Category Archives: Civility in Discourse

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I’ve raised the question of civility in discourse before, but it’s time to revisit the subject. Of late, I have been trolling the The Huffington Post–well, I say trolling, but really what I’ve been doing is expressing a minority opinion there. The editorial stance and the position taken by much of the commenters leans hard to the left. As my regular readers know, I’m a pogo stick on the traditional political spectrum. That’s because my core political philosophy is aimed at securing liberty for the individual, something I’ve taken to calling eleutherianism. Politics is best represented not as a spectrum, limited to one dimension, but as a multi-dimensional space.

Nevertheless, since at times the comments that I make feel to the right of many opinions expressed on the HuffnPuff, I get a chorus of replies intending to educate me on some point. The problem here is that said commenters have presumed that I don’t know what they do and thereby take it upon themselves to call me ignorant–and occasionally to correct the perceived deficiency.

What they apparently cannot comprehend is that people can have the same body of facts but arrive at different conclusions. They write comments in the manner that many of my students write argument essays by dumping a pile of facts into a posting and leaving. What they fail to understand is that facts don’t speak for themselves.

Let’s take the hot topic de jour, global warming. Some doubt the science, but rationally speaking, the facts are that the Earth is heating up, and human activity is the cause. But notice that those facts tell us precisely nothing about what we ought to do. There are a variety of responses that can be taken, from nothing at all to a radical restructuring of human societies. One can be fully aware of the facts and yet reach different answers regarding the appropriate action.

I’m not seeking consolation here. Politics, just like any other serious human endeavor, is a messy and occasionally ugly business. What I am suggesting is that we will all do better in arriving at solutions if we lay aside the urge to smugness and cease to presume that we know the facts of which our opponents must be ignorant.

Of course, there are some about whom we cannot escape the realization that they are willfully ignorant. Aye, there’s the rub. Separating the fools from the worthy adversaries is not easy. I’m asking here to give everyone a fair chance first before jumping to the conclusion that the person isn’t deserving of being heard.

Playing Twenty Questions

I ran across this site

the other day and tried to submit my own answers to the twenty questions, but it appears that comments on that article are closed. My comments on recent articles only elicited requests for me to use logic and plain English. That being the case, submitted for your approval are my answers:

1. Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?

I believe that rights are inalienable. Once a criminal is restored to full citizenship (i.e. full humanity), that person should get everything back. (I presume by domestic abusers, the author means someone who is convicted.) Under our current system, licensed firearms dealers are obliged to run a background check, and the named categories of people are ineligible. I don’t believe that the government has any business regulating private sales.

2. What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?

I carry my own guns whenever and wherever doing so is legal, and I encourage the expansion of legal areas. This is not a joke. Unless we want a police state, we cannot keep bad guys from getting guns. My solution is for the good guys–that’s you and I, folks–to have our own and be ready to use them.

3. Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to “keep and bear arms”?


Expanded answer: The First Amendment ennumerates rights in the same manner as the Second. Do you want a background check at your library or bookstore? How about for writing articles on a weblog?

4. Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?

The author of Common Gunsense is apparently associated with the Brady Campagin. Perhaps she has forgotten the Assault Weapons Ban of the 90s? Yes, I do believe that the Brady Bunch wants to take my guns.

5. If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?

Let’s see–refer to the law named in #4. Also, if one more anti-liberty justice gets appointed to the Supreme Court, the balance tips the wrong direction.

6. What do you think are the “second amendment remedies” that the tea party GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada( Sharron Angle) has proposed?

I don’t know. I observe that she lost.

7. Do you believe in the notion that if you don’t like what someone is doing or saying, second amendment remedies should be applied?

That depends. First, define what such remedies are. If Second Amendment remedies mean using arms to fight a tyrannical government–such as what happened recently in Libya–then yes, I do agree with that application.

8. Do you believe it is O.K. to call people with whom you disagree liars and demeaning names?

O.K. in what way? We do not have a right to go through life without ever being offended. Free speech means just that–free. I don’t have to like it or agree with it to support the right to say it. Besides which, some people are lying sacks of shit.

9. If yes to #8, would you do it in a public place to the person’s face?

I don’t generally speak to people that way, but if the situation called for it, then yes. I don’t say one thing on-line and another in person. That being said, as someone who carries a firearm, I have a higher duty to avoid a fight, so I don’t instigate violence.

10. Do you believe that any gun law will take away your constitutional rights?

As I’ve written elsewhere on this weblog, I don’t think that I have a right to artillery pieces or an unrestricted right to dynamite. But laws banning small arms or restricting my carrying of the same do diminish my exercise of my right.

11. Do you believe in current gun laws? Do you think they are being enforced? If not, explain.

Do I believe in them? Yes, they do exist. I don’t support most of them. Are they enforced? I have to fill out a background check form every time I buy a gun, so apparently they are. On the other hand, the BATFE seems able to send weapons to Mexico without following the rules. . .

12. Do you believe that all law-abiding citizens are careful with their guns and would never shoot anybody?

All? No. The vast majority? Yes. (I presume that by never shoot anybody, the author means never shoot anyone who isn’t threatening an innocent person.)

13. Do you believe that people who commit suicide with a gun should be included in the gun statistics?

I don’t like statistics. In this specific case, I also have to state that suicide is the right of all adults without minor dependents.

14. Do you believe that accidental gun deaths should “count” in the total numbers?

“Count” for what purpose? If the study is counting gun deaths, lumping all kinds together just produces a meaningless number. I don’t believe that we should ban guns just because a few people are silly with them.

15. Do you believe that sometimes guns, in careless use or an accident, can shoot a bullet without the owner or holder of the gun pulling the trigger?

Modern firearms designs make that exceedingly unlikely. My blackpowder revolver will fire if the hammer is resting on a live cap and receives a blow, as will my Peacemaker clone. Those are old designs. It is broadly true to say that firearms sold today cannot fire without the trigger being pulled.

16. Do you believe that 30,000 gun deaths a year is too many?

It depends on the circumstances. Are we talking about persons who are in the commission of violent crimes? Then no. If those are innocent persons dying, then yes. The number is irrelevant to the right, though.

17. How will you help to prevent more shootings in this country?

See my answer to #2.

18. Do you believe the articles that I have posted about actual shootings or do you think I am making them up or that human interest stories about events that have happened should not count when I blog about gun injuries and deaths?

As I read recently on the Internet, the plural of anecdote is not data. For every one of your stories about an innocent person being killed by a gun, I’ll raise you accounts of good guys saving themselves and others. But again, rights aren’t subject to quantitative analysis.

19. There has been some discussion of the role of the ATF here. Do you believe the ATF wants your guns and wants to harass you personally? If so, provide examples ( some have written a few that need to be further examined).

I’m not important enough to have gained the attention of said bureaucracy, but I am deeply suspicious of a government agency that monitors an area of my rights.

20. Will you continue a reasonable discussion towards an end that might lead somewhere or is this an exercise in futility?

That depends. As I wrote above, the author of the site told me that my arguments are illogical and are written in difficult wording. Apparently, she doesn’t wish to continue a reasonable discussion with me. If by getting somewhere, the author means further restrictions on gun ownership and carry rights, then hell no.

Speaking of futility, though, have a look at the Brady Campaign’s state scorecard some time. Notice how, with a few dismal exceptions, the trend is going in the direction of individual liberty. The Brady Bunch must be feeling the futility of their efforts.

The lines are now open for comment.

Comments, Please!

In a response to my article on Somali pirates, I received the following comment:

“Alan stewart says:

2011/03/04 at 01:07

Your remarkable lack of knowledge is surpassed only by your baboonish sense of your own bravery. It might be best if you confined your opinions to whether coors light beats bud.”

My policy about comments has always been that anything that isn’t obviously spam (thank you, Akismet) will be accepted, and I’m not changing just because of an idiotic remark.  I didn’t promise not to lambaste the same.

The problem with the comment that I quoted is that it tells me nothing about what the writer objects to, other than me.  He claims that I lack knowledge.  I’m sure that I do on many subjects.  I tend not to write about such matters.  If Mr. stewart believes that I’m missing information, he ought to tell me specifically what it is.  Otherwise, the comment is useless.

I’m not being merely defensive here.  stewart’s comment has taught me nothing.  I have not been convinced of the error of my ways.  He did not carry the conversation forward; he shut it down between the two of us.  As such, I fail to understand why he commented in the first place, other than as a schoolyard taunt.

Of course, I know that my regular readers have much more class, and I’m grateful to you.  Anyone who wishes to dispute me is free to do so without editing, but I do hope that such comments will show detail and good reasoning.

If you’re curious, here is my response:

“Greg Camp says:

2011/03/04 at 04:55

Rather than toss insults, would you care to explain your objections? It’s easy to accuse someone of lacking knowledge. It’s more difficult to list the facts that appear to be missing. You knew what a letter of marque is, it seems, and I know what it means. That’s an item of shared knowledge. But will you really begrudge me a bit of bravado, especially as an aside at the end of the article?

Regarding beer, if it must be Budweiser, I’ll take the real one, made in the town of Budweise in the Czech Republic. America’s most popular brews were best described by Monty Python–like sex in a canoe: fucking close to water. My choice when I can get it is a British ale, Fuller’s ESB, for example.

By the way, since they’re proper nouns, Bud and Coors need to be capitalized.”

I hope that I wasn’t being peevish in correcting his slovenly use of capital letters.