Stigmatize gun ownership like smoking?

The Christian Science Monitor continues to astound with its idiocy.  One recent Monitor headline described the belligerence of Hamas as mere “military action.”  This when their signature mode of armed conflict–rocket attacks–consists in the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians.  So much for the idea of terrorism.

Now, the Monitor‘s editorial board suggests gun violence can be curbed by a public perception campaign akin to that which stigmatized smoking.  What would this look like? We can imagine the Ad Council cartoon propaganda now: a bratty, freckled blonde boy, sporting a sideways baseball cap, growls, “Hey bro, owning guns is not cool.”  Will subjecting upstanding, law abiding gun owners–who are generally paragons of civic responsibility–to such a silly and divisive psychological campaign really help?

There are better stigmas to promote instead. When Hollywood celebrities earnestly “demand a plan” of politicians while remaining unapologetic for their own glorification of gun violence, we ought to stigmatize their hypocrisy (and chuckle given their unintended fulfillment of this prophetic Portlandia parody). When our society allows severe mental illness to remain untreated out of fear of institutionalization and the corresponding desire for maximal autonomy, we should stigmatize indifference towards such danger.

Michael Medved is right when he declares that gun violence is a spiritual rather than a material problem. Prisoners of progressive thought are always trying to stigmatize material things.  They say SUVs kill the earth, or guns kill people.  At least the market tinkering of “cash for clunkers” had the probable effect of increasing the nation’s overall fuel efficiency.  But gun buybacks only decrease the ratio of gun ownership between law-abiding citizens and criminals.  Why is it ever good for criminals and murderers to have relatively more guns than the population at large?

The Monitor editorial also suggests an expansion of non-gun-owner rights along the lines of “non-smoker rights.”  Please, everyone, we have to think more carefully about rights!  We can’t just keep making up new ones.  Especially ones backed by stigma.  Have the editors at the Monitor forgotten that stigma–based on the materialistic concern of skin color–once supported the Jim Crow “right” for whites to not share public accommodations with blacks?

Rather than invoke stigmas based on material things, let’s stigmatize undesirable attitudes and behaviors instead.  We can start with the unfounded hysteria over gun violence.

Political prudence for the GOP

It’s been almost two weeks now since the Great Disappointment of 2012.  In 1844, the Millerites were let down in their expectation of divine deliverance.  With the wailing and self-flagellation of some after Romney’s 2012 defeat, one could be forgiven for thinking an event of similar cosmic significance had transpired.

To be sure, there is much to talk about.  And I myself have had some hearty discussions or else tracked the ongoing conversation.  This time of ferment offers a fresh opportunity to applaud realistic thinking as well as call out and smack down the sillier and more destructive ideas.

Two or three days after election, I came across one of the self-flagellation pieces on American Thinker.  The article looks back to the GOP’s post-Gingrich Revolution profligacy.  It seems the author is laying some significant portion of the election blame there.  But these transgressions happened an eternity ago on the political timescale.  It’s a little hard to imagine any number of voters bemoaning Trent Lott’s appropriation decisions from 17 years ago.

Yet the idea persists that Republicans are still suffering from the veto of off-put fiscal purists.  Michael Medved counters this notion with a rhetorical image: where is this mythical army of conservative voters who are withholding for the right candidate?  Only 40% of the country identifies as conservative, and we pretty well turned them out this last time.  The decisive work ahead lies not in squeezing an elusive reservoir of more conservatives but winning more moderates in the middle.  The numbers bear this out.

Meanwhile, a piece from Forbes offers a different message: this latest defeat is a chance to shake free of Karl Rove and the Bush II cadre.  Per the commentary, its high time for true Reaganites, in the Jack Kemp mold, to climb back to power.  I’m not really knowledgeable on the comparative schools of GOP politicos, but I took the editorial with a grain of salt.  Just think of Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”  Certainly, there’s room to criticize of our fellow partisans, but we ought to be wary of taking away such a simplistic narrative.  And we need to watch out for the damage that comes from publicly airing our internecine struggles.

Reading articles is nice, but one doesn’t even have to look that far to examine a slice of the conservative movement.  There’s Twitter for that.  And a lot of what has been floating in the past few days is junk.  There is the talk of secession.  Just dumb.  Neither is a dire outlook of the Republican brand appropriate.  And please, let’s suffer no more talk of RINOs.  This kind of sourness doesn’t help grow the party.  But to Twitter conservatives’ credit, folks seem to be on the ball in registering their disdain for unelectable candidates like Todd Akin.  If anyone needs to be kicked out, it’s brand-destroyers of that vein.

A bright spot in the post-election conservation is Daniel Henninger’s deconstruction of the Obama victory.  He has exposed the repulsive shape of future campaigns that Democrats have pioneered.  It will be in your face, all the time, and begging for every last penny.  Democrats, drawing on the progressive obsession with number-crunching technocratic solutions, have perfected the division and manipulation of the voting populace.

The rank and file of the GOP is too idealistic by comparison.  We’re always waxing about “articulating ideas.”  But I know we have some unsavory electorate-dicing operatives among us; or at least, we ought to.  We need them to act with the resources and range of their Democratic counterparts.

One more take away from post-election discussion comes from Michael Medved.  Per his recent piece, the key to Obama’s reelection victory was voter suppression.  You read that right.  Not Black Panther intimidation or tampering with ballots, though that surely happened too.  The winning strategy was deeply cynical: turn off swing voters, and push your base to the polls at all costs.  There’s nothing magical we can’t replicate there.

I think the GOP definitely has the ability to turn things around in the next few elections.  But even if you disagree, I would implore you to hold the myopic moping, conspiracy theories and intra-partisan vitriol.  Don’t spoil the hunt for the rest of us; too much is at stake.

D’Souza strikes (out again) on problem of evil

Dinesh D’Souza was on Michael Medved’s radio show a couple of weeks ago, promoting his new book God Forsaken.  From the unabridged (and unwieldy) title of the work, you’ll see it’s intended as something of an apologetic on the problem of evil.  Normally, I’d be positively inclined toward such a volume. But in the course of the interview, I found myself taking exception on a couple of counts.

The first foul stems from the author’s missed opportunity to affirm one of the most basic tenets of the Christian worldview.  Medved, the host, asked D’Souza and the call-in audience, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” A serious Christian theist can’t dance for long around that question before issuing the clarifying rejoinder: “Who is good?”

Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  It baffles me that D’Souza, a prominent defender of Christianity, could talk of how “bad things happen” without saying that God does not owe sparing us the consequence of our rebellion.

So then how does D’Souza sell his book in the course of a commercial radio hour?  On the oversubscribed basis of pop science and pop psychology.

Uninterested in traditional theodicy, that is the defense of God’s existence in light of evil, he tries to get people on board with God’s existence by a cursory dismissal of the New Atheists.  He explains away their fervor with a back-of-the-napkin psychoanalysis of the late Christopher Hitchens’ unpleasant childhood.  For all we know, psychology may play a major role in the New Atheist community, but the interviewee seems to lack the tact to avoid a borderline ad hominem attack.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Medved had previously been skeptical of D’Souza’s earlier work, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  In one sense, that whole book was a pop psychology ad hominem writ large.

Back to the interview.  Once D’Souza establishes that God exists but people are just angry at him, he moves to science, suggesting that certain findings justify the necessity of natural evil, as distinguished from man-made evil.  That means chance calamities like earthquakes and disease, rather than suffering that results from human volition.  So as chilling as they are, mountain lion attacks must be racked up as natural evil.

With this focus on science, the author makes some nifty declarations: life on Earth couldn’t develop without plate tectonics.  If we couldn’t face the consequences of defying gravity, we wouldn’t have true free will.  But these kind of arguments don’t persuade materialistic determinists or skeptics inured to the anthropic principle.  Especially not after you’ve insulted them.

In an hour of radio, the author manages to insult atheists, avoids affirming the fallenness of man, indulges popular appeals to science and psychology, and fails to offer substance for the weighty question of evil.

Yes, he is a former fellow of the Hoover Institution, and the current president of The King’s College in New York City.  And the respectable Evangelical biographer Eric Metaxas gives glowing praise for God Forsaken, so the book may not be a wash.  But considering his previous sketch on Obama, his radio interview, and his second-place finish in last year’s Intelligence Squared debate, I have some doubts as to whether Mr. D’Souza is an effective apologist for Christians or the American Conservative movement.

Good public discourse is not built on sensational psychology or svelt scientific findings.  Whether it’s Dinesh D’Souza or Richard Dawkins answering life’s big questions, we deserve from them solid epistemology and a coherent metaphysics.  We shouldn’t expect less from our top-shelf minds.

Voting against your own interest

#1: Voting against your own interest
Have you ever heard this kind of musing before?  The idea is that Republicans exploit social “wedge issues” like gun ownership or gay marriage to get lower-income conservatives to vote against their own  self-interest.  And that is supposed to be to get government to take money from rich people and dole it back to the poor masses of which they are a part.
I was reminded of this trope while listening to Michael Medved interview Corey Robin about his new book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.  Robin himself used the worn line about voting against self-interest, and it recalled the spirit of the 2006 book What’s the Matter with Kansas?
I wonder if the people who say or write those things are ever conscious of how presumptuous they sound.  Somehow, they know what you should objectively be voting for, and you are just duped by your blind passions.  Not a very charitable view of a fellow citizen.  Worse than the attitude though is their ignorance of the fact that redistribution schemes, whether born of a patronizing benevolence or a covetous “self-interest” of the masses, do not benefit the targets of socio-political largesse  but only beget greater misery for everyone in the society.
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