Confrontation without cure

Sam Smith

The past few months have been laden with events illustrating the dysfunctional time in which we live. From Ferguson to Spokane to Charleston we have been confronted with examples of how real life doesn’t work the way we think it should.

The overwhelming reaction has been a storm of condemnation of the offending parties with a stunning lack of cures. We are angry but don’t know what to do about it. In this regard, our nation is much like dysfunctional families in that many are strongly upset by what has happened but helpless to find solutions that might actually work or choose those that merely continue or exacerbate the problem.

Thus, in the wake of the Charleston killings, it has argued that we need more gun control and hate crime designation. But as Truth Revolt reported last year:

James Alan Fox has tracked mass-shootings of four or more fatalities spanning from 1976 through 2012. The data shows a steady rate of incidents as well as victims over that 36 year period — no upward trend whatsoever.

Fox says that even if you change the data set to three victims, the result would be the same. “There isn’t even any upswing in the number of school shooting victims,” the article states.

Despite public outcry on social media and 24/7 media coverage lamenting that America is headed to hell in a hand basket, the evidence shows that America is no more violent than it has ever been and mass shootings aren’t the new normal.

One problem with anti-gun efforts is that they steadfastly ignore other factors involved in American’s tendency towards violence. Here are a couple of examples:

– Mississippi has approximately the same rate of gun ownership as New Hampshire yet has five times as many murders per capita. The same is true of Louisiana and Maine: five times as many murders per capita in Louisiana despite roughly the same rate of gun ownership.

– The growth in school shootings is a fairly new phenomenon while guns aren’t. Why is there so little discussion of other possible causes such as bad reactions to psychiatric drugs (with which many school shooters were being treated), the growth of violent video games & movies, the collapse of American culture generally and the stressful rise of test driven public education?

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the number of hate crime incidents the US was roughly the same in 2012 as it was in 2004. Does calling something a hate crime really help?

And, if you really want to change the way some things are done in South Carolina, is gun control and banning confederate flags a good way to start? Or is it merely a way to claim one’s moral superiority over some residents of that state?

And does anyone care that in our country the murder rate has dropped 58% since 1993?

As Dan Baum pointed out about gun control in Huffington Post, “It may be hard to show that it saves lives, but it’s easy to demonstrate that we’ve sacrificed a generation of progress on things like health care, women’s rights, immigration reform, income fairness, and climate change because we keep messing with people’s guns. I am researching a book on Americans’ relationship to their guns, and keep meeting working-stiff gun guys — people whose wages haven’t risen since 1978 and should be natural Democrats — who won’t even listen to the blue team because they’re convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Misguided? Maybe. But that’s democracy for you. It’s helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition — useless for almost everything except turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and fomenting cynicism and resentment.”

One of the big problems with liberalism these days is that it is culturally tone deaf. It practices a political puritanism that only further annoys those it is trying to change.

One of the best rules for real reform is don’t target things people personally like – rightly or wrongly. When Howard Dean made the comment about wanting to get the votes of those with confederate flags on their trucks other Democrats like John Kerry attacked him. By any traditional Democratic standards, this constituency should be a natural. After all, what more dramatically illustrates the failure of two decades of corporatist economics than how far these white males have been left behind? Yet because they still cling to the myths the southern white establishment taught their daddies and their granddaddies, Kerry didn’t think they qualified as Democratic voters.

This approach has been a disaster not only for the Democrats but for positive social change as well. If the Democrats hadn’t wasted decades ignoring the sort of economic populist agenda that helps everyone, they would have not only gotten the pickup truck drivers’ votes but improved their values as well.

Meanwhile, in my state of Maine, we are currently dealing with the second term of the worst governor in our history in part because liberals put on the ballot a referendum restricting bear traps that brought out rightwing voters who wouldn’t have otherwise showed up.

Anger, disgust and condemnation are lousy political weapons. On the other hand, doing things for people with whom one disagrees on some good subjects can be a gift that keeps on giving. It takes wisdom and courage but it pays off. Just telling someone he’s a racist doesn’t change things at all.

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