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Our Strange Attraction to Superpowers

December 4, 2012


We have a mixed view of violence.  Media celebrities like Bob Costas, Jason Whitlock and Kirsten Powers said that football player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins died because they had a gun.  This gun had uncontrollable “superpowers” according to these broadcasters.  Most guns don’t.  A hundred million firearms hurt no one every day in the US.  Weapons remain powerful tools but they are not magic.   Some non-gun-owners get confused about that.

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Sometimes we treat guns as if they were magic.  Firearms allow the small and weak to defend themselves from the large and strong.  They also allow action at a distance, but that is the extent of their powers.  That physical distance may allow a level of emotional detachment from violence.  This is a mental separation that is not present in hand to hand contact.  I grant you that it is psychologically harder to take a life by hand at bad-breath distance.




This discussion misses the point about who or what is in control; about who sets things in motion.  The broadcasters claim the weapon is responsible, but I’d guess these media celebrities have not spent much time with our armed forces.  Our combat troops know they are the weapon.  Time and again, instructors in martial arts teach that you are the weapon and all that hardware is simply a tool.  Saying warriors are dangerous is not a criticism of them or of our culture.  It is a compliment.  They have increased their capability and they are more than the average man on the street.  Warriors are much more than violent machines.

Their combat skills would be useless if they had only increased their capacity for violence.  Their skills are useful precisely because they have also increased their self-control.  They developed a commitment to honor and duty along with their “superpowers”.



Their mastery of self, both inside and out, is what makes their lethal skills useful to society.   That is why dedicated warriors have my respect.  Their extraordinary self-control explains why returning service men and women are more law abiding and less prone to suicide than the rest of us.  That is true despite their capacity for and exposure to violence.




We respect athletes for similar reasons, for their extraordinary level of performance and control.  Note the contradiction when in the next breath we say athletes are powerless.  Athletes are controlled by a mere mechanical device, a gun, which overpowers them and so the gun is to blame for their actions.

I thought team sports were a way to submit your actions to the benefit of the team.  I thought team sports were a way to control your impulses and commit your work ethic to a delayed and larger goal.  What athletes do is not easy.  These athletes mastered the weaknesses in their character.  Their accomplishments take years of dedication.  Obviously, that is not true for every athlete.  I don’t want to make them more or less than they are.  I don’t want to deny their ability for greatness or for weakness.  I learn from both.

I respect human accomplishment too much to blame an object for our bad behavior.  We are heroic creatures locked in a struggle with our own power.  Thankfully, people save people.  Sadly, people murder people.  I will not dishonor men’s achievements by denying their weakness or their strength.

In time we will learn what drove Jovan Belcher.


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