Friday, December 21, 2012

Can We and Should We Always Nationalize Problems and / or Solutions - Gun Deaths and the Internet

Two articles on the gun control caught my eye today. One is at the Corner  Gun Rights, Gun Control, and Irreconcilable Cultural Differences a piece I somewhat agree with.

However related to that at The Volokh Conspiracy  see Can We Talk (about Guns)? The whole thing is worth a read but this part really struck me as sound:

Hoffman also suggests the nature of internet discourse cuts against the tolerance of differing approaches to social problems.

My intervention here is to just to point out that the problem we actually have here is one of discourse – we are forced by the Internet to nationalize problems. This makes it much, much harder for local communities to experiment with localized solutions to threats to the moral order. If a community in, say, Connecticut wanted to ban assault weapon clips (because it made them feel safer – let’s put to one side data on efficacy!), Glenn Reynolds would lead a charge against the liberal fascists. Indeed. Heh. Yes. If a community in Tennessee wants to arm its teachers (because it makes them feel safer – let’s put to one side data on efficacy!) Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan would call them out as conservative fascists. Or loonies. Or winners of the Moore award. And we’d all get to pat ourselves on the back, but no one would actually get the benefit that law is supposed to provide, which is the helpful illusion that we’re more civilized than we actually are, and that we’re actually doing something to push back against the tide.

That is: a national conversation about guns and violence, facilitated and sped up by the internet, reduces our ability to try out different versions of the good life, and thus diminishes our capacity live together in peace.

I think he has a point. I also suspect this problem is magnified due to a decline in the understanding and appreciation of tolerance as a virtue. Not tolerance as acceptance or approval, but true tolerance. Tolerance as in there is something unpleasant, objectionable, or distasteful that one nonetheless tolerates. And this is brings us back to the problem of cocooning. If we have little interaction with those of truly different viewpoints — those whose entire worldview and starting premises are different than ours — we have a harder time recognizing the goodwill and fundamental humanity of those with whom we disagree. And that means we have a more difficult time discussing divisive political issues and trying to find common ground. So instead we demonize and attempt to marginalize our opponents — undertakings that may make us feel good, but do nothing to improve the situation.

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