I wondered this question while listening to the news about the mass shooting at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, the second of its kind in the last seven days. These events are the product of structural, social, and interpersonal factors, and endless streams of paper, protests, and policy revisions have been used to tackle the issue. But America remains the world champion of gun- related suicide and homicide violence, which takes the lives of more than one hundred people every day.
Numbers can be powerful determinants of change and generate a moment of social media reckoning, but in the case of mass shootings they appear to be useless. Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.
Has anyone pondered whether American gun violence is a form of cultural cannibalism? It strikes me that there are many parallels, beginning with gender. Gun violence is overwhelmingly connected with men and the same is true of most known cannibals, as coloursofbyron or “The Cannibal Guy” will tell you in his fascinating article, entitled: ‘What’s it like to be edible?’.
The second similarity relates to the semi-regulated status of both activities. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, but there are some limits regarding the purchase of guns, including age and background checks that can take as little as ten minutes. There are no outright laws against cannibalism, but most states have legislation that indirectly make it impossible to legally obtain and consume body matter. The lines between bodies, matter, and the law are blurry in the land below the 49th parallel.
A third similarity involves the idea of manifest destiny, which was used in the 19th century to justify various forms of American colonization. Like colonization, gun violence has spread across the nation and is framed as central to the country’s identity. Parallels can be drawn between these plagues, both of which have left millions of bodies in their respective wakes. The willing sacrifice of their own citizens (1.5 million people and counting) could be interpreted as an act of internal colonization, which is one way to make sense of the madness of guns in the U.S.
But is it also a form of cannibalism? In cultural terms, cannibalism is abhorred as the ultimate taboo and transgression from human to sub-human status. It’s also a symbolic act of warfare where the victors consume their enemy. Isn’t that what is taking place in the United States? But, in this instance they are eating each other in the absence of an external enemy and a sizeable percentage of the population has no desire to enact legislation to slow the slaughter.
In a country that has been imploding for some time and has an obesity problem, eating the gun violence problem might be easier than talking about it. Since most folks don’t dine on metal or plastic, the flesh of one another are used to absorb the thing that dare not be spoken- the defeat of the body politic. America is no longer the apex leader and its downward slide seems aligned with the rise in gun violence, a powerful symbol of internalized suffering and lateral violence.
Instead of adjusting their legislative frameworks, they choose to permit the killing of one another, which is tantamount to swallowing their collapse. The shooters in mass killings like the one in Boulder are typically disenfranchised white men, whose drift from the cultural center seems to be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Stars, stripes, and starvation. Maybe that ought to be the new order of the day instead of using their own bodies as a modern bounty to hide old and new sins that walk among them.