Banning the pocketknife?
Exclusive: Phil Elmore highlights dangers we face when cutting tools vanish from society
Posted: March 12, 2009
1:00 am Eastern
By Phil Elmore
When I was a boy, my father carried a Swiss Army knife. It was the biggest knife the company made, in that it had just about every tool imaginable. From pliers to tweezers to a magnifying glass and, yes, a knife blade, that knife was his constant companion. Whenever I got a splinter as a child and, looking back, it seemed to happen fairly often my father was there. He and his knife's tweezers (and sometimes the smaller of its two knife blades) would remove the offending irritant with a gruff, "Hold still. It won't hurt." On Christmas mornings, when a package was taped too tightly to be opened by hand, my father and his knife were there.
My father was the most prepared person I knew. He carried the equivalent of an entire workshop in drawers in his truck, and he was never without that knife, a pen, a notebook and a small penlight. My father was "tactical" before the word was cool, and he knew the value of preventive, pre-emptive technology before I understood what that meant.
The blade is one of the most fundamental of tools. It is the most basic of technology. In Technocracy we speak often of high-tech, cutting-edge developments in electronics and related fields, but we sometimes forget what the phrase "cutting-edge" truly means. The cutting edge is perhaps the single most critical technology available to us. It is by chopping, cutting, slicing and otherwise separating raw materials that we derive everything else on which we depend. Without cutting tools, there are no clothes. There are no two-by-fours. There are no circuit boards, no Chevrolets, no photocopiers and no wireless phones. Without the ability to cut, there is nothing available to us technologically. The blade is the most fundamental of separators, dividing humanity and the rest of animal life on Earth.
There was a time when the average boy, and the man he became, carried a pocket knife as a matter of course. As we have become more urban and less rural, many citizens have lost touch with the need to carry a knife. You see these pacified, civilized, emasculated citizens tearing at vending machine packages of potato chips with their teeth or their car keys. That would be comical, if not a bit sad... except that the stakes are a lot higher than being unable to open a Christmas present or a bag of pretzels. In some cases, the lack of the most basic technology results in the death of a human being.
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Boston.com reported Monday that an 82-year-old woman was strangled to death when her scarf and hair became caught in an escalator. According to staff of the Boston Globe, many people simply walked past the ghastly tableau, refusing to get involved. Among the few good Samaritans who desperately tried and failed to free the woman from the escalator was Larry Fitzpatrick. He was quoted as saying, "All we needed was a box cutter, knife, even a nail clipper, but we had nothing available." One of the reasons none of these passers-by had a knife is because Massachusetts, and presumably the city of Boston, have strict laws governing the carry and possession of knives, or certain types of them. They are not alone. Many if not all municipalities have such laws. In some cases, these laws are carryovers from the age of the duel, but in most cases, they are simply the work of invasive governments telling you what you can have in your pocket on a day-to-day basis.
This cultural trend has serious negative consequences. It is also feeding on itself. The vilification of the pocketknife has been an obvious trend in popular culture for some time now. In 2006, Mark Fritz, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote a hit piece called "Deadly pocketknives become a $1 billion business." The purpose of the article was to demonize the "tactical knife" industry in the United States, portraying the knives sold as the deadly implements of Navy SEALs, and the Walter Mittys purchasing them as dangerous, armed time bombs just hunting for the right McDonalds in which to run amok.
The drumbeat of "knives are bad, knives are bad" has prompted smug operatives of the police state in the UK to begin trawling social networking sites to find pictures of UK citizens posing with knives. Horrifying and Orwellian as that is, we're not really that far behind though, fortunately, our citizens still have more courage than do the browbeaten subjects of the UK. A recent bill to ban all pocketknives in Hawaii drew such negative criticism that the state lawmaker who introduced it tried to disavow knowledge of it, claiming he had simply brought the measure to the legislature to "provide a voice for his constituents." The national outcry over that particular bill seems to have stalled it, but the intent and the sentiment among certain circles of the American population remain.
I once saw a child whose shoelaces got caught in an escalator. I was running for that escalator, reaching for my pocket knife, when the boy's parents saw his plight and simply yanked him free. That incident was the first thing that came to mind when I read of that poor woman in Boston. I had a knife the day it happened in front of me ... but many people didn't, and still don't.
Unless we resist the societal trend to equate knives, and the carry of pocketknives, with thuggery and criminal behavior, we will lose a critical component of what makes us a technologically advanced, fundamentally tool-using species. In an increasingly urban society forever more distant from the mechanics of daily life, it may not seem like such a big deal to forego the carry of a pocketknife. That is, it won't seem like you're missing a critical piece of personal technology until you watch an elderly woman slowly strangle to death in front of you, as you pluck hopelessly at her scarf like a helpless, shaven primate.
Banning the pocketknife?