Only rarely do I comment on events in the U.S.A. as I’m well aware of my limited ability to do so with real knowledge or understanding, but the murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward by Vester Flanagan has implications for us all. If I give offence by what I say, I apologize; but I do think there is a question we all need to consider, whether we are U.S. citizens or not.
When we ‘privatise justice’, that is to say, take to ourselves the right to judge and pass sentence on another and then carry out that sentence, we are undermining the basis of civil society. We are allowing our sense of injury or grievance to over-ride the structures of law and government. The tragedy in Virginia isn’t ‘just’ the murder of two innocent people, the suicide of the murderer and the grief and shock felt by their families and friends. It is that we are even further away from a dispassionate and open-minded investigation of the killer’s alleged motives (not all of which were personal to him, e.g. the Charleston church killings) and from a society in which the freedom of every citizen is assured by law and has no need of guns to protect it.
To an outsider, this is one of the great paradoxes of ‘the land of the free’. People who truly believe they are free, who regard their democracy as the most perfect on earth and are keen to export it to other countries of the world, often genuinely believe that weapons are necessary for self-protection. I can’t help thinking that may go some way to explaining the failure of American foreign policy in various parts of the world as well as ensuring that the cycle of violence and reaction continues indefinitely.
The U.S.A. sometimes speaks and acts as though it had the solution to everyone else’s problems. Its great wealth and generosity and sheer get-up-and-do have placed the whole world in its debt; but this reluctance to confront its own vulnerability, its reliance on guns rather than law, is going to go on troubling the world, not just the U.S.A, for years to come unless Amercican citizens have the courage to say, ‘No more’. Last night President Obama spoke of his desire for more gun control in hesitant, almost wistful terms. Perhaps Vester Flanagan’s lack of belief in his country’s institutions was justified after all.