Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rationality and Fear

There was a sit-in at the US House of Representatives last week. Some Democratic lawmakers occupied the floor of the House for 25 hours in an attempt to force a vote on gun control measures (that would almost certainly fail anyway). This is not a post about guns (although Fresh Air did a fascinating piece on gun culture a couple weeks back), though - its more about tactics. I'm well beyond really engaging much on guns, especially in a public venue - but the reason for that couldn't have been more aptly illustrated than with a meme that I saw floating around the day after the sit-in.

It said, essentially (and you'll find stories about it all over the internet) that 26 of the Democrats involved are also gun owners. That's it. Almost no other context. I think the implication is that this is hypocritical position. I think. It's still not clear to me. Although, I suppose, it's very clear to the people who are the real recipients of the message.

A lot of people in the US believe "gun control" means "taking my guns away," despite the incredible irrationality of the message. It's not that these people are themselves irrational or stupid - often quite the opposite - it's just that our fear-based political system encourages this kind of black/white thinking devoid of rationality.

Again, I don't want to delve into guns specifically, but to illustrate the logical point. The US Supreme Court has pretty much upheld two basic constitutional facts about guns, 1) people have a right to own guns for self-defense, and 2) the government has the right to regulate and control the use and possession of guns. The entirety of rational gun conversation (what little there is) falls in between these two poles. However, the vast majority of actual gun conversations in the US are people who think either option 1 or option 2 are invalid - that the Court got them wrong.**

This is why the notion of gun owners also supporting gun control seems hypocritical to those on both extremes - gun control advocates should not own guns and gun owners should not advocate for gun control. These are both legally, logically, and constitutionally irrational statements, but they're certainly real.

We can have the same fun with abortion if we want to: cut and paste the following on Facebook and see what happens "I believe abortion is killing and I believe women should have the right to do it." This is a real position that a lot of people hold,^ but you'll absolutely confound extreme activists with it - in fact, you may do the impossible and bring them together in their mutual hatred of you.

David Brooks wrote a piece
a week or so ago that talks a little bit about this. I'm not sure it's super well-written, but the idea is phenomenal (and he borrowed it from Richard Rohr, so you know it's got to be pretty great). He talks about those people who are inside specific groups, but not so far inside as to be subsumed by group identity (and thus group think). These are people who have opinions, but deal with some measure of distance from those ideas - another term might be "principled pragmatism" or maybe just plain "rational."

It's not something we have much of in our current public discourse. Maybe not in our private discourse either. I remember last month, as the United Methodists were trying to figure out how to talk about homosexuality and the Church, someone came up with the idea of having small groups share opinions to make sure it wasn't just the loudest, most passionate people (on both sides) who were heard. There was a lot of talk about the "silent middle," and perhaps some good reason to believe they really do exist.

I hesitate to appropriate "silent majority" in any event these days, because I'm no longer certain the middle is the majority. We're just so shaped and formed by this kind of all-or-nothing, burn the ships behind us, siege mentality for everything social, political, or electoral that we've almost forgotten just how important it is to live together.

In the end, this is one of the core reasons I'm doing the work to get on the Presidential ballot in Colorado (which should almost be official by now). Yes, it's fun and funny and strange - and precisely the kind of thing I like to do just to say I did it. But there's also something more. A few people have made comments about how it seems to be mocking the electoral process or demeaning the importance of our governmental system - and they're right. I'm happy to demean the importance of our system, because most people put far, far, far, far, far, far, far too much importance on this system - as if their entire existence depends on our government (and all its citizens) agreeing that they're right about everything. It's just not that important - I'm not sure anything is that important.

But we've been told its so vitally important for so long, we believe it. When we believe these things have existential import for our very survival, it's really easy to be influenced by fear - which is 100% entirely irrational. Well, fear itself is a very rational response to certain stimuli, but what we do with fear is downright nuts - I think I'd rather be trapped in a small room with a deranged meth-head than someone who's scared for their life. Fear don't mess around.

You know how to combat fear? Knowledge. Specifically knowledge about that which you fear. When that which we fear is our neighbor who thinks differently from us, it's not that difficult to walk next door and have a conversation.

Although maybe you should call first... in case they've got a gun.

*But seriously, folks, one of the votes these Dems wanted was a repeal of the federal ban on funding gun violence RESEARCH! If we aren't allowed to even find out about gun violence, there's no way anyone will come up with a legitimate plan to address it.

I, personally, do not believe in self defense (although I wouldn't want my view legislated, necessarily) - but if we're talking constitutionality, I'm fine with both positions. I do, however, think you can't honestly call yourself a "strict constructionalist" and also think option 1 is constitutional - there's some logical confusion there; however, I suspect the answer is really for people to stop calling themselves "strict constructionalists," and not to change the rulings.

^Me included.

^^And, no, I have no idea what potatoes have to do with anything, but that picture came up on a google image search for "rationality and fear," and I thought it was funny.

1 comment:

Alan Scott said...

I thought the potato photo symbolized that after the vote is taken someone says, "the 'eyes' have it."