Friday, February 15, 2008

Speaking of Guns....

It happened again, that dreadful story: students sitting quietly in a classroom, and in walks this maniac with a clearly deranged mind and the weaponry to give it bloody power over the innocent.  The dead and injured bear witness to the madness.

This time I don't want to talk about guns.  I want to talk about the response I get when I talk about guns.  I know there are those out there who believe, passionately, in what they interpret as the Constitution-given right to bear arms--of all kinds and in all places.   I happen to believe, with equal passion, that their interpretation of the Constitution is mistaken, that those who wrote those contested words could never have imagined the kind of weaponry that would become available, nor the situations in which they would be used.

Here's the problem: when they express their opinion, I am free to disagree with them as strongly as I wish, but I choose not to do so with anything other than reasoned words and language.  Whenever I express mine, however, I am met with an immediate barrage of scorn and vitriol. Even hatred would hardly be too strong a word.  I am treated at best like a witless child, at worst like a pariah and enemy of the United States and all it stands for.

So I'm curious as to why this should be.  What is it about those who disagree with me that they are so easily enraged by what is no more than an argument, a discussion I believe to have some importance for our society to engage?  What is it about the words I chose that inflames them so?  

I believe, too, that this phenomenon has wider implications than the matter of guns.  Am I wrong in thinking that there is quiet reason on the liberal side of things (I'm not talking about left-wing hotheads, just people like me) and often rabid rhetoric on the right?  The scorn with which the word "liberal" is most frequently accompanied on the lips of Republicans is a small indication of what I'm talking about.  I'm almost sure that I don't, myself, use "conservative" with the same intonation--though I do confess to speaking at times with something less than respect for those out on the furthest limb of the conservative tree.

I realize that we all have a tendency to be blinded by our deeply-held opinions to those on the other side of the fence.  That's human.  But am I right about the tone of the respective sides of the dialogue?  Or am I simply prejudiced myself?  Interesting question, and one that I keep needing to ask.  


david said...

I think "right" or "wrong" misses something important. Though I know, we all know, exactly how you are feeling.

When you feel you are being proper and gentle and you are hurt by the other who is harsh and nasty, well then, you are trying to protect your "self". I think when we do this we are trying to build a little fence around oursleves and we are saying "play nice" otherwise you will hurt "me".

I think we have to be very gentle, we have to say to our nasty friend, "thank you for giving me the chance to examine how I am offended, if I can let go of this offending, I really have the chance to make some progress."

If you realize that you .. "buddha to be" are actually "un-harmable" then the only hurt extracted is to the nasty person, whose unkind actions only sink into him or her more deeply as mystification, and sow deeper negative karma to unwind in lord knows how many future lifetimes. In this view we can perhaps even feel some compassion for our right wing, narrow minded, sorry ass countryman !

You, on the other hand, by taking the chance to recognize that "you" can never be hurt. Are given the chance at true awakening.

Jesus said it best, slap me on the face, make sure you hit the other side too...want my shirt ? take my coat as well.

Al said...

Making this into a left vs. right wing thing is hardly going to do anyone any favors and flattens the true dimensions of the disagreement.

I'm so far left that I'm off the American map, since we have no true left wing in this country anymore (at least, not one that has any influence).

That said, I'm a firm believer in both the rule of law and how the constitution framed discussions in this country. I'm a true believer in the right to bear arms and own a gun. So, acting as if it is only right wing people, Republicans, or fascists who want the populace to have access to firearms is not really a valid stance.

I am all for people not owning firearms if they choose not to do so. I also know that I live in one of the most violent cities in the entire country and the police locally, if they respond at all to various crimes, respond far after the fact. The gun is in this house, with the householders trained to use it, because there are far too many home invasions, burglaries, and general incidents of rape and violence for me to trust the police and criminals to be the only ones armed. If you live in an area where this is not an issue, more power to you but please don't label me as a Republican for simply choosing to own a gun and believing in the right to do so.

PeterAtLarge said...

David, thanks for the insight. I get the point about being either "right" and "wrong," but did want to put this out in such a way as not to seem totally naive--just to be conscious that there are two sides to the perception. Al, thanks, too. I realize that my words could have been read to make the distinction one between Democrat and Republican. I had not intended to make that distinction regarding opinions in the matter of guns, but rather in the matter of rhetoric. I also phrased is a question rather than an accusation, and I'm sure I didn't use the word "fascist", which I think is veering over into precisely the kind of left-wing hothead rhetoric that I explicitly wanted to avoid. It was not my intention to label you for your opinion about gun ownership, but simply to talk about the way we talk to and about each other.

No More Empty Fortune Cookies said...

Excellent point to ponder, thank you. I believe that what we see here is a knee jerk reaction to fear. It's primitive fight or flight at the basic instinctual level. Humans by nature are afraid of change. We form our daily lives our world to fit a mold that we have acclimated to over time and when something or someone threatens to break that mold or to change what we know as our comfort zone then we either fight (rabid rhetoric, scorn and vitriol) or we flee (immigrating to Canada, etc). People feel a sense of comfort and safety from their guns. They fear that if they lose access to their guns their very lives will be endangered thereby triggering this very fundamental physiologic response. When one is acting out of a fight or flight response the normal, rational thought processes are bypassed and actions are exaggerated due to the perceived threat.
So to address the question you proposed, yes, you are right about the tone of the respective sides of the dialogue, in my opinion. No, I do not believe you are being prejudiced, simply human.
I only recently found your blog here, I am very glad I did.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the thoughtful--and thought-provoking-- response. And thanks for finding The Buddha Diaries. I do hope you'll come back.

roger said...

i think you got it exactly right peter. and i don't think you exhibited any hurt or offense on your part. in my humble opinion, as we say, the gun nuts who can't argue rationally, who mistake weirdly vicious ad hominem attacks for philosophical statements, are the least qualified of all to actually possess a gun. i have to assume that there are intelligent people who can join the discussion to advance their opinions forcefully without resorting to personal attacks. and in steps al.

hey gun al's comment to see how it's done decently. but al, even you missed the gist of peter's question.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I think, Peter, what you (and I) encounter when we question the number of guns floating around our nation is the response of a large, powerful, and very well organized lobby called the National Rifle Association. Many, many years ago when I was a very young army officer, I joined the NRA because it seemed all of my superior officers were members. Even then, in the late 60s, early 70s there was information that was quickly disseminated to the memberships regarding what the NRA perceived as threats and challenges to “the right to bear arms” and information that members could use in defense of that right. I assume that today, with email and the Internet, that same information is passed out at lightening speed.

Cardozo said...

Peter, what you have hit upon in this entry is nothing less than the single most important political issue of our time or any time.

An exaggeration? I don't think so. Absent a profound and demonstrated respect for those who disagree with us about a given issue, we will never build the kind of broad consensus that leads to growth.

It is simply amazing to me how often people simply give up the fight (by hurling polarizing insults) instead of engaging in the much tougher, much braver debate between equals.