Friday, December 21, 2012

Fries don't kill people, or do they?

Guns don't kill people, they just lie there.

Hold my gun while I eat.
*Bad People with Guns can only be stopped by Good People with Guns.
*It’s the makers of violent video games that are to blame for the violence in America.
*Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.
*I call on congress to enact legislation that will put an armed policeman in every school in the country.

I didn’t hear the entire speech by the representative of the National Rifle Association (NRA) today, but the points I did pick up are summarized above. For anyone who has read my previous two blog posts or my review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, it will come as no surprise that I won’t be debating the points; others were doing this on radio and TV commentaries already; it’s a futile exercise.

The principal consideration of “liberal” morality is the harm/care paradigm, followed closely by fairness/cheating. Liberals are most likely to be critically offended when people (particularly innocent people) are harmed or the weak are scammed or taken advantage of, according to Haidt.

To assume, however, that the “republican” mind is blasé about harm-to-innocents or poverty is a mistake; the American citizen who was not moved and offended by the shooting of children and their teachers at Sandy Hook would be hard to find. For the NRA, there is something more fundamental than care/harm, though, namely individual rights, particularly the right to defend oneself as one sees fit. It sounds to me like there is in the republican mind an overwhelming fear that much more is at stake than the weapons they own, that to limit the number and kind permitted is a stage in the de-Americanization of the citizenry. This is repeatedly bolstered by reference to the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Haidt points to evidence that says reason follows intuition, and it was not surprising today that the NRA sought to divert any complicity in the atrocity away from their agenda by taking aim at the liberal side with reasonable alternatives: violent videos, lack of security in schools, etc. We all grasp for—and generally find—the logical arguments that support our position. Where republican logic says “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the liberal response is likely to be “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people,” and therefore to the liberal mind, gun control makes eminent sense (as if knives, clubs, poisons, bathtubs and balconies didn’t exist.)

There is something about the knee-jerk grope for remedies on the liberal side that needs to be considered more carefully. In an earlier post, I cited statistics that indicate the huge number of gun killings in the USA compared to a few countries that have strict gun controls. And yet, I don’t fully believe that even the removal of all but hunting weapons from the public in the US would achieve the desired result, although, granted, it would have cut down the toll of the killed in Sandy Hook or Columbine. If a person gets a headache every time it rains, it seems reasonable to assume that the rain caused the headache. However, it may be that a change in atmospheric pressure caused both the rain and the headache. Is it possible that the insistence on owning weapons, the prevalence of violence in the media and on the street, the rancorous politics and the existence of so much poverty in a wealthy nation are all caused by another, yet-unnamed villain? Or that if the USA could name and defeat that villain, that the violence would abate, guns or no guns?

        I wonder.

I recently read a report noting that the removal of lead from gasoline was coincidental with a reduction in mental disturbances of various kinds as well as incidents of violence among teens and young adults. Who would have guessed it?

Maybe we liberals should be looking at diet. Changing the minds of the gun lovers is a non-starter. Americans love burgers and pop; junk food may be the villain acting like lead, poisoning people’s chances of achieving mental health. 

Put down that bag of fries and coke and eat your vegetables, Clint Eastwood!

1 comment:

  1. The post is too true, however I would quibble with your suggestion that "Changing the minds of the gun lovers is a non-starter." I don't believe it is a non-starter however it is difficult, and involves addressing a deeply held cultural touchstone.
    Pieter Spierenburg in his book The Spectacle of Suffering argued that “democracy came too soon to America,” suggesting that in other democracies the state had already established a stronger sense of order, and monopoly on violence. This made people comfortable with surrendering their individual rights of self protection to a democratic state. In America of 1776 protection remained with individuals and communities 'baking' that idea idea into the idea of democracy.
    When liberals begin to respectfully recognise the deep historical and cultural meaning of guns to large numbers of Americans a discussion about their role in modern society can begin. Even Spierenburg use of the term "too early" instead of just earlier, suggests the all too common condescending view of liberals towards gun owners. This demand for respect for gun owners challenges liberals on a number of levels. Visceral, after tragedies like the recent one, our own patience, as a cultural shift will not be fast, political, as this is not a legislative answer, and philosophical because by entering the conversation with respect we risk the possibility that our own deeply held beliefs about rights become altered. This list does not include our own prejudices which historically all people hold onto dearly.
    Steven Pinker points out in The Better Angel of Our Nature the individual has become far safer over time, even in America, with stronger governments. This points to the need for liberals to stop sneeering at the gun lobby and begin a true conversation. It may go nowhere for years, but I see it as a moral prerogative, hardly worth being written off as a "non-starter".