Before I jump into the critique I want to make some important disclaimers. Political parties and organizations are important. It is useful for political ideas to be put together in a package so that I can get a feel for someone’s general opinions quickly and efficiently. It is also useful because there will never be a political system in which every voter is fully informed. At least with political parties they can make decisions with information.
Secondly, there are people who support exactly the position I am going to criticize whom I respect. They are not illogical or stupid, and I welcome their dissent. If you are one such person, please give rebuttal. Maybe I am wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Finally, this is an issue that I see on both sides of the political aisle. This is not an attempt on my part to unduly criticize one side or another, simply to use the example of something I believe to be endemic in our political discourse.
With that said, then, I am terribly afraid of the NRA. The National Rifle Association may not be the source of the problem, but it is certainly representative. The NRA is famous for opposing any gun restrictions that are considered by the government. What gives the NRA its power is the ability to issue ratings of politicians based on their friendliness to “gun rights.” But this effectively means that supporting any sort of limitation on gun ownership or even an extension of the gun purchasing process puts you on the NRA’s bad side. So powerful is this force that Republican politicians have a difficult time supporting laws that are moderate or common sense because they run the risk of getting a negative rating, which carries weight with Republicans who want to know at a glance if a politician represents them.
The fundamental problem here is that the NRA perspective does not have a conception of what the good society would be. To build up one’s philosophy in opposition to a possible political movement is no philosophy at all! It is reaction. It is exactly this form of extremism which prevents discussion about actual policy. Surely everyone understands that there must be gun laws. We don’t want everyone to be able to own a MANPAD. Similarly, the right to bear arms is in the Constitution and it is worth considering that a society without the ability to defend itself loses a measure of individualist autonomy. But the correct policy is somewhere between “no guns” and “all guns” and it makes sense to extend charity to those who think the line should be slightly closer to one side or the other than you do.
This brings me to the most dangerous part of this kind of discussion: the lack of charity in the discussion. If someone disagrees with the NRA, they are not misguided; they are tyrants. This problem is perhaps the most widespread. Support voter ID laws and you are a racist. Support family legislation and you are a Theocrat. Support cuts in spending and hate the poor. Oppose cuts in spending and you are a Socialist. Democracy requires discussion. If our democracy is going to persist we must learn to disagree with someone’s policy without questioning their motives. Those who disagree with me genuinely want what is best for society, they simply disagree with me about how to get there. If I abandon this reasoning I abandon democracy.
I chose to target the NRA here to illustrate that the problem exists on the right as much as on the left, but no matter which side of the aisle you prefer please take a moment of introspection. Is it really worth it to declare that anyone who disagrees with you is evil? You will never persuade that person that they are evil, you will simply cause division. We must find a path to civil discourse.