Saturday, June 18, 2016

Slate "The media keeps misfiring when it writes about guns"

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/06/the_media_keeps_misfiring_when_it_writes_about_guns.html
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It’s a little surprising that Mother Jones conflated the two in its Orlando coverage. The magazine tends to be scrupulously sober-minded about guns; its database of mass shootings is thorough and resists the urge to inflate fearmongering statistics. Less surprising, perhaps, are Rolling Stone’s errors. The magazine’s claim that it’s easier to get an assault rifle than an abortion is particularly egregious, since assault rifles are regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and require a lengthy permit process that is handled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Do you want an M16, the military version of the AR-15? Expect a wait of seven to eleven months.
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In the Washington Post this week, Eugene Robinson wrote, “When the framers wrote of  ‘arms,’ they were thinking about muskets and single-shot pistols. They could not have foreseen modern rifles or high-capacity magazines.” A few problems with this. First, gun enthusiasts will be only too happy to educate you on the existence of the Girandoni air rifle, which dates back to 1779, 12 years before the Second Amendment was ratified. It used compressed air, not gunpowder, and could hold 20 bullets at once. Lewis and Clark had one with them when Thomas Jefferson sent them out to explore the West. Second, we can argue all day about what the Framers—all now dead for 200 years or so—intended with the Second Amendment. But it seems disingenuous to argue that, in crafting a document that has largely served us well for more than 220 years, they couldn’t imagine improvements in gun technology.
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If the media wants to work toward actual solutions for gun violence, to do right by the people who are senselessly murdered, they need more than righteous indignation. They need to be better informed and more willing to engage honestly with their opponents.
This week has been a week for the left and right to advocate for the kind of police state they think we ought to have.  I'm skeptical about a lot of ideas espoused by folks from the libertarian camp because I think that the baseline for human group behavior tends toward authoritarian/conformist/totalitarian rather than individual liberty.  Granted, libertarians seem to get that this can be the frequent baseline.  So to the extent that they argue for limits on government power I can appreciate that.  Neither the left nor the right have convinced me in the last thirty years that what they ultimately want ISN'T functionally totalitarian.  There seems to be a sentiment that says "it's not tyranny if my team came up with the idea" that becomes "tyranny!" when the other side implements the policy.

This feels like the most pernicious aspect of partisan loyalty in the two-party system of our era, that the kinds of people who vote red state or blue state across the board who envision that the ideal future would be one in which their party dominates every level of governance don't realize that in emotional, spiritual and intellectual terms what we used to call that in the previous century was a totalitarian mindset.  Aka one party.  The kinds of people who take to the internet to advocate for their ideological/political causes often as not (more often, it seems) want what looks suspiciously like a totalitarian regime in some form or another. 

The Slate piece that compared the eventual banning of these and those firearms to the eventual abolition of slavery came off like a smug argument in bad faith.  The propaganda of the left and right white establishments has camped out on slavery as a comparison point.  Perhaps as whites are demographically less the "mainstream" one of the necessary aims of propaganda for the probably still mainly white rich male power bases in the two party system is to successfully make the case that the OTHER party is more racist overall in its core convictions than the one who's making a pitch for your loyalty.  But it's not a contest, both lose.  But it's interesting to read the polemics all the same because whether it's Jacobin making a case that neo-cons were basically Jews who betrayed the interests of blacks because they feared that affirmative action and quotas in academia would harm their unusually large hold on formal power in American academics or conservatives reminding everyone of the racist element in eugenics as a progressive cause the end game seems awkwardly clear, don't vote for those racists, vote for us.  But if racism was so endemic as to be entrenched across the divides then pretending that "we" aren't all connected to it doesn't matter.  Even if we distinguish between racism as racist views married to institutional and informal power on the one hand and racist views in which a person can demonize another race that might have power the core problem doesn't go away.

What seems to keep coming up is that one the one hand we have partisans who complain about how violence has been directed to one group or another in a way that is unjust ... but then we still can't shake off the act of scapegoating.  That seems to be one of our core problems as humans.  Gays were shot and killed in the last week and ... if we ban something then at least they will be killed in less gruesomely efficient ways. 

But for Slate contributors to compare banning guns to ending slavery seems specious.  The nearest comparison point of banning access to THINGS, rather than ending institutional prohibitions that disenfranchised whole groups of people, would be the prohibition of alcohol or the war on drugs.  Some have gone so far as to say that if you end the war on drugs you'll end the formal excuses used by law enforcement to keep institutional racism alive. 

People scapegoat and when they scapegoat they will feel that whomever they're scapegoating maybe isn't even being scapegoated, it's just giving those bad people whatever payback is what they deserve for being evil.  That's just how people seem to be, especially when they say that the truth of their nature is otherwise. 

Over the last twenty some years of my rather humdrum life I have considered and rejected the axiom that man was born free but everywhere is in chains.  No, chains are what we want.  You will never convince the sheeple to wake up by telling them they're sheeple.  No, they'll hear you say that and if you tell them to stop drinking the Kool-aid they will drink another gallon just to spite you.  We are conformists as humans, we are drinkers of Kool-aid.  You're more likely to get people to second-guess themselves not by saying "don't drink the Kool-aid" but by saying something more like, "Look, I know we like to drink Kool-aid because that's something we observably do but ... why should we drink THIS Kool-aid? What is it about this one that makes its flavor so appealing?"  This approach doesn't tell them to stop drinking the kool-aid, you'll notice, it suggests that there might be a more appealing flavor to try.  The miserable, tragic paradox of those who would insist that people choose another way is they so frequently take up the incendiary rhetoric that would simultaneously insist that those they hope to convince have no other morally acceptable choice. There may in the end be no more tyrannically uncompromising rhetorical idiom in contemporary internet discourse than that which talks about human freedoms. 

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