Friday, December 21, 2012

Sticks and stones

A day late and a dollar short, but this kind of only could be posted today. Bear with me:

-My first reaction to head-on-a-stick-gate: Yeah, count me in. Erik Loomis's violent rhetoric (macho posturing?) is not my style, but yes, I believe the N.R.A. is an evil organization, and only just recently compared the pro-gun side to those who supported slavery or Nazism when those were normal, an intentional (if hyperbolic, as they always are) Godwin with the point being that sometimes ordinary individuals believe what they've been taught to believe and don't know how wrong they are. The leadership in these cases is where the evil lies, and I should think the dude who's head of the N.R.A. should count. To reiterate: if you yourself happened to be raised in Gun Culture, I don't think this makes you somehow a worse person than people like me, who happened not to be born in that culture. But I'm not going to equivocate when it comes to declaring what you were taught to be wrong. I'm not going to act as though it's my duty as an American to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand about this issue, to ever-so-sympathetically acknowledge the centrality of guns to American culture, just not the fake-American culture I grew up with.

-My second reaction when first seeing Loomis's tweets, including the ones above-and-beyond head-on-a-stick, with ample use of variants of "fuck," was that someone in an ordinary job would be in trouble, and that if we establish that tenured and tenure-track profs should not be, that's nice for them but useless for the rest of us. More specifically, I thought of that teacher (of regular kids, not college students) fired for appearing on Facebook drinking a glass of wine while on vacation in Europe. And of the many more college adjunct instructors, who quite simply don't have time to tweet about heads on sticks, what with teaching non-stop for not even a living wage and no benefits. Not, of course, that all of this need be zero-sum. But there's just so much cause for outrage in terms of how teachers are treated, which superhuman feats are expected of them, that the mistreatment of a swaggering blogger with the support of everyone who matters (what a list!) did not, immediately, strike me as a cause I needed to get involved in. I agree with the prestigious horde, but this seemed well-covered without me.

-First plus second reactions combined to my thinking that Loomis's job should absolutely be safe, but that as much as I want the anti-gun side to take a more radical (i.e. no private ownership of guns) position (either, a girl can dream, for that to happen, or at least to shift the center of the debate), I don't think this type of rhetoric is the way to do it. While they probably came from a place of sincerity and genuine outrage, they read as someone getting a real kick out of seeing how far he can go.

-Complicating all of this: The particular group one has beef with if one picks on the N.R.A. is a particularly shall we say armed segment of the population. Maybe the admins of the University of Rhode Island just don't want to be, like, shot?

-And then there was today's announcement from head-on-stick himself, Wayne LaPierre, calling for oh-so-effective armed guards at all schools. Still not convinced Loomis's rhetoric is the most effective (again, not because it's too radical, but because obscenities and threats of violence are just going to alienate potential allies), but it does feel a notch more justified.


Stendhal said...

"[I]f you yourself happened to be raised in Gun Culture, I don't think this makes you somehow a worse person than people like me, who happened not to be born in that culture. But I'm not going to equivocate when it comes to declaring what you were taught to be wrong."

Believe it or not, many of us gun owners/second amendment supporters do not come across our views genealogically. Rather, many of us arrive at our opinions through careful and well-informed deliberation. And this does not mean that we are either naive or evil.

It means we disagree with you. And you don't have to equivocate when you tell us that we're wrong. Just like we won't equivocate when we tell you that you're wrong. But hopefully we can go about calling each other wrong in ways that are more coherent and respectful than the example provided by Erik Loomis.

PS. And for the record, Loomis et al. are absolutely right in pointing out how absolutely bizarre the NRA presser was. Even if it does make me less safe, I'm grateful to live in a world (a) with Quentin Tarantino and (b) without an intrusive mental health nanny state.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Well, my understanding here is basically limited to people who don't know better. But of course people do sometimes - if not often - believe the opposite of what they were raised with.

Given that the NRA apparently doesn't even want stats on this available (where were you getting yours, btw?), I'm having a tough time believing hyper-rational sorts (as you self-identify) are really looking at numbers and deciding that the country is safer with everyone armed than with no one armed. Although what I recall from your last comment was that you believe guns can protect individuals, while making society overall more dangerous. In which case I suppose I could wrap my head around someone buying a gun for self-defense while at the same time advocating for a ban on or drastic reduction to private gun ownership.

But we are agreed that an all-out crackdown on eccentricity or violent movies or whatever isn't the answer.

PG said...

Are people on the left generally not aware that the campaign against Loomis is part of a tit-for-tat for Sarah Palin's being in any way mentioned in connection with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords? Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) is not using the phrase "eliminationist rhetoric" sincerely. He is -- and for quite some time, has been -- quoting Paul Krugman, and possibly David Neiwart who authored a whole book on how people on the right are "eliminationists."

Google the phrase and you'll see that it is quoted in agreement by people on the left who think Palin's "target" map was inappropriate (like Scott at Lawyers Guns & Money), and quoted mockingly by people on the right who agree that Palin was blood libeled, as she put it. The point is to show that people on the left, and particularly in media, are hypocrites who are biased against conservatives. Loomis is simply collateral damage in a much larger war. (If we're pumping testosterone into our metaphors.)

Britta said...


That crossed my mind when I thought of all that, except there are some key differences. No one on the left made a big deal about the crosshairs until after Giffords was shot, and then people noticed that Palin had posted a picture of Giffords with crosshairs on her face and a caption that she had to be taken out. It's hard to know if it had an influence, but reasonable people could see such a thing influencing a crazy person, even though it wasn't Palin's intent. A better analogy would be if someone tried to saw La Pierre's head off, and then people noticed Loomis's tweet.

There's also the difference that "head on a stick" is a (violent) idiomatic expression which means to express anger or discontent in a political or otherwise non-violent arena, while "taken out" is an idiomatic expression for actual murder. But perhaps more importantly, as NRA types love to point out, one NEVER points a gun at another human, especially never in jest, so even a somewhat unserious political ad which does so crosses a line that idiomatic speech doesn't.

This doesn't mean that it's not treated as equivalent by the Right, but there are pretty substantial reasons why its not, and treating them as the same is in very bad faith.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"A better analogy would be if someone tried to saw La Pierre's head off, and then people noticed Loomis's tweet."


PG said...


The whole thing is in bad faith because people on the right don't sincerely believe that Loomis wanted LaPierre dead.

However, LaPierre does face threats of violence and I don't think the acceptability of A's speech act should depend on B's violent act that appears to take literally A's violent metaphor. People on the left had used target imagery themselves in the past. It's just that no one on their target graphics had ever gotten shot. Either a particular form of speech is not socially acceptable in a civilized society, or it is. It's like the prank pulled by the Australian radio DJs that is now believed to have led to the nurse they pranked committing suicide: either such pranks are OK or they are not (I'm fine with telecommunications regulators saying they're not and they are an abuse of the public trust), but it shouldn't depend on one individual's reacting badly to them. If a gang goes after LaPierre with an axe (e.g. to see how well LaPierre actually can defend himself with a gun against gun-less attackers), surely that doesn't change the moral quality of Loomis's statement.