The Incredible Hopelessness of America’s Gun “Conversation”

by Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio

The Incredible Hopelessness of America’s Gun “Conversation”
The Incredible Hopelessness of America’s Gun “Conversation”
The Center For Vision & Values
The Center For Vision & Values

Grove City, PA -(AmmoLand.com)- For millennia, the ability to interpret hieroglyphics had been lost to the ages. So when Jean-Francois Champollion decoded the Rosetta Stone it was a monumental breakthrough.

Since then, a “Rosetta Stone” has come to refer to anything that offers a roadmap for understanding the undecipherable.

Today’s political landscape is rife with puzzles and paradoxes in desperate need of Rosetta Stones. The one that I want to discuss is this: Why are we so profoundly incapable of having a reasonable dialogue about guns? National Review writer David French describes the “conversation” as hopelessly polarized. It’s as if, he laments, we are coming from entirely different worlds when processing events like the massacre that took place in Orlando.

The basic facts of that incident are not in dispute: A self-professed ISIS jihadist indiscriminately slaughtered dozens of innocent people at a gay nightclub, literally pledging his loyalty to ISIS via a phone call to a 9-1-1 dispatcher as he was committing the atrocity. Seeing this, conservatives generally zeroed in on the evil of the perpetrator and addressed the broader war on terror. Viewing the same facts, leftist commentators and pundits invariably settled on a narrative driven by a fixation on “America’s gun culture,” a narrow focus on stricter gun control, and blanket calls for “tolerance” of the “LGBTQ” agenda by conservatives and Christians.

It is no wonder that David French refers to the liberal reaction to this and other similar incidents as a “bizarro morality.” The level of disconnect has been truly mind-boggling.

Fortunately, in our quest to comprehend the incomprehensible, we have a Rosetta Stone in the form of Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind.” Haidt’s moral-foundations theory is an extraordinary body of work that is meticulously empirical and thoroughly cross-cultural (agree or disagree this how Haidt defines his terms). In a nutshell: liberals’ moral reasoning rests almost exclusively on the left-most of six moral pillars. Liberal moral cognitions are triggered by indications of suffering and injustice. The conservative moral matrix couldn’t be more different. While it is somewhat biased toward the right-most moral pillars, conservatives clearly demonstrate a relatively balanced concern for all six.

The implications of this difference are far-reaching. Liberals seek to establish “justice” for those they view as harmed, but with essentially no concern for other moral foundations. Conservative moral thinking is “advantaged” in the sense that it is likewise prompted by indications of suffering but also by threats to foundational societal principles and institutions.

Haidt puts this “conservative advantage” to the test—literally. The test (page 287 in the book) involved asking hundreds of subjects to guess how people in the opposite camp would respond to political/moral questions. The result? Conservatives describe the liberal morality far more accurately than liberals describe conservative morality. The most dramatic errors in the entire experiment came when “very liberal” respondents were asked to empathize with conservatives around the care/harm pillar.

In short, conservatives can relate to liberals but the converse is not true. And there may not be a better example of this than the “gun conversation” going in in America right now.

Consider the typical liberal triggers and conclusions in responding to the Orlando massacre: For liberals, the culprit is not radical Islam but the NRA; the victimization and suffering easily justify challenging the Second Amendment, which either doesn’t actually guarantee the individual right to bear arms or was meant only to account for flintlock rifles and the like.

But what about those who believe that individual liberty and the right to self-defense are foundational? What about people who accept 200-plus years of Supreme Court rulings and several state constitutions and agree that the Second Amendment self-evidently guarantees the individual right to bear arms? What animates them after Orlando is the same grief, shock, and revulsion that liberals experience. They feel a similar desire to find ways to prevent and limit the deadliness of such occurrences.

But what’s almost literally a world apart is that they want to accomplish this without undermining the individual’s liberty—the right to self-defense or the right to bear arms.

From a moral-foundations perspective, left and right almost couldn’t be more polarized than they are on this issue. Conservatives can process the liberal concern for gun violence and the suffering it causes. But liberals literally cannot understand how someone could share that value while also having the slightest concern for Second Amendment rights.

Put differently, the conservative worldview is a system of morality that liberals simply can’t compute. It’s a prism that liberals can’t and won’t accept as even falling into the category of legitimate moral thinking. Thus, conservative beliefs and the people that harbor them can be readily demonized and easily marginalized.

Although we can now read hieroglyphics, we still don’t know why or even how the Egyptians built the pyramids. Similarly, while “The Righteous Mind” elegantly explains why the gun “conversation” in America is so utterly hopeless, it doesn’t offer a solution.

Maybe there isn’t one.

But if it occurs to you that every time you try to have a civil discourse with a liberal about guns, you end up spending the entire time just convincing that person that your mainstream views are not insane, at least now you know why.

Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio
Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio

About the Author:

Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio is a guest commentator for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A former assistant professor and chair of the international relations program in the political science department at the University of Florida, he is now vice president of research and advisory services for a global business advisory firm. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Southern California.

  • 2 thoughts on “The Incredible Hopelessness of America’s Gun “Conversation”

    1. The Righteous Mind was one of the most interesting works I have read in many years, and does seem to identify a large part of the problem with liberal/conservative conversations.
      If “liberal think” (for want of a better term) is only considering one (or even two) moral dimensions, and “conservative think” is judging on four to six dimensions, then it follows that once the 1 or 2 dimensions common to both liberals and conservatives have been passed, the only remaining possibility for liberals is probably the conclusion that the conservative they are arguing with is “just talking nonsense,” or “deflecting the issue to another topic.” This would predictably lead to the liberal reiterating his/her argument, perhaps in stronger or more emotional terms, but never actually addressing the additional dimensions (which they do not even see, or at least do not recognize as valid moral dimensions) which of course, is useless as an argument against those other dimensions. This in turn, will tend to make them view the frustrated conservative as intolerant, unintelligent, or even inherently evil, since he keeps talking about issues the liberal finds irrelevant, and thus, sees as mere diversions from the topic under discussion. If you had a color TV and were trying to tell someone who only had a black and white TV, why you thought Vanna White’s purple dress was ugly, it would make no sense to them, since they only see her dress as a dark shade of gray, and they’d think you were talking nonsense too. Indeed, this is exactly how many of my own conversations with liberal friends often goes. For example, when I argue that a better response to the Orlando attack than banning any kind of guns, would lie in making guns more readily available to the public, to reduce the availability of soft targets and allow intended victims to fight back effectively, they tend to respond with arguments that since guns hurt people, they cannot have any useful value, and the fact that their ownership is protected by the 2nd Amendment is simply evidence that the Constitution is outdated. It is impossible to have a conversation about the rights of citizens if we are discussing guns, because guns only hurt people in the liberal’s eyes; they have no other purpose. Since they only hurt people, only bad people who want to hurt others would even want to HAVE guns, is the obvious corollary argument. This makes perfect logical sense, if you only use one moral dimension to judge guns, but is quite simple-minded if you use several moral dimensions. Like the Vanna White dress analogy, since they see black, red, and purple as the same shade of dark gray, they are unable even to understand what you are talking about when you say the dress is ugly because of its color – for them there IS NO color to the dress so it cannot be considered or discussed reasonably. It is the same way, when discussing guns. For the liberal, there IS NO good use for any gun, nor is there any inherent right to own one, etc., guns only hurt people, so it cannot be discussed reasonably either.

    2. Most folks are working slobs like myself and are tired of all the cytological bull sh*t !!!! It’s Plain to see that we are to civilized to see that Muslims are nothing but savages and you cannot reason with them !!

      When some one say’s they can’t see people needing an AR it makes my blood boil !! Who are they to decide what I need . If they wish not to defend them selves then don’ come to my house when you are under attach . Don’t cry some one do something when you were one of the ones who helped ban guns !!

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