If We Can’t Agree On Guns, Can We Agree On Something Else?

I’m a political pessimist by nature. Legislation I support rarely gets passed and when it does it’s also carrying pieces of something I don’t support, which is the only way it gets passed. I partly blame gerrymandering. Our political congressional districts are drawn in such a way that there is no way for anyone from the “other” party to win their district making it a battle within a party which – as we have all seen – means that the politicians must always target their base so they can be the MOST Republican/Democrat in their district since their district is majority THAT party. So, I feel like until Congressional Limits and district lines are redrawn, we’re kinda screwed on the gun issue.

So I’m taking steps back. Before these shooters bought their guns.

And I’m looking at what makes people feel the kind of anger that they feel when they terrorize a group of people with gunfire. I’m looking at how the internet has changed the way deal with our disagreements with “The Other”. We have these platforms to magnify our voices outside of the walls of our homes, whether it’s something to showcase our writing like a blog, or just a twitter feed or a Facebook account. We have these ways to say things which more people will here than did 20 years ago.

20 years ago if someone disliked something, like a politician or an ethnic group, they really rarely had to think about it. They curated their lives in such a way that it was only during the news, or when reading the paper, that they might encounter something they disagreed with. Maybe there were people they didn’t like at work, so they avoided them. Or maybe there was family they shared differing opinions from, but they only saw them on the holidays.

But now…now we are faced every day with voices around us who vocalize things we don’t like. From politicians to neighbors. And it’s a battle over who can be heard so the voices are getting more and more extreme so that they can be heard amidst the drum of the constant chatter. ESPECIALLY with media. News sources want to make sure their headlines are the ones that get clicked so they make them as inflammatory as possible. AND WE FALL FOR IT. We click the inflammatory headline and then we’re getting riled up about this issue and then we post about it on our Facebook walls using the same tones of anger and outrage and any of our friends and family who maybe fall in the middle zone of an issue (which many do) suddenly feel like they have to choose a side because everyone is SO ANGRY and instead of fostering conversation we used our anger and our outrage to make the division worse.

If you are a proponent of Gun Control – do you know EXACTLY what you are a proponent for? I saw someone on twitter say, “I am un-friending on Facebook everyone who is NOT FOR GUN CONTROL.” But do you know what “gun control” you support? Because there are some proposals I’ve read, especially ones legislating rights for people with mental health issues, that I worry about backfiring because people are less likely to seek out mental health help if they’re going to be put on a list of people who can’t buy guns. I just really want language in that kind of legislature to be specific and it’s hard to write.

So, are all of my pro gun control friends going to unfriend me?

The majority of Americans don’t think that assault riffles are something the average citizen needs in their home. BUT – there’s so much talk on the right side of the issue about “our rights being taken away” that their terrified that by banning some sort of weapon of terror like that, that the next step will be the average person being unable to own anything used for hunting – which a lot of people do. The amount of people who own hunting equipment in the US is vast. It remains a popular pastime for Americans, and sites that review such equipment, like outdoor empire, are also frequently visited.

BOTH SIDES use divisive and fear-mongering language. And that’s just about this ONE issue.

But there are hundreds of other issues that do that same thing, which creates an environment of hate and discord in this country because – in order to be heard – that’s the language that’s used by the people with the biggest platforms. And we’re all repeating it back. Some celebrity or politician says, “ANYONE WHO DOESN’T SUPPORT GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION HAS THE VICTIMS’S BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS.”

And we retweet that shit.

We talk about how much we “HATE” certain politicians…if we “HATE” the President of the United States, someone who – IF YOU TAKE OUT THE FEAR MONGERING AND THE DIVISIVE LANGUAGE – has done some good things as well as things you might disagree with, then the word “HATE” has completely lost meaning. But by declaring that he’s “RUINED OUR COUNTRY!” then suddenly we created this weird atmosphere where people who might not think he’s that bad, but who might not agree with some of his points, have to choose a side.

The media is using inflammatory and divisive language for clicks and we’re soaking it in and regurgitating it like the good clickers we are and we’re nurturing this environment where everyone FIRST feels like they have to “choose sides” and then no one feels like they can EVER agree with someone on the “other” side without getting lambasted.

I’ve said it before: If you can’t think of one think you agree with and one thing you disagree with regarding a government official – then your sources of news are biased and you are helping nurture this incredibly unproductive environment.

If you post on Facebook that you think our President is THE WORST and anyone who still supports him should unfriend you now, then you are making it worse.

If you declare that you refuse to be Facebook friends anyone who doesn’t support gun control, then you are making it worse.

I’m not saying we should all get along or agree.

But I’m saying that the inflammatory language the internet has given us makes it so that the average person who is usually moderate, feels the need to suddenly be extreme and choose sides.

But the moderate places in the middle is where change happens. And we’re scaring those people away.

And the result is this terrible and palpable anger and fear that is now permeating everything we say and do. Any time we have a tragedy everyone on either side figures out how to frame the narrative to support their view. And that frame always has to use FEAR and ANGER which just adds fuel to the fire of this OUTRAGED! ALL! THE! TIME! society. WE ARE ALL ANGRY!

Instead of using our words to support specific pieces of legislation (which of course would never pass because of the aforementioned gerrymandering, but let’s move on) we are using our words to stop the dialog and create more anger and more hatred.

And as much as we hate to admit it? If we use inflammatory language? We are partly responsible for extremism. And until we admit that – that all of our words have power, even if it’s just on our Facebook page – then the extremists are going to continue to exist on all sides of every argument. Every time we click an inflammatory headline, or every time we retweet an inflammatory tweet, we are nurturing the ground where extremism grows.

We have a voice online. We have a platform. Even if we don’t realize it. Every time we post a status or share out an article on Facebook we should say, “Is this nurturing extremism?” Are we pushing people in the middle who might have liked to have a dialog to the other extreme? Are we building walls between ourselves and “the other side” so much that the people are scared to talk to us?

I wouldn’t have ever considered how some gun control legislation could backfire on the mental health arena if I had not listened to someone who was moderate. Someone who supports SOME gun control but not ALL. If I had just fueled the fire with a “IF YOU ARE NOT FOR GUN CONTROL WE CAN’T BE FRIENDS” I might have never heard that important dialog. So now I’m trying to learn more about specific types of legislation. And not be discouraged when I discover that the only way things I support will ever get passed is if things I don’t support are tacked on top of them.

But that’s another rant of our legislative process for another day.

For today, can we all just consider the microphone we’ve been given? Can we find ways to express our thoughts that don’t make the divide wider and created a fertile breeding ground for extremism? WE HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. I’ve retweeted inflammatory tweets before because I’m all, “NOT MY WORDS! MY HANDS ARE CLEAN!” but you know what? The second I retweet that shit? THEY BECOME MY WORDS TOO. Use your words and shares wisely. Consider the source. Consider the tone. Consider what your goal is. Do you actually want to foster some sort of dialog so we can actually see change or progress? Or do you just want to choose a side in the inflammatory fear-mongering political battle lurking on everyone’s facebook feed?

I’d like to avoid that, personally.

3 Comments

  • Teejay

    YES! Thank you for writing this. I’m a very moderate person in life, as are most people. But I’m so tired of feeling like everybody is either lined up on this side or that side! When you talk to somebody in real life (as opposed to FB/Twitter/G+), it’s so much easier to find the common ground and see that it’s not EVERYTHING with which we disagree.

  • Alex

    YES! I am a big believer in the concept of collective energy, and lending your words, energy and attention to the way you want the world to be, not the way you wish it wasn’t.