Cruel Luxuries

Those who insist that we all as a society pay the cost of a serious problem they are creating, just so that they can imagine themselves to be the solution. Things we could never afford and should stop paying for.

Cruel Luxuries

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The child wasn't following the man's orders, the story reported. The kid was returning a BB gun to a suburban strip mall, which is not something that carries the death penalty in Washington state last I checked. The man, who saw himself as the protector of his community, decided that the child was a danger, because he had decided that it was his job to decide who was dangerous and who was not. So he pulled out his people-killing tool—the ownership and use of which is seen as a fundamental right in this country—and issued some commands, and the child obeyed, because he was being accosted by an armed stranger. However, the community protector was unsatisfied with the child's compliance, so he killed the child. This is also seen by many people as a fundamental right in this country, provided you're the kind of person who is allowed by our dominant cultural narrative to appoint yourself a community protector.

In the name of community safety, the community protector shot the child six times in the back, so this must have been an extremely dangerous-seeming child, especially the back part of him.

I happen to know that my framing the story like this is likely to raise any number of objections from the gun-defender crowd, including a knee-jerk reaction against my calling a 17-year old a "child." This is one way I know that using killing tools to execute random teens is something that's seen as a fundamental right for certain people in this country. But I have children around that age, and if some maniac who fashioned himself a community protector decided to murder them for some self-created reason, and they cried for their mother as they died, and so on, I would mourn a child, because of course I would, and so would you, I would presume, if you are still somebody capable of empathy in a culture that seems to scorn empathy, in a culture that so often looks at killing and explains to you why your distress is dangerously wrong-minded, and why you ought to take the more realistic view, which is to numb yourself to increasingly murderous cruelty.

What was he doing? I will be asked. Why was he there? I will be asked. What did that BB gun look like, though? I will be asked. How was he holding it? You're making my point, I will answer, feeling far more tired than I did before.

The story reported that the murderer was an off-duty security guard, a job which bestows the same authority to issue orders to citizens or kill them for noncompliance as does that of an off-duty pizza delivery guy. The story also reports that it is unclear where he is employed as a guard. That's fair enough, I guess, since whether he is a guard or not doesn't matter. It does put him in a uniform, though, which I suppose means something for people who believe a uniform should automatically grant killing power. Whatever the case, it was deemed important enough to hit the headline, the "security guard" of it all conveying something or other to someone or other about something or other that I've been pondering ever since.

To me, it conveys two disturbing truths: First, every bad guy with a gun thinks they are a good guy with a gun. Second, our dominant cultural narrative will often keep the "good guy with a gun" story going for you even after you've proved yourself to be the exact sort of menace to society you presumed you were protecting everyone from. There's something about a local gun-toting maniac deciding random teens are a danger and executing them that is treated by our dominant cultural narrative as a thing that self-evidently creates community safety.

Certain people get to be presumed community protectors, even though they are self-deluded menaces. They get to decide who is a danger, even though they are the danger. They get to decide they have defended themselves, even though they are the ones who attacked. The people they killed do not get to have defended themselves, even though they were actually in danger, and anything they did to defend themselves from their attacker will justify their killing. And this sort of thing happens all the time. The killer often gets no charges, or gets acquitted, and all the usual people celebrate the impunity of gun-havers to kill non-gun-havers. In any altercation, especially if your demographic is right, being a shooter conveys a sort of automatic innocence. Sometimes the famously acquitted killer even becomes a sought-after right wing celebrity, not (as one might expect) for being an Elias Big Boy mascot impersonator, but rather as a handy way to celebrate supremacist impunity in matters of summary execution.

It occurs to me that this sort of thing might be one of the reasons off-duty security guards of uncertain employment get the idea that they have the right to execute teens at their own discretion. And this is why I think it's important to call the child "a child," and the murderer "a murderer." It's no longer as early in this young century as it once was, and we should become rugged with reality.

Turns out the off-duty security guard messed up, though; instead of being celebrated as a hero, he's being arraigned for second-degree murder, and who knows? the charge might even stick. Apparently the off-duty security guard got the idea that summarily executing teens was legal for men such as himself, and for whatever reason, in his case, it's maybe not. He seemed not only to have assured himself that he probably would have to kill somebody someday, but he'd prepared himself for that inevitable act of what he was sure would be heroism. I imagine he's surprised to discover that what he was actually preparing to become was a murderer of a harmless kid in a suburban mall.

And you might wonder: Where would he get such an idea? What might lead an off-duty security guard to deputize himself to murder a random teenager?

Let's hold that thought.

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Another way I know that summary execution of self-perceived dangers is a fundamental right in this country: Yesterday, the bribed and openly fascist members of the disgraced body that is still unaccountably being recognized as our Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on bump stocks is unconstitutional.

To explain bump stocks, you first have to understand that one of the most popular retail items in my country (which is the United States) are people-killing tools called guns. I call them "people-killing tools" because killing people is what they are made to do and they are astonishingly effective at it. One of the most popular people-killing tools out there is an AR15, which is a massacre weapon. I call it a "massacre weapon" because massacre is what it is designed to do, which is why it is very popular with people who decide that massacre is the solution to their problems, problems which they usually call "tyranny." A bump stock is a modification designed to basically turn what is not technically a machine gun into a machine gun, though even still, if you call it a "machine gun," the people who react to massacres by defending the guns instead of the victims will snort at you with disgust, because they are people for whom massacres do not elicit disgust, but ignorance about the finer points of the tools that create massacres does.

A bump stock was used in the biggest massacre in U.S. history, which is what elicited the federal ban in the first place. However, the bribed fascists in robes who still get to run our lives for some unaccountable reason decided that massacres are a fundamental right, at least for certain mostly white mostly male mostly Christian mostly wealthy demographics who they deem still have rights, and they'll be mapping out the details of what rights everyone else doesn't have for rest of their tragically long lives. The bottom line is that the right to murder dozens of people in a minute or two is an enshrined and protected constitutional right in a way that the right to live in a country where our courts and other authorities do not actively abet mass killers is not.

The rationale we're given is that we need the massacre weapons to stop massacres, which if you pause for a second and ponder it reveals itself as a position that depends upon the existence of massacres. If guns weren't such a present danger, than off-duty security guards wouldn't have to go around armed with deadly force to protect from some inevitable future danger, and the belief that they were the ones who got to issue orders to teenagers and then murder them for insufficient compliance wouldn't make any sense. Anyway, our fascist ruling tribunal thinks it's very important that anyone who wants to massacre gets a fair crack at it, so that those who fantasize about stopping massacres will have a chance to try, and then we can sort out what part of it was tragedy and what part of it was necessary after we've mopped up all the blood.

It seems certain people insist that we all as a society pay the cost of a serious problem they are creating, just so that they can imagine themselves to be the solution to it.

I happen to know that framing the story in this way is likely to raise any number of objections, including a knee-jerk reaction to calling a gun used for massacres a "massacre weapon."

We need the guns to stop the people with the guns, I will be told. The problem isn't the guns but the people with the guns, I will be told. The problem is actually a social problem, I will be told. You're making my point, I will answer, feeling far more tired than I did before.

It all makes me think of the Prosper, TX police and their brand-new murder tank. Not everyone that reads The Reframe is from the United States, so I should probably unpack that statement.

First of all: "Texas" is a very large state where it is not only legal to carry people-killing tools but very legal to the point of almost being mandatory. It's also a state with a fascist governor who is terrorizing brown people and pregnant people and trans people and gay people and a lot of other people, and who incidentally just pardoned a white supremacist terrorist.

The white supremacist terrorist is named Danny Perry, and he showed up with a handgun and murdered a Black Lives Matter protester named Garrett Foster.

A "Black Lives Matter protester" is somebody who would like the police to stop terrorizing and brutalizing and murdering Black people. Foster was carrying a gun when he was murdered, which let's remember is—at least allegedly—100% a legal thing to do. It is something that according to our courts is not a reason to find somebody dangerous, but actually a reason to presume that they are safe. Nevertheless, Foster's gun was the reason that Danny Perry, who also had a gun, used in court for shooting Foster five times.

It wasn't the reason Perry gave his friends ahead of time, though. The reason he gave his friends ahead of time was that he wanted to kill people who dared protest against police brutalizing Black people. Ahead of the murder, Perry texted a friend: “I will only shoot the [protestors] in front and push the pedal to the metal.” And running over people with vehicles is a popular method among Nazis and other conservative types when they want to kill protesters for justice, a method that our openly fascist political party is trying hard to legalize. And Perry did indeed drive his vehicle into the crowd, but only managed the one murder.

Anyway, Greg Abbott—abetted by the unanimous recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons—decided that punishing a murdering racist for a racist murder represented a miscarriage of justice, and commuted his sentence.

So that's Texas.

And "Prosper" is a town in Texas in the exurbs north of Dallas of about 37,000 people. It is about a 7-hour drive from the town of Uvalde (pop. ~15,000), which you'd think means they are far apart, but that is just down the street and around the corner in Texas terms. Prosper's population has grown about 400% from 2010 to 2022, so Prosper prospers, it would seem.

And "the police" is an institution that I grew up being told existed to enforce the law, in order to protect and serve the community, but which by any objective observation is a domestic military apparatus that serves a mostly white wealthy community by terrorizing and brutalizing and murdering a mostly nonwhite nonwealthy population, and which steps up its threats of violent retribution whenever anyone suggests they shouldn't do that. The police department, like any active military, costs a lot to fund. In Prosper, which per Wikipedia is about 70% white, it costs $10 million, or about 10% of the overall city budget. In Uvalde, which according to Wikipedia is about 80% Hispanic, it costs $4 million, or about 40% of the overall city budget.

It's a lot to pay for a brute squad no matter the percentage.

I don't mean to pick on Texas. This sort of thing happens all over the place. And even though I do mean to pick on Republicans, I must observe that the desire to endlessly fund our cops in the name of safety is a dominant cultural narrative that touches both of our only viable political parties. There's the openly fascist party, which wants the cops militarized because they want to see certain people brutalized, and they're increasingly open and proud about saying so. Then there's the conservative corporatist party, which says it doesn't want the cops to brutalize anybody, but still react to police brutality only by increasing police forces and budgets, because they still believe, absent evidence, that cops serve and protect the community, and that the reason that cops keep brutalizing mostly nonwhite mostly nonwealthy people all over the nation is because they haven't been sufficiently trained to not do that. I guess a murder tank accomplishes this training, but I'm not educated enough to see how.

And a "tank" is a vehicle that is armored for military use. And a "murder tank" is a tank useful for murder, like for example if somebody is protesting the police for systemically terrorizing and brutalizing and murdering Black people, you could terrorize and brutalize and murder the protesters by driving into them. How's that for naming things directly?

And now everybody understands what I mean when I say that the police in Prosper, TX have a brand new murder tank.

We might wonder why, though.

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The tank is an MRAP, which stands for Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle. The MRAP has an MSRP of $689,000, which in case you didn't know is a lot of money. And a lot of people have dared ask why a prosperous town in north Dallas, which is presumably free of mines, needs a mine resistant ambush-protected vehicle that costs about one fifth of the school lunch debt for the entire state, to give a totally random example of another type of expense. A local news affiliate provided a helpful explainer, uncritically transcribing the police rationale for the MRAP unchallenged, to hopefully assure foolish skeptics why the local police station needs a fucking murder tank, and why it is perfectly good and normal that they have one.

First, we are assured that community funds were not used to acquire the MRAP. It was apparently acquired at "no cost to taxpayers" because it was "obtained through the Federal 1033 program which means it cost the town nothing." This is comforting, unless we are the sort of people that notice things, in which case we'll notice that this means there is a federal program designed to militarize our local cops. Many of us might also notice that a federal program is not ever considered something that has "no cost to taxpayers" when it is doing something that sustains a community, like providing lunch to hungry schoolchildren, or helping unhoused people find shelter. In those cases, the expenses are actually seen as irresponsible government spending, as foolish luxuries and dangerous moral hazards, particularly among those who seem to think that cops are free no matter how much we pay for them, and absolutely necessary in order to keep us safe from the most threatened people in our community, including unhoused and hungry people. In any case, giving our militarized brute squads a mine-resistant tank is not seen by our dominant cultural narrative to be a moral hazard in the same way that giving a hungry schoolchild a free meal is. This is why we have something called "school lunch debt" in the world's most wealthy nation.

Turns out the Prosper cops also need the murder tank for "community engagement." This is comforting, except for those of us who notice how cops tend to use their military equipment when engaging the community. The MRAP looks like its bumper would engage with the community right at skull level, for example.

Oh! and Prosper cops also need the MRAP for "active shooter situations, hostage rescues and other critical incidents, ensuring the safety of our officers and community." This would I imagine come as a great surprise to residents of Uvalde, who paid 40% of their city budget their militarized cops, and who have learned that when it comes to keeping officers safe in an active shooter situation, all that is needed is for the cops to sit on their asses doing nothing for hours while dozens of schoolchildren are murdered. As for keeping the community safe, the fascists in robes recently ruled that this isn't something police actually bear any responsibility to do. No tank required!

As for "other critical incidents," I think that this is what's known as "burying the lede." I think the cops do intend the MRAP for other critical incidents. We should look at what cops consider to be a critical incident. For example, when there is a peaceful protest of a genocide our country is funding, that is a critical incident, and the cops move in to brutalize the protest. When the protest gets attacked by violent reactionaries, then they sit by and let it happen, so I guess that isn't a critical incident. And police do things like create violence to blame on those protesting their violence, and torture people into confession of crimes that didn't even happen. These are not cherry-picked examples. They're just 2 of the more recent in an endless string of bookmarks I keep, of the things that cops actually do for our community at a massive price tag, things that no community needs to actually spend anything on at all.

And again, this is not to pick on Texas. Our fascist supremist judges have been busy ruling that police killing people is legal everywhere in the country, for whatever reason the police want to come up with, and that they don't need to follow the law or the Constitution while doing whatever they deem necessary, etc. etc.

I happen to know that framing the police in this way is likely to raise any number of objections. But who will you call if you're in danger? I will be asked. Who will solve crimes? I will be asked. Who will keep us safe if the police are defunded? I will be asked. Who the hell keeps us safe now, I will answer, and who the hell solves crimes now, and I will feel far more tired than I did before.

And that leads me to a regrettable conclusion. Our political parties are allowed to hold these cruel and inhuman brutality-favoring positions in large part because so many of their supporters feel the same way about the police as they do, for the same reason that maybe-security guards think that they are covered by the same immunity as cops when it comes to summary execution: In the great struggle against human subjugation, many of us have learned to identify with the boot, and to hate the human face it stomps. We look at the tools of human suppression and think that it will never come for us, and so instead of paying a lower cost for a sustainable society, we pay a higher cost for a luxurious cruelty.

I've been talking about guns and cops.

I could be talking about many things.

I could be talking about tax cuts, for example; about the way we allow billionaires and corporations to exist totally free from any obligation to pay anything to sustain the society that allowed them to grow, a society that then depends on them to provide the social benefits that the society in question would have been able to afford if the billionaires in question hadn't already sucked up all the funds in question from the society in question, and if you don't have questions about all that, my question is why not? Starving a society and starving a child are all part of the same motion, if you watch closely.

I could be talking about our military industrial complex. I could be talking about our sense of our own empire. I could be talking about so many things.

Certain people insist that we all as a society pay the cost of a serious problem they are creating, just so that they can consider themselves the solution to it. And so many of us agree to pay, because we're bought in to the dominant cultural narrative.

Those of us who have bought the dominant social narrative have made ourselves numb to cruelty. We think that paying for basic human needs and a sustainable society is a moral hazard, and brutality is not. We think that stealing bread is a moral hazard, and starvation is not. We think protests are a moral hazard, and bombs are not. We think it is the people who are in danger who represent the danger, that the things that cause the most danger most safeguard our safety. We see brute forces with an irrevocable license to murder driving a murder tank, and imagine we are the ones behind the wheel. Seeking safety, we remortgage our futures, pawn our safety and spend the money on even bigger tanks to use against our own children.

Sometimes it's hard to know what to do about this pervasive spiritual sickness of supremacy we have in this country, a hunger for killing, a love of punishment for the weak, a hated of consequences for the strong, but we can witness. We must look at it; we mustn't look away.

And we can name it properly.

Our dominant cultural narrative offers us propositions that are cruel. By "cruel" I mean something that someone does that creates needless suffering for another person, in order to gain some sort of advantage of wealth or moral or emotional comfort for oneself.

And yes, these things are cruel, but I know that too many of us have become numb to cruelty, so let me put this in a way that even those who have made themselves comfortably numb will understand. These are unaffordable luxuries. Worse, they represent something that is a far greater moral hazard than any conservative fascist or any appeasing centrist can ever imagine: It is irresponsible government spending. So many of us who buy into the supremacist proposition find it comfortable, but it's fathomlessly cruel, and (worse still to the numbed-out supremacist mind) it's unaffordable. You know what it is? It's cops and billionaires and gun maniacs, suckling at the government teat for handouts from working people.

Those of us who buy into these cruel propositions do so because they let us believe luxurious lies about ourselves: They let to tell ourselves that we are the defenders when we are the aggressors, that we are the safety when we are the danger, and that we are not only absolved for the problems we create, but are in fact the solution to them.

We're asked to believe that killing tools are objects of defense.

To believe that we are protectors of the society we endanger.

To believe that those in danger from us are a danger to us.

To believe that those who brutalize our friends and neighbors create safety.

To believe that billionaires who steal our wealth create wealth.

That the bombs that cause global instability create stability.

These are things we couldn't ever afford, and we should stop paying for them.

They're cruel luxuries.

Let's be responsible realists. Let's stop paying for them.

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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and the upcoming essay collection Very Fine People, which you can preorder now. He is also co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He's got a ticket to ride, and he don't care.