Opinion: The Rusty Side of the Coin
We’re all wrong about the shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children without futures, without first-evers and without unforgettable moments.
We’re wrong, not because our ideas are wrong, but because we’re talking about the wrong thing.
I realized this after reading the umpteenth story about the shooting and what lawmakers, pundits and celebrities have to say about it. Just on Jan. 22, a shooter in Texas went wild. As of press time, I didn’t have enough credible information to mention it here.
These stories — and Facebook posts and tweets — promote a limited dialogue. A dialogue based almost solely on reacting to something that’s happened, and nothing more.
A reactive society tends to focus on the symptom of any given problem, rather than the problem itself. Most of the proposed solutions, therefore, focus on how to keep 20 children from being shot up again, which is a symptom.
The problem itself isn’t as easily discernible. It requires research and introspection, trend analysis and historical perspective. In other words, it’s not the ‘how’ that we need to fix. It’s the ‘why.’ We tend to blur the lines between the two all too often.
Armed guards won’t solve this problem, nor will more easily accessible healthcare. And not because those are bad things, necessarily, but because we don’t even know what the problem is.
That ignorance is alright. But only as long as we accept it and face it, that “50 percent of solving a problem” ideal.
“Here’s something we don’t know,” we should say and scratch our heads, “Let’s dig into it and figure it out.” This is what Galileo did. What Darwin did. What Einstein did. Instead, we veer the conversation into easily understood shades of black and white, ignoring what we don’t know and sometimes even persuading ourselves we know everything there is to know.
One side says more guns on campus. Another side says more guns to the people. One side of the coin says government intervention – the other side says populist intervention. There are more sides, like minorities questioning the Sandy Hook incident itself and whether we have all the details on it. Those sides of the argument get shunned and ostracized immediately. Stick to the beaten path of the bicameral conversation, and you’ll be alright.
This all sound familiar? It is. We’ve been having the same conversation in this country since it became one over 200 years ago. It’s the same conversation that keeps us occupied, allowing us to be slacktivists online and indifferent in real life. And it’s a conversation that focuses on symptoms rather than problems.
I contacted the National Rifle Association, but they haven’t responded to me as of press time.
But I got this, from NRA’s website:
“No foreign influence has jurisdiction over the freedoms our Founding Fathers guaranteed to us,” says NRA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre during an address at the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Conference in New York. “Without apology, the NRA wants no part of any treaty that infringes on the precious right of lawful Americans to keep and bear arms.”
I also tried to reach someone at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and no one responded as of press time.
From its website, this coming from Dan Gross, the campaign’s president: “We will work with the Administration over the coming days to give voice to the American public who so strongly support common sense legislative policies that can immediately prevent gun violence, such as universal background checks. We also reaffirm the Brady Campaign’s commitment to lead the way toward better public health and safety education programs regarding the almost 300 million guns already in the hands of mostly law-abiding citizens.”
This is what the dialogue is.
I suggest it should be something else: Why did the Newtown maniac turn maniac. Why does our society breed these maniacs?
That’s a scary thing to ask. It implies that our society may be doing something wrong. It implies that we’re volatile. But most importantly, it implies that we have a lot of work to do. Work that supersedes political terms. Work that may not have a clear hero, a clear doer, a clear party label.
What isn’t scary is dumbing the conversation down to its most basic and Neanderthal form: More tribal power versus less tribal power.
It makes for easy water cooler arguments, complete with easy Facebook posts and catchy one-liners. And it’s not the only issue we treat this way.
Should gay marriage be legal or not? The two sides argue various dimensions to the issue, but all focus on marriage, a symptom of a bigger problem. And simply put: Fixing the symptom of illegal gay marriage will not fix the problem of discrimination based on orientation and identity.
I consulted Wayne Besen on this. He’s the executive director of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit that zealously battles the “ex-gay” myth. I asked him what would happen if the federal government were to hypothetically force every state to legalize same-sex marriage tomorrow. Would that fix all the problems plaguing the LGBT community? He responded with a quick “no.”
“You can’t legislate attitudes. Laws are only half the battle. I do think it would put us on equal footing in many respects and it would be a great leap forward, but there’d be more work to do,” he said. “There are many places in this country still where people who are openly gay are treated as outcasts. That large stigma is not going to go away overnight.”
Then I spoke with Stuart Gaffney, the media director for Marriage Equality U.S.A., a nationwide grassroots organization working for full, civil marriage equality.
“The movement for marriage equality is one part of a broader part for full LGBT equality. It’s a very important piece, but it is by no means the only piece in the puzzle that gives us equal rights and equal citizenship,” he told me. Gaffney’s parents were an interracial couple. Once all 50 states legalized their marriage, he said, their legal struggle ended, but their social struggle was still running.
“At that time, polls showed between 80 and 90 percent thought [the decision to legalize inter racial marriages] was wrong,” he said. “Sometimes civil rights laws lead popular attitudes.”
Both Besen and Gaffney mentioned employment discrimination issues, public accommodations, and transgender issues as just a few examples of matters that need resolution.
“[These issues] keep people from coming out of the closet,” Besen concluded.
Here are more examples: Gays still can’t donate blood, as they’re subjected to an ‘80s law based on a now-defunct fear of HIV. Same-sex adoptions are still hard to come by and are privy to discrimination. The socially accepted make-up of a “manly” man is so deformed that even heterosexuals don’t know what it means. Same thing goes for a “proper” lady. What does that mean? Is Kardashian the role model? Is Tom Cruise? Am I? Are you?
Your arm hurts when you break it. Drugs can make the pain go away (or fix the symptom), but surgery is necessary to fix the problem (broken bones). Guns are the morphine in this elementary metaphor, as is healthcare. Surgery signifies something beyond my understanding in the metaphor. I’m too ignorant to know what to do here.
But I’m smart enough to know something needs to be done.
It’s time we face the ugly side of the coin. The side we neglect so much none of us could recognize it if it fell on the sidewalk beside us. It’s time we question ourselves and our norms, our daily routines and our annual priorities.
It’s time we question the American way. It may not be all it’s cracked up to be. And before you color me Red, remember Howard Zinn’s words on dissent.
To fix something, we must first accept that it’s broken. Ignore that or deny it, and we’ll definitely fail because we won’t even try.
It’s time we face our shortcomings as a society.