Just another day in paradise

Years back, Scott caught some flak when discussing American culture, violence and guns. As an outsider (like Scott), it was quite interesting to see an apparent defensive stance by the generally rational and clear-headed community here at the League. From my perspective, Scott’s thesis was not particularly controversial, though many of his points were debatable.

It wasn’t until today that I began following the Trayvon Martin story. I had missed Ethan’s excellent post, and had not seen any other news coverage of it. Thinking about the tragedy, I remembered Scott’s post, for one of my first thoughts was about the ridiculous level of violence in America, and the associated gun culture of which I am so glad to have no part.For those who don’t remember Scott’s post, here’s the meat of it (at least as I saw it):

Indeed, the media frenzy around this event has been so focused on the potential racial over tones that next to no attention has been paid, as Mark notes, to the violence present. That one child chose to beat another child in a relatively violent fashion over the moving of a book bag in his search to find a place to sit on a bus seems to largely be an after thought, if it registers as much of a thought at all. I mention Michael’s comment in this regard because I think the general undercurrent of and predilection towards violence encapsulated in the now infamous scene is far more ubiquitous than we might be able to write off by talking about poor neighbourhoods vs. well-off neighbourhoods or public schools vs. private schools.

Let me be blunt, as an outsider who spends a lot of time paying attention to and attempting to analyze US politics and culture, America comes across as an especially violent nation on the whole. And I have a hard time understanding why that isn’t more of a concern to people.

Full disclosure: Scott’s post is the original blueprint for the 49th.

What I found so interesting about the ensuing discussion was that no one seemed to pick up on the underlying theme: regardless of whether or not these highly publicized violent episodes are common or just sensationalized by the media, this is how others view your society. This is how Canadians – your closest neighbours, the “51st state” – reacts upon news of another senseless shooting/stabbing/murder/rape south of the border. It looks incredibly violent. It looks like there is a reverence for the violence. Whether it’s John Wayne or Bernie Goetz, there seems far too little revulsion at the degree to which violence is woven in the American fabric.

In his post, Scott showed (it seemed to me) too little respect for the 2nd amendment. I’m not going to play the typical anti-gun card and just suggest that y’all ignore it. I get it. It’s in the constitution and your  governments don’t just get to take away your rights and freedoms. Had I been born in your fair republic, I’m pretty sure I’d be an ardent 2nd amendment supporter (or, at least, I’d only ever argue that gun rights should be abridged by a constitutional amendment, not mere legislation).

But this is one reason I’m glad I was born and raised up here.

This is, of course, the usual time of the discussion that the Canadian know-it-all gets asked for a solution for America’s gun problem (assuming there actually is one). It’s a fair response, but the response just makes the matter all the more problematic. You see, I don’t think there is a solution. I don’t think that Canadian gun control laws could be exported and everything would be fine.

From where I site, it appears that the U.S. is so violent and there are already so many guns, that it’s beyond rectifying. There’s no solution, only coping mechanisms.

I’m pretty certain that this post would not be taken well by most Americans, but please remember that I’m not actually offering an analysis of the current state of American society. I’m only talking about the perception that others have of American society. It’s easy enough to brush such an observation as being completely off the mark, and perhaps it is.

But if others see you as a bloodthirsty vigilante*, it might be wise to step back reflect on why they do.

*Before I seem way too self-righteous, don’t worry, Canada has a vigilante problem, too.


Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. I think it’s worth pointing out that while ‘gun culture’ may be a longstanding part of America, the specific gun laws involved in this case are all completely new inventions of the last decade or three.

    Defending yourself and others has always been a perfectly valid reason to kill in both American and common law long before that. However, there’s always been the expectation though that you try to avoid that killing- you hide, you back off, you retreat, you avoid putting yourself in a situation where killing someone is the only choice left.

    It’s only very recently that it was decided that it wasn’t acceptable to ask people to avoid killing. That we not only needed new laws that let people shoot anyone attempting to damage/steal/intrude upon their property (the “castle” laws of the 1980’s and 90’s), but now that they shouldn’t even be required to try and avoid a confrontation (the “stand your ground” laws passed this decade).

    Same thing with the concealed carry laws. Again, it’s only very recently that anyone decided that we needed laws stripping local authorities of their long-standing discretion in granting concealed carry permits. That virtually anyone, even guys previous records (but not convictions) of domestic assault and assaulting police, had to be issued permits.

    More to the point, these laws really have nothing to do with the 2nd amendment. They can, and should, be repealed.

    • Thanks for your comment, Whash. I appreciate the insight. I won’t pretend to be any sort of expert on American gun laws or the 2nd Amendment.

  2. Thinking about the tragedy, I remembered Scott’s post, for one of my first thoughts was about the ridiculous level of violence in America, and the associated gun culture of which I am so glad to have no part.

    Out of curiosity, what was your response to the Mohamed Merah incident?

    I’m not asking because I’m hoping to run down the whole “you’re not allowed to be offended by this unless you also write an essay about *THAT* bullcrap.

    I’m, instead, wondering if your first response to Mohamed Merah had something to do with “culture” and, if so, what was it?

    If your first response to Mohamed Merah did not have to do with culture, I’d wonder why it didn’t.

    I ask because my response to the Trayvon killing didn’t involve culture at all but thoughts that the man who murdered Trayvon was racist (if not crazy)… and my thoughts involving Mohamed Merah very much indeed involved culture.

    • Fair question. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the Mohamed Merah incident, so I’ll have to look it up.

      Of course, if I had never heard of it before (or completely forgotten it), I now wonder if my reaction will be coloured by the fact that I’ll be thinking about what my reaction is. I’ll do my best to be honest about my reaction, but I might now be biased.

      • It’s something that has happened in the last few days. (In France, which is why I think that the question about culture was an interesting one.)

      • OK – I just looked it up, and of course I’d heard about it (the name just didn’t click).

        I will say that, yes, I did think a bit about culture when first hearing about it (the first I heard, in passing, was just about the killing and nothing about which particular brand of terrorism was in play). It seemed in line with an up-swing in a particular type of violence in Europe (though not particularly France – this is my bias – I tend to see Europe more en masse than as little individual nations for this type of thing). However, it was more as sign of growing trouble than as a sign of established trouble (and these were all just thoughts that occurred, not actually in-depth analysis).

        I guess the difference for me (apart from the degree to which I read about the cases) is that the Trayvon case seems more like SOP than the Merah case.

        Again, these are all just impressions, and not necessarily as telling as I might make them seem. I think impressions can be important to reflect upon, even if they don’t prove anything.

        • Insofar as the old saw “perception is reality” is accurate, I think that impressions are very, very important (and doubly so for the perceptions that stick around after consideration).

          If I were trying to be as dispassionate as I possibly could be, I’d say that both murderers were deeply disturbed people and not indicative of any particular pathology of culture… but my first impression of Florida was that it was an individual who acted and of France that it was the tip of an iceberg.

          It didn’t really inspire me to question that deeply until I read your post here.

          • Huh…

            That’s interesting, because my reactions were the mirror image of yours, which makes me want to unpack why that might be. My first blush guess is that feeling like I know our culture, I was able to pack a lot more into the FL case than was perhaps there, but knowing little about French culture I was less willing to mentally drill down past the reported facts.

            But now I want to think about that.

          • Typically speaking, acts of egregious violence are acts of individuals.

            IMO, they’re hardly ever significantly tied to culture, except as a correlation.

            Some cultures are also correlated with other factors that increase the sorts of stress that cause individuals to crack and engage in acts of egregious violence, but this is more closely coupled with those stressors and less with the culture.

            You can have a society that has incredibly violent mano-a-mano honor culture and very little homicides. Throw in some poverty and some endemic class immobility and a couple of racial tensions and maybe an immigration/emigration stressor and religion (whoo, lord, religion!) and you’ll see a huge uptick in the homicide rate. But you’d see a huge uptick in the homicide rate in a relatively passive kumbaya hippie commune if you just threw all that stress in there, too.

          • My first impression of the Florida case was that cops gun people down all the time and the authorities are happy to cover up any amount of wrong-doing.
            In the France case, I thought it was some angry parent.

    • OK, but go past the fact of the Trayvon killing itself to the aftermath: the police half-ass the investigation and accept it as self-defense, and it takes a national outcry before it’s even seriously looked into as a possible crime. What’s your response to that?

  3. Why does Canada NOT have a gun culture? We export criminals to there, after all. I think it’s because they’ve got considerable more empty space — less friction.

    Look at Japanese TV — particularly anime, and particularly stuff pointed at young viewers. MUCH more violent than American TV. But nobody ever called the Japanese violent (postwwii)

    • I think if you consider that our “Wild West” folk-hero was a mountie who – supposedly – kept the peace without having pull his gun, you start to get an idea of why it’s not the same gun culture up here.

      • You also have to keep in mind that the US fought two wars for independence, whereas Canada was peacefully emacipated. Also, I suspect–and this is pure speculation because I don’t feel like doing the research to make sure the timeline makes sense–that the culture of handguns specifically (as opposed to long guns) arose in response to the crime wave of the 70s and 80s.

        • Perhaps exacerbated by the dramatic decline in hunting in suburban/small town america (I’m thinking NJ, CT here, not “really rural” states)

  4. Man, if you lived in this country I’d come over and beat the crap out of you for saying that.

    Seriously, though, I’m surprised anyone was that put out by Scott’s thesis. It seems rather self-evident. We are, after all, the country that by and large has been screaming “P**SIES!” at the busybodies who got upset that NFL players were getting bounties for violently trying to inflict game or career ending injuries to other players, but had a collective freak out when a woman accidentally showed a nipple for .5 seconds during a half time show.

    • “We are, after all, the country that by and large has been screaming “P**SIES!” at the busybodies who got upset that NFL players were getting bounties for violently trying to inflict game or career ending injuries to other players”

      • er, my “citation needed” didn’t appear. I think the board thought it was HTML code.

        Anyway: Could you compare the number of articles claiming that we shouldn’t complain about paying-for-cheap-shots to the number of articles complaining about it? (And rightfully so, for the record.)

    • I’m not sure that the sports culture is so different – Canada seems to be having a similar debate over what kinds of hits should be permitted in hockey, after a spate of concussions and other serious injuries. Generally the trend is towards harsher punishments for potentially dangerous hits, but there have also been a fair amount of complaints about making the game boring by reducing its physicality. And hockey fights remain celebrated. Hockey fights are an integral part of our culture, and I don’t know how I’d feel about seeing them go.

  5. Broadly speaking, people do not take kindly to being called savages. That’s not necessarily what is intended, but it is how it often comes across. And the calling of America – as in, all of it – a violent place has the added problem of not being the experience of most people. Which is to say, Scott presents Americans as being accustomed to and accepting of violence. But violence is not something that most Americans have to deal with on a daily basis. We often “deal with it” by trying to move to neighborhoods, and send our kids to schools, to as non-violent places as possible (for which racism charges are sometimes brought up). A lot of the things that are brought up as evidence of our violent nature are, actually, indicative of our fear of violence and not our acceptance of it. Very, very few people who get guns to protect themselves go the vigilante route in Florida.

    Does this mean that our culture is not, on the whole, more violent than other cultures (including otherwise law-abiding citizens)? No. But scratching below the surface you see some interesting things. One of the most murder-prone province in Canada is Manitoba. Yet the state in the US that is most like Manitoba, Idaho, has one of our nation’s lowest. Washington’s murder rate is comparable to BC’s. Montana’s is lower than Saskachewan’s. But then you look at Ontario and compare it to higher-population American states, and… woah.

    • What the states with low murder rates have in common is left as an exercise for the reader.

      • Brandon, yet it doesn’t work that way for Canada. Manitoba and Seskachewan have a whole lot in common with Idaho and Montana, but murder rates more comparable to New York and New Jersey.

  6. Why is London much more violent than New York? Was violence in New York from vigilantes or welfare blacks?

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