? Because those people also tend to view me as a demon—I’m gay, I’m godless, my views are decidedly non-conservative in the currently accepted meaning of the word, and I have myriad other traits that can be perceived as wicked and dissolute—and among Murakami favorite themes is binary/parallel reality, that relationship between “good and not-so-bad,” the dual nature of the self and the world it inhabits. 1Q84 in particular has that yin-yang thang flowing right out of the text into the layout and graphics of the book itself. But nothing too post-modern, of course—Murakami is a Japanese old-school magical realist to the core.

Gun control is like marijuana legalization and gay rights: it makes sense, it has to be done, but we are somehow encumbered by this debate with irrational people who, in my thinking, shouldn’t be allowed in the discussion to begin with, that is how convinced I am by my particular sense of right and wrong. We will certainly evolve eventually in what I perceive to be the right direction, at the expense of making wrong those who see themselves as being right about the right to bear arms without strict regulation.

But the Nazis thought themselves right, too. Au revoir, evil people.

How do we know gun control is right? Because we can see it work empirically. As a dual Australian citizen with a fair amount of knowledge about that country and culture, I know that the national character is quite similar to Texans: a pioneering spirit that is often racist, paranoid and excessively macho, with a charming accent and a complete sense of self-awareness as to just what rubes we can really be.

Australia implemented severe laws banning automatic and semi-automatic weapons following the mass shooting in 1996 in Tasmania that left thirty-five dead. There have been no mass shootings since, whereas it had thirteen incidents in the eighteen years prior to the  enactment of such drastic but necessary legislation. And the rate of suicides and murders has decreased by an estimated “200 coffins a years.” If the U.S. population is thirteen times larger than Australia’s, that means saving close to three thousand lives a year, a far cry from the nearly eleven thousand we are currently saddled with, all in the name of defending a centuries-old constitutional ‘right’ that has no relevance to this day and age. I suspect that the life savings would be more, however; the average Aussie lives in or near the cities on the coasts and, like urban Americans, isn’t armed to the teeth. We have a far greater rural population, who are armed to the teeth and hardly reared with the most pacifist and tolerant of cultures.

Japan has even more stringent laws, as Murakami points out in a lengthy sequence in 1Q84 when one of his protagonists tries to buy a gun—the process of acquiring one is almost more dangerous than the gun itself. As a result, Japan has the lowest per capita incident of firearm-related death in the world. The laws we Americans demanded they put in their modern constitution to protect the world against Japan arming itself again have ironically made that country safe from gun violence, although other acts of brutality both physical and mental are still pervasive there.

Despite the clear evidence that strict gun-control laws work—and we’re not talking about weak measures to limit the amount of rounds a gun can fire, such as those proposed by the recent bill that was squashed by Congress, but real restrictions and wide-spread destruction of existing firearms citizens don’t need—there remains a vocal and powerful group of the kind that attends the NRA/ILA Convention and applauds the nightmare ventriloquist-dummy speakers, that overturns sensible-if-weak legislation, that really believes gun control is evil. Yeah, well. There are still creationists, despite overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of evolution. Doesn’t mean they should have any voice much less a say in legistlation. Why? Because they’re wrong about evolution and creationism shouldn’t be taught to children. Period.

I suppose there will always be those who resist change, who hinder society’s evolution. We call them ‘conservatives,’ but in fact they conserve nothing and are a hindrance. If anything, they are destructionist. And they are bad Americans, or what makes us bad, people who vote down party lines like apparatchiks in totalitarian states rather than for the right leaders and lawmakers regardless of party affiliation.  Am I wrong to see them as demonic? Is it merely my point of view?

Since when have you started using question marks, James?

Did the saying used to be "better dead than red"?

Didn’t the saying used to be “better dead than red”?

Chekhov states that a writer’s role is to ask questions, not to answer them. That’s an interesting proposition—I’m not sure it suits my know-it-all personality. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. As an example of this authorial open-ended questioning, in another section of 1Q84 Murakami asks, if we are merely soulless organic robots whose exclusive purpose is to pass on the gene that makes us human (as I strictly perceive the reality of our existence to be), why have we developed consciousness? Know-it-all me would reply that it’s obvious: we have developed consciousness to protect the gene. We are rapidly evolving the skills that allow us to manipulate our environments so that we don’t face the mass extinction that periodically wipes out the greater portion of life on this planet. And, yes, nature does turn on her children from time to time. Five times in the past, in fact, wiping out nearly all life on earth.

The same goes for weapons. We developed them to protect the tribe from wild animals and enemies, and thereby preserve the ‘selfish gene,’ as Richard Dawkins calls it. But there are no more saber-toothed tigers, and the enemy is now more internal to the tribe than external. Until we do away with tribes/nations and form some sort of global unity, we will need to protect ourselves with armies; we shouldn’t lay down our arms or open our borders willy-nilly just because John Lennon dares us to imagine such a thing—that would be inviting disaster. But we can and should disarm the demons in our midst, even if it takes time, even if it means that those who see themselves as angels have to lay down their guns, too.

What I’m saying is it comes down to perception, but there is an objective, scientific way to measure good and evil: murder is evil, midwifery is good; bigotry is evil, compassion is good. A mass killer perceives what he’s doing as right, or at least justified, in some way. True, his wiring is clearly faulty, but the fact remains he shouldn’t have access at all to the kinds of arms and ammunition that are so readily available in this country. No matter what the NRA/ILA says about “coming down hard” on violent criminals and insane people who abuse the hollowed, sacred, God-blessed Second Amendment, there is nothing that will come down on those aberrations harder than simply making it nearly impossible for them to carry out their wrongdoing.

As one of Murakami’s characters says, guns were invented to kill people. Period. Killing is evil. Period. And, no, this is not a question of perspective because there are no two ways about it.

As I see it, at least.



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