An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.
- Robert Heinlein, Beyond This Horizon
An armed society is a polite society.
That’s what somebody said to me today.
I said, ah, so you’re a Heinlein fan then?
The reply was a blank stare. Heinlein, never heard of him. NRA?
Uh, no, not exactly. But he’s the guy who said it, that bit about an armed society, the idea you’re quoting out of context. And really, listen, I hate to be a wet blanket, and I’m as big of Heinlein fan as anybody, but I’m going to have to call Shenanigans on that one right up front.
An armed society is a polite society.
Uh, no. No, it’s not. Not outside of science fiction anyway.
You see, when Robert Anson Heinlein wrote that line, “an armed society is a polite society,” it was in the context of a fictional story. That’s what he did, you know, he wrote science fiction. You could say that in certain circles, he’s somewhat known for it. He created a “politely” armed society for his 1948 novel, Beyond This Horizon (first printed 1942 as a two part serial in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction).
And in Heinlein’s case, “polite” is subject to broad interpretation.
Horizon describes what’s nowadays typically referred to as a “post-scarcity” utopia. All the problems plaguing mankind have been beaten, hunger, poverty, disease, conflict, old age, and even death from natural causes in large part, are all relics of the past. Genetic modification of human beings is the norm (in fact, “natural” or unmodified human beings are so rare, they are a endangered and protected species). Most humans in this society are what we’d call “supermen,” they’re physically perfect and mentally gifted. Nobody wants for anything and nobody has to work – or do anything they don’t want to.
Naturally, the world is packed end to end with the resulting mass of bored humanity.
Which means that people have plenty of opportunity to bump into each other, physically and mentally, and be insulted or offended.
So they all go armed.
Nearly everybody in Beyond This Horizon carries a personal sidearm. Those that don’t are pariahs and have to wear special identifiers. And they get the opportunity to use those weapons on a regular basis because dueling is the primary method used to resolve interpersonal conflict.
Which is where the quote comes in. See, if you don’t want to duel to the death with an immortal superman, then you’d best be damned careful not to give offense in any way. You’d better be unfailingly polite.
An armed society as a polite society works for Beyond This Horizon, and it works because Heinlein wrote it that way.
It was simply a device to hang a story on and nothing more.
Which is probably why we shouldn't base our society on pull quotes from science fiction - no matter whether the writer be a master storyteller like Robert Heinlein or a deluded hack like L. Ron Hubbard – or Ayn Rand for that matter.
Heinlein, whatever his failings, wasn't any drooling ammosexual. He had strong opinions about society and he was certainly not shy about stating them, both in his fiction and in his life. But he also believed, very strongly, in personal responsibility and individual accountability - something the gun nuts never seem to mention when cherry picking his work. He's been dead now for 20 years and it's too late to ask, and as I said the definition of “polite” in the context of the story is somewhat subjective, but given his background and beliefs I seriously doubt that Robert Heinlein expected Americans to go around so terrified by the likely armed response of irrational people that they just hide in their houses and keep their mouth shut or be willing to risk death daily in the grocery store or on the way to pick up their kids from school.
But, you know, even if he did, if even that’s exactly what he actually thought, so what? He was a writer, not some infallible omniscient deity.
The quote isn’t profound, it’s just a line in a science fiction story.
I might enjoy Star Wars, but I don’t think America has to live by the Jedi Code.
But then again, maybe Heinlein had a point. Maybe if everybody is armed and willing to kill each other over any minor altercation, if every American is so angry and so utterly terrified for their lives every minute of every day that they must respond to any confrontation no matter how small with deadly force in fear for their lives, well, yeah, maybe we will get a more polite society. What’s left of it after the carnage. After we've gunned down all the people who frighten us, all those people with different skin colors, and those with sexual orientations that make us uncomfortable, and those with funny accents and alien customs, and the punks who wear strange clothes and go around sporting tattoos and piercings, and especially those people who worship the wrong gods or none at all, and … parents on the way to pick up their kids from school. Sure, once we get rid of those people, thin out the herd, what's left will be a whole lot more polite – courteously shouting "please" and "thank you" from their bunkers, no doubt.
Wait, what was that last one?
Shoot people on the way to pick up their kids?
Well, yes, that’s exactly correct. That’s what happened in Michigan this week.
Tuesday, 69 year old Martin Zale was driving like a horse’s ass through a residential neighborhood, speeding and driving aggressively (No, that’s not my opinion, there were witnesses – including Zale’s wife). He crossed paths with 43 year old Derek Fleming, who along with his wife, was on the way to pick their two young children from school. Zale nearly collided with Fleming, tailgated him, and then cut him off despite the fact that Fleming had politely moved into the right lane in order to let Zale pass. After cutting Fleming off, Zale slammed on his brakes forcing Fleming to slam on his so as to avoid a collision. At the next intersection, Fleming got out of his SUV and approached Zale’s truck.
There were witnesses and they are all agreed, Fleming was not armed and did not threaten Zale in any way, he simply asked, “What’s your problem?”
Zale rolled down his window, pulled out a concealed pistol, and without a word shot Fleming in the face, killing him.
And that, right there is the “polite society” these gun nuts would have us live in.
They want the right to act like assholes, to say or do any goddamned obnoxious thing they like, force a confrontation and then when questioned about it claim that they felt “threatened” in order to stand their ground.
That’s it. That’s the society these people think they want to live in. Dodge City. Tombstone. Beyond This Horizon. Duels and pistols at dawn. Blood in the street.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Don’t get all narrow eyed and start making that patting gesture and telling me that I’m wrong.
Don’t tell me I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.
Don’t try to tell me that it’s just one isolated incident, just one crazy gun-toting asshole with a chip on his shoulder and grudge to settle.
After all the blood and all the bullets and all the insanity this suicidal gun crazy culture has inflicted on America, just don’t.
Instead, how about we review what a
shitting sitting member of the National Rifle Association said this week:
“Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets, there is still time to firepower up ASAP. Head for cover but retain an attentiveness in order to identify the evildoers and dbl tap center mass, then two to the head. Then take cover and prepare your next evasive escape, taking dwn known jihadists to the best of your ability, Aim small miss small center mass & headshots.”
Of course that was Ted Nugent yesterday on Facebook.
Well, of course it was. Who else would it be?
And of course Nugent is a murderous madman – just another drooling ammosexual with an arsenal. Not to mention a guy who shit his pants at the very thought of having to face down armed enemies for real.
Ted Nugent is an active and outspoken member of the NRA Board of Directors. When he speaks, he’s speaking for them, for every single member past and present of the National Rifle Association and their apologists, for the gun culture of America – and don’t tell me that he’s not, not until the NRA publically ousts him and unambiguously and in no uncertain terms condemns his murderous paranoid bugfuckery. Not until his shows are cancelled, not until he’s ruined financially, not until he’s held to account for his bullshit, not until he’s arrested for making terroristic threats.
Listen to me, if one Muslim extremist is the face of all of Islam, then Ted Nugent is the face of the NRA. Quod erat demonstrandum. Period and you can’t have it both ways.
“This is going to be the real deal & absolutely survivable against these 4th world allahpuke zombies. STAND! Go heavy, Only assholes are outgunned, Dont be outgunned or out ammo’d. Goodluck. Be safe, Shoot straight & OFTEN, Godspeed, killemall.”
Nugent was talking about his belief that Muslims, or “allahpukes” as he calls them, will attack America on the anniversary of 9-11, and that Americans, real Americans, will have to fight for their very lives in the streets of their hometowns. But his mindset, the paranoid armed insanity that is this exact mindset, the idea that the whole world is out to get you, that you have a god-given lawful right to act like a selfish obnoxious asshole all of the time and if questioned about it in any way whatsoever then deadly force is somehow the right and proper response, that mindset is exactly what led to the cold-blooded murder of Derek Fleming.
Tell me, what else are we to make of “…walking cowering whining cryin [sic] helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance. To gullible naive embarrassing ill prepared targets…” Is that what Derek Fleming was? A sitting duck? A gullible naïve embarrassing ill prepared target? No really, you tell me, what distinguishes the murderous rhetoric of Ted Nugent or the murderous terrorism of Martin Zale from any Jihadist? Zale gunned down an American in the middle of a residential neighborhood. He killed a father who committed no crime who made no threat, who was on his way to pick up his kids. Zale slaughtered a husband in cold blood while his wife watched.
Now, you tell me, what distinguishes Martin Zale from the men who cut off James Foley’s head?
That’s not defense of country.
That’s not self defense.
That’s not freedom.
That’s not liberty.
That’s not justice.
That’s not what the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution means.
People like Martin Zale, people like Ted Nugent, should not, under any circumstance, be allowed to own or operate a gun. Hell, Zale at least shouldn’t even have a driver’s license.
Police took Zale into custody after the shooting. It took two days, but today he was formally charged with one count of open murder, two counts of felony firearms, and the discharge of a weapon from a vehicle.
And then this happened:
“I fully support the right of individuals to keep and possess firearms, but it’s when they misuse those weapons that it becomes a problem.”
That was Livingston County Prosecutor, William Vailiencourt, the guy who charged Zale with open murder.
I fully support the right of individuals to keep and possess firearms.
That’s great, Bill, it really is. But you know it’s a damned sad day when a public official feels he has to preface a press conference about an aggravated murder with that caveat.
Big fan of the Second Amendment here. Love those guns, fellas, love ‘em. America, fuckin’ A baby. Fuckin’ A. Buuuuut if people “misuse” firearms, well, boy, yeah, okay, that’s gonna be a bit of a problem right there. You bet. We’ll have to do something about that.
It’s not a “problem,” Mr. Prosecutor, it’s stone cold murder.
It’s a sad day when Americans are so goddamned bang bang crazy that you have to make sure, absolutely sure, that you’re not perceived as maligning the sacred holiness of the Second Amendment in any way no matter how slight when talking about cold blooded murder.
But he had to say it, didn’t he? Vailiencourt had to caveat his words, he had to make sure Americans understood he supports unlimited gun rights. Had to. Or else he’d lose his NRA endorsement and that would be the end of his political career.
And there it is, right there.
That’s the fear which reveals Heinlein’s comment for what it is: science fiction.
Beyond This Horizon is a darned entertaining story, but it’s not a blueprint for civilization.
The simple truth of the matter is that in reality an armed society isn’t a polite society. Not even close. It never has been. And, short of Heinlein’s fictional utopia it never will be. This is provable and repeatable as many times as you care to run the experiment. The results are always the same. An armed society simply swaps one form of tyranny for another.
As much as I enjoy reading Robert Heinlein’s work, as much as I respect him as a Navy shipmate and as a writer and as a teller of tales and as a human being, outside of fiction his observation is pure bullshit.
An armed society is not a polite society.
It’s not even a civil one.
It’s a society that lives in abject fear.
Every single day.
No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.
- Robert Anson Heinlein
Attention gun nuts: Save it. Really, just save it for somebody who hasn’t heard it all before.
Save my time and yours – but mostly mine.
Commenting on Stonekettle Station is moderated. By me. Stonekettle Station is not a democracy, it’s my private property. You want to call me names, threaten me, question my patriotism, you go right ahead and do that, that’s your right. But you’re not going to do it here. You want to comment? You want to make your feelings known to the readers here? Then you will goddamned well be respectful, courteous, and well spoken. You will use proper grammar and punctuation. Above all, you will be polite. Period. This is non-negotiable – and you shouldn’t have a problem with that, given that I’m armed.
Oh, yes, that’s correct. I’m armed. Guess you didn’t see that coming, did you? Maybe, just maybe, you’d best rethink threatening me. Your call, I’m good either way. Click on the link to Part 1 below, read the footnote there if you read nothing else, get your mom to help you with the big words if necessary. It’s very likely that I know more about guns, their operation, their care and feeding, and their use in violent confrontation, and the Second Amendment, than you do. I was trained by professionals and likely I own more guns than you do.
So do us both a favor and save your threats and accusations and other drooling NRA bullshit for the guy who shit his pants in public rather than serve his country. You shouldn’t have to look very far to find a guy like that, you can smell the rank stink of his fearful cowardice from a mile away.
Every time I write another addition to this series, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always another murder. Always another angry lunatic with a hard-on and a gun and score to settle. Always. It never ends. Welcome to America.
Here’s the rest of it:
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
And the Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control means using two hands
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage or they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and now we can print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post and nothing to go wrong there. Nothing at all.