I’ve always been fond of brushes. Traditional tools going back to primitive times, for the past five hundred years or so, brushes have more or less standardized into a classic form; gently lathed, finely finished, long-handled and short, balanced for holding in various ways and points of view. Brushes come easily to men’s hands as well as those of women and children. In all shapes and sizes, their soft parts help to describe the personalities of those who use them.
Even in the hands of madmen, brushes can do little immediate harm. But, like pens and pencils, they have the potential to be mightier than swords. Every time we pick one up we reinstate our membership in a great brotherhood and sisterhood.
From the first Stone Age flint or adz, man distinguished himself as the most creative and inventive of the tool-making animals. The axe, the shovel, the ploughshare, the book, the brush, the cello, the scalpel, and the CT scan evolved to serve purposes that could not always be visualized by the generations before. Tools within tools within tools now take us across skies and straight up into space so we can look back at the gift of our mother earth. Is there no limit to mankind’s ability to create tools? And do we not have a choice which tools we will use?
Our accumulated culture and the breadth of our character determine the tools we use. The camera tool and its various iterations, for example, permit the re-enactment of lethal confrontations, the depiction of imagined evils and the greatest depths of fear. The camera tool can visualize for us the solving of problems by both violence and gentility. Whole industries glorify the use of our tools, and just cleaning our tools can give some of us a thrill.
Future anthropologists, arriving from another planet, may dig in our middens and determine we were “The People of the Gun.” A brilliantly conceived tool, the gun has evolved to reach a remarkable range and power. Plain or sophisticated, outsized or miniaturized, concealed or openly brandished, apart from its legitimate use for shooting pop cans off fences, the gun has always been a tool for taking the lives of other beings.
Understanding how it is possible to fall in love with our tools, it’s time we study how this gun tool is now out of hand. Do we not need to rethink its value and its presence among us? Can we outgrow the gun?
PS: “We must all work to make this world worthy of its children.” (Pablo Casals)
Esoterica: In the time it takes to paint a small picture, someone, somewhere, will lose his or her life to a gun. Like mental illness and fanaticism, gun ownership is worldwide. And wherever home ownership of guns is highest, gun deaths are also the highest. Let us return to our gentle tools. To brushes and violins, to cellos and palettes. If mankind has a destiny, it should be for greater things than guns.
No finger pointing
by Mary Jeanne Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada
It is by broad public dialogue and social pressure that we will change society. We’ve done it with smoking, with drinking and driving and with car emissions. Let’s make owning a gun as unpopular and as dangerous as it has proven to be.
We must not overlook the seriousness of the problem of dealing with acting-out youth either. Parents who are lost in terms of their teens in trouble need to be able to speak out and get help. There should be no finger pointing or judgment passed, but instead a broad recognition of a social phenomena escalating in every class of society.
There are always signs
by Donna Veeder, Utica, NY, USA
There are entirely too many guns in this world. Not enough art and not enough brushes. But this past week’s tragedy was more of a mental health phenomenon. Someone did not talk to another person about this young man. Someone kept it all to the self, and maybe more than one person did that. Who had suspicions that he might become violent? There are signs. There are always signs. We did not see the signs in my mother before she killed herself. Afterwards, it was very clear. There were signs. We need to help people, everyone, to learn to understand the meaning of the signs of what they are seeing and thereby save other lives in the future.
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The gun religion
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
We may be artists and art-lovers, but we’re also people, and are deeply touched by the violence in our society. It’s difficult for me to understand why some people are so fervently in favor of guns — all guns, even ones with large magazines — when they see that they’re often used as a “tool” to kill innocents. To not be willing to rethink this stance after the terrible tragedies that have occurred seems strange to me. It’s as if for some, gun ownership has become a fundamentalist sort of religion where faith is king and there’s no tolerance for challenges to the status quo based on real evidence or honest thought. Let’s hope, for the good of all of us, that our gun culture refocuses on hunting and in-home self-defense, and away from super-lethal weapons and carrying guns wherever we go. The next time someone in a vehicle gets angry because they feel that I cut them off, I hope they don’t have a gun in their glove compartment!
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The loss of moral values
by Mary Marriner, Atlanta, GA, USA
We will never be able to remove guns from all the bad guys out there, because they just seem to have ways of obtaining them. So, why would we want to remove guns from the good people who need them to protect and defend themselves? If the principal had been armed at the school in Connecticut, then the outcome might have been very different. We must all remember that the gun didn’t kill the precious children any more than a fork makes you overeat. It is the person behind the “tool” that causes the problem and faulty judgments by parents, or lack of parenting. We have strayed way too far from our moral roots. It would be more effective to find these troubled people and attempt to help them… teach them the consequences of their behaviors… teach them to value life and to do kind things for others and not to be so self-absorbed. Again, most of this goes back to parenting and teaching values. I am afraid that as future societies look back on us, it won’t be the guns that they see, but rather, they will see a society that has lost sight of moral values and respect for life. One that has been overtaken by greed and self, rather than caring for the needs of others.
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The enemy is us
by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada
You are correct to point out that the generations past could not have foreseen how any tool in our tool box could have evolved and be used or misused in the future. One thing is certain, in the days when the American Constitution was penned there was a fairly real threat of invasion and there was a real value to being able to have a gun on hand to defend your country. There may still even be a need and desire to hunt for food or sport.
Nowadays, however, the enemy will not be sailing into New York or San Francisco harbour; any real threat from another country will be dropping from the sky, so no number of personal armaments will be effective.
What is more up-to-date and relevant is something Pogo said in 1974 in Walt Kelly’s comic strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Americans who have armed themselves and then lost their guns, left their gun cabinets open with guns loaded or used them unwisely (to say the least), are openly hostile to other Americans or, as we have seen so many times, are people of limited mental capacity, now leave more carnage on their streets in the USA than any in other peaceful country in the developed world.
It is time to simply take the assault guns out of the American home. They are used to kill policemen, other gang members, store owners and now children. Live in Peace.
The decaying society
by Ingrid Dabringer, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada
Territorialism is a natural part of humanity and so is narrative. Humans have used stories to make sense of their lives & deaths, food & water sources, astrological & environmental milestones, not to mention moral choices (The Bible, Brothers Grimm and Aesop). Fantasies and realities often mingle but life becomes very difficult to manage when reality is no more than a toy batted around by ideological fantasies (please see Fox News). We will always be measured by the stories we tell ourselves, the myths by which we choose to live. The current myth systems of Individualism (at all cost) and Capitalism/Consumerism (at all cost) is a limited and diseased framework. I think that these ideologies and their Somas (Brave New World) create a madness of being and a general normalizing of dissociative behaviour — where people vote by watching TV or purchasing objects. This is yet another reason we need to have gun regulations.
Until recently, we were all products of ancestors who had survived drought, famine, disease, environmental catastrophes and wars. But in the age of excess and consumerism, where we mine the earth like drunken sailors, this is no longer true in our western society. But, every condition in life comes with built-in limits. The infinite is a wonderful concept and has a place in our society as a concept. But the infinite has no real application here on earth. It seems logical to me that Individualism and Capitalism will have its own built-in pestilence/limit/ expiry date/ best-by date. There are many signs (and our upcoming treasured winter solstice is not one of them) that something in our society stinks to high heaven. But, in a culture that holds leisure as its primary goal and where death is an unmentionable reality, I wonder if the very essence of what it means to fight and die for democracy can even still exist. When and how do we take to the streets and fight for democracy when the “sources” say that those streets are cold, dark and unfriendly? If we can’t take the time to stand for what we believe in and physically undertake actions that support our beliefs then we can’t expect our children to do so either.
by Jan Oxendale, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I live in the country south of yours where gun ownership runs rampant. Adding to it is the multimedia form of entertainment in which the gun is the featured tool to use for murder and mass destruction. It comes in the forms of television shows, movies and of course, video games. Violence is not limited to the United States. Witness the 2011 Norway attacks when 77 lives were taken at the Workers’ Youth League summer camp. The assault took the lives of adults as well as children and babies. Anders Behring Breivik had trouble procuring weapons in Prague, even though it was known to have relaxed laws regarding guns and drugs. He was able to obtain the lethal guns he used from Norway, albeit after taking some required sport gun training to imply that he bought a .223-caliber Ruger, semi-automatic carbine, for the purpose of hunting deer. He used explosives, as well, to carry out his twisted purposes. The violence is not limited to psychotic individuals who, for some reason, believe there are evil forces to be reckoned with in ways that are unimaginable to the reasonable person. We see reports of violence, where the gun is used to kill innocent lives regularly in countries constantly at war, as in the Middle East and Africa.
We need to limit what kind of gun can be purchased on the free market. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons have no place in society other than to kill people. As a start, I have made my feelings known to the powers that are capable of changing it. But that is only one step, although a significant one, that would send our society on a path to peacefulness. As artists, we are creative people who may be able to use our tools to bring the craving for peace and tranquility to the rest of the population. As citizens, we can let our neighbors, the media and governments know that regulations must be put in place to prevent the gun from being so easily used to kill each other.
It’s the culture
by Alan Mynall, Oxford, UK
Canadians own more guns per capita than USA, but gun homicides are about a tenth of those in the USA. FIREARM HOMICIDE RATES (per 100,000 people)
Switzerland: 0.50 (gun ownership is compulsory for most adults)
Source: Kings College London
I’m no apologist for gun ownership, I don’t own a gun myself, but it’s too easy to blame the problem on the tool we use rather than the culture that influences its use.
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The death of compromise
by Danny A. Belrose, Independence, MO, USA
Amid all the outrage, questions, second-guessing, third-party analysis, debates regarding gun legislation, improved mental health systems, tighter school security I find myself mourning and in grief over another tragedy — a slow impending death that undergirds our inability to adequately respond to issues raised by the recurrence of mass slayings and the will to effectively realize Shalom in a nation founded on freedom that affords life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Extremism is the rule of the day; a rule that has pronounced a death sentence on its antonym Compromise.
Extremism is more than a word game. It’s an attitude, a mindset, a malignancy of the spirit of mutuality. It is political, theological, philosophical, and societal deafness to viewpoints other than our own. We are fast becoming an Us against Them culture, a people who are diametrically opposed and unyielding on some of the most basic of human rights and hopes (health care, safety, security, education, immigration, taxation, gender and sexual equity, etc.,) while waving the same stars and stripes. I am not referring to diversity of opinions or suggesting we must all be on the same page on every topic. That’s never going to happen and shouldn’t happen. I’m talking about a blatant unwillingness to budge from pre-determined verdicts set in cement. We are losing the ability to ‘listen’ to each other and to seek common ground and common good.
Rather than working toward toleration, balance, and agreement through a give and take process of communication, we are fast becoming a TAKE ALL and GIVE NOTHING society. Compromise is seen as defeat, capitulation, and a surrender of objectives and principles rather than a pathway for improved relationships and shared results.
Nowhere is this more evident than our present political environment. For example, politicians pledging to ‘never’ increase taxes are nonsensical and irresponsible. When a political party (Democrat OR Republican) wins by a huge margin it DOES have the mandate of the electorate, yet we see defeated parties (again, Democrat OR Republican) entrenched and unwilling to surrender on issues that the electorate failed to support. Yes, there will be some agreement struck re today’s fiscal cliff stalemate but compromise even on this issue will smack more of political gamesmanship than co-operation.
The death of compromise is also evident in the quick fire responses to gun control discussion that immediately becomes fodder following mass shootings. Voices demand tighter restrictions and bans on assault weapons, while the NRA and its ardent supporters cry foul pointing to the Second Amendment as a divine mandate of one’s individual right to bear arms. Some believe the answer to a safer society is for EVERYONE to be armed. They bode no ‘compromise’ seeing ANY attempt to limit the purchase and use of ANY type of firearm as an attack on their freedom and a plot to seize every citizen’s sidearm or rifle. Senseless paranoia rules. Compromise on this topic is anathema.
What then will follow the dried tears of Newtown? What action if any will be taken to help avert such heinous events? Can we put an end to mass killings? No. Can we eliminate or prevent deranged persons from harming others? No. Can we radically decrease mass school shootings? YES, through better school security systems and stiffer laws on assault weapons. Is there an ultimate solution to the issue of violence? As a retired preacher I’m tempted to shout, YES! But let’s face it; preaching joy, hope, love, and peace isn’t by itself going to cut it. To quote Barack Obama, “You can’t always come up with the optimal solution, but you can usually come up with a better solution.”
I do not own a gun. I am not in the market for a gun. BUT I am not opposed to guns. There are responsible gun owners, hunters, collectors, target enthusiasts, etc. The argument that criminals and mentally unstable persons will always be able to procure illegal arms does not justify our present willingness to make it easy for them to obtain any weapon and stockpile enough ammunition to slaughter classrooms of innocent children. The horrific tragedy in Newtown echoes the cries of those heard at Columbine, college campuses, and malls in a nation where a person is 22 times more likely to be shot to death than in any other civilized country. In his most recent Sojourner’s article, Jim Wallis states, “There are more gun dealers now in America than McDonald’s restaurants.” He goes on to say, “The gun lobby and the gun business are now the same thing.” It comes down more to dollars and cents than it does to freedom to carry. Patriotic rhetoric wrapped in the Second Amendment is but a blanket for a billion dollar business.
Mass shootings and political stalemate will not decrease in this nation until we learn in the interest of the common good that our intractable convictions are not sacrosanct. We must lay our divided opinions on the altar of sacrifice and work mutually toward solutions that provide life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and safety for every child and every adult in a nation that understands there is no freedom without responsibility. Failing to do so, the death of compromise may well be our death knell.
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Enjoy the past comments below for The tools we choose to use…
acrylic painting by Tina Mammoser, UK
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Julie Mayser of Greenwood, AR, USA, who wrote, “The answer seems to be that we need more attention paid to offering services to help the mentally ill. No, we do not need assault weapons offered to the general public, but hunting guns or home protection guns should be available.”
And also Kellianne Fleming of Fergus, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I pray that all the guns, weapons of war, ammunition… along with hate… are removed forever.”
And also Mugubu Bo of South Africa, who wrote, “What happened to the Age of Aquarius?”
And also Louisa Cooper sent us this image: