We are a violent species. It’s useless to deny it. Further, and less pleasant for most of us to admit, we seem to like it. Our propensity toward killing things––animals, other people, indeed, large swaths of the biosphere itself––is difficult to refute.
Most of us prefer to ignore the violence within our own natures, but reminders abound. Legal, ethical, and religious proscriptions suppress our reprehensible proclivities, with “shalts” and “shalt nots” and laws to try to maintain a civil society. Courts are busy.
Although gun violence in America is utterly out of control (and will likely stay that way), Canadians have their own love affair with guns. True, Canadians’ gun use doesn’t yet approach the level of mayhem that permeates the culture of our American neighbors. But there’s a certain smugness over our comparatively lower murder rate and lesser martial fervor that suggests the possibility of unwarranted pride.
America’s National Rifle Association lobbies hard against gun control, peddling the notion that there should be virtually no limits on citizens’ rights to gun ownership. This influence has become even more pronounced, as Donald Trump “received the most gun lobby funding of any presidential candidate ever.” (The Independent)
American gun culture directly influences Canada. In 2013 The Huffington Post warned that 2/3 of handguns recovered from Canadian crime scenes were smuggled into Canada (most of the others are attributed to theft and “leakage” (more theft?) from police and military stockpiles).
Global News reports that in the aftermath of the federal Liberals’ 2015 election win, Canadian gun owners purchased “unprecedented numbers of handguns.” We don’t use handguns to hunt moose, or to bag our Christmas dinners. Handguns are for shooting people, and doing so up close and personal.
There are over 680,000 restricted handguns registered in Canada as of this year. BC and Alberta top the provinces in the purchase and ownership of these weapons. Just who is it these people expect to kill?
The simple answer is each other. There seems plenty of hate to go around. The National Observer reports that “police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row.”
Beyond many Canadians’ eagerness to join the American bullet fest, we also remain oddly indifferent to our assault on the rest of the natural world around us. We pump it full of poisons from SO2 (including our local contributions), pesticides and herbicides, to CO2 leakage into the atmosphere and plastic contamination of the oceans.
Although cancer death rates have declined at a small rate recently, we can’t be too surprised by the fact that over 200,000 people in Canada are predicted to develop new cases in 2017, and over 80,000 will die from it. Given our poisoning of the environment, it’s surprising these numbers aren’t higher, despite the fact that First World countries spend billions fighting the disease ($125 billion a year in America alone). To a large degree, we’re doing this to ourselves.
Scientists have determined the natural “background rate” of animal extinction on earth to be about 5 species per year. However, due to human activity, the rate at which we are killing off species is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than this. Biologists compare this to flying an airplane from which we’re steadily removing the rivets that hold it together. We can’t keep doing that indefinitely without crashing the aircraft.
Although such ominous warnings are broadly circulated, we have a curiously “ho-hum” attitude toward their implications. We prefer poisoning our tomatoes to saving honeybees, and dump chemicals into fish farms in what Rob Staniford, in Britain’s The Guardian, characterized as “a chemical arms race” to control sea lice on farmed fish, threatening wild species.
Although many animals such as lions and elephants increasingly risk extinction, hunters travel thousands of miles for the chance to kill them under conditions that range from poaching to private game ranch “safaris.”
Our entertainments, from Game of Thrones to UFC’s mixed martial arts sing with violence.
We must pursue all this brutality because, somewhere deep in our genetic recesses, we like it. The immortal lyrics of Phil Ochs, “I kill; therefore I am,” define as much as any other feature, our human nature.