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(The following is an edited exchange on Facebook, following the post of a picture of a granny brandishing a gun at some implied criminal, and an accompanying argument that anyone who is critical of her use of a gun shouldn’t be because she is just defending herself.)

SH: It’s not her use of a gun that’s the problem; it’s your faction’s idolization of the use or threat of the use of deadly force that’s the problem.

AB: I agree Steve…after all, isn’t THAT how government runs its business?

SH: We don’t have the option of eliminating implicit or explicit force from human existence, only the option of how to organize it, and reduce its rate of explicit expression while increasing the balance of its use to liberate rather than oppress, exploit, or destroy. You prefer the Hobbesian paradise of a decentralized mutual threat of violence, which, as history and current reality shows, more frequently results in the actual use of violence. I prefer a popularly controlled centralization of the legitimate use of force, which is the basis of human civilization and the means to create a foundation for mutual cooperation for mutual benefit. Your Hobbesian paradise leads to a life that is nasty, brutish and short. The enforceable social contract leads to the benefits of human cooperation, including the market itself. Your “analysis” is a caricature of reality, a shallow shadow of the far more complex and subtle world with which we must contend.

Let me put it another way: I said that her use of the gun isn’t the problem, but rather your idolization of it that is. Similarly, the implicit force behind government isn’t the problem, and neither is, in my case, its idolization, since I don’t idolize the implicit force but rather desire the benefits of pacified social co-existence that it produces. The images those of my orientation “idolize” aren’t the images of people with weapons imposing their will, whether a granny or the government, but rather of people being well-served by our social system, able to access the health care and opportunities and safety from the threats imposed by others that make one truly free and truly able to thrive. We don’t worship the militaristic or decentralized or “get tough on crime” images or symbols of force that are so strongly associated with the right. We don’t tolerate police violence against presumed “bad guys” the way so many on the right do, or support the belligerent stance toward the rest of the world that so many on the right do, any more than we rejoice at the image of individuals threatening one another the way so many on the right do.

Force, to us, is a necessary evil to be sublimated as much as possible and used or threatened as sparingly as possible, not the symbol of what we stand for, to be brandished as frequently and irresponsibly as possible. We represent concern for life, for human welfare, for the growth of human consciousness and human welfare, while you represent a commitment to as primal and reptilian an existence as you can manage to impose on the rest of us. Your ideology is a product of the basal ganglia of the human brain, the reptilian response to perceived dangers, the locus of fear and hatred. Humans would be wise to try to transcend those tendencies and reflexes, to rely more on the cerebral cortex, the center of reason and analysis and imagination and aspiration. This is the real nature of the ideological struggle this nation and world is in.

If your view were truly as reasonable as you insist it is, then laws against murder would be as odious to you as whatever laws it is that you oppose, since in both cases the implicit or explicit use of governmental force is implicated. If you think it’s okay for us to have laws against murder that are enforced by a professional police force rather than no laws against murder but only an armed society of individuals all threatening one another, then you believe that there is a benefit to that centralization of the legitimate use of violence, at least to some extent or under some conditions. The real question then becomes one of details, not one of general principle, since it’s easy to demonstrate the irrationality and dysfunctionality of the position that there should be no centralization of the legitimate use of violent force. Your problem is that you replace an analysis with a platitude, and are satisfied that the latter is sufficient, when it really isn’t.

AB: Damn Steve, you use a lot of words.

SH: I also use a lot of logic (which comes from the Greek for “word”). The measure of the value of an idea or analysis isn’t the quantity of words used, whether few or many, but rather the quality of the thought expressed. And the measure of the value of the critique of an idea certainly isn’t how irrelevant it is (except in the sense that that is an indication of the critique’s relative lack of value), but rather how well it addresses the actual arguments made. Of course, your need to rely on pithy misdirection rather than on reasoned argumentation is understandable.

AB: Maybe I should go into politics….that’s where I’m LEARNING it.

SH: Again, irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether political discourse in general is or isn’t a bastion of pithy misdirection; it only matters who in THIS debate is relying on that modality, and who is relying on reasoned argumentation.

AB: I give up! You have BEAT me to death with WORDS. I’m too old to comprehend it all…and in addition I have quit fighting all things and all people. I have found ‘peace’ and refuse to let the actions of others disturb it.

SH: You act as though YOUR words, your choices of what to communicate to the world, are not actions and have no importance. That’s not the case. Politics is the competition of narratives, and the relative success of competing narratives translates into the public policies we collectively choose to live by. Those policies, in turn, determine the quality of life lived by real human beings, and the distribution of wealth and justice and opportunity and unjust or unnecessary suffering. I don’t challenge ideas (“memes”) put out there by others of ideological persuasions that inflict harm on us as a people in order to be cruel, or to “disturb you,” but rather to be kind to those who are adversely affected by the policies that those memes underwrite.

I’m glad you have found peace, but if you participate in public discourse you are not somehow entitled to go unchallenged in what ideas or attitudes or orientations you choose to publish and promote. Be at peace, by all means. But consider helping to bring peace to others as well, by taking responsibility for what it is you are fighting for in the public arena. It is irresponsible to promote ideas you can’t defend and don’t understand. Cheers.

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