A narrative of entitlement

Americans won’t put the nation’s problems ahead of their own desires.

The author is a longtime Chico resident and frequent writer of letters to the editor.

While it’s true that gun violence has halved since the 1990s, it’s still a monster of a problem. The United States has a mass shooting (four or more fatalities per incident) nearly every day. And high-profile mass shootings seem to occur a few times a month. With every new Sandy Hook, there’s another nationwide uproar: “How the hell do we stop this?”

I don’t think we can without changing our entire culture. We have become ever more entitled and hedonistic. This is the sick and terminal side of consumer capitalism. Every generation is drawn further toward the conviction that obtaining material wants is of paramount importance. This view is nearly unassailable.

So if I say that suffering is occurring due to the ubiquity of certain sophisticated firearms—the same scourge Australians eliminated in the ’90s—Americans can convincingly respond with, “Yes, but owning semi-automatic weapons gives me pleasure.” This is in accord with our dogma: What gives us pleasure must not be withheld.

The gun squad can yammer on ad infinitum about the Second Amendment, hunting and home protection, but if it didn’t feel good to squeeze off 60 rounds of .223 through an assault rifle, would there really be the same narrative of entitlement? An AR-15 is another consumer item and a pleasure to own—a hot little toy, even as it gathers dust.

We have bigger problems than guns, but at the root of every one of these problems is the conviction that pleasure is more important than the collateral suffering it causes. As we consume our way through the animals, forests, atmosphere and oceans of the planet, our capitalist credo drowns out every other concern: If it feels good, do it.

So here’s how we move beyond paralysis on the gun issue: Americans begin subverting consumer culture by seriously questioning their “right” to maximum material pleasure. Americans stop asking the gun crowd to sacrifice for the good of the larger society, unless we are willing to embrace a new sacrificial approach to a thousand other consumer appetites—all of which are generating a tsunami of suffering across the sweep of human, animal and environmental interests.