|"Peace" by joseph ivan long 2010|
Below is a very long missive I have written in response to a conversation a friend of mine started about guns, Christians, faith, etc. (thank you, Donn). Before I could actually write about the topic itself, I felt I had to write a little manifesto about the reasonable expectations I have for sharing my thoughts on volatile topics and initiating conversation in a public forum. It is very long. If it was me, I would probably find something more entertaining to read, like Chuck Klosterman. But if you really want to read it, I guess you can. It's really not much fun though, so you might want to just quit while you're ahead. No seriously, it's very very long. Go take a bath, or watch some Muppets or Homeland. If you're still here though, then good luck:
MY VERY TINY MANIFESTO ABOUT EXPECTATIONS I HAVE FOR ENGAGING IN CONVERSATION ABOUT VOLATILE TOPICS IN A PUBLIC FORUM.
I will state my opinion. But before I state my opinion, here is my manifesto that will preface my opinions
on volatile issues. This mini-manifesto is a sort of explanation of what my opinion means, in general, and the expectations I have in sharing my opinions with the universe:
I reserve the right to change my opinion.
Not out of weakness, but simply because as I absorb more information, it would be ridiculous to hold to a weak belief simply out of respect for faulty reasoning or incomplete evidence. My opinion might change, and it might stay the same. Most likely, it will be amended, modified, and never completely settled. That is my hope, as I continue ongoing conversations with people and formulate new experiences that shape my world view.
Because you know my opinion on a specific issue does not mean you know my political affiliation or the totality of my convictions on a variety of social and economic topics.
I reserve the right to be inconsistent. Because you think you know my thoughts on guns, on immigration, on taxes, or on any other hot button issue does not mean that you can extrapolate everything else based on one bit of knowledge.
If you resort to name-calling or relying on arguments that are based on circular reasoning or lowest-common denominator playground insults, then I am done having a conversation with you.
It doesn't mean that I don't like you. You'd have to push things pretty far to get to that point. But it does mean that it is no longer worth my time trying to have a good conversation with you. If your mind is completely made up, that's fine. We can still have a dialogue, as long as you're still willing to listen to what I have to say. And recognize that I may change my mind, and I may not. Calling me names or using one syllable epithets are a conversation-ender.
If you begin your discourse using the following words, then there's a good chance we may not have a whole lot to talk about:
stupid, dumb, socialist, wacko, right-wing, left-wing, traitor, moron, patriot, anti- , and most forms of profanity, unless used in an exceptionally interesting and/or specific context that also demonstrates a certain degree of profundity and humorous self-awareness on the part of the author.
Do not question my patriotism.
An asinine argument. No simpler way to put it. I love my country. It's the best one for me. Doesn't mean it's the best one for everyone. It's relative.
If you are going to use supporting evidence to back your opinion, then be aware that I am highly sensitive to how information travels and where it comes from.
There is a difference between Facts and between Statistics. Facts are concrete. Statistics are sometimes concrete, but oftentimes they interpreted in ways that are out of context and deliberately misused in order to prop up a particular agenda. When the Department of Labor provides unemployment numbers for the month, that is a Fact.* When a political party takes that Fact, and connects it with a different Fact, and then comes up with its own conclusion, it does not mean that the conclusion is correct. Statistics often involve a selective use of information, omitting information that does not support the already-existing belief.
*obviously, many Facts, especially ones involving large numbers, have a margin of error and are based on extrapolations (an accepted methodology). it doesn't mean that you throw out the entirety of the Fact.
For every rule or law, there is an exception. You can find an anecdote that will support any view you have on anything. Please don't be lazy and simply cite every story, every exception, and every outlying example that confirms your already existing opinion. First rule of good debate*: be willing to consider that your opponent may have a strong position. Acknowledging that it may be a legitimately-held position does not mean that you are A) weakening your own position, B) giving up, or C) helping them with their argument. It simply means that you are
A) being respectful of their thought process and beliefs and
B) demonstrating your own intellect by stretching it enough to include divergent points of view.
*I made this up, but it seems like it would be a good first rule :)
It is my choice - my FREEDOM - to cherrypick what parts of an issue work best for me.
With most issues, we are not talking about absolutist arguments. Even with issues that seem completely cut and dry - for example: of course I'm against sex trafficking and child pornography…at the same time, there are some extremely tangly and complicated privacy issues involved in trying to legislate and police these awful realities (and regardless of these atrocities, I do not give a priori universal access to the government to access my private life). I feel as strongly about issues relating to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression as many feel about strict interpretations of the Second Amendment. My point is: because I disagree with a portion of an argument, do not disrespect your own intellect by assuming that I am therefore "against you" because I do not support wholeheartedly your position.
Do not pull the "if you've seen what I've seen" argument and try to speak for or against entire groups of people.
Just speak for yourself. Of course your life experience has been different than mine. And vice versa. But regardless of what your life experience is, it is not mine. You may express to me your own opinion. But refrain from speaking for an entire group. You have your opinion, and I will try to respect it. But I will lose patience when you begin trying to be the public voice for a group. If you are a police officer, then speak as a police officer…but do not speak for every single police officer. It is pointless to engage in dialogue when someone reverts to the inherently lazy strategy of using groups of people as backing support, instead of relying on the strength of their own reasoning ability and life experience. If you are part of a group and say assuredly that you speak as representation of all the opinions within that group, then I say one of three things:
1. You actually are a spokesperson for that group and therefore have the right to call my bluff, I suppose.
2. If #1 is not the case, then I call your bluff.
3. You need to spend less time preaching to the choir and more time broadening the kinds of people you surround yourself with.
So, moving onto the topic of guns in this country. Below, I have assembled a collection of thoughts. Some of them statements, some questions.
GUNS, SAFETY, CONTROL, AND THE ONGOING ANGUISH I FEEL WHEN I REMEMBER I HAVE NOT YET INVENTED MY BULLET-STOPPING PERSONAL FORCE FIELD SHIELD (BSPFFS).
I love guns.
For example, most of Arnold Schwarzenegger's movies would make little sense if he was forced to rely on a sword the whole way through. Where would cinema be without firearms? Also, I am grateful that there are many intelligent, kind people who own them for good reasons and feel safer as a result.
I think it's good that police officers have guns. And soldiers.
I support the constitutional right of U.S. Americans to own firearms.
Here's where it gets gray, and where people start getting mad at me. Mostly, it's just questions, with a simple observation or two about human nature:
Few people are a stronger proponent of free speech (i.e. prior restraint by government) than I am. Yet there are reasonable measures in place to balance that individual right with the right of society to be free from certain types of speech (the classic 'Fire!" in a theater, regulation of how certain harmful products can be marketed, etc.) Why is there such a paranoia when it comes to talking about either of the following?
A) gun control/safety measures
B) enforcement of existing laws - what about that free market idea of policing yourself? stepping up to the plate and being proactive leaders in aggressively enforcing the actual laws that are in place? (e.g. penalties for felons trying to buy, illegal sales, etc.)
What is a reasonable amount of firepower? Grenade launchers? Flamethrowers? Blaster phasers? As bio- and nanotechnology are integrated in the future into firearm products, what sort of measures will there be to regulate their sale?
People who own guns are not automatically "gun nuts," "paranoid freaks," "right wing wackos," or backwards-thinking hillbillies. I have seen each of these designations used in numerous comment threads. Ridiculous. The gun lobby needs to do a better job of choosing who they let (or choose to) speak for them. And the responsible gun owners need to speak up articulately, reasonably, and not preface every argument with not-so-subtle references to Obama being the antichrist.
Regarding public safety, and the idea that a well-armed civilian public makes for a safer country: how many times can I say
RIDICULOUS. This is the one area regarding guns where I begin to get worked up. I support the rights of citizens to legally CARRY guns (and to respect the free market choice of establishments who ask that they not be brought onto their premises). HOWEVER…it is LUDICROUS to think that the more people we have walking around with guns, the better off we'll be. Why? Here's why.
I commonly hear arguments about "being ready for all the bad people in the world." Legitimate concern. Know what's an even more relevant concern to me than BAD PEOPLE? STUPID, STUPID PEOPLE. Like the kind that shot a hole in our downstairs BEDROOM WINDOW (and then did it again at a different residence - somebody who has collected guns and ammunition for years in preparation for the upcoming apocalypse). Somebody who knows better. Who knows all about gun safety. And yet, has ACCIDENTALLY discharged his firearm not once, but TWICE in a residential home. Everybody has stories supporting their side, including me, except I don't have a side. I simply have stories. The other friend whose daughter was paralyzed when a bullet came through the apartment window - not intended for her; a fracas at a party.
Hey, John Wayne's iconic. There's a time to be big and good and protect "the little people." But if you're going to go down the road of the argument that human nature is innately flawed and therefore there will always be 'bad people' out there that we need to arm ourselves against…then you also need to accept that the other part of human nature is that MANY OF US make bad decisions. I'm a big fan of making mistakes; of learning via falling down, getting up again, making your mistakes. But some things are too big to trust yourself with. I've seen enough arguments and confrontations escalate to the point that there's no more logic, no more reasoning, no more good-decision making ability. Add a gun into that mix, and it's incendiary.
People will make bad decisions. Not if. When. The country does not need MORE guns walking around on the streets.
Christians and guns.
I don't like trying to speak for God; he has my cell number if he wants to tell me exactly what Christians' position should be on guns. Again: selective interpretations of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament). The 'protection' thing often makes me think of the selective interpretation of Bob Marley's rituals by some of his youthful acolytes today: Bob Marley did two things every day: he smoked ganja and he read his Bible. Guess which one of those habits is more popular to follow? :)
God also says a bunch of stuff about love and loving each other.
In response to the question of a non-combatant Christian in war carrying a weapon: my gut feeling is that yes, I think I would. To some of you, that might sound hypocritical. I am not a pacifist; I believe sometimes in Justice before Peace. But if I was in war, it would be as either a Spy or a Medic. I should start carrying around a huge syringe in a concealed holster.
Everybody has different roles. Police officers, filmmakers, musicians, attorneys, doctors, garbage collectors, dental hygienists, spies…everybody has different strengths, and thus, different skills to offer the world.
I am glad that there are some whose role is one of armed protector; those people are needed, for there are certainly 'bad people' in the world. But those who choose to not arm themselves with guns on their person, or to engage in a worldview that is less…suspicious are not weaker. It takes a strength of prioritization to be able to look at the world, in all its awfulness, and yet still choose to focus on the beauty of people and the good they are capable of. I am grateful for protectors, just as I am grateful for caregivers and artists and businesspeople and taxi drivers and the multitude of others who make the world spin.
But simply having a gun is not protection. It is protection against some very specific circumstances - circumstances that MOST people will never be a part of. I support the constitutionally protected right of law-abiding citizens to follow the dictates of their own conscience and worldview and to carry a weapon. I hear the self-sacrificial statements from some about how they are looking to be God's servant, and thus be a martyr in His name in order to protect others. That is a noble statement…and I question why sometimes some of them are not quite so self-sacrificing when it comes to giving up a small iota of freedom (e.g. access to certain types of military-grade weapons, mandatory safety training, background check revisions, further oversight on sales) in order to truly look out for God's other people, including the ones who have been wounded or killed in accidental shootings or conflicts that have tragically escalated.
I love guns. I'm gonna go draw a picture of one now.
You go, Gandhi.
Love you, everyone,
Joseph Ivan Long.