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The One-Way Empathy Ratchet


This is a great point by E.J. Dionne, presumably in response to David Brooks’s silly concern trolling:

What’s less funny is that on gun control, liberals (and their many allies who are moderate, conservative and nonideological) have been told for years that if they do take their own side in the argument, they will only hurt their cause.

Supporters of even modest restrictions on firearms are regularly instructed that their ardent advocacy turns off Americans in rural areas and small towns. Those in favor of reforming our firearms laws are scolded as horrific elitists who disrespect a valued way of life.

And as the mass killings continue, we are urged to be patient and to spend our time listening earnestly to the views of those who see even a smidgen of action to limit access to guns as the first step toward confiscation. Our task is not to fight for laws to protect innocents, but to demonstrate that we really, honestly, truly, cross-our-hearts, positively love gun owners and wouldn’t for an instant think anything ill of them.

What is odd is that those with extreme pro-gun views — those pushing for new laws to allow people to carry just about anytime, anywhere — are never called upon to model similar empathy toward children killed, the mourning parents left behind, people in urban neighborhoods suffering from violence, or the majority of Americans who don’t own guns.

Depending on the survey, somewhere between 58 percent and 68 percent of us live in households without guns. But no one who belongs to the National Rifle Association is ever told to prove their respect for our way of life. Rarely is it pointed out that the logic of the gun lobby’s position is to create a world in which everyone will need a gun, whether we want one or not. (“Arm the teachers!” “Arm the students!”) I reported on Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s, and I can assure you that a heavily armed country is not an ideal (or safe) place to live.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, an institution that suffered the worst effects of our inaction on guns, have not gotten the memo that they are supposed to shut up, and may they be blessed for this. You can tell their angry outspokenness is having an impact, and not only because President Trump has taken modest steps to suggest he hears the message. More telling is that some of the same right-wingers who demand deep respect for gun culture have shown no scruples about trashing the kids.

It’s less common now, but for a long time the same scam was a common feature of discussions about abortion rights. advocates of reproductive rights were constantly demanded to concede that abortion was immoral, often accompanied by massively implausible 11-dimensional-chess theories about how Democrats saying that abortion was icky in exactly the right way or embracing the right mix of bad regulations would persuade opponents of abortion rights to vote for the Democratic Party. Calls for empathy for women whose lives were altered massively for the worse by being forced to carry pregnancies to term, or poor and/or rural women who are denied access to abortions by arbitrary regulations were, for some reason, much less common. It’s basically the slightly more highbrow version of the argument that the minority of people who like NASCAR are somehow MORE AMERICAN than the majority of Americans who don’t.

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