April 14th, 2013
Last night I had one of those odd encounters that makes one question the place of reason in human affairs. I was having dinner at our area’s sole Korean restaurant. It’s not that great, but it’s not that bad, particularly if you avoid the Chinese items on the menu, which seem to be there mainly to provide something for those who think they like asian food but whose nerve fails them at the last moment as they venture upon this new ground. At the table next to mine sat a man in his late sixties, with flowing grey hair, an impressive grey moustache, taupe dress slacks and a brown pendleton-style shirt, and a woman who was probably his wife. I won’t describe her, because that is the best way to convey her passive demeanor as he held forth on a variety of subjects. Judging by their dress, they were middle or upper middle class. Judging by his vocabulary and manner of speech, he was a college educated, possibly retired professional of some sort. In the small, quiet dining room, I couldn’t help overhearing his discourse and her occasional brief murmurs of assent to whatever he was saying. So… dinner theatre, or background noise. You choose.
At some point he caught my attention with a somewhat emphatic reference to “tree huggers,” and then he veered off to the topic of gun control. He informed his wife that some people advocate protecting schools by placing armed guards in them with automatic weapons, paused as if thoughtfully, then said, “I agree.” Pause. “After all, how do we protect the president? Wherever he goes, there’s a group of guys around him with guns.” This last in the tone of voice one uses when delivering the clincher, slam-dunk, unanswerable argument. Having done so, he moved on to his General Tso’s chicken, leaving me to swallow my unspoken rejoinders along with my haemool jigae.
Okay, so this is a guy with sufficient intellectual capacity to wield a fork, if not chopsticks, and to speak in reasonably grammatical, complete sentences. On this basis alone, he should be capable of discerning without much more than an instant’s reflection the different situations of the President of the United States, target of the well organized and deadly animosity of a substantial portion of humankind, and on the other hand a bunch of, say, South Burlington first graders; he should be aware of the distinction between the highly trained, carefully selected, elite security professionals and the massive backup operation that supports them in safeguarding POTUS, on the one hand, and the type of schmo that is likely to end up patrolling the halls of George Washington Carver Elementary School in East Flea, Alabama, semi-automatic stuck in his waistband, on the other. Not to mention that if even the Secret Service is subject to such occasional lapses as drunken whore-mongering, how much confidence can we safely repose in our bored pinkerton in East Flea? Not to mention that mass shootings have taken places in schools with armed guards, and on army bases, yada yada yada. Yet here is this man, in an unbuttoned moment, sharing his intimate convictions on the subject with his lifemate and captive audience, and his intimate convictions spring from a complete obliviousness to the real world.
How do you get through to these people?