Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Creta Delenda Est

I borrow here the phrase for which Cato the Elder, that jolly fellow, is famous.  He is said to have ended each speech he made to the doubtlessly stupefied Roman Senate with the words "Carthage must be destroyed" or more accurately I would think: "Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed."  In Latin, Carthago delenda est.

Substituting for Carthago in my post is Creta.  Now it seems this is the Roman name for the island of Crete, but I am not urging that Crete be destroyed.  Creta is also, as far as I can determine, the Latin word for "clay."  Perhaps the Romans considered the island of Crete to be especially clay-like.  Regardless, clay is what I refer to, or more specifically clays, as in those targets which are called "clays" by those who blow them up using shotguns.  Since creta is a feminine noun in Latin, I think the title to the post serves to state, perhaps melodramatically, that these clays must be destroyed.

As one might guess, I have recently joined many others in shooting clays, in my case with a 12 gauge shotgun.  In this post, I confess that I enjoy doing this; yes, I enjoy blowing these little orange targets apart...something I wish I could do far more often than I've managed thus far.

It is in some ways a surprising, perhaps even disturbing, admission for me to make.  I'm not a hunter.  The little shooting I've done in the past has not been with a shotgun, but with a rifle when I was a wee lad, popping what I think were .22s at cans on one occasion, and more recently with a .357 magnum handgun owned by another, on another occasion.  I found this uninteresting.  I don't like the political stance of the NRA, which seems to be run by shills for manufacturers of firearms and ammunition.  I don't think the Second Amendment creates an absolute right to own guns, any more than the First Amendment creates an absolute right to free speech.

However, I feel a certain (and undiluted) satisfaction when I manage to shoot clays, particularly when I do so in such a fashion as to cause them to explode into many small pieces.  I'm not sure why I do.

Perhaps we humans have an appetite for destruction, as the '80s band Guns 'N Roses would say.  I think of the scene in the Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the proto-human creature, thanks to inspiration received from the enigmatic monolith, begins to use a nearby bone as a hammer, bashing the other bones strewn about him.  Later, he uses it to beat the leader of a rival group of proto-humans.  Then, he tosses it in a fit of joy or ecstasy into the air.  We watch it fly up.  Cut to a view of a space vehicle or satellite of some kind.

Which raises the question:  Does our capacity for (and desire for?) violence lead us to develop tools, to think, to create not just weapons but everything else we create?  Another question:  What would we be without our capacity/desire for violence?  More questions:  Without that capacity/desire, what would we do, achieve, have done?

I comfort myself with the thought that the sport of shooting clays in its various forms (trap, sporting clays, skeet, etc.) involves a certain skill, and that the satisfaction felt results from the successful exercise of that skill.  But I tell others, in order to amuse them or perhaps only myself, that it is a great way to relieve stress, and that I like to imagine that I shoot not just clays but other things, even certain people.

Well, I'd rather not speculate that my enjoyment of the noise and feel of a shotgun and the effort involved in managing to shoot a flying target and watch it explode is in some sense profound, or gives me a knowledge of our animal nature, or even that it creates in me or others some kind of savage, primitive joy.  Perhaps it does. That in itself would not necessarily mean that this enjoyment will lead to the destruction of something other than orange clay discs.  I suspect that it is merely another and new way to amuse myself.  A hobby, in fact, to occupy my time.

But I wonder why I take this up now, and haven't done so before, and what it is that makes shooting a shotgun so satisfying, and how it relates to the gun violence we see and hear of with increasing frequency in these times.

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