The Wrong Kind Of Power

Picture the scene. The terrorists, holed-up with their hostages, are becoming increasingly desperate. At the very moment when all seems lost, the heroic special forces agents burst into the hideaway and all hell breaks loose.

There can only be one outcome to the firefight. Most of the criminals meet a sticky end and their leader is taken into custody. The hostages are reunited with their loving families and their rescuers stagger into the sunlight, blinking and clutching their wounds, to receive the adulation of those who are dear to them.

Unless you are a hermit, you will probably have watched such scenes played out many times at the cinema or on television. Perhaps you got caught up in the emotional artifice that film makers employ and you were surely drawn to the star actors. You may be forgiven for overlooking the surprising fact that the gun is the true box office star for these lurid screenings, a truth recognised by Abigail Disney.

Why do so many people love guns? Especially Americans? The United States, whose Constitutional Second Amendment opens the door to gun ownership – in the interests of freedom, you understand – has nearly 90 firearms per 100 residents. That is almost one gun per member of the population. Enough to equip every baby with an AK-47, should the law be changed to bring the minimum age for ownership down. As a percentage of all unlawful homicides, gun-related killings in the US are 14 times higher than they are in the UK.

The civilians of most countries are not allowed to own firearms. But crowds will nevertheless flock to cinemas to revel in the firearm-wrought carnage around which the latest blockbuster revolves.

You may think that guns confer power on those who wield them. And in a way they do. But it is a base, cowardly sort of power born out of anger, hatred and a twisted psyche. Guns are crude weapons that have a single purpose – to kill a person or force them to act against their will under threat of killing them. What sort of belief system does such perverted motivation have at its core?

You might believe, based on your visits to the cinema, that guns are an indispensable force for good in the hands of law enforcement officers and soldiers when dealing with criminals. Chris Voss’s engaging book “Never Split The Difference” paints a different picture. It highlights the innate superiority – on many levels –  of the subtle and patient use of empathy over the brute force of firearms. Voss writes with the authority you would expect from someone who worked as the FBI’s chief international hostage negotiator for many years.

The psychology of negotiation, a subject of fundamental importance spanning all areas of our daily lives, perhaps does not make good viewing on the big screen. Unless, of course, it is augmented with gunfire-induced mayhem.

The Knot Garden understands that uninventing things (the verb, tellingly, does not actually exist in many dictionaries) is very much more difficult than inventing them. And it believes that, as we might consider the pen to be mightier than the sword, the tongue is infinitely more powerful than the gun.


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