Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Elliot Rodger was a Product of America's Knife Culture

This is a call for a conversation about America's knife culture, a conversation which doesn't take place primarily because of special interest groups such as Gerber Legendary Blades, Marble Arms and the like.

Elliot Rodger was a legend in his own mind, and he made knives a part of that legend. His case doesn't merely brook a conversation about knife regulations and whether we make it too easy to own a knife. His case should force us to confront America's knife culture, and to ask whether we make it too desirable to own a knife.

Mind you, knife fondlers and their largely unarmed pseudo-intellectual ilk would prefer if that conversation simply didn't happen. The National Review began its post-Rodgers knife editorial by blasting "the classic" boilerplate of knife-control advocates, only to end the piece with boilerplate of its own: "It is at this point something of a cliché, but it should perhaps be offered anyway: If someone is determined to kill a substantial number of people, he will almost certainly manage to do so." Rodger also shot some unfortunate souls and attacked more with his car, see. Why pick on knives?

Yes, it is something of a cliché.  True, there are not 130,000 Americans stabbed each year as in the United Kingdom, but knives are second only to handguns as the leading cause of murder.  And if you don’t think knives kill people, just try stabbing yourself in the heart with a knife!  Moreover, in some cases, high capacity knives have been used to stab 22 people in a matter of minutes. 

We know that slogans masquerading as plain speech are mere rhetoric because, on a moment's inspection, they reveal themselves to be absurd. "The best answer to a bad guy with a knife is a good guy with a knife" reveals itself to be a lie on a single inspection: the best answer is to not let the bad guy have a knife. "Knives don't kill people, people do." No: obviously, people with knives kill more people than people without them. Why not ban guns or cars, which can be instruments of death, too? Because these things were designed to help people do things other than kill people—like shooting bunny-killing-coyotes from the sunroof of your SUV. "Knife control" means controlling those things whose first purpose is to help people kill other people.

Knives are fun. They are useful. They are, like all tools, limited in their utility. But unlike most tools, they are virtually unlimited in their capacity for destruction.

It is true in a strict sense that knives make men equal (and even women).  They make the deranged, the paranoid, the excitable, the racist, and the brute equal in strength and righteousness to the sane, the cautious, the paranoid, the open-minded, and the meek.

One thing that is clear about Elliot Rodger is that for all his racism, his privilege, his misogyny, his acting out, his awfulness and his sickness, he never doubted that he was right and just. In idiosyncratic language, he averred again and again that attractive people were "horrifyingly" "cocksure" "pricks," "foul" "beasts" that he deserved to best in love and in life. He felt impotent to do that until he armed himself.

Sometimes a tool is just a tool. But sometimes it is much more. We are a society that makes much of our knives as more than mere tools, as instruments of power. Elliot Rodger's knives provided a tragically clichéd beginning to his cliché social problems. But sometimes—not every time, but too often by far, in schools, on streets, in restaurants and playgrounds—when you're the one holding the knives, every cliché you utter sounds profound, every action you take seems good, and every problem is somebody else's.  In the case of Rodger, 3 stabbings with an assault weapon led to 3 shootings. Less knives, less crime.

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