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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Talk of gun control

Don’t worry. I’m not going to argue for gun regulation or against it. Like many of my compatriots, I’m sick of having that discussion. Analyzing that tired and bothersome discourse, though, can tell us quite a bit. The mere fact that the thought of engaging the topic of gun regulation fills many of us with dread is itself illuminating.

Why is it so dreadful? If many other topics that seem more closely tied to our emotions — like euthanasia or marriage rights — can be discussed more easily (and usually less emotionally) than gun regulation, then this shows that the discourse has broken down.

The discourse on gun regulation has been destroyed. Furthermore, unlike many of the cases of institutional coercion of thought normally discussed in this column, this is no accident. This is an explicit attack on our speech; it is a wrench thrown into the gears of our democratic machinery.

When society engages in a free, non-coerced discourse, they tend to reach the consensus that fits their desires most often. This is the highly influential argument that John Stuart Mill gives in On Liberty. Once a debate is co-opted, interrupted or silenced, then people do not reach the consensus that fits their desires and they do not take the actions that would implement them.

To put it briefly: If you do not want society do something, you can interrupt their dialogue, get them stuck in a gridlock of confused speech and prevent them from agreeing on any action.

In analyzing the gun regulation debate, we can untangle the web of falsities imposed by interest groups. We can also apply this case more broadly though; we can use it to illuminate the general pattern of powerful groups using money to interrupt the national dialogue, coerce thought and control action.

Disregard all facts.

That is the creed of well-crafted propaganda. It does not matter that a large number of the arguments provided ad nauseum are completely false. It does not matter that Hitler and Stalin didn’t actually take everyone’s guns away. It does not matter that Australia’s implementation of gun control laws did not actually increase violent crime or crime of any sort. It does NOT matter.

What matters is that people repeat it. This also creates the highly useful phenomenon of memetics. People repeat what they hear. Then other people hear them repeat that. Soon, many people are repeating propaganda, and they mutually reaffirm each other in it.

I read it online, then I heard my friend say it — that’s so much confirmation that I must be right, dang it! Or it is confirmation bias.

This also has an effect that propagandists thrive on. People start to identify with their ideology. They take any objection toward the view that they have adopted as an attack on themselves. “Hunting hat culture” is a term that I came up with to pick out a cultural group, the one who wears those duck-hunting hats and listens to pop country. This group takes the gun debate to heart. Any talk of gun regulation is an attack on them, an attack on their way of life, an attack on America.

There is no convincing such groups. They have blended together their personal identity and the propaganda that they have bought into. They simply cannot be convinced. They cannot abandon themselves, and they equate their belief with themselves. This is actually a very scary thought. Our own identities, I think, are filled with ideas that we came to have due to the elites’ propaganda. We become the propaganda.

Now, as I said, I’m not arguing for or against gun control. But where is the propaganda coming from? During the 2010 election cycle, $7.2 million went into pro-gun messages or candidates from the NRA alone. Are millions of dollars coming from interest groups against guns every year? No. Plus, there is a $12 billion firearms industry. This industry clearly has an interest in using their vast resources to halt the debate.

Do not take me as anti-gun. I’m not. I just want to show why the discourse is as it is. It is co-opted. The whole cultural/political sphere is presented in a manner quite different than it really is.

Furthermore the “hunting hat culture” is not unique in their conflation between their personal identity and their view of what the facts are. Every cultural group has this problem. Every political issue also has the problem of the co-opted discourse.

If we want to be liberated at all, rather than simply play into the ideology of elite groups, we have to realize that our own personal identity and our view on every issue have been influenced by this kind of ideological coercion.

Sifting through a sea of information, provided largely by the mechanisms controlled by elite groups, is a difficult and unending task. Clearly, we must be supremely skeptical of any information that we find is disseminated by elite groups.

BRIAN MOEN likes pop country just as much as he likes hunting hats. He can be reached at bkmoen@ucdavis.edu.

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