Change a few of the words, and the man could be talking about a car, or a machine tool.... Real Men know all too well what the Wrangler is talking about.That's true: the simple joy of working with a machine, making it function, having it do just what you want -- that is obvious in the man's words.
There is more than that, though. Like all the best technology, this machine is for something. If you love a tractor, it's because it helps you feed your family, to clear and maintain and master the land. The rifle, too, has a job. Here's how the gentleman describes that job:
This is the rifle I'll grab if I ever have need of a longarm in a place other than a rifle range. This is the rifle that stands by to defend me and mine if necessary. This is the rifle that marks my personal line in the sand, the line that none who come looking for trouble shall pass with impunity.That assertion is at the core of heroic philosophy, whether that expressed by Greeks or Norsemen or those Pakistani tribemen we were talking about a few weeks ago. "This land is mine, these people are mine, I shall keep them safe, none shall harm them while I live."
There are well-educated men who say that this is madness:
Some years ago, the distinguished historian Richard Hofstadter told me that, after a lifetime of studying American culture, what he found most deeply troubling was our country's inability to come to terms with the gun — which in turn strongly affected our domestic and international attitudes. Emotions of extreme attachment to and even sacralization of the gun pervade American society.... Much has been said, with considerable truth, about the role of the frontier in bringing about this psychological condition. I would go further and suggest that American society, in the absence of an encompassing and stable traditional culture, has embraced the gun as a substitute for that absence, and created a vast cultural ideology we can call "gunism." Paradoxically, this highly destabilizing object became viewed as a baseline and an icon that could somehow sustain us in a new form of nontraditional society. That new society was to be democratic and egalitarian, so that the gun could be both an "equalizer," as it is sometimes known, and also a solution to various social problems.That is to misread the nature of the thing entirely. The importance of the rifle here isn't about "the absence of an encompassing and stable traditional culture," but the mark of one. A culture that lacks this value will not survive. Violence does not exist on the frontier alone, but pervades the world. If peace and civilization are to exist, men must defend them. A culture that has survived understands it entirely.
You cannot name the culture that has not sacralized its weapons -- that has not decorated them, or named them, or built rituals around them. Traditional American society is the same as any other traditional society. Those who view this as strange are the ones who are cut off from their roots. They are the ones who have chosen to walk away from what their grandfathers believed.
America has come "to terms" with the gun, long ago. Our gentleman from Tennessee knows everything about his rifle -- both how it works, and what it is for, and what it is not. His words have echoes in the heroic poetry of every nation.
It is others who do not understand: he understands perfectly.