Submitted by Aaron Arkin.
For the last several months, when I take my usual route to the grocery store, I pass a makeshift memorial for someone who was murdered with a firearm; and I’m seeing these sad markers more frequently. Thinking about this, it occurred to me that over time our civic life has been markedly degraded while the number of those possessing firearms has been increasing;* and I worry where we will end up if we keep going down this path.
There is a recent phrase in our lexicon: “The New Normal.” It’s a reference to situations where there has been a change, often not for the better, affecting some aspect of our society. It is trotted out so frequently that often the dire implications of the expression are no longer appreciated. The term reminds me of a story I read about Easter Island. Colonized by Polynesians hundreds of years ago, originally the island was completely forested. Cutting down trees for making fires and building shelters, each succeeding generation was presented with a different understanding of the forest’s size or what it was supposed to look like. For each subsequent generation, the reduced forest they grew up with was “The New Normal”.
So, when the last generation to see trees on the island cut down those few remaining, they weren’t cutting down a forest, they were cutting down some isolated trees in a savanna: there was no forest on Easter Island in their “New Normal.” Cutting down a few tall plants would not have seemed like a big deal because there was no one there to tell them what their island once looked like: lush and green, tall trees everywhere. Of course once they had no more trees, firewood and shelter were harder to come by: their standard of living plummeted, their population declined, their very survival threatened.
This should be a cautionary tale for us here in the 21st century. Every year more firearms are present in America. Every day we get news about the untimely loss of life: death by firearm. Many more are injured. Some places it’s one or two a night: others, it’s 10 or 20 a weekend. Frequently there are even mass shootings with more casualties. Perhaps, a generation from now there will be twice these numbers on a regular basis. More generations after that, who knows, maybe three times as many. And each generation, looking back at their most remote memories, may bemoan that things seem to be getting worse. They may well then say, “OK, this is “The New Normal’” and accept a horrific situation as “just the way things are now”: worse, but only a little different than before.
There’s a popular notion, a so-called urban myth, that if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature, the little critter, experiencing only small temperature changes at a time, will stay in the pot until it’s cooked. Turns out, that is not true. Frogs know they need to leave the pot. Humans, not so much.
Welcome to “The New Normal.”
* According to the Small Arms Survey of 2017, there are 393,000,000 privately held guns in the US, distributed among 92,000,000 gun owners. This amounts to about 120 guns for every 100 residents.