One thing social media has been good for is the exposure of the national id onto a public forum. A gigantic segment of our population has grown comfortable expressing knee-jerk reactions to current events as though such feelings were worthy of consideration by thoughtful adults. They’re not. They never were. First-response moralizing, particularly in the face of horrors like the Parkland murders, is in all cases childish, unwelcome, and empty of meaning.
And yet it’s out there and gotten legs, so we have to address it.
In the wake of Parkland it’s become daring, brave, or somehow original to express the idea that children shouldn’t be murdered, particularly when they’re at school. (“I just want the kids to be safe.”) It’s also become quite the thing to tell the world that children should have a safe place to learn. This is the default, least courageous position to take on any issue ever conceived of, because it’s inarguable. Bravo. You’ve gone out on a limb with the easiest moral stance. Take a bow.
Virtue-signaling on this (or any) issue is unspeakably lazy. It leads to the ugly claim that people who disagree with you on how school safety is to be achieved actually don’t care if children are murdered or not. It leads to false choice fallacies like, “Your gun fetish gets our children killed.” And it leads to large numbers of supposedly thoughtful and mature people blaming the NRA for crimes they literally had nothing to do with.
The serious conversation about guns that we apparently need to have can’t happen because the people who keep insisting on having that serious conversation are fundamentally unserious. Driven by emotion, by the id that demands that the scary thing be taken away at all costs, their intent isn’t to talk, but harangue. To shriek, with hands over ears, until everyone else capitulates. That’s not a conversation.
Once you’ve ascended the high, lonely moral pedestal of “No more child murders,” you’ve also concluded that few others share your rarefied air, and you can then demonize them to your swollen heart’s content. And you do demonize them. I’ve seen it. It led me to join the NRA myself. In all likelihood, I’m the only person in my entire family to have done so. I did it not because I’m particularly brave or have any love for the NRA, but because I can’t stand the shrieking, hysterical demonization from people whose moral authority is entirely self-derived.
This is why politicizing every tragedy is such a terribly poisonous thing. We’ve elevated our politics to a moral level, rather than seeing it as a function of group decision-making. If you call others unethical reprobates because they disagree with your political solution to a moral problem, then yeah, you’re going to go the extra mile and claim that these unethical reprobates love guns more than they love their children.
Limiting freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, a political document, is an expressly political act. Calling it a moral imperative because you happen to be one of the brave few who doesn’t want to see “our” children get murdered at school doesn’t make it a moral imperative. We can disagree on gun ownership in the United States, and if you have the stomach for it, you can try to use the engine of politics to see your point of view formed and flaked into policy. But what you can’t do is claim that your emotional, knee-jerk reaction is the right and proper moral choice in these dark times. Your moral default is neither brave nor inspiring, and you deserve no credit for it. It’s unfortunate that your teachers, parents, and mentors haven’t taught you this, but it’s the truth, and you’re better off knowing it.
Get out there and repeal that Second Amendment. Ban the things that frighten you. Use the power of the state to disarm us all. But don’t fool yourself into believing that your politics are anything more than childish emotionalism, and stop congratulating yourself for assuming the default moral position. You’re not special; you’re just lazy.