I’m always interested in the question of whether a social process limits itself or goes on escalating indefinitely. As an example of self-limitation, consider an epidemic that kills so many victims that there are no new bodies left to infect. Or, more optimistically, consider the “asymmetrical” modes of struggle described by Bateson, which he thought ensured greater social stability than symmetrical modes, always apt to escalate into violence without limit. The proposals we’ve been hearing over the last few months for arming more and more people, from kindergarten teachers to garbage collectors, would make the US a society of damagingly “symmetrical” conflicts, in which anyone could shoot anyone for anything. And some people are just fine with that.
I wonder, though, what skills or accomplishments brought a Wayne LaPierre to the head of the National Rifle Association? Was he a recognized Top Gun, a grandmaster of the Bushmaster? I suspect not; he probably got to the top of that particular heap by being good at public relations, communication, rhetoric, and in particular by being more hardline and “on message” than lesser mortals. But even a “hardline” PR man is soft when you compare him to a real gunslinger. I propose that, going forward, the NRA should recruit all its spokesmen and officials from its membership through a system of ranked duels. Any member can challenge another member, just like competitors in tennis or chess, and claim a recognized rank, but only after engaging in a fight to the death.
Setting up this system will be interesting and gratifying for the fans of the gun, and will create jobs in the betting industry as non-gun-owners rush to get in on the excitement by laying odds. There will be symbolic upsets and mythic confrontations. (Can Clint Eastwood really shoot, or is it just for the movies? How about Charlton Heston?) Best of all, the ranks of the NRA will be thinned of the sort of people who just like macho posturing but are not actually good at shooting: these probably pose the greater danger to the public in armed confrontations, so we all benefit. And anyone who demurs from a challenge will be allowed to exit the NRA, taking their year’s membership fee with them.
Let’s see some real bullet democracy at last. (For my part, from behind a thick wall of sandbags.)