Natalie Eilbert, “Gunmetal Gray”

Let’s talk about weapons. 

Gunmetal Gray (from Overland)
Natalie Eilbert

Man's best weapon, how
we describe the dying ocean.

“I sing of arms and the man.” Of building empires, lordship. The power of dominion, the power to bequeath dominion.

Easy to believe it a natural fact. Kids turn nearly anything into a gun. Pew-pew. It takes a minute to realize not everyone wants to dominate others. At least, not explicitly.

In Texas at the moment, many have lost power and water. The resources weren’t put into building a stable power grid which could withstand a winter storm. A competent government, it is believed, is tyrannical. True liberty is complete self-sufficiency. No government should be allowed to save you. You must be armed—with knowledge, with supplies, with guns.

I sing of arms and the man, of imperialism turned inward.

*

Imperialism turned inward—this sounds absurd. There’s that episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns, always cartoonishly evil, loses his nuclear power plant business. Lisa, a second grader reaching out to him, tells him while doing odd jobs to cut six-pack can holders apart because they trap animals. So Mr. Burns gets the funding to sew a bunch of six-pack can holders together. He builds a massive net that dredges the ocean, destroying any hint of sustainability but catching all the fish.

The trouble with dismissing Mr. Burns’ behavior as a joke is that a lot of people at this moment made money from the power grid being a disaster. A lot of people are very rich because they created the conditions where others suffer and worse. Domination as habit—no, as something underlying habit, something more fundamental. Still utterly unnatural.

*

Unnatural and catastrophic. Cata-strophe, the down-turning, the over-turning, the flipping of events and fortune.

The Empire tries to deny chance. Again, this sounds absurd. I never thought people who seriously thought about politics or worked in public life could think this way. Then I realized how alone I was.

Once, there was a dispossessed people, a disaster, a cruel ruler. Some injustice which must be avenged and remedied. Now, there will be no such thing. There are laws that if followed, everyone prospers. There are orders which we maintain in spirit and action. We have warriors, armor gleaming, gunmetal gray. The only injustice is in thinking the laws, orders, and guardians aren’t the sum total of all there is.

Our militant gun worshippers in Texas—the ones training in private bands on weekends, buying AR-15’s for kids—see themselves in gunmetal gray, too. They think they serve the true cause. They bemoan the government because it serves those they believe do not deserve anything. They say they serve no government as they obsess over every detail of the present one, sometimes seeing coded messages in the most banal and innocuous words and actions.

When I spoke to someone about current events—e.g. the rise of fascism, an abundance of conspiracy theories, the inability of the Senate to condemn those who would try to kill Senators, half a million dead from COVID-19, a number of institutions in shambles—his mind wandered, briefly, to a devalued currency. To the so-called excess printing of money. As if people’s needs were this fundamental greed which no one should try to address. As if, if there were no government, there would be no debts, that we would all be self-sufficient.

In America, the assumption we are born free is itself a weapon, turned on ourselves. It creates horribly unrealistic expectations. It screams privilege in order to drown out basic expectations.

*

Expectations, of course, like having a planet that does not cook itself to death.

Industry isn’t really about money. Or a livelihood. Those who are “best at business” are often those who’ve inherited their wealth, those with powerful networks, and almost always acting like spoiled children who do not know how to serve others.

They can only be served. Industry is about pride. 

It wasn’t meant to be this way. In Madison and Montesquieu, you can see some of the original theorizing. Commerce and property protections would lead to a productive society over against the interests of landed aristocracy. Commerce was supposed to lead to peace—people would compete for markets, not conquest.

I realize, yet again, that this sounds absurd. Commerce and conquest always went together. As soon as you ruled another people, you could steal their resources and labor, force them to buy your products. But I would venture this: if you believed that self-interest could mitigate the problems of pride, then in a way commerce was forward-looking.

*

But industry, as we have seen it for some time, is all about pride. Proclaiming “I work, I deserve.” Insisting all others fall in line, as you are the standard.

The theorists missed that idle hands will use busy hands for their workshop. That self-interest isn’t a calculation. It’s a drive, and it will insist in spite of itself.

It would inevitably lead to the destruction of the planet, because it would admit no wrongdoing.

The sameness of gunmetal grey is the true product. We can’t even love different people. Everyone has to say the right things. Everyone has to look like they’re from a movie or advertisement. 

Glossy, colorful, and bright, you’ll notice the gleam most. You know it not to be light from a star, but you’re impressed. It was made to have an impression, that normalcy can be beautiful. No doubt it can, but perhaps not on a dying planet.

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