“Saying you need to understand gun terminology to have opinions on gun policy is the equivalent of saying you need to understand the biology of a heroin overdose to have an opinion on the drug war.”
Thus went the jaw-on-the-floor stupid tweet of Zack Beauchamp, a senior report at Vox. I had written a post about the ridiculous “gunsplaining” article in the Washington Post, and foolishly assumed that even anti-gun fanatics would be embarrassed to endorse the view expressed there that those arguing for material changes in public policy should be required to understand the object of that policy. Then came Zack’s tweet.
Admittedly, and to be fair, Twitter makes people stupid. We have documented the sad Twitter-feuled decline of Harvard Law School icon Larry Tribe, and new victims of Twitter brain-suck suface every day. Bill Kristol once had a rather impressive brain, for example; look what he tweeted last week:
Wow. What a terrible, and ahistorical, analogy. The Texans at the Alamo were fighting in a war to secede from Mexico. Santa Anna was an authoritarian all right, but to Texans he was being authoritarian in the same way Lincoln was when he used forcet to keep the South from leaving. Mexico was hardly “nativist”: it invited Americans to settle the territory, and their arrival was completely legal. Indeed, Texas is a great example of what can happen when a country doesn’t control immigration at all. Twitter makes you stupid, and bias makes you even more stupid. Add anti-Trump bias to Twitter and you get Bill Kristol sounding like Maxine Waters.
Zach liked Kristol’s bad analogy too!
The fact that Vox employs a senior reporter whose critical thinking skills are so poor and whose judgment is so wretched that he happily displays them on social media is instructive regarding the influence new media commentators like Vox wield. Thus I was grateful for this Comment of the Day, by Michael West, on the post, The Desperate “Gunsplaining” Dodge’:
I think this is an informative tweet on several levels. First and foremost it’s a bad analogy. Let’s break it down:
He’s equated “understanding gun terminology” with “understanding biology of a heroin overdose”. So far this is an alright comparison to make. Both require detailed understanding of parts/anatomy of the specific entities in question, both require a detailed understanding of the functions of those parts as well as what happens to those parts when modified or used.
His next comparison is “to have opinions on gun policy” with “to have an opinion on the drug war”. Here’s where his analogy breaks down. We have the comparison of concrete applicable specific regulations to abstract values-centric generalities. Gun “policy” consists of a distinct set of plans and regulations which must be clear and consistent. Of course any specific set of such comprising gun “policy” derives FROM a larger more abstract set of values regarding the relationship of firearms and society.
Whatever any individual’s larger more abstract set of values regarding firearms & society is, or to say “to have an opinion on firearms” IS comparable to Beauchamp’s analog: “to have an opinion on the drug war”.
From the other angle, “to have an opinion on the drug war” consists of general notions of values, rights, duties, community imperatives, and other more abstract notions that govern an individual’s approach to the topic. The drug “war” is a larger topic than any particular set of specific policies pursuing it. To more closely resemble an analog to “to have opinions on gun policy”, Beauchamp would need to correct the term “to have opinions on drug enforcement policy”.
Second, as the errors in the analogy are understandable, they show us that there is a continuum on which lie “how society handles problems.” At one end of the continuum, we have abstractions – our values, our goals, and our ethical processes we use to weigh and compare them. At the other end of the continuum, we have detailed and concrete actions – policies, laws, regulations, etc. When our community faces any particular “problem”, consideration of that problem appropriately begins on the abstract end and works its way to the concrete end – and we discover that, even if we agree on our values at the starting point, we may have sharp disagreements at the end point.
Beauchamp is right in implying we all have a right to have and express opinions on the abstract side, he’s merely errant in applying that principle when we get to expressing opinions about the specific policies that pursue the values from the abstract side. If we want a policy that addresses the effects of “heroin overdoses” as part of the larger “drug war”, we better well understand the biology of heroin overdoses if we want to actually make sure those policies nest consistently with the greater values pursued. That means knowing the parts and processes of biology.
That being said, any person certainly CAN have a general set of values regarding firearms and whether or not they should be limited, but they better well understand the parts and processes of firearms if they actually want to make sure and specific policies nest consistently with their greater values.