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The more I think about Wayne LaPierre's execrable speech reciting the NRA's tired, clichéd "more guns will solve everything" pablum, the more it reminds me of one of the key symbols in William Golding's seminal allegory of human nature, Lord of the Flies.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it's about a group of British schoolboys who find themselves marooned on an uninhabited tropical island, and despite having no meaningful sociological differences among them (such as race, religion, etc.) and plentiful natural resources (i.e., nothing to fight about and nothing to fight over), end up dividing into two factions, abandoning civilization for savagery, and eventually resorting to murder and all-out war. The catalyst for all this is the unfounded fear of an unseen, unidentifiable "beastie," something one of the littler boys mentions in passing early in the novel that festers into a full-blown, profound and intractable threat that drives almost everything they do. The novel's central theme is that human beings are, at our core, savage and violent animals, driven by what Freud called the id, tempered only by conscience and intelligence (ego and superego) until the id overpowers them both. The story is an allegory of a world at war with itself, as an extension of the human mind at war with itself.

Anyway, I could go on and on as it's my favorite novel and I taught it several times. One of the many key symbols in the novel is the "stick sharpened at both ends." The boys in the "savage" faction, led by an ex-choirboy named Jack, use one to impale the severed head of a pig that they've hunted down and mount it on a pike, as a ritualistic offering to the "beastie," then later carve another one to hunt down the only remaining holdout of civilization, a "fair-haired" boy named Ralph, who was the original elected leader but gradually lost his grip as the boys succumbed to fear and joined Jack's faction. Their express intent in the story is to do the same with Ralph's head, but the symbolism is much deeper than that.

The stick sharpened at both ends symbolizes self-annihilation; the futility of warlike aggression that can only lead to self-destruction. The ends point away from each other, inexorably toward infinity, representing humanity torn apart, the ever-present and intractable forces pulling us apart. When one points such a weapon at his enemy, he must also point it at himself. There is no "safe" end of this weapon, only dangerous ones. Like a candle burning at both ends, it can only annihilate itself.

The NRA's vision seems to me an extension of Golding's stick sharpened at both ends; a society with everyone pointing a gun at everyone else. Everyone has a weapon, and everyone is a target. Everyone is safe because no one is safe.

Maybe the NRA has a point here, in the sense that the only way to know whether it's guns or human nature that causes all this senseless and heartbreaking carnage is to get everyone armed and let human nature take its course. Golding very cleverly leveled the playing field at the beginning of the novel, creating an entirely homogeneous population with no inherent conflicts and no shared history in order to show that it was purely human nature, not external societal forces, that drove his characters to such appallingly savage and destructive behavior. But I think the NRA puts the cart before the horse here, or at least distracts from the issue with a meaningless chicken-and-egg argument. And, of course, as acolytes of certain other works of allegorical fiction often need to be reminded, this is reality, and the real lives of real people are at stake.

Then again, I'm not here to debate whether guns kill or people kill. There's plenty of that about. I'm only drawing a comparison between Golding's stick sharpened at both ends and the NRA's vision of an entire population armed against itself. Golding's view of humanity was pretty grim; human beings are defective, driven by nature to destroy ourselves. But even his grim vision offered a faint glimmer of hope at the end, when Ralph spoke up and took responsibility for the collapse of the island civilization the boys had tried, and failed, to build, while the leader of the savage faction, Jack, who only moments earlier had had his double-ended spear trained on Ralph's flesh, said nothing. The NRA, on the other hand, offers only wishful thinking.

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