The tools we choose to use
December 18, 2012
I've always been fond of brushes. Traditional tools going back to primitive times, for the past five hundred years or so, brushes have more or less standardized into a classic form; gently lathed, finely finished, long-handled and short, balanced for holding in various ways and points of view. Brushes come easily to men's hands as well as those of women and children. In all shapes and sizes, their soft parts help to describe the personalities of those who use them.
Even in the hands of madmen, brushes can do little immediate harm. But, like pens and pencils, they have the potential to be mightier than swords. Every time we pick one up we reinstate our membership in a great brotherhood and sisterhood.
From the first Stone Age flint or adz, man distinguished himself as the most creative and inventive of the tool-making animals. The axe, the shovel, the ploughshare, the book, the brush, the cello, the scalpel, and the CT scan evolved to serve purposes that could not always be visualized by the generations before. Tools within tools within tools now take us across skies and straight up into space so we can look back at the gift of our mother earth. Is there no limit to mankind's ability to create tools? And do we not have a choice which tools we will use?
Our accumulated culture and the breadth of our character determine the tools we use. The camera tool and its various iterations, for example, permit the re-enactment of lethal confrontations, the depiction of imagined evils and the greatest depths of fear. The camera tool can visualize for us the solving of problems by both violence and gentility. Whole industries glorify the use of our tools, and just cleaning our tools can give some of us a thrill.
Future anthropologists, arriving from another planet, may dig in our middens and determine we were "The People of the Gun." A brilliantly conceived tool, the gun has evolved to reach a remarkable range and power. Plain or sophisticated, outsized or miniaturized, concealed or openly brandished, apart from its legitimate use for shooting pop cans off fences, the gun has always been a tool for taking the lives of other beings.
Understanding how it is possible to fall in love with our tools, it's time we study how this gun tool is now out of hand. Do we not need to rethink its value and its presence among us? Can we outgrow the gun?
PS: "We must all work to make this world worthy of its children." (Pablo Casals)
Esoterica: In the time it takes to paint a small picture, someone, somewhere, will lose his or her life to a gun. Like mental illness and fanaticism, gun ownership is worldwide. And wherever home ownership of guns is highest, gun deaths are also the highest. Let us return to our gentle tools. To brushes and violins, to cellos and palettes. If mankind has a destiny, it should be for greater things than guns.