Philosophical Bunk in the New York Times
December 03, 2014
In fighting the antis, we often get hung up on issues particular to gun rights: magazine capacity or universal background checks or open carry, for example. Those have to be contested in detail, but the great struggle for us is about the balance between the individual and the state. It's a cliché, but one that is based on truth: gun control is not about guns, it's about control.
"The Stone" is a New York Times feature the paper describes as "a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless." A lot of its contributors are not going to make you forget Plato or Schopenauer, but a little philosophy is good, even if the title (the "philosopher's stone," get it?) is too cute by half.
A recent column by John Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, nicely illustrates what we are up against at the very basic level.
Terrell argues that "The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals." He adds that "The basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish and self-serving individual."
If you are, like most SGN readers, a libertarian or conservative or both, you may be surprised to find that you are just a big meanie who doesn't care about other people, and unevolved, to boot. Watch those knuckles!
Well, examples to disprove that thesis are almost infinite. Were faculty-lounge pinks the ones getting Ebola from treating suffering Liberians? Nope, those were various Christian missionaries, none of them Unitarians, so far as I could see. It is well-established that conservatives give vastly more, both in funds and in volunteer time, to charities than do liberals. The funds that private and religious charities distribute abroad vastly exceed government foreign aid.
Prof. Terrell, like most on the left, identifies "society" and the state. The state is the agent for any positive change to be made in people's lives. To oppose the state is to be selfish and self-serving. To "sanctify" rights and liberties is to accept a myth that tends to limit the great good the state can do.
To us, the state and society are not one and the same. Social goods are spread by a variety of institutions: the church, private educational organizations, fraternal groups and most importantly, the family. The state is a necessary evil, essential for protecting the border, building dams and making sure there are no rats in our Spam, but otherwise is a dangerous entity inclined toward tyranny that requires uninterrupted watching. Balancing its power requires an active, well-armed populace that is jealous of its rights.
It is not an accident that the academic left has been the implacable opponent of the church, private enterprise, groups like the Boy Scouts, and the family, which they deride as a patriarchal arrangement built only to oppress women, children and sexual minorities. Suppressing any institution that mediates between the individual and the state has been the game plan of every would-be tyrant from Kim Jong-Un to Hugo Chavez, and the goal is always the same: to leave the state completely unchallenged and the individual alone.
When Hitler suppressed the Boy Scouts in favor of the Hitler Youth, he showed that no values other than National Socialist values would be tolerated. He made clear to his inner circle that when he was through with the Jews, he'd deal with the church. No tyrant can accept "society" that is separate from the state.
Americans are quite capable of forming our own organizations and banding together for collective action without prejudicing their individual rights and without direction from above. That challenges the belief system of Prof. Terrell and his kind, which is why any sort of gun owner activism is always characterized as a plot by the gun industry rather than grassroots Americans in action.
Owning and practicing with a gun is the very opposite of selfish and self-serving. When hundreds of millions are armed and prepared, no would-be dictator can sleep well. It is an example of individuals voluntarily banding together to preserve the rights of everyone. That's what we call society!