Exceptionalism and parochialism

According to the über-encyclopedia that teaches all of us everything,

"defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality (through processes including, but not limited to, Repression, Identification, or Rationalization), and to maintain a socially acceptable self-image or self-schema."
Defense mechanisms abound in political discussions. They appear in the lip service, or the balanced diplomatic expressions routinely issued by governments and international organizations, carefully designed to remain within the conventional and acceptable, but without actually accomplishing anything. Today it is a condemnation of Israeli intentions to build in "settlements" including what Israel considers to be neighborhoods of Jerusalem, along with condemnations of Palestinian calls for Israel''s destruction, coupled with urgings of both Palestinians and Israelis to begin negotiations.
What attracts me to the issue of defense mechanisms are responses to notes about the latest outrage associated with firearms in the United States, made even more outrageous than usual insofar as most victims were little kids.
To my mind, that glories in the simple connections easy to understand, there is an obvious linkage between the United States having the highest incidence of guns in private possession, and having two to four times the incidence of murder than in any other western democracy.
Not for a number of the people reading my notes. It''s not guns, but something else.
  • "If you would do your research you would find that the individuals that caused the mess were mentally ill. And like our tunnel visioned liberals they want to blame the tool and not the source( the person)! And if you /and your friends that are responsible for this article would have really done some research you would have found that the system in the USA for treating mentally ill persons has been shamefully handicapped by the ACLU , when they brought a lawsuit in 1972 that changed how the states can handle them or hold them! This is the problem--- not the guns!"
  • "The problem of firearm homicide is disproportionately (though of course not exclusively) one of young black urban males shooting at each other. The "civilized" countries of Western Europe (whose civility dates back to May 1945), for all their faults, at least had the good sense not to import slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries."
  • "I live some of the year in the South, which has a very deeply ingrained gun culture. One would naturally expect that the preponderance of mass murderers would come from the lunatic Bubba fringe, but that has not been the case. Instead, it''s been the white, middle-class, educated Northern nut-job who is your typical mass murderer, coming from a culture that tends to be liberal. I think the answer is that Southerners have more solid values than Northerners. All those years of Bible study have paid off."
  • "From the moment news emerged Friday that a young man had carried out a horrific massacre of elementary-school children, politicians from local city halls to the White House have been restoking the age-old push for more gun control. While guns have been a common denominator in mass slayings at schools by teens, there’s another familiar element that seems increasingly to be minimized. Some 90 percent of school shootings over more than a decade have been linked to a widely prescribed type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, according to British psychiatrist Dr. David Healy, a founder of RxISK.org, an independent website for researching and reporting on prescription drugs."
  • " It would be a good idea if guns were better controlled in USA, but that isn''t the main problem. The real problem is that the radical left prevents or obstructs the use of all the best known and most effective crime reduction methods, such as police anti-gang programs, strict enforcement of traffic safety laws, DUI traffic checkpoints, surveillance cameras, shot spotter systems, surveillance drones, you name it, every effective method of reducing crime is obstructed by the radical left. "
  • " The recent murder of kids and teachers in the USA was not a gun control issue. It was one of suicide and the desire some suicides have of wanting to take other with them. Could have used a truck loaded with petrol or fertilizer or a vest rigged with explosives. Either other method would have taken others with him. 6 or 7 year olds could torn limb from limb. There had been an altercation the previous day at the school. So there ought to have been armed police officers stationed at the school."
  • "With all due respect, I see you''ve fallen into the same trap by a fixation on the presence of a gun, per se, as something always a present danger, if not an existential evil. It''s becoming tiresome to point out there are knives in the house as well, and perhaps a baseball bat. Seriously, what is it that drives the probability numbers concerning a gun in the home? It''s size, color, and weight? I am a rationalist. That''s why I say it has to be the gunner, not the gun."
There is also a view, so far not expressed by any of my Internet friends, that the problem is not enough guns. If school teachers had firearms training and quick access to weapons, somebody would have been able to put down Adam Lanza before he did what he did (and, hopefully, before some of the six-year olds got their hands on a teacher''s gun).
I sought to enlighten some of my Internet friends with a Jerusalem Post article about the procedures used by Israel to control guns. They are severe limits on hunting, the types of weapons and a maximum of 50 bullets available over a lifetime even to those who pass police and medical screening, with reexaminations required periodically. Moreover, approvals are limited to individuals living or working in sensitive areas or working in specified occupations.
In response I received
"All the JPost article told me was that in Israel the Government exercises a higher degree of control over its citizens whereas in America a citizen is free of such silly restraints over the ownership of firearms. It''s not a matter of "thinking." It''s a matter of political freedom.The JPost writer did make a comment about the distribution of guns in Israel. I chuckle at the stupidity of the government of Israel to so hamper its citizens on the ownership of guns while it has no idea of the number of armed Arabs within its midst but there may be half a million illegal guns in the Arab sector "floating around" but immediately concedes no one knows the number. If I were an Israeli, I would own a gun, with more than 50 rounds. I''ll bet there are many Israelis who own a gun "illegally"-- and the Government be dammed. That''s clear "thinking" in my book, especially given the intentions of my "peaceful" neighbors."
Israel''s efforts and those similar throughout much of Europe are not perfect. The criminal underground has its ways of obtaining weapons, used largely for internal enforcement, and Israeli Arabs are more likely to acquire weapons than Jews, many of which they use against one another in family feuds. Jews outside of the underground appear to accept the rules. When violence in Arab communities goes beyond a vague line of tolerance the response is likely to be severe enough to acquire an extended period of quiet.
Details are less important than the overall record. Israel''s murder rate is half that of the US. An extensive public health system, similar to those in most European countries, where a visit to the family physician is without financial outlay and a visit to a specialist requires an outlay of about $5, may help identify individuals requiring treatment and/or supervision before they burst upon an innocent population.
One of my correspondents, a Jew who compares Israelis to Nazis, views my notes on gun control as so anti-American as requiring that I give up my US citizenship.
Alas, I learned in the schools of Fall River, and have taught throughout my career that criticism--often severe, biting, and sarcastic--is essential to democracy.
You''ve discovered America is an expression whose Hebrew version means that one has expressed the obvious. It usually does not refer to America, per se, but in this case it is especially appropriate.
It will not be easy for the Obama-Biden team to come up with a meaningful deal that passes Congress. Hunters, target-shooting enthusiasts, gun manufacturers, retailers, and the community of advocates centered around the NRA will be formidable obstacles. Even though comparison is essential for understanding what is possible for public policy, Americans'' faith in themselves also gets in the way. For many Americans, Europe remains a symbol of too much government and too little freedom. That Europeans (along with Japanese, Israelis, Australians, New Zealanders and a few others who act like Europeans) are safer, healthier, and live longer than Americans, does not easily penetrate Americans'' pride in their way of doing things.
The noted historian Perry Miller wrote about American exceptionalism from the time of the Massachusetts Puritans. The Promised Land, City on the Hill, and New Jerusalem are ideas that they sunk deep into American roots. Mormons reinforced those notions, with special attention to the West and Utah. America is the place of a new beginning, separate from the cruelty of the Old World.
The Wikipedia article on defense mechanism notes their contributions to mental health, but also their dangers.
"Healthy persons normally use different defences throughout life. An ego defense mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behaviour such that the physical and/or mental health of the individual is adversely affected."
Travel and education may have blunted Americans'' feelings of exceptionalism, but not entirely. It is a short step from exceptionalism to parochialism. And while the people of every country and region may be self-centered, the wealth and political weight of the United States add to the significance of Americans'' attitudes toward themselves and others. In the case of gun control, the primary sufferers are Americans. Many do not accept that they are suffering, much less why, and the steps that every other Western democracy has taken that should lessen what Americans do to themselves.