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April 18, 2007

"Politicizing" events and "exploiting" tragedies

I'm so sick of the charges and counter-charges of "exploitation" of the Va-Tech massacre for political purposes.

If people of good will think that they have an apt political point to make, let them make it without assailing them for somehow taking advantage of the tragedy. That goes for both the gun control and the anti-gun control camps.

Current events should shape policy discussions.

It's not a question of exploitation. It's a matter of proffering solutions and offering critiques while our increasingly fragmented national attention is focused on an issue.

If Instapundit thinks that the concealed carry ban caused the tragedy, let him say so. I think it's a dumb argument, but I don't see why there should be any kind of inverse statute of limitations for offering it. Yesterday I made fun of some wingnuts for rifling through their personal anxiety closets in public, trying to come to terms with the killings--but I was mocking them for saying stupid and venal things, not for "exploiting" anyone's death.

Trying to enforce an arbitrary line between "human" and "political" responses to tragedies is a political strategy in its own right.

Remember the intense pressure to avoid "politicizing" 9/11? I'm talking about the taboo against criticizing the president that went virtually unchallenged in the mainstream media for years after the attacks. The real effect of the taboo was not to keep our reactions to the tragedy pure. When we shut down serious discussion and debate, we ceded interpretation of our history to the Bush administration. We let them own it.  Those who wanted to keep the reaction to 9/11 "above" politics ensured the ultimate politicization of the event. If we had challenged the president from the beginning, he might not have been able to use 9/11 to goad us into war.

The administration loves to shield itself from criticism by accusing its opponents of "politicizing" some gaffe or scandal, or "exploiting" some monumental failure for political gain. It seems like a lot of Americans, liberal and conservative, are still taking their cues from Bush in this regard.

When a gunman shoots 33 people, it's only natural for the human mind to turn to larger questions, such as, "Are guns in school a good idea?" or, "Can we solve this problem with more guns?"

The gun lobby knows how this game is played. The Second Ammendment foundation accused gun control advocates of dancing in the blood of the victims. That was a bad faith attempt to shut down legitimate discussion by shaming their critics. Of course, they do this every time there's a gun-related tragedy. Every time we defer to them, we miss an opportunity for a national conversation about guns, and so, the status quo is perpetuated indefinitely by bullying rather than real consensus.

I agree with Jeralyn that we shouldn't make policy based on any individual crisis. Whatever policy we do adopt has to be based on a sober assessment of the big picture, the costs and benefits that will accrue to a whole society over many years. On the other hand, human nature is such that it sometimes takes a crisis to focus attention.

Why not have an honest and respectful debate about gun control, or misogyny, or any other issues that might arise in our attempts to understand this tragedy? Obviously, it's still very early in the investigation, and nobody has all the facts. On the other hand, it's never too early to start asking questions.

The taboo against "political" arguments in the wake of tragedies infantilizes the public and cheapens our discourse. If we rule out substantive discussion, we're left with a residue of content-free sentiment. If we refuse to debate, analyze, contextualize, or explain, we turn mass killings vacuous celebrity deathfests.

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Comments

The events get our attention but that is because they are anomalous. The statistics of the daily garden variety criminality, the stuff we grow numb to though it kills vastly more of us is what we ought to look to for insight.

"I can't help but be a little pissed when I see liberals whining about the Right raising this issue, AT SUCH A SENSITIVE TIME (sniff), but see no contradiction that their first response was to scream 'Gun control! Gun control!' as though that's not politicizing the issue!"
That's exactly right, Rose. And people on the other side of the debate knew that was coming, just as vice-versa. It's just nonsense in these times to even try to pretend that it was going to go any other way, and for very good reason:
"My feeling is that it's all political, and nothing is personal, down to how we live and love in our own 'personal lives.'"
Do you remember the old feminist adage, "The personal is political"? Well, that thing is completely inverted now, precisely because of how it's been taken up as political practice over the past forty years. Everybody with an inclination to pay attention to political affairs of any sort has to take them intimately personally. Debates over "gun control policy" are a sensational example if the principle:

I have to take this personally because I insist on my own autonomy over the peaceful conduct of my private affairs. (Note: this is a principle that abortion advocates stand on. Great numbers of them, however -- being "progressives" -- will not be consistent in the matter: they won't extend to me the same political consideration.) The fact is that I am not a "wingnut", but what you people are talking about will not allow room for good people who know what they're doing.

Lindsay: you've told me that you're not interested in taking my guns away. I take you at your word, but I also believe that you're being very cagey about it: what you want is to subject my judgment the matter to the arbitrary permission of your political designees. Let's get real about this.

I have no interest that. Like: no more than you would have an interest in submitting the matter of abortion to George Bush's grant of permission.

I am not responsible for some lunatic's murder-spree, and I won't be subject to your fears.

And if you can't respect that, then we should just all get back to whacking each other with plastic baseball-bats in the net.schoolyard, because there is nothing left.

I agree with Lindsey.

On a different issue, the information that the VT shooter had apparently stalked several female students over a period of at least two years brings up a question for me.

I think institutions of higher learning should have zero tolerance for stalking and that stalkers -- whether male or female -- should be expelled. I'm not interested in discussing whether such a policy would have prevented this tragedy but just whether others agree with the general principle.

I also think there needs to be a discussion of rules concerning the appropriate use of small digital cameras and camera phones. Should students be allowed to take pictures of other students during classes as the shooter apparently did?

Zed, I think it's important to differentiate between the quality of the arguments and the propriety of making them.

The arguments for gun control are just as good (or bad) today as they were before the shooting. If you've been making those arguments for years, it's hardly exploitative to repeat them at a time when the national spotlight is focused on gun violence.

There's nothing exploitative about saying, "This is an example of the kind of problem that I've been warning about for years." Instead of trying to shame the gun control folks off the public stage, responsible 2nd Amendment types should counter with facts and logic, not accusations of bad faith and exploitation.

Browbeating the opposition is politicking.

Lindsay, riddle me this: as I understand it, Canada has a gun ownership rate that is close to the US's, yet has a gun violence rate way below ours. Do you have any insights on this?

It's not mysterious -- guns are regulated in Canada. There is a national gun registry. You always need a license to buy a gun. There are always waiting periods and background checks. If you're married, you need your spouse's signature on the application. Individuals are not allowed to keep handguns in their home. Urban gun ownership is negligible. The vast majority of guns are rifles and shotguns owned by people living in rural areas.

"Current events should shape policy discussions."

I wouldn't have expected anything else to come out of your head.

"It's a matter of proffering solutions and offering critiques..."

Except that you aren't even the slightest bit aware of the problem, for starters.

You've started to identify something here, however, "There's nothing exploitative about saying, "This is an example of the kind of problem that I've been warning about for years." "

So I suggest thinking about that bit, and concentrating on it for a good long while before making any further comments.

Also, gun ownership in Canada is not anywhere close to the American level. I don't know where the hell Michael Moore got that idea, but it's bogus. Roughly 22% of Canadian households own a gun. That's comparable to France, not the US, where close to half of all households have a gun.

Billy: "I have no interest that. Like: no more than you would have an interest in submitting the matter of abortion to George Bush's grant of permission.

I am not responsible for some lunatic's murder-spree, and I won't be subject to your fears."

In my opinion, there is no comparison between guns and abortion, save that they are both rights granted by the Constitution. Is that your argument?

Whether or not firearms should be regulated more, or regulated differently, is a totally legitimate question people should ask. For instance, I think a psychlogical evalutation should be required to purchase any firearm given that this man was able to walk into a store and purchase it after having a history of emotional and pschological problems.

Whenever some unspeakable tragedy occurs, I always am reminded of this column from adequacy.org: Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics

Of course the World Trade Center bombings are a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. However, we must also consider if this is not also a lesson to us all; a lesson that my political views are correct. Although what is done can never be undone, the fact remains that if the world were organised according to my political views, this tragedy would never have happened.

Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.

Not only are my political views vindicated by this terrible tragedy, but also the status of my profession. Furthermore, it is only in the context of a national and international tragedy like this that we are reminded of the very special status of my hobby, and its particular claim to legislative protection. My religious and spiritual views also have much to teach us about the appropriate reaction to these truly terrible events.

Countries which I like seem to never suffer such tragedies, while countries which, for one reason or another, I dislike, suffer them all the time. The one common factor which seems to explain this has to do with my political views, and it suggests that my political views should be implemented as a matter of urgency, even though they are, as a matter of fact, not implemented in the countries which I like.

Of course the World Trade Center attacks are a uniquely tragic event, and it is vital that we never lose sight of the human tragedy involved. But we must also not lose sight of the fact that I am right on every significant moral and political issue, and everybody ought to agree with me. Please, I ask you as fellow human beings, vote for the political party which I support, and ask your legislators to support policies endorsed by me, as a matter of urgency.

It would be a fitting memorial.

Lindsay, riddle me this: as I understand it, Canada has a gun ownership rate that is close to the US's, yet has a gun violence rate way below ours. Do you have any insights on this?

In Canada, it's very easy to get rifles, but laws about handguns are as restrictive as in Britain. Handguns are what causes crime; rifles are for hunting. This, incidentally, means that most US gun control laws are entirely ineffective, because they put the greatest regulatory burden on weapons that aren't generally used in murder.

Another country with high gun ownership but low homicide rate is Switzerland. There every army reservist (i.e. every man) gets to keep at home the weapons he uses when doing reserve training. However, he must keep all guns unloaded and under lock and key at all times, to prevent accidents.

Anon, I'd say the answer is more speech, not less. If we want high-quality discourse, we've got to cultivate it. We can't just stand back and wring our hands about how all those other people are speculating irresponsibly. We've actually got to engage, if we care about the quality of the discussion.

The problem is that in the current media climate, it will work to about the same extent as starting to post high-quality analysis on LGF and hoping it will eventually crowd out the fascists.

The current situation is that there are plenty of single-villain ideologues for whom The Problem is responsible to every bad thing that happens in the world, from world wars to their inability to find their socks. The people who think guns cause every problem selectively cull facts to make it look as if guns caused this tragedy. The people who blame gun control for everything selectively cull other facts in order to blame gun control. The people who think it's all the fault of the patriarchy, women, immigration, American culture, secularism, or the media can certainly find plenty to work with here.

It's all very verificationistic. You have your own working theory, which with proper tweaks can predict every possible result; then you can interpret every event or experimental result in such a way that verifies your theory. When political spin doctors use the same methodology that underlies astrology, the solution isn't to engage in more of the same.

Ideally, whoever decides who gets to be interviewed or quoted on CNN would appear on television and take a minute or two to explain to viewers that "Predictably, the political hacks who pick some bogeyman and blame all the problems in the world on him are looking for more excuses to lash at that bogeyman. The day they produce a spin-free version of the events that supports their view is the day we'll cover them." Events that both sides of the aisle politicize are especially conducive for that, since that way the network will get pummeled from both sides, enabling it to defend itself, "When liberals think we're biased to the right and conservatives think we're biased to the left, it means we're doing a good job."

And now I see Darcy beat me to explaining why Canada's homicide rate isn't anomalous...

"It's not mysterious -- guns are regulated in Canada. There is a national gun registry. You always need a license to buy a gun. There are always waiting periods and background checks. If you're married, you need your spouse's signature on the application. Individuals are not allowed to keep handguns in their home. Urban gun ownership is negligible. The vast majority of guns are rifles and shotguns owned by people living in rural areas."

Patently absurd, on almost every point, and the "regulation" that you are suggesting has nothing to do with it, and it shows me exactly how much you know about the process involved when buying a firearm in the US. I can quite safely disregard any further comments from your proffering of guns, gun laws and the reasons for why things are so wrong here the US. You simply don't know what you are talking about, and instead, are quite happy with trumpeting the latest VPD tagline or press release from the Brady Center.

Patently absurd, on almost every point, and the "regulation" that you are suggesting has nothing to do with it, and it shows me exactly how much you know about the process involved when buying a firearm in the US.

Each state has it's own gun control laws, so are you claiming you have full and complete knowledge of every law in every state? How is anything she said absurd? She was comparing the two countries, and given that there is no national gun registry, the NRA won't allow it, how is that absurd? I think she was wrong that there aren't waiting periods or background checks in the US, but that isn't true in every case, so it's again not absurd.

I can quite safely disregard any further comments from your proffering of guns, gun laws and the reasons for why things are so wrong here the US. You simply don't know what you are talking about, and instead, are quite happy with trumpeting the latest VPD tagline or press release from the Brady Center.

I think you're overreactive, especially since it's obvious you are a pro-gun advocate based on your last sentence. After having many discussions with various people on firearms regulation, is something only the desperate advocates fall back on. Argue facts, calling people Brady sycophans is unconstructive.

"Handguns are what causes crime"

Are you EFFING serious, dude?

Causes?

it shows me exactly how much you know about the process involved when buying a firearm in the US

I didn't, actually, say anything about the US -- where of course the laws vary by state.

Demonstrate to me that Canada permits individual handgun ownership to anything near the extent the US does. Until that, I reserve the right to treat you as a hack of the same level as Count Zero (sorry, but what psychological test would on the one hand not take forever to administer and on the other stop the VT shooter? And why are you trying to prevent a 32-victim shooting in a country with 16,000 homicides per year?).

"Demonstrate" was of course directed at the Irritable Architect, not Darcy.

"She was comparing the two countries, and given that there is no national gun registry, the NRA won't allow it, how is that absurd?"

First, she wasn't comparing, she was hacking, by way of making false pretenses and therefore, couldn't make any sort of conclusion that remotely could resemble the truth. I win.

Second, there is a national registry in Canada, to be fair, though I know that it is, at this point anyway, a voluntary system, and Albera's provincial government has publicly stated that its residents are not bound to it and will NOT seek any prosecutions based upon non compliance. Again, I know this to be true and I win.

Third, the NRA has nothing to do with "allowing" anything, as they aren't any kind of governing body. If you are trying to suggest that they do hold political sway, and do indeed influence policy, yes, that is probably true, but in no way is that any different from any other lobby group, representing, say senior citizens, ala AARP, attempting to extort free drup benefit coverage from whomever, for example. Again, her argument is ridiculously weak. I win.

So, how is it that her argument is not absurd, since she made no valid points?

"I didn't, actually, say anything about the US -- where of course the laws vary by state."

Yes, to a certain degree, but it's evident that your understanding of this process continues to be skewed. Again, it's obvious to me that you don't have a clue about this. Either figure it out (not likely) or move on.

Yes, to a certain degree, but it's evident that your understanding of this process continues to be skewed.

Are you implying Darcy's wrong about the level of gun ownership or the difficulty of getting a handgun in Canada?

Count Zero:

"In my opinion, there is no comparison between guns and abortion, save that they are both rights granted by the Constitution. Is that your argument?"
Absolutely not. I say, "To hell with the constitution," and I mean it. In the past day or so, I'm already seeing arguments for repealing the Second Amendment, and I don't give a damn whether it's done or not, for the simple reason that rights do not issue from that document. It shouldn't take more than, say, the Three-Fifths Clause to illustrate the point, albeit in reverse.

The comparison -- no; the similarity -- is in the necessarily connected concepts of individual authority and responsibility, which are present in both issues. No pussyfooting: abortion advocates who agitate for gun control are simply hypocritical (and so are gun-keepers who agitate for abortion-control).

Look: personally, I think that, excepting certain obvious cases like rape, abortion is a morally reprehensible act, certainly in its general practice today. I am convinced of this for a fairly long train of logically integrated reasons. But it doesn't matter what I think about it: that confers upon me absolutely no political authority to go about forcing others to behave according to my values in the matter. My authority is strictly limited to the sphere of my own life. And freedom is about living peaceably with people whose values I find reprehensible when they don't confront me. I don't have to like them. Well, guess what: nobody has to like the fact that I hold firearms to be a value for my own reasons. This is not about making friends: it's about being left alone to conduct my life by my own lights.

...which is precisely the position of abortion advocates.

I don't have to like them. But I do have to leave them alone, because logical and political integrity demand it.

Since I work in New York, I'd be truly insane not to favor gun control. In theory, I'd love to support the 2nd Amendment and peoples right to bear arms, but in a city of a gadzillion angry people, the reality is that if everyone was packing, you'd see a lot more murders come out of the great "You pushed me!" "No! You pushed me!" debate.

It makes perfect sense why decent people would want to prevent this type of violence by making guns harder to get. I'm actually sympathetic to that argument. But I think that it's been made so many times in the face of this type of thing happening that the pro-gun side was more prepared this time and were immediately ready to have the fight, which was a little disconcerting. So while I might not agree with the substance of the "pro-gun" side, I understand why they were biting at the chomp (is that the right term???) ready to go at it before the bodies were cold.

There are much bigger philosophical issues that could engaged at this time, such as, how much is the "social contract" breaking down that these things can happen at all? And in an environment where most of us walk around believing that we're the only person in the world, or at least the only one who matters, how far away from this "monster" are we? I fear that we're all much closer than we'd ever want to think.

How do we break down the walls of alienation and "me-firstness" to create a society where this kind of thing would never be able happen. I don't know that we can...should we even try? Billy, you may feel like things have become inverted and now its all "personal" to you, but since you are indeed in functioning in the world, it's bigger than you and your personal needs. But most of us, be it on the Left or the Right, have a very hard time with that. I get the feeling that Billy and I are on very different sides of the political fence, so can we actually talk to each other, or can we only engage in pissing matches? When all is personal, the latter is the only option. But if we actually care about the political, we'll have to figure out a way to have all sorts of hard conversations, with all sorts of people, and we won't care about whether or not we "identify" with each other.

Anyway, these are much harder issues to look at than gun control, much more room for the grey, and we're too damn attached to the black and white and moral absolutes.

Angry GOP Denounces the Politicization of Politics

E. J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post looks at the conservatives who stopped at nothing to investigate Clinton but are now ranting about the "politicization of politics."

[Bush's administration and conservatives are] an administration and a movement that can dish it out, but want to evade responsibility for doing so and can't take it when they are subjected to the same rule book that inconvenienced an earlier president. An editorial in the latest issue of the conservative Weekly Standard is a sign of arguments to come. The editorial complains about the various accusations being leveled against DeLay, Libby, Rove and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and it says that "a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives."

I have great respect for my friends at the Weekly Standard, so I think they'll understand my surprise and wonder over this new conservative concern for the criminalization of politics. A process that was about "the rule of law" when Democrats were in power is suddenly an outrage now that it's Republicans who are being held accountable.

Count Zero:

"For instance, I think a psychlogical evalutation should be required to purchase any firearm given that this man was able to walk into a store and purchase it after having a history of emotional and pschological problems."
Oh, yeah, well let's try it like this:

"I think a psychological evaluation should be required to have an abortion given the fact that round-heeled slatterns all over the country are churning out dead babies because they have a history of completely irresponsible sexual hijinks."

There. Anyone here insulted yet?

Good.

Try to imagine what you're saying about millions of responsible and peaceful gun owners who have nothing to prove to you and no reason to put up with the implicit prima facie and a priori accusation that they're "nuts".

"I didn't, actually, say anything about the US -- where of course the laws vary by state."

But you were more than hinting at the target, weren't you?

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