It has been a dark week in Austin TX. Hruka Weiser,an 18-year-old freshman dance student at UT-Austin, went missing while walking back to her dormitory from the theater building where her dance class met. A police search discovered her body in Waller Creek, adjacent to her pathway on April 7, 2016. A barely adequate surveillance camera on the street above the pathway showed a grainy image of a youth pushing a bicycle along the sidewalk. The fire department reported that a 17-year-old homeless youth had been burning a knapsack/bookbag and its conents in that vicinity. Ultimately, the Austin police reported that the young woman had been strangled and raped before her body had been pushed into Waller Creek. The homeless youth, Meechaiel Khalil Criner, was arrested the day after the discovery of the victim's body. Immediately the Texas gun-claque began clamoring for more guns on the UT-campus. The refrain went, "Why if that little gal had been carryin' a Glock 9mm, there would have been one less bad guy in Austin." The catch to this foolishness is that Weiser was 18 years of age and the gun-claque had agreed to the restriction on gun possession in Texas to license applicants who were 21 years of age, at the minimum. So the implausible imaginings of the gun-claque would have had the 5'2" ballet dancer carrying sidearm is the stuff of nonsense. Ben Sargent camptured the essence of current Dumbo/Teabagger
And that says it all. If this is a (fair & balanced) finding of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Philosophizing With Guns
By Simone Gubler
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
In a matter of months, the offices, libraries and classrooms where I work, study and teach at the University of Texas at Austin will become “concealed carry zones” — areas in which people with concealed handgun licenses may carry their weapons. The “campus carry” bill that brought about this situation represents a 50th anniversary gift of sorts from Texas state legislators. For when the law comes into effect on August 1, it will be 50 years to the day since a heavily armed young man ascended the clock tower on campus and shot 45 people, killing 14 of them, in the first mass shooting at an American college.
Following the signing of the bill into law last June, university administrators began to carve my daily environment into armed and unarmed zones: Guns in classrooms? Yes. Guns at sporting events? No. Appalled by this spectacle, I proceeded to do the two things that I have been trained to do as a philosopher: I debated with my colleagues and I wrote a critical essay. Then, having had my little scream into the abyss, I experienced a period of peace.
But now, as August 1 approaches, I find myself drawn back to the problems, both practical and philosophical, that are posed by campus carry. It seems to me that if we care about the future of American education, we must inquire after those things of value that stand at risk on armed campuses. The campus carry bill is, after all, not a peculiarly Texan piece of legislation. It has precedent in other states and, given the political climate, may be emulated elsewhere.
Much of the debate around campus carry has focused on physical risk — on the enhanced likelihood of suicide, domestic violence, assault or accidental discharge. Indeed, it was advice concerning the risk of accidental discharge that persuaded university administrators that it would be better to have students wear their guns into classrooms than to have them deposit them in lockers outside. The working group assigned by the president of our university with the task of providing recommendations about the implementation of campus carry determined that [PDF]: “A policy that increases the number of instances in which a handgun must be stored multiplies the danger of an accidental discharge.” So now, people who cannot be trusted to safely transfer their weapons to lockers will instead carry them into spaces of learning.
In order to assess the physical risks of campus carry, we must rely on quantitative studies. But as philosophers, my colleagues and I can speak to some of the less explicit threats that campus carry poses by turning to our own long tradition of the qualitative study of violence and its role in human affairs. Consider the classroom, for example. What happens to it when its occupants suspect that someone has brought a gun inside? Campus carry poses a threat to the classroom as a space of discourse and learning even if no concealed carrier ever discharges their gun.
In general, we do not feel apprehension about the presence of strong people in spaces reserved for intellectual debate (although we might in other contexts — a boxing ring, say, or a darkened alley), but we do feel apprehension about the presence of a gun. This is because the gun is not there to contribute to the debate. It exists primarily as a tool for killing and maiming. Its presence tacitly relates the threat of physical harm.
But the gun in the classroom also communicates the dehumanizing attitude to other human beings that belongs to the use of violence. For the use of violence, and of the weapons of violence, is associated with an attitude under which human beings figure as mere means, and not as ends in themselves — as inherently valuable. Adapting Simone Weil’s characterization of force in her essay [PDF], “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force”: violence is “that x that turns anybody subjected to it into a thing.” When I strap on my gun and head into a public space, I alter the quality of that space. I introduce an object that conveys an attitude in which people figure as things — as obstacles to be overcome, as items to be manipulated, as potential corpses. A gun is an object that carries with it a sense and a potency that is public and that affects those around it, regardless of its wearer’s intentions.
We live, as the philosopher Richard Bernstein has observed, in what might be called “The Age of Violence,” immersed in a soup of real and fantastic violent imagery. And it is difficult under these conditions of cultural saturation to forswear the correctives that violence appears to offer to itself. But when we arm ourselves and enter a classroom, we prefigure others and ourselves in terms of force, as “things” — and not as equals in speech and thought. And we thereby endanger the humanist values that (along with a fair helping of verbal conflict) characterize the conduct of scholarly life at its best.
In addition to these relatively abstract considerations, there remains a need for more concrete philosophical work concerning campus carry — situated work that draws on gender, race and labor theory. We need to ask: What bodies are at greatest risk? What disproportionate harms might the law visit on people of color? What sorts of psychological and physical threats can employees be subjected to in the workplace? And what is the significance of this law for academic freedom?
Finally, those of us who teach on armed campuses will need to confront pedagogical problems. As a philosopher, I work with questions that are challenging, controversial and even upsetting. As a teacher of philosophy, I try to animate these questions for students, and to provide them with the critical tools to pursue independent inquiry.
A few weeks ago, I read Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger (1942, 2008) with my students, and we considered the question of suicide — of whether life is worth living. This is an important question (the important question, if we are to believe Camus), but it is one that demands sensitive treatment. It is my worst fear that, one day, when teaching problems like these, I will have a Young Werther on my hands. And, to my mind, the normalization of guns on campus enhances the probability of this event. So what are we to do if we want to be responsible teachers?
Perhaps we should abandon the big, morally important questions. Perhaps, when teaching Existentialism, we should steer clear of any material dealing with the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of existence. And perhaps, when we teach contemporary moral issues, we should avoid discussing abortion, race and gun rights. Such a retreat is not inconceivable. In a slideshow on campus carry, prepared by the Faculty Senate at the University of Houston, professors were counseled to “be careful in discussing sensitive topics; to drop certain topics from curriculum; [to] not ‘go there’ if you sense anger....”
Of course, if we resolve that the most responsible thing to do under campus carry is to avoid topics that are likely to elicit strong feeling, then there is little point in continuing with the academic practice of philosophy. But before we do away with philosophy altogether, let us decide whether there is anything that we can or should do to resist the wider adoption of campus carry policies. And let us resolve, where resistance is unsuccessful, to think carefully about what needs to be done to protect the practice of philosophical inquiry, and our students, from harm. Ω
[Simone Gubler is a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently writing a dissertation on the role of forgiveness in secular ethics and public life. Gubler received a BA from the Australian National University and an MA from the New School for Social Research.]
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