“inanimate pieces of metal”

Posted on June 4, 2014

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1jlh1_Talk_Productively

Monday I sat down with a bottle of wine to read High Country News. The first article I saw as I opened my browser was written by another writer…

“who believes in national health care, strong environmental protection, reproductive freedom, unions, permissive immigration laws, stiff financial regulation … and guns.”

I must share some of what Dan Baum wrote in The Great Gun Divide. He said more eloquently what I tried to write 3 months ago: that the inability to communicate is “More Dangerous Than Guns” (here)?

A comment on his NYTimes interview said, “Guns are frightfully dangerous and without them the massacres would not have happened. What more does anyone need to understand?” To which Dan Baum responds…

“What more, indeed, does anyone need to understand beyond what he already believes?”

This is the problem, the real reason America is going to hell in a handbasket: so few of us can seriously entertain the merits of an opposing viewpoint and assume the better angels of someone who disagrees. Each political side remains steadfast in their habit of demonizing the other.

I have taught many classes in which I’ve displayed two overlapping triangles on the board at the front of class and asked my students what this represents. They have answered what many would: “Star of David,” “Judaism,” “the Holocaust,” “Palestine”. We discuss why they associate these things with two triangles that have no inherent meaning, only the meaning we ascribe to them. Yet most of us view symbols if they were the very epitome of what they have come to represent.

In some ways, guns in the US have taken on this ascribed life of their own within our own minds: symbolic of death to some, freedom to others. As Dan Baum writes in his article…

“All of this argument can’t possibly be about inanimate pieces of metal and their effect on public safety, because so little evidence exists to connect the two. Gun laws have grown looser almost everywhere in the U.S. in the past 20 years, the number of privately owned guns about tripled, and in that same period, the rate of gun violence dropped by about half. The real purpose of the fight over gun control, it seems to me, is to serve as a kind of proxy for a much bigger philosophical divide that has divided our country since the founding.

“Guns represent a worldview that, broadly defined, values the individual over the collective, vigorous outdoorsiness over pallid intellectualism, certainty over questioning, patriotism over internationalism, manliness over femininity, action over inaction, the Interior over the Coasts. If instead you value reason over force, skepticism over certainty, internationalism over American exceptionalism, multiculturalism over white-male hegemony, income leveling over jungle capitalism, peace over war – if you’re a stereotypical liberal, for lack of a better word – and you feel more at home on the Coasts than in the Interior, you’re inclined to see the gun as the emblem of your opponent’s worldview: his idol. A lot of my fellow liberals seem to think they can weaken their enemy by smashing his idol. Thus, the gun debate is really a way to talk about bigger differences for which we can’t seem to find the vocabulary.”

Dan Baum has rightly and clearly articulated the problem that our divided nation and politicized media will avoid at all costs. I’ve heard moral adults say that expletives are for those who aren’t intelligent enough to use higher communication. I find this article to have the same moral. Our shouting political curses at each other in regard to firearms belies our inability to take a more educated approach.

I have an affinity for the Jewish culture and religion. One of my favorite writers is Rabbi Daniel Gordis. In his book God Was Not in the Fire, he describes listening to his family argue over the meaning of sacred scripture until the early morning hours, then everyone embracing and agreeing to do the same next week. He says they are able to disagree amicably because it is less important to agree, it’s even less important to believe than it is to talk about it.

Maybe we should question our beliefs if we can’t talk about them productively.

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