I hate to do anything that in any way supports the NRA but that’s where I find myself. The gun lobby has achieved its wildest dreams. By saturating the American population with so many weapons they have made the logic of their own propaganda come true: Guns are needed for self-defense. Now. The NRA has been so successful at beating back any reasonable laws restricting gun ownership that now you need to buy weapons to protect yourself from the armed crazies they themselves have empowered, sold countless guns to, and made rabid with fear. Along with other bad actors like those named above, they have so thoroughly destabilized most standards of civil society that anti-gun liberals and leftists must seriously consider taking up arms to defend themselves. As police forces continue to disintegrate in impartiality, effectiveness and reach, militias and their ilk will rush in to fill the vacuum. (And don’t kid yourself either. The ranks of those militias are already filled with former military and police officers.) (See here.)
As institutions crumble and resources get scarce, whether due to climate change, autocratic rule, extreme wealth disparity, or simple mismanagement, a lot of people are going to be driven to desperate behavior. Take a quick look around at the world. The U.N. already estimates that as many as 1 billion people will become climate refugees by 2050. Along with the Ukrainians, how many more will there be from wars (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea)? How many more from people fleeing despotic rule (Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, Nicaragua, North Korea, Iran)? From people fleeing countries where they can no longer economically survive (Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, South Sudan?) Fleeing countries where basic utilities are dysfunctional or unaffordable, where infrastructure has broken down (El Salvador, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia)? How many from all of the above?! What might you do if you didn’t have food, water, or shelter for yourself and your family? Or couldn’t get a job paying enough to afford it? It’s important to be prepared for anything.
A few years ago, I questioned some friends of mine about this. Their California ranch has abundant natural water resources in the midst of a desert. I wondered what they might be preparing in the throes of desperate intruders coming to seize their water, fertile land or material goods. Nothing it turns out. Their ideology not only forbade them gun ownership, it disallowed thinking about any social scenarios involving civil collapse. That struck me as naive to the point of delusion. Civil War II has arguably already started.
The prospect of gun ownership is particularly fraught for me. Not only was I raised in a family preaching non-violence, I was never schooled in the appropriate use and care for weapons. I also relate to Kalani Creutzburg, star of my film Veterans Journey Home: Kalani’s Story. There’s a scene where he’s having breakfast with his two daughters. His youngest suddenly asks him if he has any guns in the house. He says no. He doesn’t because he doesn’t trust himself. But then he leaves off explaining any further what that really means. But we the audience know. He has already explained to us that he has a history of three suicidal attempts. Not having a gun in his house is a wise decision. You can never be absolutely sure you won’t turn it on yourself.
The fact that I have no real experience using and caring for weapons is not important. I can be trained. A willingness to be disciplined in a new art of self-defense is very much a Warrior trait. Would I enjoy it? I doubt it. But another Warrior trait is not concerning yourself with what you enjoy. It’s irrelevant. Plus, I’m lucky to know a lot of very fine Veterans who could train me in their proper use.
It’s essential that we all have compassion for other human beings, ideally holding all life as sacrosanct. Certainly, as Buddhists we do. There really is no greater prohibition for Buddhists than the taking of life. But it gets tricky quickly. What does that mean when it comes to food? Clothing? I recognize that in order to maintain my own life I have to take life, even if it’s “only” the lives of plants. And I eat meat. I try to do it deliberately, conscious of the life that’s taken and how it’s taken. I aim to do it with reverence. The key is not whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or meat-eater. The key is to be as deeply informed of your choices as possible, and to do your best to make wise decisions.
My Zen teacher Junpo Denis Kelly talked regularly about “idiot compassion.” The potential is great for making a decision that on the face of it is very compassionate but in reality is not. People make decisions like that all the time. At first glance, they are compassionate, yet they adversely impact others. Addicts are a good case in point. After a certain point, it’s wise and compassionate to cut them loose. No amount of empathy or idiot compassion will help an addict surmount their addiction. No one can force them to treat their own life and well-being with greater reverence. That has to be their decision alone. A decision to be made day after day, over and over, one day at a time.
The same logic applies for someone who is an attacker or rapist. Yes, we should hold their lives as sacred as we hold our own. But what if it takes killing them to make them stop? We should never forget that some people would be only too happy to kill us if it benefited them in some way. That’s the reality of the world we live in. Holding the fierce sword of a Warrior and acting decisively when necessary, cutting what needs to be cut – an attacker, a rapist… whomever, whenever necessary – can be a compassionate act. Drawing that fierce boundary around self-protection can be protective of life, at the very least saving the greatest number of those living.
So what am I saying? I’m saying that if I were a Ukrainian citizen right now I wouldn’t sit idly by, waiting for bombs to drop on me. I remember that the greatest way to alleviate fear is to act. If I didn’t have a family or others dependent on me, needing me to escort them to safety, I would take up arms and do my best to kill Russians before they killed me.
Here at home the more likely threat is not invaders but civil war. Yet all too soon the same choice might present itself. I won’t stand idly by and hope for the best or simply pray for peace. If there’s a battle, if that’s what it takes, it might just be a good day to die. Though I may not do it gratefully, much less happily, I will do it proudly in honor of my own life. And maybe with a sense of duty for those around me. It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the Warrior thing to do.
What about you? Are you ready to get your Warrior on? What cause are you called to serve, if it comes to it, with your own life? Will you do whatever it takes to get it done? If you haven’t already, you better figure it out soon because the state of the world has already come calling.