Monday, October 26, 2015

The Pro-Gun Argument Isn't an Argument. It's All Gut Feelings and Symbols.

One of my favorite definitions to quote to students comes from a Monty Python sketch:
An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.
When we say that someone is making an argument in favor of something, that needs to include statements that lead via logic and evidence from one or more premises to the conclusion. Your premises may be wrong, there may be countervailing evidence, or your logical leaps may be too far. But this is the structure of arguments.

Much of what passes for political "dialogue" is not argument at all. There are no premises, there is no logic or evidence, there is only dogma couched as conclusions - usually framed in a way that they should be obvious to everyone, and that only the truly stupid could fail to see the "truth".

I have argued for some time that this constitutes most of the rhetoric from the NRA. It isn't logic or argumentation at all. Instead, the NRA appeals to tribal loyalty and bumper-sticker dogma that primarily relies on emotional symbols while denigrating anyone who doesn't agree with them.

I get a delightful range of things in my Facebook feed, including periodic reminders of this characteristic of the NRA. Here is one of the latest to cross my field of view:

This is the epitome of an emotional appeal. The "argument" here is that you're not a "man's man" if you don't own a gun. Why Mike Rowe gets to define manhood for everyone else I have no idea, but that's a separate question.

This is pretty standard dog-whistle stuff. Folks who are in the NRA tribe will "get it", and they can feel smug and superior towards those of us on the outside. Mr. Rowe has now given them license to question the manhood (whatever that means) of those who disagree. This couldn't get more petty if you set it on a kindergarten playground.

The tragedy here is that the more of this we see - the more this kind of tribal shouting becomes the only form of "communication" - the less possible it is to have an actual discussion. There's no room for dialogue here, no possibility of discussion, no acknowledgment that there might be other legitimate points of view. Mr. Rowe might as well just wear a shirt that says "We're Great, You Suck" and be done with it.

We were treated this past weekend to a visit from the bishop of our diocese. In a morning session before the service he concluded his remarks by noting that there are only two ways that people relate to each other. Either they try to get the better of each other - to advance their own interests and views at others' expense - or they interact in love and compassion. There are no other choices. The NRA has demonstrated time and again that it is only interested in the former, and that its vision of the world has no love in it. Which sounds like hell on earth to me.

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