Back when I was in high school I was not much on reading literature. In fact other than my school books I had only read a couple of books that people had given me;” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and “the Catcher in the Rye”. Then when I got to college and had to take literature courses I came to have a different view of literature and actually enjoyed most of it, especially Greek literature, like the Odyssey and the Iliad. It was then that I learned in these and other books to look past the story line of the books at the themes put forth by the authors. I learned to look for what the author was saying about people in general and about the times. Now I read quite a bit and always keep a book or two going, almost exclusively science fiction.
But there was one theme that I remember very well from the Greek literature that I think is very much applicable to the United States as a nation right now. And that theme is “Hamartia” which, as I learned it, means a tragic flaw in an otherwise good person or entity. Hamartia is a concept used by Aristotle to describe tragedy in his characters. As I listen to people doing all of the rah-rah about how great the United States is I always think yes we are a great nation but we do have tragic flaws. Actually as I began thinking of writing about this my initial purpose was to talk about one tragic flaw but as current events have unfolded the past several weeks and months I have concluded that I really want and need to talk about two tragic flaws. And I am not saying that we have only two. Its just that I have something to say about these two.
The dictionary definitions of hamartia state this:
“The term can simply be seen as a character’s flaw or error. The word hamartia is rooted in the notion of missing the mark (hamartanein) and covers a broad spectrum that includes accident and mistake, as well as wrongdoing, error, or sin. Described by Aristotle as one of the three kinds of injuries that a person can commit against another person: (1) is an injury committed in ignorance (when the person affected or the results are not what the agent supposed they were); (2) an error in judgment or unwitting mistake; and (3) hamartia leads to the fall of a noble man caused by some excess or mistake in behavior, not because of a willful violation of the gods' laws.”
Going back to when the country was founded I am sure that the founding fathers had great wisdom. But the first of these tragic flaws that I want to talk about has to do with the inclusion in the US Constitution of that section that has to do with “the right to keep and bear arms”. My personal view is that this provision does not guarantee what so many people believe that it gives them the absolute right to have guns. But that’s not the issue here; my personal views on the US Constitution. What I do say is that right or wrong the result of this provision is a tragic flaw in the thinking and actions of the founding fathers. Now remember that I said in the definition of Hamartia that the mistake or flaw does not have to be intentional.
So in their great wisdom the founding fathers decided that a provision was expressly needed on having firearms. But consider this. The US Constitution was framed right after the colonies had completed a battle with the British for the right to be independent. And the history of the colonies up to that point had included battles not only with the Native Americans but also with the French. So I am sure that it was foremost in the minds of the framers of the US Constitution that the people MUST be able to respond to any other threat to their independence. And thus a provision to assure the people that they could again fight for their independence was necessary. And I am also certain that given the type of firearms available in 1776 the founding fathers did not or could not have foreseen the tragic consequences of this decision. There is a world of difference between a flintlock pistol or rifle and a 9 MM or 45 caliber handgun and an assault rifle.
So why the tragic flaw??? Just consider the results of this provision. A very large segment of the US society is obsessed with firearms of all types, and with war. Yes I’ll concede that there are some parts of the country and segments of our society where a firearm is necessary. And of course there is the argument that when the country was first formed there was a need for firearms for self defense in remote areas and in hostile areas when there was a push to take over Native American lands. Now days military and law enforcement uses are obvious and so would be those occupations where people must be in wilderness areas where dangerous wildlife may be present.
But just take a look at the results of this “firearms” provision. We have murders by firearms. We have deaths by accidental shootings, a significant number of which are kids who were playing with a parent’s firearm. We have “drive-by” shootings. We have police shootings, some of which we question whether they were necessary or appropriate. We have some people who are so obsessed with firearms that they buy a whole arsenal and thousands of rounds of ammunition as a hedge again the day when they mistakenly think the “Government” will take away their “right” to have guns. We have all types of radical groups in this country who have ready and legal access to all of the weapons they need to wage a war against US society. And sadly we provide a stead supply of guns to people who want to commit crimes and even supply guns for drug and other illegal activities along our southern border in Mexico.
**** I digress for a minute ****** I wonder why we never hear in the news reports about job cuts or even hiring at the gun manufacturing plants. I bet most of us do not even know who is producing all of these guns and/or where the plants are located. We never hear in the stock market reports that Colt, or Smith and Wesson, or Remington, and any other weapons manufacturer is on the rise or decline. Its like the guns just automatically appear in gun stores and the they just automatically end up in the hands of gang members and criminals.
This utter fascination with guns extends beyond the gangs, terrorists, and criminals. The public in the US loves to see guns on TV, in the movies, and even in video games and music videos. How many versions of CSI are there with the opening shots showing persons who are supposed to be solving crimes instead pointing guns??. How many other TV programs are there that feature a lead-in with a person pointing a gun??? How many movies have you seen wherein the majority of the action is gun fights??? And that love for guns extends to this country’s love for war. Have you ever looked at a listing of the wars and armed conflicts this country has been involved in since its inception???? And unfortunately the US is very good at getting into wars but also very bad at getting out of them.
**** I digress again******** Why does the US still have troops in other countries years after the end of the wars there? Why is the US still in Japan over 60 years after the war with Japan was over. Shouldn’t that situation be clear enough by now that Japan can take care of itself and defend that part of the world from whatever this or that country thinks needs to be defended there??? Why does the US still have troops in South Korea more than 50 years after the supposed end of the Korean war??? Can’t the Koreans by now defend themselves??? And why does the US still have troops in Germany more than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union???? In all of these countries there are thousands of troops, not just a hand full. I think its that love of guns and war. That in addition to all of the money that is made by some as a result of all of the military activities going on. Just think how much money is being made by whomever produces the military assault rifles and handguns used by all of the armed services. There is clearly a connection between the country’s love of guns and the wars we continually get into. Its that mentality of “you do what we say because we have more and bigger guns than you do”.
Is this Hamartia, a tragic flaw???. Just ask the people who have had loved ones shot, killed, raped, robbed, accosted by criminals, gang members, drug dealers, or in wars, whether they consider these a tragic flaw in our society.
When I began this blog my intent was to just talk about guns as THE tragic flaw in our society. But there is another even greater flaw that was not created by the founding fathers but which they certainly contributed to along with a long list of US law and policy makers who have followed in their footsteps. In my mind the most overwhelming tragic flaw in this country is racism and discrimination.
I am sure that you are aware of the categories against which there is protection from discrimination. This is not just a black/white issue but a matter of discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, ethnicity, national origin, and disability. Discrimination in this country is long and deep seated. Remember that it was not until 1920, 144 years after the US Constitution was adopted, that women in this country gained the right to vote. The US history since the founding of the original 13 states is literally awash with episodes on racial discrimination. First it was the Negroes/African Americans and Native Americans who bore the brunt of the discrimination. Negroes in the new country were enslaved and not even consider people. Native Americans were considered savage simply because they were different from the White settlers. The southwestern part of the US was literally just taken from the Mexicans who lived there, pretty much the same way that the lands in other places were taken from the Native Americans. Long standing Spanish land grants were just pretty much ignored by the White settlers as they took over lands owned by Mexicans. Later Chinese were brought to this country to build the railroad through the Sierra Mountains in California. Then after they worked hard and died building the rail line they were prohibited by California State laws from being employed and other laws prohibited their immigration to this country. ( http://library.uchastings.edu/library/topical-and-course-research-guides/wkadisplay/laws3.htm ) Even the Irish and Polish immigrants bore the brunt of some discrimination in the big cities in the eastern part of the US. And we are all pretty much familiar with the internment of Japanese American citizens in camps during World War two.
And the discrimination extended to religion even though the country was founded based on religious freedoms. The African American Episcopal (AME) Church was founded as a result of discrimination in the United Methodist church. The Mormons were run out of the mid-western states of Indiana and Ohio because of their religious beliefs. They settled in Utah but then the Mormons discriminated and were responsible for massacre of 120 men, women and children slain at Mountain Meadows in 1857. (http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/mass/mtn_meadows/index.html ) The Mormons blamed the Native Americans in that area for the killings and no one was ever brought to trial or convicted of the murders. As late as 1960 the issue of the religion of a person running for President of the US was of concern to some. Some of you may remember that the fact that John F Kennedy was a Catholic was an issue when he was running for President. And the latest issue is the race, birth, and religion of the first African American President of the US. Regardless of all the denials its all about racial and religious discrimination against President Obama. And now we also have a flare-up of discrimination based on religion against the Muslim people. People here in the US just cannot get past their religious and racial prejudices.
The shame is that the Federal Government and people working for it in the executive and legislative branches are most often the ones who discriminate. I guess its because they can and there is no authority over them to hold them accountable. When I retired about 14 years ago a group of Black farmers had won a lawsuit for discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture in the processing of farm loans. Yet 14 years later these farmer have not been paid. The latest holdup is the US Congress which does not want to pay the settlement. I wonder why???? Still no 40 acres and a mule.
So don’t talk to me about how great we are as a nation when more than two hundred and twenty five years after this nation was founded we still have pervasive discrimination of all types. This is truly a deep seated tragic flaw in our society. And just like in the past we cannot hide it because people recognize it for what it is, when it occur and where it occurs. Many have attempted to hide the “sins” of our past by either ignoring them or by trying to rewrite history. US History books rarely if ever cover all of the true history of this country, including from the perspective of the Native Americans, African Americans, and Mexicans. If you want the correct and full story you must peace it together from various sources. Now I dare say that most discrimination and racism is the result of a mistake in judgment and/or knowledge. People do not understand other people and thus through ignorance they make judgments that are erroneous and tragic, Hamartia. Still, it’s a tragic flaw of the country.
And in all of the above there is another theme from my literature readings, “Man’s inhumanity to man”.