If you’re reading, consider this your Matrix moment.
The Wachowski brothers’ sci-fi trilogy hit the theaters around the time you were born, but I’m sure you’ve seen it on Netflix. Your generation isn’t so removed from mine that you can’t still relate to the films’ existential vertigo processed through green-filtered digital code.
Don’t worry. I won’t bore you with another red pill / blue pill metaphor. Instead, let’s talk about the scene where the hero, Neo, discovers the truth about his revolution against his machine overlords. The name Neo means ‘new,’ but the big reveal (spoiler alert!) is that there’s nothing new about him or his cause. In fact, he’s just the latest in a cycle of messiahs orchestrated by the very enemies he’s been fighting. He’s a superhero with a fatal flaw: inadequate knowledge of the war he’s been thrust into. He doesn’t know his enemy, and his doesn’t know the origin of his own insurrection.
In other words, he’s a lot like you.
The comparison isn’t perfect. For one thing, far from being gun control propaganda, the Matrix movies dress gun violence in sexy slow-motion black leather and even glorify a mass killing of innocent men. For another thing, Neo wins (sort of…I think). You, Mr. Hogg, will not win.
That is, you won’t win if your goal is to unite Americans in frothing, foul-mouthed hatred of the NRA and anyone who supports its view of Second Amendment gun rights.
I sympathize with your anger. You’ve been through trauma. A boy murdered 17 of your schoolmates while police officers stood by and did nothing.
But you have not focused your anger on the law enforcement authorities who let you down. Instead, you ripped open a fault line between the generations. You mobilized the young against the old. Students against politicians. Children against parents. And you’ve gone out of your way to accomplish this rift with the most offensive language possible. Take, for example, your interview with The Outline:
‘At this point it’s like when your old-a** parent is like, “I don’t know how to send an iMessage” and you’re like, “Ok give me the f***ing phone” and you take it and you get it done in one second. Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government because our parents don’t know how to use a f***ing democracy so we have to do it.’
Now for the big reveal, David. You did not open that fault line. You did not start this war. This cycle of youth being manipulated by teachers, politicians and the media to turn against their parents has been on for generations. Back in the 1960s, people said, ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30.’ When I was a kid in the 90s, I learned from my TV shows that adults didn’t understand me; I learned from my college professors that my parents were narrow-minded rubes; and I learned from my church (yes, even church) that my generation was different and special. ‘You poor kids face pressures greater than what any generation has ever faced before,’ they lied to us. ‘But you also show more promise.’
The cycle is actually a sort of con. A typical scenario is when a college professor indoctrinates his students in the Marxist view of history, incites those students to launch a Marxist protest against the administration, then dons the mask of a bystander watching the young people’s seemingly spontaneous outburst.
But here’s where the script goes wrong. As it turns out, the young-versus-old fault line is an illusion. Always has been. Always will be. You see, David, your notions of gun control (however genuinely you may hold them) didn’t arise in a vacuum—they were passed down to you by teachers (i.e., adults). While you may believe that the controversy is a simple matter of grownups not having the guts to effect change, the truth is that adults have been fiercely debating the Second Amendment and the correct balance of gun ownership and gun restrictions for generations. Heck, they’ve probably been debating it since the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.
As soon as you look beyond the click-bait headlines, the fault line start to blur. On the adult side, an entire political party is committed to restricting gun rights, while the opposing party is fighting to preserve and expand those rights. The same goes for the youth.
You claim to represent a generation. But that generation is not monolithic. While many young people participated in the ‘March for Our Lives’ to demand gun control, other students participated in a counter-protest in April to celebrate gun rights. Even at your own school, division persists. The mainstream media did its best to divert the public’s attention to only those students who called for gun control, but now we know that the reality is more complicated. Your pro-gun ownership schoolmate Kyle Kashuv has just as much claim as you do to being a voice of the youth.
You already know about Kyle and his followers. But what you probably didn’t realize is that the young-versus-old cycle predicts his side will grow, while yours will shrink. Students tend to absorb the beliefs of their teachers—whether in the classroom or on their Spotify playlists—and those teachers tend to lean to the left. But as students become adults and take on the responsibilities of getting jobs and raising families, the influence of those teachers will fade, and they will start to think thoughts such as, ‘I wish I had a gun to protect my wife and children from intruders.’
But here is the really interesting part. For all your tough talk about us stupid adults, you’ve failed to prove that you are smarter than us or that you are truly prepared to end the stalemate between the pro- and anti-gun factions. In fact, you’ve proven the opposite. You’ve intentionally avoided offering specific solutions. You’ve given mixed signals by indicating that you actually do support the Second Amendment (isn’t that the entire political platform of your arch-nemesis, the NRA?). And though you’ve declared a generational war, your answer to the question of what policy changes you would propose to make our country safer is, ‘I shouldn’t have to! I’m 17.’
You’re right. You shouldn’t have to. Except that you put yourself on a pedestal and demanded us to take you seriously.
It’s complicated, isn’t it, David? More complicated, at least, than throwing F-bombs around. And that realization stings. Like Neo, you’re standing before the Architect of the Matrix, and your projected inner self on the TV screens behind you is giving him the middle finger because you know you’ve been outmaneuvered and outclassed. All your powers aren’t enough. All your attitude and will aren’t enough. The game ends here.
As I said, Neo wins. But that was fiction. In real life, you can’t depend on plot holes and unearned trick
endings to overcome your deficiencies. Instead, you will learn what we old folks already know. Violence is as old as humanity, and curbing and containing that violence is far more difficult than giving speeches or hurling insults. It’s a slow process of tweaking policies and reforming the culture and watching murder rates continue their decades-long decline (That’s right, they’ve been declining. I’ll bet none of your friends at CNN told you so.) and trying to translate those numbers into a narrative. It takes hard work, honesty, patience and mutual respect.
No laws will ever be enough, no confiscations will ever be enough, to create a murder-free society. And until you understand this limitation, not only will you fail in your objective — you may even make a bad situation worse.
But again as you say, you’re only 17. You’ve got time to fix your mistakes and use your fame for good.
Find more of Tony Mator’s writing at his blog, here.