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Included in this message is another Sustainer Commentary, today's, by
(myself) Michael Albert, titled Guns and Alternative Media. For those
interested, it was prodded by a thriller novel called Balance of Power,
by Richard North Patterson.
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Guns and Alternative Media?
By Michael Albert
There are about 30,000 gun related deaths in the U.S. per year, plus a
huge number of lesser violations ranging from minor wounds to lasting
disabilities. Gun control of diverse sorts could hugely diminish these
losses, yet U.S. gun control is ineffectual.
On one side are gun manufacturers plus roughly 40 million U.S. gun
owners. On the other side, are 240 million potential victims plus
millions of people who have already suffered from the death of a family
member or close friend.
Domestic guns have violently killed more U.S. citizens since JFK was
murdered then all wars in this century. That's right, more U.S. citizens
have died in the last forty years from gun shots administered by other
U.S. citizens or by themselves than have been killed in WWI, WWII, the
Korean War, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, and all other military engagements
this century combined. And, for that matter, traffic and work-related
fatalities occur at an even greater pace than gun fatalities and could
each also be dramatically reduced by simple social policies.
Given that putting guns in the hands of abusers, maniacs, and criminals,
and making them fireable by children and other non-owners is socially
insane (as are the U.S. transport system and corporate ownership
relations), and given that we understand that the prime defender of all
this social insanity is the relentless elite pursuit of profit and
power, let's look beyond all that at the activist equation that we
ourselves are part of.
In short, year after year how come gun advocates so badly beat gun
There is no need to focus here on the gun companies. They have their
agenda and their power and we know about that.
There is no point bemoaning here the cravenness of media or democrats,
or judges. We know about that too. That's all business as usual.
The issue I want to highlight is the relative mobilization of people on
the two sides. Why does more passion, commitment, and money oppose gun
control than supports it?
Of course, in the U.S. we have guns for toys and our country celebrates
war as a national pastime. But even given that, in the broad public
shouldn't the pro and anti-gun activism ratio be the reverse of what it
How is it possible that paranoia about having all guns outlawed (which
no one proposes), plus philosophical and emotional attachment to "gun
rights," plus whatever else fuels pro-gun passion, trumps fear about
being shot to death (which is warranted), plus philosophical and
emotional attachment to sane interpersonal relations, plus whatever else
fuels anti-gun passion?
Is it really true that gun advocates who hunt care more about easily
buying guns able to shoot 40 armor-piercing, body-shredding bullets in
seconds, than gun opponents who buried a loved one care about avoiding
further gun tragedies?
Can it really be that there is more passion for having unlimited access
to guns in homes, than there is passion for having barriers to ownership
by criminals and abusers, even when guns in homes are fifty times more
likely to kill spouses or children than to have any effect on intruders?
Why do gun advocates muster so much more clout than those advocating gun
control? Why does one side rally vigorously, while the other side mostly
One answer is to this question is that it is just too hard to answer
this question. Let's write a book about the machinations of Time Warner
or of Remington or of the National Rifle Association. We can be accurate
about all that.
Let me be a blunt about this. I think we need to answer the subjective
question about popular passions and motivations far more than we need
another six trillion words analyzing what is wrong with war, poverty,
racism, or even corporations. And it isn't because those structural
analyses aren't valuable. Of course they are. It is because figuring out
what prevents people who abhor oppressive realities from actually doing
something about those oppressive realities would be even more valuable.
Naturally, this isn't only about "gun rights." Consider "rights" to own
factories and hire and fire wage slaves. Those who protect rights of
capital against infringement have near infinite passion and commitment.
Those who worry about consumers and particularly about workers can
barely mount a concerted campaign at all. Shouldn't 250 million people
be moved sufficiently by desires for participation, for dignity, for a
fair share of output, for fair conditions, for a say over our labors,
and even for survival, to muster more passion, volunteerism, and
donations than people seeking a third million, or a thirtieth million,
or even a third billion?
Returning to the gun example, suppose you are choosing who to vote for,
or what group to send a few bucks. You grew up in a family that had
target shooting or hunting as a pastime and you now have a couple of
guns yourself. You know that many people hate guns but you like them.
You feel, as well, that your gun options could conceivably be revoked.
Right wing politicians offer to defend your gun rights and praise your
life style preferences. They argue that any regulation is a slippery
slope to having no guns at all. You are working class and you have no
trouble discerning that these pro-gun organizations and politicians have
zero regard for your well being in other respects. But you also know
that they don't diss you personally, and you know that they do offer to
protect this one thing you care about.
On the other side, you see that Democrats and also progressives and
radicals who don't like guns, gun culture, or gun preferences, and
broadcast it personally and socially. These gun control advocates
clearly have attitudes about health care, housing, income distribution,
and work conditions more in accord with your interests and welfare, but
their manner says that they don't much like you personally. They say
they only want to make guns safe, but you wonder, wouldn't they really
rather just entirely outlaw them?
So why do you decide to ally with the right wing, ultra rich, born with
a silver spoon, gouge out every last penny in profits,
Bush/Schwarzenegger type, though doing so contradicts your broad
interests? Why does single issue gun advocacy override your other
And, on the other hand, if you are a member of the far more numerous
group of people who hate gun violence - about 80% of the populace in
U.S. polls -- how come you contribute so much less on behalf of reducing
gun violence than gun advocates contribute on behalf of asserting gun
God comes to visit. God says that she is going to have a vote and act on
the results. You can have free access to any gun and gun product from
now until eternity. Or you can have free health care, dignity in work,
pollution controls, excellent and effective schools, and so on. Is this
vote, held with this guarantee, in doubt?
Or, suppose that the choice is only that you can have virtually
unlimited gun access plus 30,000 gun-related corpses and 100,000
disabilities per year, as now -- or you can have serious gun controls
that forbid military type weapons, prevent access by criminals and
abusers, and block use by non-owners including the 10-20 children who
die daily in gun related shootings, and that in that case the 30,000
people per year will survive and prosper. Is even this vote in doubt,
with these guarantees?
I think gun control is weak and gun advocacy is strong not because
people like guns more than they hate corpses, and not because of any
confusions or complications of the actual issues involved, but because
gun users believe they can win their agenda regarding guns, and believe
that no one can do much of anything about the other things impacting
their lives, and believe that the corpses will pile up anyhow, and
because gun opponents ironically also ultimately believe corpses are
just the way it is, and believe reductions in violence much less
enlargements in justice and equity are pretty much impossible, and
therefore think that anti-gun activism is not worth much more than lip
service to display one's moral stance.
In other words, a working class voter who votes Bush or Schwarzenegger
because these candidates pose with a rifle and implicitly advocate
people being able to own submachine guns, and who ignores the entreaties
of democrats and progressives about gun control and also about schooling
and health care and all the rest, is really saying -- on this one gun
issue I can have my way, on the rest of the issues I can't, so I will
choose based on the gun issue. The corpses will pile up regardless.
And similarly, the gun opponent who says I hate the piles of corpses and
I favor gun control, but I have no time or energy or money to put behind
my gun control advocacy, is saying -- what's the point? I can't win
anything that really matters, so I might as well not try.
If this picture is accurate, then the overwhelming obstacle to
progressive and revolutionary victories as well, is skepticism. Most
people don't take progressive much less revolutionary potentials
seriously. We don't hear about a possible campaign and think to
ourselves about the myriad benefits that would accrue from winning it.
We think instead, reflexively, immediately, morosely, about the myriad
reasons why victory can never be ours. We always see the glass half
empty and leaking, rather than half full and expanding.
I not only see this defeatist perspective operating globally all the
time, for example in the line up of energy, commitment, and resources
for or against gun control, or for or against restraints on capital, or
for or against capitalism itself -- I encounter it in my own local work,
I do an alternative media web site called ZNet, for Z Magazine. Roughly
300,000 people a week use ZNet. About 150,000 people get free mailings
from ZNet a few times a month. This is not NBC or BBC scale, but it is a
lot of folks, who, if they acted coherently, could have tremendous
It is my job at ZNet not only to deliver useful information, analysis,
vision, and strategy to our users, and not only to try to cohere amongst
them some degree of mutual respect and solidarity, but also to provide
reason and means for them to collectively marshal energy and resources
to good ends, including keeping ZNet going and expanding ZNet and
alternative media more generally.
Of course some of these many folks are very peripheral users of ZNet,
which is fine. Some aren't too concerned about alternative media, they
have other priorities, which is also fine. But most ZNet users, I think,
do care a lot about alternative media, and do regard ZNet's operations
with considerable respect. For many people, ZNet and Z's other
operations may be their primary link to alternative information and
vision able to promote the growth of alternative ideas and practices.
And yet, like the left's relative incapacity to galvanize support for
gun control or to rally workers against capital - it is exceptionally
difficult to rally ZNet's users on behalf of ZNet itself, much less
alternative media per se.
I suspect the difficulties involved in all these levels of galvanizing
involvement or even just attention have to do with a reflex assumption
of incapacity. Why should I give my time, energy, or finances,
regardless of how much I agree that gun control would be good, or that
restraints on corporate owners or even attaining a whole new economy
would be good, or that more and better alternative media would be good?
My contributions will not yield much, so why bother making them?
Skepticism about prospects and I suspect perhaps also a kind of
embarrassment to be seen as naively thinking that one can make a
difference curtail even easy, low cost commitment.
Our good will and humane values don't repeatedly get trounced because we
cannot, in fact, win change. Conditions and possibilities are not
insurmountably unfavorable. We fail to win, instead, most often because
we think we cannot win.
This sad situation must be reversed both in the large, regarding the
institutions of our societies, and also compositely regarding our local
campaigns and operations, such as gun control and also ZNet and the
expansion of alternative media. How do we improve confidence and thereby
in turn increase involvement? Or put differently, what have guns got to
do with alternative media? These are question worth our time, I believe.
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