Deciding to Freelance?

Spoilers for Battlefield Earth

I remember watching Battlefield Earth and seeing the part where John Travolta hatched a plan to figure out what the Earth people’s favorite food was. He starves Barry Pepper for like two days and then arranges for him to escape. He observes Barry Pepper as he, desperately hungry, kills and eats a rat, the first edible thing he encountered. He concludes that the favorite food of humans must be rat.

I remember thinking what a stupid idea it was for John Travolta’s character to think that way. And they were supposed to be these superior alien creatures. A race of beings that are better than humans in every way, except they employ this toddler logic to try to learn about Barry Pepper and the other humans. Aren’t these supposed to be conquerors? Isn’t this their whole bag? Shouldn’t they be really good by now, at subjugating the dominant life forms on the different planets? Of course, the story needs John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and the rest of the aliens to make some errors, for our human heroes to exploit and win the day. That’s how this story is set up. But you would think, by this time in their space imperialism, they would have figured out how to solve the problems involved with resource extraction, including uprisings from your enslaved subjects. They would have a book. When people say that someone is by-the-book, they’re referring to bureaucratic structures, where every action is done because that’s what it says to do in the book. The inhabitants of this world have farmed out decision making to a book and have a hard time recognizing nuance that doesn’t conform to the narratives they’ve been indoctrinated with. But they’re not by the book, about such a basic thing as subjugating the subjects, no; John Travolta schemes, planning to hang his hat, career-wise, on getting the Earth mining operation under control. He styles himself a maverick in a way that we recognize as classic dumb-guy behavior, “Everyone else who’s spent years learning about this is wrong, my instincts are correct!” This, coming from the race of superior beings? It’s pretty close to a bedrock statement in any scientific or philosophic endeavor: data fucking owns instinct. As cool kid’s philosopher Ben Shapiro might say, facts don’t care about your feelings. I don’t think you get anywhere near being a superior race if this vain fallacious way of thinking is on the menu.

The Point is, I thought that was an incredibly ignorant set of premises and conclusion, reflecting a point of view that is not in touch.

Bernie Leads Among Military Donors

This kind of thing makes my heart happy. In the Navy, it felt like the culture was permeated with conservative framing. Military uses a lot of reactionary rhetoric to inspire people: appeals to tradition, fighting a savage enemy, conformity with the in group. Conformity is a massive part of it, teaching people to read the uniforms of others for rank markings and awards, so you know how to address them. Lots of time spent learning how to stand in rows and march and render a salute. This does something to your values, I think. You find out that you gain respect and status in the group if you can do conformity better than your peers. This conditioning is powerful and it exerts influence in any group of military members.

However, this stat would suggest that those military members do not hold the values of the dominant workplace culture. It suggests that there are a lot of people who don’t agree with that bullshit.

Once, in a meeting, a senior leader mentioned what he thought was the Big Problem, at least in our command: people not opening up to the leadership about personal issues. A true leader is someone that you can go to, and few had that kind of trust for their leaders. The idea that someone under your care feels that they cannot go to you for help, that should be very troubling for any leader. Part of that fear is fueled by this culture stuff.

The quiet person in your division? The one that doesn’t join the conversation about which movie star has the best tits, or the person that doesn’t laugh at your five millionth rendition of The Only Joke About Trans People; they’re not talking to you in words, but in donation dollars. #NotMeUs

Woodstock? What’s that?

Me: so I’ve been listening to this podcast episode about Woodstock ’99.

My son: What was that?

Me: well, it was a music festival celebrating the 30th anniversary of Woodstock.

Son: What’s Woodstock?

*Pause while I resist the urge to shame someone for not knowing a major cultural event that happened 45 years before he was born. I realize that people have different frames of reference and time is a huge one of those – The past is a Foreign Country – so, I answer*

Me: Well, Woodstock was a music festival that took place in 1969…

Moral: Don’t assume that the person you’re talking to has all the same background info as you.

Also, I realized that, as huge as “Woodstock” as a cultural monolith was to my generation, that status did not carry over. The reason it was a cultural monolith to my generation had to do with 60s nostalgia, which also led to the revivals. The reason it didn’t carry over is most likely the bad taste that the revival festivals left in people’s mouths. The two Woodstock fests in the 90s, ’94, and especially ’99, were marked by bad experiences by concertgoers, including riots and fires at the ’99 event.

The Wondrous Motivational Power of Spite

Couple months ago, a person I know had a racist pout on Facebook because some of his coworkers spoke Spanish and he does not. For anyone curious, it was your garden variety, “I shouldn’t be foreign in my own country!” kind of rant that shitty people have from time to time. He made sure to specify that, for him, documentation status doesn’t matter. This clarification is actually worse than the “just the illegals, legal immigrants are fine w/me” caveat that most anti-immigrant folks will point out. Not that it matters, but he was working construction in Texas.

I was pretty disgusted and I talked to a mutual friend about it, who talked to him. His explanation was that he was frustrated when he wrote the post in question and evidently didn’t see the harm in it. It struck me as very Nick Sandmann, very shitlord 2016, a POV that is still getting a fuck ton of play in 2019 much to our dismay; dismissive with an air that the whole thing’s a joke.

I now have to acknowledge that, while I recognize the shittiness of the above sentiments, I myself am monolingual. Sure, I took Spanish in high school. I dabbled a little in learning more with language learning apps. I’d even lived in Taiwan for three years, where I had built up a little bit of Chinese. Still, I wouldn’t feel comfortable conversing in anything but English. So, while I talk the talk, I realized that in the same circumstances I’d be just as incoherent and useless at communicating as the racist poster in my feed.

So, I decided to do a thing. I re-downloaded the language app and got back to it. For the last few months I’ve been spending a few minutes every day. It’s a great mental habit. Someday I hope to be able to listen to the Spanish station on the radio and follow, like really follow what is being said or sang. I want to watch soccer with Spanish announcers and keep up.

Spite is a completely legit reason to do something; you needn’t always be so pure or altruistic or noble in your motivation; you can do a thing purely because fuck that person or people. I usually think of things done out of spite as hurtful. And this is true, a lot of things done in spite are hurtful, usually when it’s something done directly to another person.

What if it was possible to do something out of spite and not be cruel or hurtful? Spite, as I’m using it here, only speaks to the motivation of an act. If you can do a thing that is actually helpful out of spite, then you might be using spite for right. It should be pointed out that it’s possible to be helpful in a way that causes harm to others.

The catalyst for my study habit is nothing more than unmitigated, pitying, sneering spite for that dipshit in my feed. Fuck his presumptive-ass framing of the world:

  1. Everything should be accessible to me and if it’s not I am personally attacked.
  2. Other people’s communication is an assault on me if I can’t understand it.
  3. The United States is entirely MY country and not YOURS if you speak a different language.
  4. If you’re a natural born citizen and you don’t speak English, you’re less American than I am.
  5. My personal comfort is more important than your desire to communicate in my presence.

Fuckk. All. That. Fuck that whole way of looking at the world.

There are good, even great reasons for studying another language, not the least of which is that my son started doing Chinese on the app. Those reasons live in the higher-reasoning parts of the brain, where ideas really do matter. They’re who you aspire to be, they’re where you dream. Spite comes right in the front door of where you live. Fuck you, I’m doing this. It feels good. Do it enough and those better angels of your nature start noticing. Other higher-order benefits start kicking in. So do a good thing, and tell yourself that you’re doing it because fuck them.

Thoughts on NFL Protests

A friend posted a question about the NFL protests on Facebook and I decided to tell the story of my evolving position. I’ve written about this before in my post on Melissa Schlag, but this is less about the players and more about my experience with the story.

First Response: Emotions and Common Narrative

My initial hot take of the situation was, “you can do it, free speech and all, but you oughtn’t, see, because the flag symbolizes the more perfect union we’re all striving for, and not any particular individual/group in power at any level.” I formulated that opinion without learning anything about Kaep’s purpose or the data that informed it. If I recall, most of the media stories were about the outcry to the protest rather than the conditions being protested. Those stories would mention that they’re protesting Police Brutality without going into it.

The outcry really is the story because of how sacred we hold the ritual of standing and placing hands over hearts during the anthem at sporting events. Most adult Americans have formative experiences of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, another custom that is officially not required but unofficially mandatory. Cold War era propaganda has worked very well on these generations: people who claim they wouldn’t hurt a fly stand up and cheer at viral vids of children attacking other children for sitting during the Pledge, or adult men assaulting people for disrespecting the flag. To be honest, I couldn’t resist having a little emotional reaction when I first heard about people not standing during the anthem.

My understanding of Police Brutality or systemic racism at the time was kind of both-sidesist; sure there were a few bad apples in law enforcement, but there were plenty of black criminals that were making destructive choices, and what could you do? Cops have to protect themselves, right? Also, there were a number of black people simply playing the victim card while not examining the behavior in their own community. This understanding was shaped by consuming mass media and a few rational skeptic/enlightened centrist voices on YouTube. In short, it was very surface, very low effort, and it also let many off the hook. Still, I supported the idea of doing a protest, misguided though I felt it was.

After forming my initial opinion, I defended their right to protest without seeking out new information. To those who wanted to make standing mandatory, I said, “is it patriotism if it’s forced?” and I congratulated myself for protecting free speech.

Look Deeper

Eventually, I learned more about things like redlining, mass incarceration, even eugenics programs that took place in the US as late as the 1970s. I started seeing that the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, while significant, were not total. The documentary 13th on Netflix gives a good introduction to many of these things, particularly mass incarceration. Only after starting to understand that systemic racism is a thing did I go back to look up Kaep’s statements about the protests and his contributions off the field, which are numerous. My opinion of the protests was drastically changed from this new information.

Conclusion and Hope

For me, it was extremely roundabout. To a neutral observer, the protests can be seen as another manifestation of the “conversation about race” we’ve been clumsily trying to have forever. For those who are not super into the social/political/cultural conversation and who are super into NFL football, this might be the push that starts them learning about these things.

The way it went for me, and the way I hope it goes for others, is as follows:

  1. Initial, emotion driven reaction
  2. Information gathering
  3. More informed opinion
  4. Talk to others, repeat 2 & 3 as needed

It’s frustrating that I’ve moved past #1 while many others are stuck there, seemingly permanently. I understand that people have that emotional reaction, I had an emotional reaction as well. Compare this to some other issue. The emotional take is a starting point. It’s your gut, your heart, the quick and dirty assessment that you can offer with only your pre-existing set of experiences and knowledge. Unless you can just magic up a nuanced, complex take on a subject, you probably need to get some new information before you form a concrete opinion.

On the subject of the NFL protests, I think that if people take a detailed look at history, they will see that systemic racism is real and massively impactful to people of color. NFL players are using their place in the public eye to draw attention to these problems, risking popularity and perhaps even their extremely lucrative careers to do so.

Taking The Knee With Melissa Schlag

Thanks to Haddam, CT, Selectman Melissa J. Schlag, we’re having a conversation about protests again. By taking the knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a meeting on July 16th, she has gained fans and critics. She’s also caused a resurgence in people engaging in a particular bad faith argument: criticizing the form of protest rather than the substance of it.

Initial Reactions 

“Show some respect!” “What about the veterans!”

This is often the first and only critique made by opponents of this kind of protest. I kind of understand having an emotional reaction, our culture of worshiping the flag and the troops make such protests really stick out. I don’t begrudge anyone having an emotional reaction when they first hear or read about these kinds of things. However, I would ask that people develop a better understanding of the situation so that they can have a better informed opinion.

When I first heard about Colin Kaepernick sitting during the anthem, my reaction went something like this: standing for the anthem is something we ought to do because we’re not respecting any existing government structure or figure; rather, we’re paying homage to the idea of America, the unreachable ideal represented in our founding documents. I felt that people should stand, but that we shouldn’t force anyone to do so, because if you’re being forced or even coerced or socially pressured into doing patriotism, can you really call it patriotism?

Is That It?

That was my first reaction, my hot take after hearing about it and thinking about it a little bit. I didn’t know what motivated it or what information influenced Kaep. I didn’t exactly go seek out this information; I had kind of already decided that he could do it, but that it was rather unpleasant. Eventually I found out quite a bit about Kaep’s cause. I learned more about Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and much more about systemic racism from a film called 13th, lectures on YouTube, and many more sources. Every so often I’d encounter one or another of the things I’ve just linked here and it added up over time. I didn’t marathon a bunch of this content and have like a Road to Damascus moment. It was very gradual. Now I understand where Kaep and everyone is coming from and I think they’re doing a good thing to shed light on some very real injustices, of which most people are unaware.

Failure to Engage

Many of the responses to Kaep’s protest are examples of people failing to engage with the substance of a protest. Here are a few, along with responses.

  1. “Stop whining! You’re rich, what do you have to protest about!” I guess compassion for those who don’t have what you have isn’t a thing. This is honestly the stupidest complaint I’ve seen. Anyone making this argument is not operating in good faith and it’s probably on purpose.
  2. “It’s disrespectful to the flag/veterans/troops!” Kneeling was actually a compromise. Remember, the protest started off with just sitting. According to the story, Kaep got the idea of kneeling from talking to an Army veteran. He’s made it very clear in public statements that his protest was not against the military, active or otherwise.
  3. “Well, I think it’s disrespectful and I have a right to that reaction!” This is another attempt to avoid talking about the substance of the protest, and kind of a childish one at that. You’re basically saying that Kaep or Schlag’s stated purpose do not matter. It also smacks of the “just your opinion v. my opinion” non-starter that Creationists/Intelligent Design and other dishonest interlocutors trot out. Like, yes, you poor thing, you’re entitled to your opinion, but what’s your basis for it?

Evaluating Opinions

I told the story of my evolving position to show the way opinions can change with information. Look again at my initial reaction. I was not engaging with the substance of the protest. My take had everything to do with the form of the protest. Most others have stayed right there. They stayed there all through the rest of Kaep’s NFL career and they’re staying there now with regard to Melissa Schlag.

Everyone’s got an opinion, and they’re entitled to them. Pointing this out is boring and obvious. Instead let’s look at how they differ in terms of the information that you’re basing your opinion on. About any given topic, there’s a variety of information out there with varying degrees of relevance. The greater the quantity, quality, and relevance of the information you have, the more likely you’ll have a well informed opinion. It gets a little tricky when you realize that things like relevance are subjective and therefore can be thought of as opinions themselves. You very quickly get into an infinite regress of opinions about aspects of opinions. When you consider that people can differ widely in something like opinions on relevant facts, it’s expected that people get so frustrated when encountering those different worldviews.

If you are continuously talking about the act of kneeling or otherwise not participating in the patriotic display rather than looking into the reasons why, you’re not engaging. Your opinion, while valid, is failing to take relevant information on board and is thus less informed than it could be. Your opinion is based on emotion rather than an attempt to understand the other position.

Melissa Schlag

In the case of Melissa Schlag, she posted an open letter to Facebook explaining her reasoning. She was reacting most strongly to the recent meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin. Her letter also mentions the Zero Tolerance immigration policy which has led to the separation of so many children from their families, and the general behavior of the president.

There are probably honest criticisms of her position. For example, even though Putin is a murderous dictator with a tendency to kill journalists and a government that would like to exterminate all LGBT people, there are reasons to pursue diplomatic relations with him. As a general rule, I’m in favor of diplomacy rather than not-diplomacy.

However, this Trump/Putin meeting has a lot of other shades to it that make her criticism understandable. First, the press conference where Trump basically took Putin’s side over his own intelligence community. This looks really bad, but it kind of fits the overly-accommodating stance Trump has taken with Kim. He’s really trying to charm when he does this. There’s probably some behind-the-scenes stuff where Trump is like, “hey, remember I had your back in front of the cameras, your people see how well I respected you, now you should help me out, right?” or something like that.

The whole 2016 election hacking thing is another complicated story. On one hand, DNC emails revealed how they had their thumb on the scale for Hillary. To me, I don’t care where these came from, if it’s true, then we should know about it. On the other hand, the perhaps more worrying part of 2016 was the bot farms spamming the shit out of social media with memes and posts promoting Trump. When one side can just inundate people with arguments, it doesn’t matter if they lie or make bad faith arguments. The scary thing about it is that not only is it difficult to fight, it’s something that I could be an unwitting victim of and not even know it.

Conclusion

Melissa Schlag is doing an extraordinarily brave thing. She doesn’t have millions of fans or dollars and will likely pay the political iron price for her protest. By taking a stand, she’s showing cojones that I don’t think we’ve seen in an American politician, maybe ever. Her disgust at the Trump administration is well founded, particularly when you consider Zero Tolerance, a policy that may have officially ended, but continues to affect thousands of families.

You Had to Be There

Disclaimer: I’m a US Navy submarine veteran and the following is partially about that experience in my life. Regardless of what I say, I really had some wonderfully unique and amazing times and I don’t regret a second of it. 

When people say, “you had to be there,” after telling a story they intend to be funny about something that happened during a tough situation, say an underway.

Underway stories are never as funny on retelling primarily b/c the experience of the circumstances. Going underway is stressful in ways that we don’t care to admit, but we do our best not to let it get to us. The thing is, the heightened level of stress is revealed in the amount of enjoyment we get from hi jinks. Jokes and pranks and other funny games just send us to the moon in ecstatic laughter.

The most complete laughing fits I’ve ever experienced, or probably will experience, had to be from underway silliness. Laughs going beyond just a good gut-buster or belly laugh. Laugh-gasm is not that much of a hyperbole. Look at any boat that still has the balls to observe halfway night with any semblance of a fun-loving spirit and what do you see? There’s guys doing insane things to one another, putting on crazy costumes, straight acting a fool in myriad ways. I don’t think I want to really catalog it all as I think it might spoil it for anyone who was there.

But even if I did I don’t think it would capture it. I think if you described these antics to anyone who hadn’t been there, they would shake their head and think you were describing people who can’t explain their actions. In a word, crazy people. And they would be right in a way. The stress of underway literally drives a person crazy. The halfway night games and other assing off can be seen as a way to try to regain sanity, or to relieve some of the pressure that everyone is under. If you can laugh, you must be safe, so laughter allows us to temporarily drop the lizard brain fight or flight instincts that we struggle with every minute of being underway and feel like we’re safe, we’re loved.

When you re-tell that story, none of those circumstances are in play, and you don’t account for them in the telling other than to mention, “we was underway.” When you just say that, you gloss over a major explanatory factor as to the humor of the situation. But that’s not how you remember it, to you the funny thing was the look on dude’s face when he saw his rack. You were primed to experience a slightly amusing thing as every laugh in Airplane! at once. Your nervous system was screaming for some kind of comfort since all the comforts of home have been cut off from you.

I am kind of loath to admit that this is so traumatic, because in a way that is me admitting some kind of victimhood for myself. But I’m no victim. But I don’t think it’s healthy to look at the experiences I had through rose colored glasses. There’s also the chemical composition of air underway. It could be lower in oxygen than on the surface for extended periods of time, then the boat does an O2 bleed, raising the level to much higher than you’re used to. When you’re used to lowered levels of O2, it can be a real jolt. It raises everyone’s energy level, so they love to do this right before All Hands Drills or Field Day. It can also make you giddy af and much more likely to lose your mind laughing like a jackass at the slightest thing.

When you tell that funny story, you never mention the oxygen levels or the other psychological factors that made your experience so much funnier than it objectively was. This is not because you weren’t or aren’t ever aware of them. I think it’s something like what Gazzaniga calls “The Interpreter.” The interpreter is a function in your brain that rationalizes your actions and forms a narrative that things can make sense around. In his lecture he talks about his work with split brain patients and how their left and right brains can be shown different things with a different image in each eye, then asked to respond to some kind of stimuli. The different ways to respond can only be done by one half of the brain, and depending on which half gets to answer, the answer will be based on whatever image was shown to that half’s eye. After that, patients are asked to explain their choice of answer. This is where the interpreter comes in. Instead of simply saying, “well it was that half of my brain that saw the Popsicle, so I chose Popsicle,” for example, the patient will say, “I saw the knitting needle and yarn, but it was in a shape that I thought looked like a Popsicle, so that’s why I chose Popsicle,”  or some other narrative to explain the choice, regardless of how silly it may be with respect to other possible choices.

The Interpreter is what’s making you think that your story is funny because of the things that happened rather than the psychological and/or chemical factors at play. In fact, I can’t imagine someone trying to tell that story with any expectation of getting laughs. “We were underway, so we were all, to varying degrees, deeply aware of the possibility of not coming home and fearing the prospect of drowning or worse. We had all gone weeks without meaningful romantic physical contact, not just sex but even a sincerely felt hug or caress from a loved one. We were constantly aware of the fact that we had not seen the sun or felt natural atmosphere in weeks and this was a massive departure from our normal experience of the world. We had been stripped of many of the other enjoyable things. These factors wore on us all, making us crave something to distract us for this torment. The oxygen content of the air was much higher than it had been in recent days, raising our heart rates and energy levels almost to the point of giddiness. So of course we laughed like hyenas when Shulz tripped and spilled pudding on McCullough accidentally.”

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.

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.