Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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They Are Who We Said They Were

“The aim of an arbitrary system to destroy the civil rights of the whole population, who ultimately become just as outlawed in their own country as the stateless and homeless. The destruction of a man’s rights, the killing of the juridical person in him, is a prerequisite for dominating him entirely.” –Hannah Arendt

NYT confiscate guns editorial 2015 - White House flag

Will they lower the flags when they murder our liberty?

The New York Times did an amazing thing in running a front page editorial to prominently express its long known view on guns.

Before we go further, we can agree upfront that the editorial is much more likely to fuel ideological polarization than change any minds. As Callum Borchers aptly notes in The Washington Post:

Put plainly, the New York Times is the New York Times. Swing voters in Middle America aren’t its subscribers, and the swing voters in Congress don’t have to appeal to voters who care much about what the New York Times thinks. In fact, you could make a pretty convincing case that this would have the opposite of the intended effect by overreaching on something most Americans simply don’t think will do much to prevent mass shootings.

But never mind all that; it is hardly news that the Times’ target audience is a distant echo chamber of urbane progressives high on self-regard and short on sociopolitical heft or self-awareness. So bracket that point for a moment.

Finally, after so many years, debates, invective, and political wrangling, the media elites of Manhattan at last put their cards on the table on a topic that apparently matters more to them than all the great crises and struggles of the last century. In garnering public endorsements from like-minded liberals, including Democrats who covet the White House, the New Yorkers have also summoned their supporters out of the shadows into the daylight of near-honest dealing.

The anti-gun Left that dominates and consumes The New York Times has finally admitted they want to ban and confiscate guns. Gun rights proponents have known and argued this for years, but anti-gun leftists used to regurgitate unconvincing platitudes to pretend they support gun rights and would never confiscate guns. They would even go so far as to ridicule sincere concern about confiscation with derisive references to comments about “jack-booted thugs” and “black helicopters” (a favorite of Rachel Maddow).

All of that is behind us now. With this editorial, and its prolific concordance on social media, the anti-gun Left is dispensing with the lie no reasonable gun-rights advocate even pretended to believe in the first place. They want to empower government agents to take millions of guns they decide should be illegal (an ever expansive category) from American households. They want to enable government agents to infringe upon or outright destroy the right to bear arms, even if it would not prevent violent tragedies.

They are who we said they were. They want what we said they wanted. And now we can deal with some semblance of honesty in the political debate about guns.

I say “semblance” of honesty, of course, because the now-admitted gun-grabbers are still dissembling elsewhere. Under the guise of disarming terrorists, the anti-gun Left, including the Manhattan editorial cabal, united behind a terrifying measure that would have enabled federal bureaucrats to deny constitutionally protected civil rights to any citizen they decide, for whatever reasons, to suspect of being dangerous.

I refer, of course, to Democrats’ viciously misguided (or evil) attempt to deny Second Amendment protections to people on the terror watch list. While at first blush, such a proposal may sound obviously reasonable, due diligence shows it to be, well, misguided (at best) or evil. Gabriel Malor of Hot Air makes the point nicely:

As my colleague Taylor has explained, the terrorism watch list was never meant for this purpose. As a mere watch list, it includes thousands of people who have done no wrong and clearly do not represent a threat to anyone. Like, for example, Fox News contributor Stephen F. Hayes, who was added last year for the crime of going on a cruise, or Nelson Mandela, who’s placement on the list should demonstrate for anyone with two working brain cells that it was never intended as a tool to strip citizens of their rights. There are no statutory criteria for inclusion on the terrorism watch list and no statutory mechanism to challenge one’s placement on the list. All of that was left to unelected, anonymous government bureaucrats. That’s probably half the reason Democrats like the idea so much.

In the article Malor cites, Taylor Millard offers this damning observation:

This ignores the fact of how stupid terrorist watch lists are because they don’t do the job the government claims they’re supposed to. The Intercept (which isn’t exactly a conservative or libertarian publication) got hold of the National Counterterrorism Center guidelines for putting people on watch lists last year. Some of these guidelines includes social media and what “walk-ins” say, even if government employees are told not to use hunches.

reasonablesuspicion

socialmedia

So, yes, you might be on a terrorist watch list if you tweet, Facebook, or use other social media sites to post an article someone doesn’t like. The rules are so vague that even those who might be criticizing or pointing something out for others to see could end up on the list. But the Democrats and their allies in the media are all in favor of passing a law keeping people on watch lists from getting guns.

It is literally the case that a ban on terror watch list “suspects” buying guns would enable the federal government to infringe upon the explicit constitutional rights of its citizens without due process or public accountability. Coupled with progressives’ alarming campaign to curtail the First Amendment, there is an unmistakably totalitarian flavor to the explicit policy agenda of the mainstream American Left.

It should go without saying that these same progressives would cry havoc if Republicans attempted to deny various other constitutional rights to innocent people without due process. And they would be right to do so. But because the civil right in this instance involves things progressives dislike, the ends of undermining gun rights apparently justify authoritarian means, a song we have noted before.

Put simply, progressives hate gun rights more than they love constitutional democracy, and they have declared themselves willing to destroy the foundation of the latter to attack the former.

It is also telling that The New York Times acknowledges upfront that its preferred gun control regime would not prevent mass shootings—as much deadlier attacks in multiple European countries with much stricter gun control has shown. Indeed, some of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. involved standard handguns and Joe-Biden-approved shotguns (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Navy Yard, etc.). To ban and confiscate even these is to essentially outlaw (read: drive into the black market) the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of guns in America today.

But the government would have to ban and confiscate nearly all American firearms in order to eliminate the civilian means to commit mass murder—or prevent violent crime. There is, of course, no precedent in the developed world for successfully disarming its citizenry of more than 350 million guns. Even the infamous gun-grabbers of Australia only managed to confiscate at most one million guns. While this may have amounted to one-fifth to one-third of that country’s total, it would be less than one-third of one percent of the American arsenal—which is to say a statistical rounding error—to say nothing of how much such a program would cost.

This directly relates to another key wrinkle in the confiscation plot: A great many gun owners would not cooperate with any confiscation regime. We know this because resistance is already evident. When progressive regimes in blue states expanded their “assault weapon” bans and required registration of those currently owned, civilians and even law enforcement officials refused to comply. Otherwise law-abiding residents of Washington, D.C., where it is nearly impossible to register a handgun for legal carry, are increasingly ignoring strict gun laws for their own safety. If even New York and Connecticut cannot, even now, successfully register the firearms they dislike in their borders, it is a mystery how they would confiscate them.

Unless, of course, Democrats were willing and able to empower confiscators to violate due process and kick in people’s doors to violently force compliance. Unless, of course, Democrats are willing to enable government operatives to kill or ruin once-lawful American gun owners in order to forcibly disarm them. Lest you think this unlikely, it is already happening in California. (Yes, that state with San Bernardino.)

And thus the insidious “terror watch list” farce reveals itself for what it is: a truly terrifying early salvo in the assault on the civil liberties that, for now, protect ordinary citizens from the machinations of a hostile government. If Democrats also managed to implement their preferred rewrite of the First Amendment (and other elements of the Bill of Rights), they would even be able to undermine the ability of engaged citizens to speak out against the abuses progressives are itching to inflict.

As they say, all oppression is connected.

In the final analysis, “assault weapon” remains an arbitrary political fiction, gun violence is at historic lows and declining, homicide rates show no correlation with gun ownership, violent crime is falling as gun sales are rising, and mass shootings are neither unique to nor especially deadly in the U.S. when compared to Europe. But none of that matters in a world where open appeals to rank despotism are now the rallying cry of one side of a binary political sphere. This is no longer, if it ever was, just a political dispute but an existential one about the very maintenance of American republicanism.

These are the stakes.

Progressive agitators and their political enablers are perfectly willing, as The New York Times editorial board reminded us as loudly as it can, to destroy the most basic safeguards of constitutional democracy to extirpate civil rights they deem antiquated. They explicitly demand that we enable government operatives to suppress political speech and confiscate basic means of self-defense to forcibly disarm millions of innocent Americans. We do not have to read between the lies anymore to argue this state of affairs; they announce their authoritarianism openly and with unblinking moral and political conviction.

To imagine good faith and the possibility of a satisfactory, enduring compromise between the defenders of civil liberties and the avowed enemies of the Bill of Rights is a fool’s errand. The New York Times and its supporters do not want reasoned discourse or “common-sense solutions,” they want our compliance and subjugation. As Achilles long ago rebuked Hector before their epic last fight in the shadow of Ilium, so progressives rebuke us now as they demand an end to our civil rights:

There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out an through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall.

They are who we said they are. They want what we said they want.

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A Mass-Murderous Mind

“Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad…we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.” –John le Carre

“The difference…is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging.” –Orson Scott Card

“…it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have.”

Why do we forgive?

Some will talk about healing and maturity. Others may reference human brokenness and the need for second chances. There will probably be citations of divine mercy and justice. In particular cases, some may apologize for the rascal or censure perceived hypocrisy in the victim. The specific situations, people, and implications of the decision to forgive—or not—vary as much as DNA. But in the end, forgiveness is about how to acknowledge and manage an inherently broken world. I do not forgive because someone else deserves it. I forgive because I want to be the kind of person who believes it is better to solve problems than spite the devil.

It is a similar principle at play in responsible attempts to map the wilderness of troubled minds. I’m no more sympathetic to “troubled childhood” excuses for lawlessness or terrorism than your archetypal Republican congressman. But as some point, if we are to mitigate the crueler demons of our nature, we have to understand the pathology behind them. To this end, David Frum’s recent series recounting an anonymous young man’s haunting solidarity with mass shooters is uniquely insightful.

At the acknowledged risk of enabling the infamy of “disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basement”, the author presents a roadmap for understanding the kind of factors at play in producing monsters. In retaining his anonymity, (a critical step up from Liza Long’s otherwise thoughtful essay), this gainfully employed East Coast fellow keeps the focus where it belongs: on what are essentially broad and impersonal discussions of culture, policy, and systemic problems with profoundly personal impact. In this regard, much of the backlash—in which commenters denounce the author for, among other things, narcissism, sociopathy, sensationalism, and shameless attention-seeking—has been as insightful as the original piece.

To the people inclined to dismiss the author as an empathy-deprived monster: how does that solve the problem of how to stop people like him? That is a serious question I suspect few of us can credibly answer. The solutions offered by those who want to obsess over the immorality of the killer are almost all retroactive: ‘He should have been locked up.’ ‘He should have been medicated.’ But there are millions of psychologically wounded people in this country, many of them medicated. We’re not going to be locking up the problem of mass violence in a padded room. This anonymous series is a vivid portrait of the Joker as a young man. Are we going to use it as a tool to assemble enduring resolutions to future violence, or will we disdain even engaging with it in a grotesquely self-congratulatory posture of moral superiority?

If the author wanted attention, he could have easily written under his own name. Long has already bought her fifteen minutes of fame at the expense of her son, and she could probably write a New York Times bestseller if she wanted. Imagine how much more intense the interest would be in the narrative of someone who almost committed a tragedy, complete with a tearful mother and numerous not-murdered classmates to imbue a troubled past with salacious contour? We are a society addicted to moral outrage, with a fetish for abattoir noises. If the man wanted fame, you would be hearing his name on your daily commute and seeing his face on cable news. But you do not.

The truth of the matter is the identity of this man—like those of the actual shooters that have inspired him—is completely irrelevant. If you don’t believe his testimony is an accurate portrayal of all killers, fine. But if you suspect he opens a rare, promising window into deep and lonely chasm on the far side of the soul, then consider what we might learn and accomplish should we commit to devising the resources to breathe humanity into beasts. The point is not that would-be killers are special people deserving of extra sympathy or apology. Such a notion is repulsive to those of us who believe actions have consequences. Rather, it is far more productive to understand and sublimate incipient evil than react in grieving fury to tragedy obtained.

Part of this proactivity might ought to include an uncomfortably frank discussion of America’s schizophrenic relationship with intelligence. Namely, we so resent the notion that some people are smarter than others—than us—that every frank reckoning with intellect is fodder for caveats and derision. The anonymous writer painted his own intelligence in astringently clinical light—it served as an accelerant for mental illness, a hindrance to talk therapy, and a disorder generally comorbid with socially alienating eccentricity. Nevertheless, the mere mention of his mental capacity prompted inferences of a fiendish narcissism rooted in invidious moral and cognitive deficiency.  To put it bluntly, the mention of the author’s intelligence, like the rest of his epistolary musing, is not about challenging the egos of insecure minds. It serves to illustrate an element of commonality between a would-be monster and his infamous peers. The reality of a backlash for such an honest observation presents cause for concern in its own right.

When I read the young man’s ruminating on being “socially isolated and…smart”, I think of the many ways in which our failing education system caters to mediocrity at great expense to gifted students. I also ponder the unique difficulty of trying to reform the misbehavior of people who are, as my father would put it, “too smart for their own good.” Namely, it is nigh impossible to talk down the insanity of someone either invincibly stupid or demonstrably smarter (or cleverer) than you. And the most terrifying villains—from some of the shooters to international terrorists—are infernally cerebral. Yet somehow we must find a way to defuse them.

None of this adds one iota of sympathy for any miscreant fallen beyond the moral event horizon, and I have no forgiveness to offer. Instead, I wonder how we can create a world of better options for people who are currently inclined to hurt us. How can we provide our schools and communities the necessary resources to work with gifted and struggling students? How might we improve mental health services and resources? Should involuntary commitment be a viable option? What all do we still not understand about how we might better discern problems and resolutions? These are the questions we should be asking and answering, and to such an end, Frum’s series is, I hope, a promising catalyst.

There are certainly limits to this kind of thing. The author, whoever he is, has a particular story and set of circumstances that will not hold for many other troubled youth, and we should be wary of extrapolating too much from any one or group of narratives. As my friend Leah Libresco is fond of saying, the plural of anecdote is not data. That observation holds as strongly for the shooting itself as for the attempts at postmortem. There are no easy answers or panacea ahead—only a long, tough road of struggle and pain. Whether we can see the job through will be a question for the ages.


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A Place in Heaven

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And Life, the shadow of death.         –Algernon Charles Swinburne

“and the dragon fought…and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” –Revelation 12:7-8

“Angels with silver wings shouldn’t know suffering.”

I remember watching Megyn Kelly one afternoon, some time ago, after one of the many little tragedies that emerge through the fickle din of commentary. As she was imparting the latest developments in the case, her station engineers switched to a photograph of whatever knave had vomited his iniquity onto the world that week. Before disgust could curl my lip, and after only the briefest pause, Megyn ordered unseen hands to keep the screen on her. Under no circumstances, she said, were they to reward a criminal with attentive eyes.

It’s rare you see such unilateral moral clarity in public anymore. I could have fallen in love that day.

Yet instead of love, I recall a situation from my college years as a member of a political debating society known as the Independent Party. Through various historians, alumni, and a mysteriously lost silver goblet at Mory’s Temple Bar, the Party has preserved the names of the Chairmen through the decades. Lost among those is “The Jackelope.” Before you inquire: I don’t know this fellow’s name. He was removed from office over a decade ago for moral and political failings so heinous that his peers struck his name from all records. I have met several alumni from that period. Not a one will tell of the man behind the soubriquet. Thus, his memory will die as nothing more than a cautionary tale forever shrouded in the indignity of oblivion. That is the fate of varmints.

When I think of the day the abyss gazed into Newtown, Connecticut, I think of Vicki Soto, just four years my senior, trading her own promise for a chance to save the children. I hear the custodian canvassing the halls to warn people of the gunman. I see Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach lunging into eternity, buying precious moments through the intercom. I watch the school’s lead teacher barricading a classroom door as her body is violated by fire. I choke back tears for that darkly shrewd little girl playing dead among the bodies of her entire first-grade class. I remember that twenty innocent children will never again smile, laugh, cry, hurt, sing, pout, or grow old. I contemplate how we might find a way to stop these and so many other deaths from so many tragically resolvable ills. I grow weary of how powerless I am against the violent apathy of a vast and empty universe.

But I do not think of the shooter. Of what consequence is his memory? For what reason would we immortalize his name in media or conversation? Of what concern are his views and philosophies that we should ponder his mind? For the sake of what value would we propagate his photograph? To the extent that there is any possible meaning in his story, it is only the understanding of how the next maniac might be thwarted. It is not a narrative of this or any other specific shooter. It is a tale of bundled pathologies, full of sound and fury, warranting no greater identity than a set of coordinates in space and time—Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, 2012.

Perhaps there is a lesson about mental disorder, drugs, guns, bullying, or societal decay—those are certainly worthwhile inquiries of policy and culture. But we shan’t discern any useful direction for national policy from the reconstructed memoirs of a deranged mind. Did the shooter suffer from mental illness? Had he been violent before? Did he get proper treatment? Were there any warning signs missed? Should Governor Malloy reverse funding cuts to mental health services in Connecticut? Should Governor McDonnell contemplate the same in Virginia? What policies might best prevent future tragedies? Why?

I hope policymakers will diligently ascertain solutions. But that process is not aided one iota by imparting millions with inanely jaundiced views of the “mentally ill” because the media is too sanctimoniously fickle for difficult conversations of mental health and other issues. It is not responsible journalism but a macabre theater of fetishistic enabling that produces articles, segments, op-eds, and photographs delving ever deeper into a story offering only horror and the illusion of enlightenment. (No, I won’t link to any of them.)

To be sure, this kiss of oblivion to fiends is not always expedient. If the suspect is still alive and at large (or is thought to be so), then it is vital that we think about him (or her), as a matter of public safety. But such are not the situations with mass shootings, whose perpetrators are caught either by law or bullet.

It is also said that we should remember the humanity of the shooter and find it in our hearts to forgive. As assuredly as resentment is mother to a stillborn soul, forgiveness is the ultimate rite of healing. But these victims are not my family or neighbors, nor are their towns my home. I feel sympathy for their pain and solidarity with their desire for justice and recovery of promise lost. But absolution is not mine to give. That is between the people and communities most deeply affected by these tragedies and powers beyond primetime. The media as we know it is no better fit for such a transcendently serious project than a “gentlemen’s club” is fit for a nursery.

If we are eager for a divine lesson, we have Milton and the origin of violence. When the angels of the rebellious Morning were expelled from Glory, their names were to be heard no more in Heaven. Wisdom held that justice does not crown the wicked in the immortality of infamy. From then on, the fallen were merely Satan—Accuser—of no more personal significance in the grand struggle against evil and chaos than individual waves are to a flood. Instead, all focus is for the innocent and the hopeful. So let us speak of them and the way forward.

There are stories of the dead that we must tell and answers for the living that we must find. That is our project now. Let there be no glory for the wicked.


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Tragedy and Conscience

You might think a tragedy, like the unconscionable horror that just happened in Colorado, would be an occasion for people to come together. You would probably expect commiseration, reflection, and grieving. And yes, you would demand serious and thoughtful conversations about how we might prevent further horrors and failures in our current system. Some enlightened minds at The New Yorker, however, would never waste a good tragedy on silly things like respect or decency. I’ll spare you the need to read the whole thing:

The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it. Those who fight for the right of every madman and every criminal to have as many people-killing weapons as they want share moral responsibility for what happened last night—as they will when it happens again. And it will happen againOnly in America.

I can think of few things more mature and enlightened than accusing responsible American gun-owners of a vast conspiracy to perpetuate mass murder. Well done, sir.

But seriously, let’s pretend that article was in perfectly good taste, and Mr. Gopnik is as thoughtful as he is reasonable and articulate. His argument boils down to the familiar diatribe against the Second Amendment: get rid of guns, and we’ll all be safer.

This may sound nice (to some people) in theory, but in reality, it’s more akin to throwing water on a gas fire. We cannot eliminate the illegal gun market. Insofar as it exists, criminals will always have guns. For some reason, many of the same people who would contest the previous sentences would wax didactic—without irony—about the invidious failure of the war on drugs. Most would remind us about how criminality results directly from this neo-Prohibition. Yet as surely as there will always be a market for drugs—legal and not—there will always be people who want guns. And they will get them.

So let’s be blunt: these tragedies tend to occur in places where guns are either not allowed or not expected—think every school shooting, from Columbine to Virginia Tech, and the Ft. Hood tragedy. (Private firearms are not allowed on U.S. military bases.) Likewise, crime at the University of Colorado—which resisted the state’s concealed-carry law—has risen 35% since 2004. At the same time, Colorado State University—which complied with the law—experienced  a 60% drop in crime. In Kennesaw, Georgia, where private gun-ownership has been mandatory for three decades, the crime rate has remained disproportionately low.

We don’t know how things might have gone differently if other people had been armed during these nightmares. But we do know that guns aren’t going anywhere, and we need to stop blaming our societal problems—which are many and growing—on guns or any other convenient targets. Instead, we should have serious discussions about serious issues and respect the integrity of reasonable people to be able to defend themselves and their families responsibly.

But in case it isn’t clear: our constitutional rights are not open for debate.

Update: This thoughtful article from the other side makes a great point that is often overlooked in politics: sometimes you know a position is right but expect and demand that your candidate(s) not advocate it because they would needlessly lose elections. Whether you like it or not, the gun control debate is pretty much dead in America.