Saturday, October 10, 2015

Outsourcing empathy: what could go wrong?

A Facebook friend--a good man, let me be clear, and one who is a bit of a personal inspiration to me regarding outlook on life--asked, today, after hearing of another hive-publicized shooting incident which may or may not have much in common with other mass shootings:

Again? My friends who are responsible gun owners--what's going on? Sorry, I don't want to put you on the spot (as in, you don't really have to respond), but something has to change, I think.

He then amended;

I guess I didn't state that right: Just because you have a gun, you don't have to know what's going on. I'm just curious what people have to say. I think I'm at the tipping point where I think we have to have some kind of licensing process.

I thought he deserved a response.  He's no sort of hard-core state bootlicker, and is more thoughtful than most.  And so, privately, I sent him the following.  It seemed worth posting here.

Hi, [S].  Thought I'd give a more thoughtful answer to your "what's going on?" question in the backchannel.  It is offered respectfully;  I know you to be a thoughtful person, and I'd not bother if I didn't think you would listen.  

Full disclosure:  I speak strongly.  I am contemptuous of all politics.  And I seem to say things that most people don't want to hear.  That said, I can assure you that I do not argue from ignorance, and I try to speak to attitudes rather than ad hominem to people.  (And so, for example, any reference to "you" in here isn't directed at you personally, etc.)  

With that in mind, here you go:

I don't think "tipping point" is a rational concept here. The core argument for gun rights, to the extent that even has any logical relation to today's shooting case (the few details available now don't suggest persuasively that it does), is not a statistical one, but a moral one. To wit: there is no magic statistical threshold that, once crossed, will suddenly make it morally acceptable to impose forcible prior restraint on people (gun owners, in this case) who have harmed no one, and never will.  The reverse, of course, is equally true:  gun controllers will never be persuaded by any amount of evidence that guns in the hands of the peasantry save more lives than they take.  For all the grandstanding to the contrary, the notion that either gunnies or gun controllers actually care about "performance" statistics is arguably the biggest fiction you'll ever hear on the subject.

What I find most depressing, though, is that so many otherwise intelligent people are convinced that gun control schemes will somehow do what they are advertised to do, despite all of history and basic human nature. The salesmanship may be stunning and slick, but the "performance" has been abysmal and even counterproductive (which, an uppity peasant might observe, makes it no different than the War on (some) Drugs, imperial warmongery, domestic surveillance...). And so after all the worst mass shooting disasters, we eventually* find out that 1) the site was already a de jure or de facto "gun-free zone", 2) there were other laws in place already that also failed to protect the innocent, and 3) none of the gun-control proposals on offer to fix the problem would actually have prevented the incident in the first place...oh, gee whiz! And it really doesn't take a whole lot of analysis to figure out that the "gun-free zone" is a much preferred site for a sick creep to work without interruption.

And yet somehow, the only socially acceptable remedy is more of what has (QED, each time) demonstrably failed to perform as advertised. Because simply entertaining other options is somehow prima facie evidence that you would spit-roast your own children for another box of ammo. "What's the matter with you cousin-humping redneck ammosexuals, who would rather hug your rifle than your kid? Why won't you have that 'national conversation' with us?" It's hard to get more tone-deaf than that, and yet most control-freaks I've met consider themselves far more subtle and nuanced than the rest of Us The Unwashed.

Adding to the chutzpah is the more recent sentiment that gun-rights supporters are getting too in-your-face and (buzzword alert) "extreme". Yes, more and more are exercising their rights with less than elegance. But the gun-controllers own this "problem", because they produced it from nothing. Who really thinks, seriously, that the gun-rights folks just up and decided one day that they needed to start carrying carbines to the local coffee shop to make a point? That's a politician's logic**, not that of a rational person who can see simple cause and effect. The aggravating displays we see now are an absolutely natural consequence of having been hounded, marginalized, and even dehumanized for decades by people who absolutely would NOT leave them alone, despite their never having harmed or threatened anyone, and despite having been promised many times along the way that "all we want is..."  Consider the pious (and very vocal) "reasonableness" of the idea that we must deny guns to "the mentally ill":  this is certainly designed to sound unassailably agreeable, but consider that these same people are also pushing the idea that simply wanting a gun is evidence of mental illness in and of itself.  (This is a great strategy, of course, because the disarmers can argue both that any pushback means that you must somehow want to hand carbines to the insane, and also that your obvious paranoia at being thus persecuted must be indicative of a pathology of your own.)

The disarmers' outright lies, the deliberate misdirections, the procedural shenanigans, the manufactured "stats", the nearly continuous astroturfing...and above all, the sanctimonious insistence that you, simply because you are a "gunnie", are somehow responsible for the actions of others and an enabler of future evil... All this, simply to provide empty absolution for a mind-set that cannot conceive of a non-political approach to a social problem. 

Jeez, I'm frankly amazed at how polite the gunnies have remained, for all these years.

Yes, something has to change. The concept of gun control, as forcible prior restraint on those who haven't harmed anyone, is morally repugnant on its face.  As "crime control" it is an absolute bomb, despite what you may have heard from the propaganda factories. And as any sort of "solution" for the disaster of mass shootings, how is it not the absolute height of irony and cynicism to advocate further disarming the victims when it's clear to anyone paying attention that the perpetrators simply ignore the law entirely?

Given all that, my own question is this: for anyone who believes in gun control as a deterrent to crime, where does your faith come from?  I mean seriously: why, exactly, do you think that anything that is proposed now, will somehow accomplish what the thousands of gun laws already on the books have failed to do?  Is it because a politician told you so? Is it because you believe that the NRA is hopelessly politicized and in it only for itself, while the Brady Center, SPLC, and Everytown for Gun Safety have only the best public interests at heart? Is it because you suffer from the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect, or perhaps a simple hatred of The Other who you don't understand?

Which, ultimately, brings me back to the beginning. The biggest problem we have--as a society--is that we have created a world in which people outsource their empathy, and their morality, to others, rather than retaining it for themselves. That "we" are willing to outsource these core functions of our humanity to politicians, is chilling beyond words to anyone who has studied the history of genocide and mass atrocity. (And to be clear, here, a whole lot of "gunnies" do that too--drives me crazy to see it.) In such a world, an event as incomprehensibly nihilistic as Sandy Hook, or UCC, or Columbine, seems not only plausible but inevitable.

How to turn things back toward sanity?

Well, trying to remove, reduce, or control guns is doomed to failure, and will just get more people killed. And it does nothing to strike the root.

Arming the peasantry may well help a little by giving people a chance to fight back in desperate circumstances, but in and of itself that is not going to reverse sociopathic nihilism either. At best it will displace it, with an elevated threat of tactical failure.

Ultimately, the problem is in our minds. No law, no rule, no attempt to control other people against their will, will ever fix it. We have to take our empathy back, each one of us, and not let it go again.  (I think it was Jung who said "The salvation of the world consists in the salvation of the individual soul."  I'm no sort of religious man, but I don't think you have to be, to recognize the truth in that.)

Some say this is impossible, that it would be too much work, and in the end people will sooner accept devolving into civil war. Well, maybe. It sure looks that way some days. But I can't let myself believe that it has to be that way.  If nothing else, I have to answer to my daughters, and I want them to see me trying to build the world as I want to see it, from the ground up. 

* This information is usually available right away, but is drowned out underneath all the sanctimonious grandstanding, and is often never reported in the mainstream at all.
** You know, politicians:  those folks who dream of a day when their approval ratings might make it up to their hat size.


MamaLiberty said...

Wonderful post, Kevin. I do have a small suggestion, however.

"Which, ultimately, brings me back to the beginning. The biggest problem we have--as a society--is that we have created a world in which people outsource their empathy, and their morality, to others, rather than retaining it for themselves. "

Yes, people have outsourced their empathy and morality. More important maybe, or maybe the same thing, they have outsourced their natural, inborn authority and responsibility for themselves to others. The idea that this is normal and necessary, that others can and should exercise authority over them, has been indoctrinated into people for most of recorded history... so it is not any real wonder why so many people defer to kings, priests and governments as if that were the only option - regardless of the evidence that tyranny, murder and destruction of people and their property is the inevitable result.

So, that tyranny will continue in all its forms until people stop allowing it; stop believing that anyone has legitimate authority to control them, stop believing that abdicating their personal authority absolves them of of responsibility for what they choose and what they do. Only then will peace and prosperity become the norm.

I never cease to wonder why so many people can see and understand this authority/responsibility necessity regarding their guns... but so often can't, or won't, see it as applicable to the rest of their lives, and the lives of others.

But it's a start. :)

Kevin Wilmeth said...

Excellent point, ML. I tend to think of outsourcing authority as the basic statism problem, and can overlook it in plain sight. I might argue that a loss of empathy and morality can lead directly to ceding one's authority, but I wholeheartedly agree that loss of authority is core to the problem.

It was recently that I had an epiphany moment about empathy, and I seem to be focusing on it as a result. A person without empathy is a horrifying, dangerous thing, and fully capable of either committing or supporting atrocity. It seems an important point to make, and one that people I've talked to haven't really considered before. Here's hoping!

Paul Bonneau said...

This idea of a licensing process merely to own a gun is an extension of the mentality of concealed-carry licenses. The question in either case is, "Do I need permission from some bureaucrat, to defend my life or my family?" The moral answer is clearly "no". Certainly many people do grudgingly put up with the process in order to exercise their inherent right, but to me that is a mistake. It is in effect, agreeing to enslavement, as if one is the property of another.

As well, the draconian penalties for ignoring these bureaucratic diktats, these victimless "crimes", show the lack of concern of the gun prohibitionists, for the ruination of families via imprisonment. It certainly calls into question their crocodile tears for the victims of the shooting incidents.

Another point is the notion that there are lists of people who should be disarmed. This can only be justified by admitting those people's lives are worth less than the rest of us, since guns are owned by people to preserve their life. Prosecuting an ex-felon for robbing a bank makes sense - that is an actual crime - but for having a gun? Lots of ex felons do not rob banks, but they may not defend their families?

The states (via "constitutional carry" or unpermitted carry) have been moving away from licensing, recognizing it makes no sense for a DA to charge the victim of an assault for defending her life with a gun she didn't get permission to carry. The notion of licensing for merely owning one is a huge step away from this commonsense trend. It's saying, "2.3 million Americans in jails, mostly for no good reason, is not enough!" Where is the empathy of the gun prohibitionists? I don't see any evidence of it.

Kevin Wilmeth said...

Boy, no arguments there, Paul.

FYI, I chose deliberately not to focus on the "licensing process" concept for two reasons: 1) Another commenter on his post had already done that, and done it well; [S] indicated clearly that he had just learned something he hadn't known... and 2) I wanted deliberately to move past anything specific and work at a higher level--at least in part because of my knowledge of [S].

Frankly, I suspect that [S] only even mentioned the idea out of a sense of immediate frustration. He's clear-headed enough that such an idea would almost certainly fall apart of its own accord as he moved past frustration into "okay, so what do we do?".

MamaLiberty said...

Kevin, I do hope you will share your friend's response to this. The "gun grabbers" and far too many of the fence sitters say they want a dialog, discussion, debate on the issues... but almost none of them actually do without instant agreement and capitulation to their demands first... or instead.

I've distilled it down pretty much to this when I talk to fence sitters.

Examine your premise. I won't discuss the "issues" until we are clear on the premise we each work from. My premise is self ownership/responsibility. If they won't discuss that... then we have nothing to talk about.