Redefining Incivility

There was an interesting article recently in USA Today about the anniversary of the Tuscon shooting. Not so  interesting in terms of its content, maybe, but interesting in terms of how it was presented. The gist of the article was that “civility still eludes us”. But the implication was the meme that when it comes to incivility, “both sides do it”. It doesn’t really use that phrase, mind you; but it gyrates around it very seductively. Trouble is, the article comes up way short of presenting evidence that “both sides do it” equally (an absurd premise we’ve discussed before).

There are several examples of uncivil conduct mentioned in the article, but all were committed by right-wingers; they just aren’t always identified as such. It mentions ” bickering over the Native American speaker” at a memorial service for the Tuscon victims, when in fact the “bickering” was really scathing and sarcastic attacks from right-wing media. It mentions Republican congressman Joe Wilson yelling “You lie” in the middle of a presidential speech. It mentions that  “[a] Republican leader last month walked out of the House chamber rather than allow a Democrat the chance to speak.”  It mentions that “at town-hall meetings, voters booed lawmakers and shouted down fellow citizens who tried to express differing viewpoints” without specifying that those “voters” were Tea Party activists. It mentions that “opponents of a lawmaker flood a congressional switchboard with calls to disable the phone system and prevent others from airing views” without mentioning that this tactic was used (more than once) by Republicans.

But what’s most interesting is that the writer exhibits a trend that has become quite common in media discussion of this topic: redefining incivility in different terms for “conservatives” and “liberals” to make it appear that they are more or less equally uncivil- or even that “liberals” are more uncivil. Michael Moore, who appears never to have had an uncivil word for anyone in his life – he even made a point of complimenting George W. Bush as a person, even as he expressed outrage over how Bush came into office and horror at what he did in office – has more than once been called the “Ann Coulter of the left”, likening him to one of the most venomous in an endless procession of venomous right-wing pundits.

The article contains this interesting quote from Republican representative Jeff Flake of Arizona:

“Given the mess that the country’s in, I can never blame constituents for being angry,” he said. “Far be it from me to try to call out my constituents for passionate feelings on things.”

Oh. So the numerous death threats that have been made against President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are just a matter of “passionate feelings” about “the mess the country’s in”. So why haven’t a comparable number of threats been made against Republicans in Congress? Or against George W. Bush about the mess the country was in then?

In a desperate bid to dispel the notion that “conservatives” are uncivil and to pin incivility on “liberals”, the media will even resort to things like this:

At a 2009 constituent meet-and-greet at a Holbrook Safeway, one very similar to Giffords’ 2011 event, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., left abruptly after some people in line to see her started shouting and demanding that she answer questions.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t help getting the impression that the writer is trying to shift the fault for the detractors’ rudeness onto Kirkpatrick herself – after all, she’s the one who “left abruptly” rather than respond to “questions”. The writer seems to be parroting the Republican spin that she “turned her back on her constituents”.

And here’s a real gem quoted from John Genette, identified as president of Black Mountain Communications and the organizer of a project at Arizona State University called Civil Dialogue:

“If you’re a lefty and you hear that the sun is yellow, you might believe it, but if you hear the sun is yellow according to Fox News, you might say that sometimes it’s reddish,” he said. “There is a deep distrust of the other side.”

Oh. So challenging the hateful, factually deficient ramblings of Fox “News”  is  motivated only by “distrust of the other side”. Got it. And although Genette himself doesn’t say so there is, as the article reflects, a recurring narrative that speaking up against hateful rhetoric is itself hateful rhetoric, or even worse. Here’s the type of discourse that often occurs:

RIGHT-WINGER: Liberals are communists, they’re lazy, they’re NAZIs, they’re evil, they’re liars, they’re anti-American, and they’re destroying MY country. They want to outlaw prayer and penalize hard-working people and euthanize old people. Thank God (whom they don’t believe in) I have my Second Amendment rights to defend MY country against these scumbags.

NON-RIGHT-WINGER: I don’t think it’s very civil to say things like that, and it could cause some unstable person to commit violence.

RIGHT-WINGER: See what I mean? I told you these people were nasty!

MEDIA: And there you have it, folks. Clearly, both sides do it equally.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Just start paying attention, and I guarantee that you’ll see this pattern repeated many times over.

Consider the article’s piece de resistance: Sarah’s Palin’s crosshairs, targeting Democrats in Congress who committed the unpardonable offense of supporting healthcare reform. There has been probably more outrage over the reaction to this ad than there was over the ad itself, with many declaring it the ultimate mark of incivility to suggest that it may have been one element that inspired the Tuscon gunman. But to assume flatly that it wasn’t is to divorce it from the context of the eliminationist extremism (and gun glorification) that produced it. It may be incorrect to think that the crosshaired map exerted any influence on the shooter’s unbalanced brain, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to consider it a possibility. Indeed, not long before she was shot, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (one of Sarah’s “targets”) expressed concern about that very thing. And she wasn’t just being paranoid; her office already had been vandalized.

And here’s how Sarah herself responded:

“And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”

Good grief. It isn’t enough to deny that there may have been something inappropriate about the map. It isn’t enough to call such criticism an “intolerant” attempt to “muzzle dissent”. It isn’t enough to claim that her insults have been merely “imagined”. It isn’t enough to portray herself as the innocent victim of a supposedly hostile media that in fact has been kissing her ass since she left the starting gate. It isn’t even enough to profess her inoffensiveness by working in the offensive term “blood libel.” No, this woman also has to shift the culpability to her critics for the very type of tragedy that has just occurred. Really classy, Sarah. She all but points an accusatory finger at Tina Fey.

Speaking of whom, many people consider it supremely uncivil when someone ridicules Palin’s apparent vapidity. But bear in mind that she herself appeared on “Saturday Night Live” alongside Fey doing an unflattering impression of her and Alec Baldwin saying uncomplimentary things about her. And bear in mind that nobody is calling her a commie terrorist Muslim Anti-Christ.  And contrary to what she’s claimed, there is no evidence that anyone has been making death threats against her, much less in numbers comparable to those against Democrats.

What did happen was that when she complained on her Facebook page about author Joe McGinnis moving next door to her, he received 5000 hostile emails, some containing death threats, within 24 hours. It was purely by chance that McGinnis, himself an Alaskan, acquired the house while writing a book about her. But like a civil neighbor, she framed him as a peeping tom and a menacing stalker.

Comedian Orlando Jones (who is neither a politician nor a political pundit) tweets jokes constantly, but one in particular aroused a great deal of ire because it included a punchline about “liberals” killing Sarah Palin. It was clearly a joke – maybe not a very good joke, maybe a tasteless joke, maybe even a dumb joke. But to the spinmeisters it was much more – it was solid confirmation that incivility is standard behavior for “liberals”.

Okay, fine. Deny him the benefit of a doubt if you wish. But does that one spontaneous remark really put him in a league with Tea Party leaders who deliver prepared speeches urging the faithful to arm themselves in readiness for taking out elected officials if they don’t get their way? Does it put him in a league with the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters who churn out hatred day after day after day? Does it put him in a league with the anonymous Arkansan(s) who brutally killed a cat belonging to a Democratic aide and then scrawled “liberal” on its body?

Oh yeah, one more little thing. Jones was adult enough to apologize for his comment. And as long as we’re insistent upon redefining incivility as the circumstances warrant, let’s see if we can at least agree that civility includes – pay attention, Sarah – a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s uncivil actions. Like Orlando Jones. Or maybe Keith Olbermann.

While Sarah was invoking the “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, defense, Olbermann – probably the only left-wing pundit who comes within light-years of the acrimony that’s standard issue for right-wing pundits – was saying this:

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence.”

Bit of a difference, wouldn’t you say?

Of Occupying Scoundrels and Tea Party Saints

AP/ Thomas K Fowler

When it comes to covering Occupy Wall Street, the media seem to have a severely split personality. On the one hand, they’re obsessed with declaring that the movement is just like the Tea Party; yet on the other hand, they’re obsessed with painting the Occupiers as booger-eating vermin and the Tea Partiers as noble revolutionaries and defenders of The American Way.

On the first point, there is in fact little in common between these two factions, despite what Joe Biden says. (What, politicians can be wrong?) OWS is a grassroots movement (or as close to it as a movement can get these days) that has no political affiliation, no leaders and no major funding- collecting a median donation of $22. The Tea Party was a sort of grassroots movement in the very very beginning, but it was promptly hijacked by (the extreme batshit loony wing of) The Republican Party, and is heavily funded by the Koch Brothers and backed by other right-wing ideologues. And even though it has no central leadership, it’s comprised of several official organizations calling themselves the Tea Party something-or-other.

But the second point is the reason we’re here today, ladies and gentlemen. One can’t very well deny that the Occupy gatherings have been more unruly than Tea Party rallies. But why? The official spin is that it’s just because the Occupiers are an inferior species. In fact, there are several likely factors contributing to the chaos – factors that are glaringly obvious. But hewing to an ideology, as the media often do, frequently requires ignoring the obvious. So  while we’re not particularly dedicated to defending the Occupiers (especially since so many of them have started slurping the Ron Paul Kool-Aid) and we’d prefer to spend the time pointing out things that are not so obvious, today it appears that the obvious is demanding our attention.

1. The Meaning of Occupy

First, let’s not forget what is involved in “occupying”. These demonstrators are, by definition, hanging out in places where the authorities don’t want them to be. There’s scarcely a municipality anywhere that doesn’t have some kind of ordinance against camping/ sleeping in  public.  By definition then, they are in violation of the law, though enforcement of these measures is at the discretion of local officials; and the protestors certainly would argue that their transgression is insignificant compared to the offenses of those they are demonstrating against, and that their modus operandi the only way to get their message across effectively.

So inevitably there’s going to be some conflict with law enforcement, and even some arrests. Even so, these arrests, though they on occasion number in the hundreds, have been overwhelmingly peaceful. In fact, many Occupiers are trained in nonresistant protest, and taught how to be arrested peacefully.

But of course there is the occasional bad egg – not only among the protestors but also among the police.  In New York, in Oakland, at UC Davis and elsewhere, certain law enforcement personnel have used tactics on peaceful protesters that were highly questionable to say the least (not to mention showing a less than adequate response to civilian attacks against protesters). And mind you, the police, much more so than the demonstrators, have been thoroughly trained in the avoidance of conflict.

So why don’t we hear people offering blanket condemnations of police departments? Because everyone seems to realize that it’s unfair to judge an entire group by the actions of a few irresponsible individuals. Unless that group is Occupy Wall Street, and then it’s no holds barred. But when it comes to the Tea Party, people seem quite willing to excuse irresponsible statements even when they’re made by the organization’s leaders and key speakers.

2. A Full-time Job

At Tea Party rallies, participants attend, then go to their hotels and their comfy homes in the suburbs or small towns. The Occupiers, some of whom have no homes to go to, are in it for the long haul, many of them camping out in tents. That kind of round-the-clock presence is naturally going to result in more unsavory incidents. It’s a matter of math if nothing else. And note that this kind of street presence, particularly in the neighborhoods where it usually occurs, can attract individuals who really aren’t even connected to or supportive of the movement.

3. The Bigger Tent

Another important point to consider is that the Occupy movement is far more diverse than the Tea movement. The latter, despite its claim of populist anti-tax underpinnings, is designed to appeal to those who passionately despise President Obama, and relies on an extensive campaign of misinformation targeting him.  (He was born in Kenya, he’s a socialist, he’s a Muslim, he’s raised our taxes, “Obamacare” provides for death panels, etc., etc., etc.) And oh yes, Michael Moore is worth millions.

OWS, on the other hand, is designed to appeal to anyone who feels disenfranchised by the current economic paradigm, and that includes a hell of a lot of people – even most of those who are so antagonistic toward the movement. Naturally, such a varied demographic is going to attract its share of rowdy, if not undesirable, elements.

And it’s surely not insignificant that there’s a wider age range at Occupy, with an estimated average age of 33 and a median of 27 (at least among those arrested) – compared with a rather consistent fiftyish range at the Tea Party.  There’s more volatility in youth; that may be a lame excuse, but hey, if politicians can plead “youthful indiscretion” for actions in their forties (I’m looking at you, Dubya), maybe we should cut Occupiers a wee bit of slack in their twenties and thirties.

4. Genuine Anger

Listen to a  Tea Party speech, and you’re likely to hear delusional ranting about things that the speakers fear may happen: Obama will hike their taxes, Obama will try to Islamize the country, Obama will confiscate their guns, Obama will mandate death panels, etc.  Such paranoid fantasies can be quite effective in mobilizing mass action; if the Tea Party manipulators ever decide to make good on their implied threat to storm the White House armed with hunting rifles, pitchforks and crucifixes, they might have plenty of backup. But perhaps spontaneous outbursts of inappropriate behavior are more likely to be occasioned by frustration over things that really have happened.

5. Provocation

Let’s face it, Occupiers have had to deal with a lot more in-your-face hostility than Tea Partiers, and it would be naive to expect that some of them would not respond in kind. It’s hard to be perfectly stoic when you’re being sprayed with pepper, whacked with batons, or run down by drivers.  Furthermore, there has been at least one known example of a right-wing agitator infiltrating the group with the express aim of inciting violence. Are there others? I’d bet the deed to the farm on it.

The Courage of their Convictions

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list or a profound analysis; on the contrary, it’s meant to show how easy it would be to discover factors contributing to OWS rowdiness if only the media had an interest in looking beyond the boilerplate narrative.

As for why Tea Partiers haven’t displayed more unseemly conduct, perhaps it is in part because they lack the courage of their convictions. They’ve certainly been urged on by their leaders, who exhort them to hate certain individuals who don’t concur with their ideology, and even to try to drive them out by violent means. It’s a wonder, especially considering that so many Tea Partiers are also gun enthusiasts, that this rhetoric hasn’t led to violence.

Or has it? In fact there have been numerous incidents of violence and threatened violence directly connected to Tea Party-style polemic, and in some cases to the Tea Party itself. Peeing in the streets is nothing compared to this stuff. But the fact that these episodes did not occur at Tea Party rallies completely lets them off the hook. And so the media can look for someone else to demonize – not a hard thing to do since there’s a certain gathering of protestors camped out under their noses 24/7.

Gun Culture Fires Back – With Blanks

It really isn’t hard to elicit an attack from ideological fanatics; all you have to do is suggest that their particular ideology might not exactly be the cat’s pajamas. Gun addicts can be among the most passionate of ideologues, so it was only a matter of time before my posts on the Second Amendment myth and the twisted logic used to justify gun ownership drew fire from a gun propaganda website.

This website, TheTruthAboutGuns.com, is written by a fellow named Bruce Krafft, who seems to have a great deal of time on his hands, and a willingness to devote it all to promoting his passion (which he deems a matter of “civil rights”). The site is at least more intelligent, more articulate and more adult (despite its haughty dismissal of dissenting voices, even of the most respectful and regularly contributing sort, as “trolls”) than most assemblages of firearm fanatics. It even makes some valid points. If you seek propaganda to quote in support of your gun habit that doesn’t make you sound like a blithering devotee of Beck or Rush, this is the place to get it.  But it’s still quite prone to misinformation, misinterpretation and faulty reasoning.

Now I’m not one to respond to everyone who takes potshots in my direction. That’s mostly a fruitless exercise that only gives them more ammo to twist and distort, and it will go on forever if you let it. I have no desire to engage in a pissing contest, especially with someone totin’ a hogleg. But Mr. Krafft’s remarks do provide some further examples of specious reasoning and other forensic follies, and since that’s partly what this blog is about, it’s worth taking a look.

Racing to Conclusions

The alarm bells start playing a sonata as soon as he mentions the present blog, summarizing its posts about the gun culture thus:

The Propaganda Professor – Gun owners are racist and unrealistic about self-defense.

I suppose the second part is a fair enough conclusion about my commentary. But racist? Where did I ever say that gun owners are racist? Exactly nowhere. The only mention I made of race at all was to note the frequent correlation between paranoia about violent attack with paranoia about illegal immigrants (specifically from south of the border), and how this is reflected in the fabricated Hispanic names in the bogus anecdote I cited. Does this suggest that racism is sometimes a factor in gun addiction? It would appear so. Does it mean that gun owners as a whole are racist? I’d never say so, and to claim that I did is misguided if not misguiding. This type of unwarranted extrapolation is a common way to distort someone else’s words.

He then goes on to accuse ME repeatedly of invoking “straw men”. Seriously. In fact, his “dissection” of my posts is little more than one shell game after another, often with a distinct whiff of straw mingled with the gunsmoke.

Barely Bearing Arms

He takes me to task for describing only one of the bogus incidents I mentioned. What he means is that I described only one of the many variants of the same story I see over and over again. If there really are so meany genuine cases, why is it necessary to keep rehashing the phony ones?

To buttress his implication that defensive gun uses (DGUs, as they’re affectionately called)  are more commonplace than farting, he tosses out a list of 75 of them “from just the last 4 months”. Holy crap – 75 in 4 months. That adds up to…let me see, 225 per year. Almost as high as your chances of being struck by lightning. (Of course, the estimate that gunsters love to cite manages to bump the decimal point over a few notches, but that’s a story for another day.)

Except that, um, not all of these incidents are exactly bona fide DGUs per se, as such, really and truly. Some mention defense against animal attacks which certainly can be self-defense but not what gunsters normally refer to as DGU; one mentions someone being shot with an arrow, and a few tell of successful defense using knives. Yep, warding off an attacker with a bow or a knife is supposed to prove that guns are necessary for self-defense. That’s only a sampling of the kind of logic that prevails on Planet Heston.

Presumably, the purpose in including those accounts is to suggest that things would have gone down more smoothly in such situations if the defender had been packing. But that’s not how the list is packaged; it’s presented as an enumeration of incidents that did entail self-defense with a gun. And padding the roster in this manner is not exactly dealing from the top of the deck.

Incidentally, if you look at these stories more closely, you see that in many cases there is a nagging doubt, to say the least, that it really was self-defense, or if it was someone being trigger-happy. In one story, a man found another man in bed with his girlfriend, and the interloper (apparently unarmed if not unclothed) allegedly “came at him” so he was shot and killed in “self-defense”. Seriously?

Supreme Arrogance

Mr. Krafft also objects to my observation that the Supreme Court essentially “rewrote” the Second Amendment with a 2008 ruling, and suggests that I only say that because I don’t like their decision. Actually, I say that because they declared that the Second Amendment says something that it just doesn’t say. If that doesn’t have the effect of rewriting it, I don’t know what does. What difference does it make whether I like it or not?

He even pontificates that:

If you don’t bother to actually read the Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller it’s easy to believe the media myth that the Court ruled 5 – 4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. If, however, you do read the decision (specifically Justice Stevens’ dissent, with which Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer all concurred) you will discover that the “ruling” was 9 – 0 in favor of the individual rights argument.

That’s an odd decoy, constructed of something distinctly resembling dried grass. Sure, the dissenting opinion concurred that the Second Amendment applies to individuals – but within the context of a “well-regulated militia”. The real issue is whether the presumed “rights” of individuals to keep and bear arms transcend the government’s right to regulate firearms. If you do bother to read the decision, you will see that Justice Stevens says:

The opinion the Court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons. [He also notes that “a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”] Unable to point to any such evidence, the Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Amendment’s text. [Translation: they rewrote the goddamn thing.]… When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated by its drafters or is encompassed within its terms. Even if the meaning of the text were genuinely susceptible to more than one interpretation, the burden would remain on those advocating a departure from the purpose identified in the preamble and from settled law to come forward with persuasive new arguments or evidence. The textual analysis offered by respondent and embraced by the Court falls far short of sustaining that heavy burden.

That last point is key. Even if there is a shadow of a doubt about the meaning of the text (there isn’t), the existence of that doubt means that one cannot unequivocally state that the meaning encompasses a  certain application that is in doubt. Which is precisely what the “conservative” justices did. In other words, they rewrote the goddamn thing. Call my evaluation (along with that of the four disinterested justices) subjective if you must, but to claim that it’s “false on its face” is truly false on its face.

Emulating the Duke

He also tries to divert focus to a consideration of my supposed beliefs in discussing my comments about the Nevada IHOP massacre:

John Wayne wet dream? Seriously? The Prof believes we think this way? The sad thing is that he probably does.

AHHH—CHOOO!!! Sorry, my hay fever is really acting up for some reason.

Having never met Mr. Krafft nor (to the best of my knowledge) his followers, I wouldn’t presume to know how “we think”. But I have met many other gunsters. Many, many, many,many, many. I grew up in the heart of redneck gun culture territory, so I’ve had all too much exposure to cocky lead-pumpers chomping at the bit for a chance to put their devices into action. My comments were not a reflection of what I think about how (or whether) they think, but of what they’ve said about how they think.

Naturally, it would be a mistake to conclude that all gunsters are inbred goobers with itchy fingers. But it’s equally mistaken to assume they’re all intelligent, mature and responsible. What they all are is human; and as such, they’re all different.

Since Mr. Krafft seems to bristle at my use of the expression “gun addict”, let me make it clear that I don’t apply this term to all gun owners. (But if the holster fits…) I have known some whom I never would have suspected to be gun owners, because they didn’t make an issue of it. They didn’t conspicuously flash their pieces, they didn’t display issues of Guns and Ammo  on the coffee table or NRA stickers on their pickups, they didn’t rant about their “Second Amendment rights”. They were just healthy adults who happened to own firearms.

And then there are the others. The ones who frequent gun shows and hang out every day on online gun forums. The ones who forward every anecdote that comes down the pike about a granny with a shotgun fending off a gang of rapists. The ones who foam at the mouth about the big bad guvmint wanting to take away their toys.  The ones who fawn like schoolgirls over implements of death and mayhem as if they were Faberge eggs. These are probably prime candidates for a twelve-step program.

Be that as it may, the point is that given a random gathering of, say, a hundred human beings,  you’re certain to have a wide variety of personality types. Give them all guns, and you’re certain to have a wide variety of armed personality types – and levels of shooting skill.  Introduce a sudden threat to their lives (like, say, a guy opening fire on everyone) and the odds of extensive collateral damage are high indeed- my projection of “a dozen or so bodies” might well be conservative.

Yet many gunsters are perfectly willing to assume that in such a scenario, everyone present would behave with perfect poise, restraint and efficiency – not to mention impeccable marksmanship. How naive can you get?

And the Kewpie Doll Goes to…

But of the many silly utterances in Mr. Krafft’s commentary, the silliest has to be this:

There is no such thing as “gun violence.” There are people who do violent things with guns, but they also do violent things with knives, rocks, pointy sticks and fists.

Oh. I’ll try to remember that, and I’ll also try to remember that there’s no such thing as an automobile accident; there are only accidents that happen to involve automobiles. They could instead have involved bicycles, camels or pogo sticks. The fact that they involved automobiles gives us no right to linguistically link a car with a crash. (Is this some of that “political correctness” stuff I’ve heard so much about?)

I suppose this little display of semantic chicanery is meant to foster an Orwellian disconnect between guns and gunshots, and reinforce the gun culture mantra that “guns don’t kill, people do”. But while the role that firearms might play in inciting violence is open to debate, their very presence in shootings is not. I’ve never heard even the most rabid gun fanatic argue that bullets are discharged by bare hands. (At least not yet.)

Pro but conned

Speaking of loaded language, as it were, I notice that the denizens of The Truth (sic) about Guns have a habit of referring to non-gunsters (including, it would appear, yours truly) as “antis”. Normally the prefix anti designates opposition to something, but I’m not clear just what it is that I/we are supposedly against. If anything, one might infer from reading these pages that I am in favor of certain things – e.g., stricter gun laws and a more precise reading of The Constitution.

In any case, the knee-jerk use of this label is a good indicator of how the gun culture, like the culture of right-wing extremism with which it is so closely allied, is fueled by paranoia and divisiveness. There must always be a THEM out there somewhere, intent upon taking away one’s guns and one’s freedom (which are one and the same of course), and destroying one’s country and violating one’s daughters, etc. etc. etc. etc. The gun lobby, a distinct minority that nonetheless enjoys a powerful grip on media and politics, has managed to convince its constituents that it has been brutally marginalized; and it appeals to the very type of mindset that probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a loaded anything.

Blossoms among the stubble

Still, I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Krafft always has his head up his barrel. I commend him for at least recognizing that there is for most people a heavy emotional price tag attached to shooting someone, however justifiably. Many gunsters I’ve encountered seem quite clueless about this, and honestly believe they can just blow away a bad guy and then go have a beer and forget about it. The scary thing is, some of them may be right.

And I give him a standing ovation for refusing to name the shooter at Virginia Tech. I’ve always strongly suspected that if the media didn’t lavish so much attention on mass murderers, there’d be far fewer copycats.  But we’ll never know for certain, will we?

Additionally, his speculations about how crime may have been prevented by armed citizens in other mass shootings, and his follow-up post offering possible solutions to the problem of gun violence (though he denies it exists) are, though presumptuous, at least thoughtful.

On the whole, however, the website is yet another example of the very brand of fear mongering and polarization that the world doesn’t need a lot more of.

(COMING SOON: We’ll examine “gun control” and other nifty phrases, as well as gunster mantras such as “gun control doesn’t work” and “more guns, less crime”. And we’ll turn the microscope on the “statistics” about defensive gun use.)

Appreciating Hitch; the Won’t of God

It’s rather tardy of course, but I’d like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the late British-born essayist Christopher Hitchens, who left us entirely too soon last month at the age of 62.  I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with him, but he was always engaging and stimulating, and quite skilled at ripping away the veil of delusion. He was a bright beacon of reason and sanity in a vast sea of media vacuity.

As it happens, I’d only recently read his 2007 bestseller God Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything. It was an eye-opener even to me, after having spent most of my life studying the outrages committed in the name of religion.

It details how one country had all but eliminated polio when its religious leaders became convinced that the vaccine was somehow unpleasing to God, and so the disease made a tragic comeback. It chronicles how, when Salman Rushdie was living under the threat of death for being “blasphemous” (i.e., too candid) by extremists of one religion, the clerics of other religions (notably Western Christians), rather than condemn the fundamentalist fanatics, criticized Rushdie for bringing it on himself. It even makes the case that such supposed paragons of progressivism as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were in fact fundamentalists who fought progress almost as much as they promoted it. And it offers a rebuttal to the trendy claim that atheism has inspired more bloodshed than religion (a myth we’ll be examining in more detail in the future).

Hitch also mentions an interesting epiphany he had about religious dogma as a parochial student when one of his teachers commented that it was so wonderful of God to put so much green in nature, so that it would be pleasing to human eyes. Even at that age, he was perceptive enough to realize that she was thinking ass-backward: nature isn’t green because we like it; rather, we like green because it is so abundant in nature. It is we who have made the concession, not our creator. But by assuming that God sometimes caters to our wishes as long as we constantly cater to His, people use “it’s God’s will” not only to rationalize evil that already exists, but to excuse the evil they commit. Or, as another wise soul put it:

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”      — Susan B Anthony

With his biting criticism of organized religion (as well as such diverse public figures as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa), Hitchens heard from Christians a great deal – usually excoriating him and promising him the penalty of eternal hellfire for the sin of thinking too much.  And when it was revealed that he had a terminal case of esophageal cancer (for all his brilliance, he nonetheless indulged in the indefensible stupidity of slow suicide by tobacco), many of them contacted him to gloat over God’s “punishment” of his impiety. (Have you ever known an atheist to talk to people like this?) He responded to this tackiness as he always had, noting that God also doles out such afflictions, and far worse, to the devout – as well as to children too young to understand faith – while many noted skeptics have lived to a ripe old age.

A staunch atheist to the end, he nonetheless made it clear that atheism was not necessarily a prerequisite for rationalism. “Believe in God if you must”, he said, but religion is another matter. Religion is not only believing in God, but believing you understand God’s will, which is something nobody could possibly do. (And I might add, Hitch, that it isn’t religion itself that’s the problem, but religiosity – i.e., the compulsion to impose one’s own beliefs on the world at large.)

Yet many people claim they can do just that. And the results are often profoundly disturbing.  (Anyone remember 9-11?) I solemnly swear to you that I once overheard the following conversation between parent and child:

SON: Dad, was David right-right, or was he right-wrong?

FATHER: He was right-wrong. He did the right thing, it just wasn’t what God wanted him to do.

Here was a parent giving his child guidance about how to behave in the world by totally reframing morality to conform to his own religious beliefs. But as grotesque as it sounded coming from him, the thing is it happens all the time. He was merely expressing in balder terms the kind of attitude that religionists exhibit as a matter of course.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear a man like Christoper Hitchens challenge common perceptions about the will of God, focusing instead on what might be called the “won’t of God”. The irony is that if there is a God, and if He is as benevolent as folks suppose, then Hitch probably was following His will as few others ever do.