Saturday, June 25, 2016

at Slate Rebecca Onion asks "Where is the Uncle Tom's Cabin of gun control" fails to grasp why there probably can't be one, the nature of American dystopian literature

The biggest problem isn't in the realm of the problems Onion and others proposed in the article.  Guns are interesting but anything can be interesting.  The idea that somehow guns are "magic" forgets that lots of folk remedies that rely on the placebo effect are "magic" and people go get those whether or not they improve a person's health. 

American dystopian literature has primed us for generations to see just about any form of social engineering that steers us as individuals away from what our heart wants as tyranny by default.  This is prevalent enough from the left and the right that pretending that we could have an Uncle Tom's Cabin for gun control can only happen if you insist that it's possible to write a narrative in north American literature making a case for tighter regulation of something at the behest of the state.

Remember that internet meme that proposed that people wanting access to guns have the same restrictions to gun access that those who currently would seek an abortion would have?  How many people who pass around that meme want those restrictions on access to abortion to still be in place?  In social and philosophical terms access to pre-emptive use of lethal force can be the same coming from the left or right when individual liberty is an issue.  The population of the United States is too large for there to not be those who use civil liberties to harm others.  The radicalization of disaffected males who can't assimilate into mainstream society can't get solved by banning access to certain weapons, even if we could all agree that curtailing access would be a good idea.  If it turns out that people can abide by the rules right up to the points at which they kill, the problem may not merely be in what gets prohibited.

Abortion reveals a comparable cognitive dissonance in American society.  People had access to abortion before it was made legal.  People had access to alcohol when it was illegal.  But an analogy between access to arms and access to abortion seems most telling of our cognitive dissonance.  The term "reproductive rights" has become a popular circumlocution for the option of not bringing a pregnancy to term and some have argued that abortion is a social right.  But what is abortion if not the pre-emptive use of lethal force to ensure someone is never born?  Yet a rape culture is described as one in which men believe they have a right to sex and sex is the process of reproduction.  How is it that abortion is a reproductive right on the one hand and yet the concept of reproductive right is considered the reason for rape culture when the other half of the human species is discussed?  If rape culture is one in which men think they have a right to reproduce (i.e. to sex) what's the flip side with a right to not carry a pregnancy to term?  It could seem like a double standard based on the nature of the claims that have to be made about rights to sexual reproduction. 

But it's not a double standard if there's a unifying American ethos in which the right to use pre-emptive lethal force to defend your way of life is involved.  To the extent that those who choose to defend abortion by saying the fetus isn't even human to that extent we could propose that this could correspond to wartime propaganda in which enemy combatants aren't considered truly human and can therefore be killed not only with a sense of self-granted impunity but with moral license.  You're not killing someone so much as making the world a better place.  Whether it's an American soldier fighting abroad or an American citizen ending a pregnancy the act of valor, from within this unified ethos, could be the same.  What's being defended is the American way of life.

So it's interesting that a joke on the internet comparing access to guns to access to abortion has circulated but without seeming to think through the direct conflation of the use of pre-emptive lethal force as an embodiment of the practical American ethos for both the left and the right.  We reserve the right to kill in advance whomever might threaten our current way of life and if that right were to be taken from us or even subjected to some form of regulation by the state, well, that's tyranny.

The way to write an Uncle Tom's Cabin for gun control would depend less on making the case that individuals with guns kill too many people and more on selling us all on the idea Americans have a distorted understanding of what liberty means.  The trouble is that the American ethos about the legitimacy of using lethal force is such that to make such a case could boomerang back on other issues.  How would a progressive argue against access to guns while defending access to abortion as a social right when in both cases access to life-ending power is involved?  Well, the fetus is just a clump of cells. How would a conservative argue against abortion as dehumanizing babies make that case consistently when dehumanizing enemy combatants is a given?  Well, the enemy is against our way of life.  Both gambits commodify humans and dehumanize them.  A person could reach a conclusion that the American left and right are too morally bankrupt to have a basis from which to explore these issues.  When we have these two sides vigorously defending the right to have the option to kill it makes it seem profoundly unlikely there will ever be an Uncle Tom's Cabin for gun control.

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