The Conversation About Guns: Can We?

More of This

There are many kinds of guns, and many ways to categorize them. There are many accessories. There are many ways to license, train, and certify owners. There are many enforcement strategies for laws. There are many ways to restrict the gun buying population, each with pros and cons. There are several laws currently being discussed in Congress, four in the top viewed on Congress.gov. Talk about any of these compared to current laws. Bring up pros and cons using relevant facts. Use meaningful comparisons when talking about policies in other places. Do your best to observe the Principle of Charity. Congratulations, you’re actually having the Conversation About Guns.

There are also ways to protect schools that could be implemented. There are many ways to fix mental health, and by extension health care in general, that could be implemented. There are cultural problems which may or may not involve technology that could be partially responsible for mental health problems. Any of these could be thought of as Solutions that should accompany, but definitely not replace, the Conversation About Guns.
Less of This
Bring up the ages of student protesters. Bring up the fact that some, but definitely not all, protests were sanctioned by the schools. Accuse someone of being a “crisis actor.” Accuse students of being coached by parents or CNN when they appear on TV. Assert that some of those calling for gun legislation have inadequate knowledge of guns. Bring up obesity. Bring up texting and driving. Tell students to, instead of protesting, “just be nice to the weird kid” as though you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teen in the volatile but ultimately meaningless High School social hierarchy. Tell students that their opinion doesn’t count because Tide Pods were a viral meme that many joked about but very few actually went through with eating. Talk about how you’re really going to withstand the US Armed Forces with your little home arsenal in the event of some martial law situation. Talk about how other countries have gun deaths. Talk about how other countries have violence. Talk about how other countries have guns. Talk about violent countries having strict gun laws without acknowledging other factors. Talk about how Australia’s ban didn’t completely stop shooting deaths, therefore it wasn’t effective, even though mass shootings (the relevant category of crime) are greatly reduced. Talk about a mass stabbing that took place in 2014, but don’t mention that it was carried out by ten people or that it happened in China. Talk about truck attacks. Talk about a terrorist stabbing attack in FL that resulted in one death and how hypocritical that the media isn’t reporting on it, while sharing a link to a national media source. Cite the 2nd Amendment, capitalizing SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED to let people know you mean business before expressing that you do not wish to discuss the matter further. Talk about how God isn’t allowed in school, as though that were true or relevant. Talk about how violent media are to blame for school shootings. Talk about how the MSM love mass shootings. Talk about how companies refusing to give breaks to NRA members is unfair. Compare that to bakers refusing to bake same sex wedding cakes. Talk about poor parenting as though it were a one size fits all solution. Talk about beating children as a practice that would have prevented the most recent or all school shootings. Talk about how violent Chicago or some other major city is, and mention that they have “strict gun control,” while ignoring all other factors that make the crime rates much higher. Incorrectly point out that protesters are asking for fewer rights rather than more. Bring up abortion as though those statistics count the same as other death stats. Talk about the misuse of “assault,” and how it’s a scare word used by the gun-ignorant.
Talk about any of the above, and you are preventing progress in the Conversation About Guns. You are not helping. At best, you’re misguidedly trying to raise awareness of another issue. That issue may be a real problem that we should consider , and it may even be something you feel strongly about. Maybe you did just wake up this morning and decide that you wanted to crusade against texting and driving. OK, benefit of the doubt. However, if, on your crusade, you use the pretense of the Conversation About Guns to draw people in, now you’re doing something dishonest. You’re giving pro-gun people, the people that will do anything to avoid actually having the Conversation About Guns, an out. At worst, you’re doing it on purpose because you know you don’t want to have the Conversation About Guns.
Conclusion
This article is less of a call for specific policies, and more of a sincere request for people to try to approach the subject reasonably. I’ve been seeing almost nothing but items from the second section here on social media, and I’m really dismayed at the state of discourse. Wherever you’re at on this or any issue, try to operate in good faith. There are sincere people out there who want to hear different opinions on the issue. The whole reason for this post is that the opinions that people are sharing about guns is overwhelmingly off topic, or fallacious in some other way.
If you believe a certain thing, you are probably pretty good at pointing out where opponents to your position are putting forth bad arguments. People often have trouble doing this to their own position. They see something supporting their position or narrative and they’ll insta-like and probably share it if they’re so inclined, without looking for inconsistencies in the argument presented. Likewise, they’ll be quick to scrutinize something that doesn’t fit with their beliefs. If they feel strongly enough about it, they might endeavor to correct poor misguided OP.
Since I discovered /r/magicskyfairy, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to look at my own positions with a more critical eye. For those not aware, /r/magicskyfairy is a subreddit dedicated to taking the piss out of neckbeard atheism, that hardcore brand of atheism and anti-theism that regards all believers as ignorant morons, glorifies science communicators such as Sagan, and celebrates a lifestyle full of STEM, marijuana, and socially progressive politics. When I first stumbled upon it, I was kind of horrified, I kept saying, “hey, that’s not fair,” before I realized what the point of it all was. It allowed me to, just for a second, imagine what some of these memes look like to sincere believers who don’t fit the paradigm they seem to describe. It’s really unfair and shitty to have your own position misrepresented, so why should I do that to others? Since then, I’ve tried to have a more charitable view, or at least, not to take cheap, “lmao fundies r dumb!” shots. I’m still working on it, apparently.
Anyway, to sum up, try to stay on topic if you’re going to weigh in on things. Be aware of your own ability to engage in faulty thinking, and be kind to those you disagree with.
Advertisements

Destroy Your Rifle Because, Heck, We Gotta Do Something! #OneLess

You’ve probably seen this on social media: some responsible owner of a rifle, probably an AR-15, does a little speech about Parkland and how We Need To Do Something and how Thoughts And Prayers aren’t getting shit done, all the while holding a rifle. They also talk about how much they enjoy shooting, whether for hunting or at the range, and how much they approve of the Second Amendment. Then, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with gun control advocates, they destroy their rifle so that “there’s one less rifle out there.” There have been several stories about this, and even a hashtag, #OneLess.

For a gun control advocate, this sounds like a ringing endorsement. People are willing to part with their rifles, which they’ve gotten so much enjoyment from, ostensibly because their minds have been recently changed, and drastically so. They now believe that the capability of these weapons to kill large numbers of people quickly is something that is a net danger to society. Further, they feel strongly enough about this view that they’re willing to destroy one or more rather expensive items. Forget the sentimental value or even the safety and security aspect that responsible rifle ownership may bring, think about the monetary investment. An entry level AR goes for around $600 according to a quick search, but can quickly run into the thousands with mods. Have you ever straight up burned several hundred dollars for a cause you believed in?

As a side note, if you click the Shopping tab on Google and search AR-15, it shows no results.

But…

As nice as this seems, is there a downside? It feels a touch virtue-signal-y, doesn’t it. See the above stories, all major publications, perhaps making it sound like it’s much more widespread that it really is. I’m not one to cry #FakeNews, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that this is completely fabricated. I’m sure there are a number of sincere people that feel strongly, and whether you agree with them or not, you have to acknowledge their dedication. But I want to ask, what are the actual numbers? Further, what number of people doing this warrants a national or international (in the case of the Guardian and other overseas papers) story? The other thing that is making me think is the nature of the story. The story is that people are reacting to another news story in ways that have gone viral. These kinds of stories pre-date social media, but they seem much more prominent now that social media has permeated modern life. I haven’t looked into these questions, maybe I’ll take a closer look in a future post.

Is This Really Helping?

This is like the anti-gun version of those utterly stupid and pointless vids of ppl burning their NFL gear b/c they were taking a “principled stand” against peaceful protests they neither understood nor wanted to understand. Funny, literally all of the people I saw sharing or promoting this view on social media kind of forgot about it a couple months later. Seriously, I saw people disavowing their team using words like shameful and disrespectful to describe their team. I saw people burning their season tickets, and opportunistic people asking, “hey, if you’re not going to use those season tix, pass them this way.” By the time of the Superbowl, everyone had seemed to forgotten about it.

But in this case, destroying a rifle reduces the total number of rifles, so in theory it’s helpful. But aren’t there easier ways to achieve that? In theory, aren’t responsibly cared-for rifles not a significant danger to society? If you’re a responsible owner, you’re already doing the right thing. The idea that your weapon could make its way out of the secure safe that you keep it in and get into the hands of a deranged individual is rather hard to believe.

And Now For Some Whataboutery

In the wake of all these gun destroying vids, there’s this woman. In a three minute video, she spends like two minutes talking about guns and how important it is for people to be safe, and how guns are dangerous. Then, in a move of the most egregious whataboutism, she takes out a hammer and smashes a couple cell phones, saying that cell phones cause more deaths than semiautomatic rifles.

While she might not be wrong, she’s guilty of whataboutery. Changing the subject so as to avoid talking about the actual subject at hand. There’s a big problem with people using their cell phones while they drive. It results in a great number of accidents and fatalities. To point out such a fact is not controversial. However, it’s plainly dishonest to talk about guns for two minutes only to shift over to this talking point.

The conversation is about guns. The vids with regular people in their backyards with a rifle in frame are about guns. Pointing out that cell phones play a part in more fatalities than guns is not helpful to the conversation. Yes people need to pay attention when they’re driving, but to point out such a fact does nothing to help the problem of mass shootings. And we’re talking about mass shootings! Why are you bringing up this other, admittedly serious, but unrelated issue? Are you trying to steer the conversation away from guns? It certainly looks like it. I think this is far worse than any mass media attempt to promote the rifle destroyers. Because in the first case, they’re at least talking about the issue, whereas in the second case, the video maker seeks to shift the conversation away from guns, when it’s obvious to anyone who with a halfway decent understanding of the data that guns are a problem. And talking about cell phones, while true, is not helping that particular cause.

My Argument is Invalid, According to This Meme

I saw this on my FB feed, and I just can’t even. I’m super butthurt by this, and I’m a sensitive little snowflake that can’t handle facts. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s have a look at the facts and reason based argument that got me so poopypants:

 

Yes, one of those brilliantly constructed arguments in the form of a shareable image. Line by line, I am BTFO by the logic and facts. Let’s look at it line by line.

We start off with some basic facts about things that are illegal. There’s very little to dispute here, the little I will address below. This is a version of the salesperson’s “yes ladder” where you ask your mark a series of questions to which the answer is an obvious yes. You like keeping your family safe right? You want a car that has high safety ratings right? You like money, right?

Thing is, these aren’t all entirely true. That last item, about felons owning guns, is not exactly open and shut. Some states have a hard and fast rule about felons, particularly those whose convictions haven’t been expunged. But some don’t, and some have distinctions for nonviolent offenders. In many cases, the claim holds up, so I’d call it mostly true.

These are both noncontroversial, but look at the wording. “Shooting people indiscriminately”? Is that the way it’s worded on the books? I mean, yeah, assault with a deadly weapon, possible attempted murder as addressed above, but “indiscriminately”? It’s lazy writing. The word indiscriminately adds nothing. Look at that second one, “Using firearms in a criminal manner.” Could that be interpreted to include irresponsible gun ownership? It’s kind of a stretch, I think it’s written to mean people doing stickemups or drivebys or shooty-shoots or whatever it is that gun criminals do.

We continue on the Yes Ladder, but the focus changes from pointing out illegal actions to a broad, and rather speculative, statement about what criminals do to acquire guns. Notice also that the font got smaller from the eye-catching first line. I don’t know what criminals to to get their hands on guns, but I don’t imagine that it involves background checks.

So far, it looks like they’re setting up the following argument:

  1. Gun laws intend to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
  2. Criminals do not follow gun laws.
  3. Therefore, gun laws are ineffective.

If they stopped here, they might be doing a poor job of representing the relevant facts, but at least they would be sticking to facts. Even so, there are problems with this argument. Premise 1 is true, or likely true, but look at where they go in Premises 2 and 3. There’s no logical connection between P1 and the others, it’s a non sequitur. Further, P2 could be applied to any law, thus rendering it useless. But enough about the meme so far, let’s see where they go with it.

Now they take a drastic turn, imploring you to explain three things. Look at that first one, “how criminals will follow new laws.” Now go back to our discussion about P2 in the previous section. Criminals don’t follow laws, so why would they follow new gun laws? So far they’ve only implied that their position includes the premise that laws are only effective if they are followed by criminals, which is silly by definition. When you realize that that is the core of their position, it falls apart.

The second thing we are charged to explain is how new laws will make us safer. This actually can be done, but you wouldn’t think that by looking at the rest of this meme. By defining effective laws in the narrow way that they do, they make this sound like an impossible ask, but it’s not. New laws, along with more effective law enforcement strategies, better safety education, and probably a whole lot of other things can actually make us safer.

Finally, in much smaller type, it asks us to explain how restricting law-abiding citizens even more will make us safer. Even more? Like, when will it end? These persecuted, put-upon, law-abiding citizens are already doing enough! Now they want even more? The nerve. This is functionally equivalent to the previous one, but they amp up the sympathy for the law-abiding gun owners here.

All these questions would seem to be asking for a conversation to start, if a little strident and in your face about it. If it ended here, it could be seen as taking a firm stand in the gun conversation while omitting some important details and misstating the effects of legislation. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s one more line, and it’s a doozy.

Mic. Da-rop. The final line of this screed supposes that the reader hasn’t made an attempt to answer the three challenges above and thus declares a flawless victory. This is disgusting. I can understand a message being one sided, but this goes the further step to being an imagined one sided conversation, complete with a knockout punch at the end. I used to have imaginary one sided conversations with people as a child (now I do it in blog form), where I would convince my parents or my teachers that I was right all along about some thing, casting myself as a relentless attorney questioning them until they concede to my irresistible logic, at which point I declare, “I rest my case.” I can scarcely imagine a more fragile and intellectually dishonest take than what is presented here.

In case it wasn’t obvious, all the “I’m butthurt” stuff at the beginning was fake. I am disappointed that people are sharing things like this and passing it off as smart debate. It’s very telling about this age of information. First, that there are a lot of low-information people that have not bothered to learn what makes a compelling argument, or how to look at both sides of an issue. Second, that there are some slightly clever, but ultimately dishonest people willing to exploit the first group.

This problem makes it clear as day that we need to get better arguments. We need people to learn at least a basic foundation of epistemology. We need people to be able to identify fallacious arguments from their own side, and not just from their opponents. I’ve talked about this before in We Might Be in Trouble and The Principle of Charity.

The image we looked at here is not designed to win new supporters. It’s specifically written to prop up those who are already enthusiastically against any new gun legislation. Worst of all, it tells those people, “You’re right. You dont need to listen to those libs. Their argument is invalid.”

Look, if you’re a pro 2A person and you don’t want new gun laws, I’m not having a go at you specifically. My aim is to improve the quality of conversation. Don’t share the above image, it’s trash. Maybe next I’ll find a garbage meme that takes the other side of this just to show I’m not being partisan. I’m on the side of having good reasons for what you believe, and using the best information available to shape policy.

In Defense of Personal Experience

Tonight I responded to a question in a Facebook group about meditation. The questioner had read about mindfulness, and thought he had a good understanding of the practice, and wanted to know if it was worth it to spend the time in practice. Basically he was asking, hey I know that there are benefits to be had from living in a space with greater awareness, is there any use in cultivating that awareness?

I responded with my personal anecdote, that I’m a semi-regular meditator and that I observe great benefits in my cognitive and emotional life from maintaining a regular practice. The kind of benefits I described, I soon realized, were something that the questioner could only get from trying the practice on his own.

It got me thinking. It was like The Matrix, you can’t be told what it is, you can only be shown. I realized that that is very similar to the description given by those who claim to have had spiritual experiences, or many other experiences that can only be accessed by direct experience.

When someone tells me that God talked to them as a result of their prayer or reflection, I have been quick to balk at this claim. In view of my own experience with meditation, I have to consider, if they’re sincere about their claim, that they’ve had the experience they describe.

Mindfulness practices have clinical studies supporting their usefulness. Prayer does not, in fact the oft cited study on intercessory prayer finds that it doesn’t help those prayed for. One thing the study doesn’t address is the effects of prayer on the one who prays. This is often overlooked because we like to make snarky comments about how prayers don’t make the cancer go away, or make the amputated limb grow back, or make the school shooting not happen. I imagine that the one who says a prayer sincerely makes an effort to put their intention into it with a spirit of reverence. This could be seen as functionally equal to sitting for ten minutes and focusing on the breath.

What am I saying here? Does this mean that the next time someone testifies to you that you have to take them at their word? Not exactly. Does it mean that someone’s personal experience means that you need to believe their metaphysical claims? Definitely not. It does mean that we should recognize that other people may have different practices, but we are striving toward common goals of improving the life that we have.

The Shape of Water

I watched The Shape of Water, the latest Guillermo del Toro film. It’s about Elisa, a mute woman who lives above a movie theater and works the night shift cleaning at a government science facility. Before and after work, she visits her neighbor, an older bachelor who is trying to resurrect his career as a commercial artist. She brings him food and they watch movies together. At work, her best friend is Zelda, who chats with Elisa about her husband and her family life.

The film is set in the early 1960s, in a world that can be described as “when America was great.” Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a Heroic Alpha Male, a total badass who singlehandedly wrangled the Creature from the jungles of South America. The Creature, played by Doug Jones, looks otherworldly and is thought to be a menace. Elisa and Zelda are tasked with cleaning the room that houses the tank in which the Creature is kept. From the first time she sees the Creature, Elisa is fascinated with him. By degrees, their relationship develops with boiled eggs and Golden Age Hollywood showtunes.

This movie has, without a doubt, the very best and most affectionate human/fish love scene in film. Seriously though, there is major commentary about love, about identity, and about people standing up for themselves.

This is an amazing movie. It’s very weird, and very beautiful. Sally Hawkins is outstanding, and Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins give excellent performances. This is a story about finding love even though you’re different, about standing with those you’re close to, and about fighting against forces that would remove the unique things from the world.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A very well done film, with some truly memorable acting performances. Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is full of humor, pain, and restraint at various times; a masterclass, for sure. Woody Harrelson gives an excellent character turn with lots of heart; a performance that keeps on giving. But the hidden gem that you only discover in the third act is Sam Rockwell’s performance as Jason Dixon, a stereotypical racist redneck cop that has the biggest arc of any character.

This film is written very well, except for a few times when characters seem much wittier than they should be, or a certain phrase pops up word for word from two characters with no real justification. There’s a hell of a lot more comedy than you’d expect from a film about a mother demanding justice for a murdered child.

The film is well shot, with a handheld camera used during a particularly unhinged action sequence, giving you a sense of the loss of control.

It does have a slight twinge of Oscar Bait to it, and it’s a bit on the nose with the social commentary, especially in the first act. As we go further into the story, the characters grow on you, thanks to the amazing acting performances by the supporting cast as well as the three mentioned at the top. This film doesn’t telegraph where it’s going. In many cases, when you get to a certain plot point, the past several beats make perfect sense.

In summary, this is a superb film. The flaws I mentioned are nitpicks and very minor. Definitely recommend.

Arpaio Pardon: Smart Strategy, Dumb Arguments

Image result for arpaio pardon

With the Arpaio pardon, Trump got major exposure. Bigger than normal, because of everyone watching the storm. He said that this was by design. When this happened, the response was vocal and widespread from his critics. By releasing the news on Friday, critics had the whole weekend to be outraged about it and spread memes about what an awful person Arpaio is and how the pardon is bullshit and on and on. It’s the sort of news that you don’t have to be rabidly anti-Trump to have a distaste for. This was also by design.

Then Monday Trump defends himself in a press conference. Again, high visibility seems to be part of the strategy. In the press conference, he mentioned pardons granted by Presidents Obama and Clinton that a reasonable person may have found questionable. In the case of Clinton’s pardons, they look especially suspect. People still remember celebrating the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, so that might not have landed as well for Trump.

Sidebar: 2 things about this argument:

1. This is the old, “your guy did this, so it’s ok that my guy did that” thing that facebook political debates are made of. the talking points go no further than to point out something kind of like the current issue having been done by the other party. Emphasis on kind of like because these counters are made with no thought of the context. For example, defending any president’s perceived or actual manipulation of the media by saying Lincoln did that and worse.

2. Why is POTUS making arguments this way to the public? Obviously, because it lends itself very well to vids with banners at the top and bottom on facebook saying “TRUMP DESTROYS JOURNALIST ON ARPAIO PARDON.” In other words, they play well to the rubes. BTW these arguments made me think again about what to make of this pardon, so I’m included here. However, I’m sure there’s more to it than this tit for tat bullshit.

This whole play, the timing of the announcement, the weekend of letting opponents spin their wheels, and the counterexamples on Monday, was kind of brilliant in the Scott Adams, Trump-as-master-persuader-playing-5D-Connect-Four sense. Think about how this plays on your Facebook feed. Friday, the pardon drops, anti-Trumpers lose their minds. Memes about what a shit Arpaio is flood the social mediaverse. Everyone thinks this is a bad thing for Trump to have done.  Two examples: Image result for arpaio pardon memesImage result for arpaio pardon memes

The whole time, Trump supporters – ostensibly still a significant portion of the population – are seeing these memes and maybe holding their tongues. Maybe a few of the older folks in the crowd share stories of being upset at a Clinton pardon they hated or something like that. For the most part, anti-Trump people think the pardon is a complete disaster and no one can imagine how Trump will recover from this misstep.

Then Monday comes, and the presser. Trump delivers that old chestnut of bullshit political arguments, cherished by all who refuse to examine events except in contrast to how “the other side” did this or that. Supporters cheer. Antis, for the most part, look at their shoes, not quite sure what to make of these counterpoints.

And there it is. If you stop looking into this topic you probably think that Trump wasn’t so wrong to pardon the former Sheriff, and that the douchebag liberals who spent the weekend bashing Trump for this have no idea about historical context.

UPDATE: It looks like the comparisons were not so apt. The biggest differences appear to be:

1. While the other questionable pardons were for people who had already served some time, Arpaio hasn’t yet, so the pardon is not merely saying he’s paid what he owes already, this pardon is a shield against any punishment whatever.

2. Arpaio defied a court order, which is what led to his conviction. By pardoning him, Trump is siding against the judge that issued it and the rule of law in general.

UPDATE 2: Ben Shapiro had some comments to support the pardon, in view of the above two points, or at least the second one, and it sounds reasonable. More to think about here.

This looks like another one of those issues that both sides will tally for their side without considering the very real counterpoints to their talking points. I can see this being one of the many “reasons to impeach Trump” on lists that are probably already circulating the social mediasphere. Conversely, it will also probably feature on lists of “great accomplishments” that supporters will be sharing around in the months and years ahead. The truth is clearly somewhere in between.