Newtown: Guns Don’t Kill People

Statue of Minute Man John Parker in Lexington, Massachusetts

Statue of Minute Man John Parker in Lexington, Massachusetts

People do.

I started this post about a monthtwo months ago, when emotions were fresh and bitter. But I didn’t want to commit to what I wanted to write. My own words made me angry, and I don’t like being angry. Two months on, emotions are still fresh and just as bitter.

Guns don’t kill people. People do.

The people who colonized the United States of America saw themselves as people under siege. Many had been persecuted for their religious beliefs in their country of origin. They were living in a harsh land surrounded by hostile savages. And while they were subjects of a (somewhat) democratic country, they had no parliamentary representation. All these perceptions helped to create a siege mentality, which, even after a successful revolution against the “oppressors”, has persisted.

Today, it permeates popular entertainment and right-wing political discourse: our country was not given to us, it was hard-won, and we must defend it. Our enemies lie in wait all around, looking for signs of weakness, looking for a chance to take from us what’s rightfully ours. They’re jealous of our freedom and will destroy us if they get the opportunity.

When you’re under siege, it’s important to not appear weak, lest your enemies decide to test your defenses. Like many animals, who, when cornered, will puff themselves up to appear larger, more formidable an opponent to the predator, if you’re an embattled regime, having more, bigger and better guns will make you appear more intimidating to your foes. This strategy seemed to make sense during the period after the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until the early days of the Cold War. Eventually, it became clear that it was a strategy of diminishing returns.

Still, from a position of weakness, guns might appear to be an equalizer, and they can be. But if more guns is your solution to the problem of mass murder by guns, then you don’t have a solution.

True, guns didn’t cause the violence. But they were the enabler. And the amplifier. Let’s not kid ourselves; the angel-making capacity of the .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle is far greater than the knife, the baseball bat, the bare hand, or whatever other weapon the average “bad guy” has at his disposal.

But I’m glad we have guns. Because when the mob is reaching for its torches and pitchforks, coming for my children because they want to blame autism or mental illness or whatever it is that makes us different from them, for the deaths of their little angels, I’ll protect my angels. You people will always have more sympathy for the pretty ones, the popular ones, than the sad, lonely losers. So be it. I’ll be waiting for you. With a couple pitbulls too. Maim your ugly, neurotypical NIMBY faces when you show up at my castle.

America is a wounded animal, frantically biting its own wounds.

Renaissance Nerds

This past weekend, I attended a day-long unconference for freelancers. Having been a freelancer already for many years, I found the sessions I attended to be more useful as refreshers than anything else. Still, networking is good and events like this force me to do a bit of that.

By my estimation, attendees consisted of about 75% high tech/design professionals: web developers, graphic/web designers, social media marketing experts. Basically, lots of nerds, a sprinkling of cupcake girls, a dusting of headhunters, and a smattering of life coaches, for comic relief.

But the nerds, they aren’t what they used to be. They’re now what I like to call renaissance nerds. No longer the basement-dwelling social pariahs of yore, they’ve traded their pocket protectors for wetsuits. They do triathlons. They travel. They go to pubs and drink beer. They eat out at exotic restaurants and review them in their foodie blogs. They talk to girls! They do flash mobs. They speak eloquently and passionately at public events (though still about the same nerdy stuff). They appear to be fairly well-rounded individuals and generally they are. But of course, there are exceptions.

Sitting in on a couple of sessions, I had the misfortune of sharing the room with one of these. He happens to be a bit of a celebrity within the tech community and has words like “entrepreneur” and “hacker” and “infovore” attached to his various social media bios. In both sessions, he sat mostly staring at his phone, attending to his twitter account, but he did see fit to open his mouth on a number of occasions to tell various people (presenters and attendees alike) in no uncertain terms how wrong they were in their thinking and approaches. Furthermore, on each occasion, his volume was at least twice that of the person he was dressing down, making him doubly annoying.

Accepting constructive criticism is necessary for personal growth. If someone has proof or experience that’s contrary to yours, they should share it and you should consider it carefully. But there are ways to deliver constructive criticism to strangers on a public stage that I believe are more conducive to success.

I’m sure this individual likes to think of himself as a positive disruptive force. I assume he has some measure of entrepreneurial success (he no doubt has 20+ pre-IPO social cloud mobile API solutions between here and Silicon Valley, finalizing negotiations for third round funding blah blah blah), which he could point to as proof he knows his shit. And it’s true, that as much as I would have liked to tear him down, I agreed with the content of his message.

But form is important too. So is awareness of the context and audience. Most of the attendees and presenters at this conference were newbies (maybe not in their professions, but at least as freelancers). They are excited and scared, eager to learn and eager to share. At the point they are in their learning, they need some easy wins to give them confidence to keep moving forward. Taking an adversarial tone (“You’re doing it wrong!”) is a fantastic way to discourage them or shut them down completely.

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I’m not saying people need to be coddled. These are adults after all. But a person in defence mode may be too distracted to experience the learning moment you want them to have. If they’re too scared to share with other newbies because there’s some been-there-done-that know-it-all ready to tear them down, they may not bother trying in the future.

I’d like to say I hope I don’t have to come anywhere near him again. Unfortunately, he seems to attend a lot of these events. And unfortunately, if I cannot make a reasoned argument against him and I’m in the wrong mood, I may need to simply punch him in his fucking face.

I really don’t want to do that though. He may very well not be aware how much he came off as an ass. Nobody said anything, but then, most people wouldn’t in these situations. Drawing more attention to him would likely not have been helpful either. I’ve already touched a bit on the social issues my son has and what he may be facing some day when there’s no one providing play-by-play commentary for both him and the people around him. It is entirely possible that he could become one of these well-intentioned but socially inept individuals, but I sure hope not and I’m going to do whatever I can to make it not so.

It Was A Good Day

I hate people. The only thing I hate more than people are pit bull owners (and MMA fans). But I feel like today was a good day.

I was on site at a client. I had both professional and social interactions with a number of people. I feel like all of them were rewarding on different levels and to varying degrees. I hope these interactions were also rewarding for those on the other end, but I’m not always sure about that.

The human race has kept secrets from me. And I hate it for that. Which is why the world is such a scary place.

I have a son who was diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder when he was about three. For those unfamiliar, Wikipedia or any number of sites on autism can provide more details, but the condensed version is, autism looks a little different in each person. Some “show it” more and some less. My son is what is informally referred to as high-functioning. High-functioning basically means parents have a lot of hope that if they do the right things (Applied Behavioral Analysis, gluten/cassein-free dietary regime, crystals, Santeria), the world won’t notice their child is different.

I’m not interested in comparing therapies and remedies. For my son, several years of behavioral intervention was hugely beneficial. For both him and us. Challenging behaviors are practically a thing of the past (we all had a lot to learn here). Receptive and expressive language improved immensely and language acquisition appears to be progressing more normally. He still has some motor issues and restricted interests will likely always be a challenge, but really, his biggest challenge, and the source of my greatest fear, is socialization.

I spend a lot of time trying to narrate my son’s experiences when we’re out and about in the world. I like to think I’m preparing him for a life where he’ll feel comfortable trying new experiences, setting and achieving goals, and most of all, having fun along the way. And yet, I have to wonder what kind of life he has ahead of him.

He is a beautiful boy. He is shy. He is intelligent (scary intelligent). People smile when they look at him. I don’t care to advertise his label, but I don’t hide it either. Sometimes, if occasion arises, I might drop a hint that he’s a bit different or even say outright that he has a label. And they’ll say, “well, he looks normal. I’m sure he’s fine.” And they forget he has a label. They probably even think I’m just some nutso parent who probably has the whole family take antibiotics for colds too. And that’s cool with me if it takes any negative attention off him. But then, some “challenging behavior” comes on. Some quirkiness. Or he’s no longer responding to questions, because he’s switching to off to take a break. And he’s not beautiful to them any more. How will those people deal with him when there isn’t someone around narrating the experience for everyone? When he’s applying for a job? Going to the hospital? … Sometimes, maybe it’s better to *not* look normal. In the civilized world, most people will recognize a person with Down’s syndrome and set their expectations accordingly (not always *appropriately*, but at least they’re trying). I have told my son that he is “different” and that our society has given him a label. It’s not a discussion he has actively engaged in, but I don’t doubt it’s in there. It’s a discussion I want to continue as he grows older and I hope it will help him in understanding himself and how people see him.

But aside from how the world perceives him, I worry about what he is learning from his role model. Can I show him what friendship looks like when I struggle to interact with people (unless I’m drinking)? Can I demonstrate for him what a loving relationship between “neurotypical” people looks like? Looking at his mother and me, I’d say not so much.

I’ve gone through much of my life not understanding the secret language and the hidden code of social conduct. This language, a combination of words, sounds, eyes, lips, hands, shoulders, who knows what else… This code, never spoken, but only broken by broken/defective people like me, like my son. How are we supposed to learn this fucking shit???