Who Does a Guy Have to Piss Off Around Here?

GIF-Using-school-computers

Better to win by admitting my sin
than to lose with a halo

Evita

Vance offends half the world: 115 views, and a crapload of comments.

Vance apologizes for the offense and attempts a reformulation along more sensitive lines: 25 views, and one comment.

How’s that for a MasterCard commercial?

Welcome to the wonderful world of bits and pieces. A world in which one’s image depends on the snippet view. A world in which, as Madalyn at Wary Wonderlust pointed out, opposition often carries more weight than fellow feeling, and anger becomes the motivating force that both drives and derails our desire for communication.

Last week, I set off a barrage of protest with a post I wrote about race and gender relations. Most of the protest centered around the fact that, being neither Black nor a woman, I should check myself before venturing an opinion. Much of it was valid. And there was much of it: my blog stats went through the roof. One of those situations where your graph looks like it’s flipping you off: nothing, EVERYTHING, and then nothing again.

In my perceived offensiveness, I became a momentary celebrity. Not because I said something worth celebrating, but because I opened myself to easy attack (perhaps justified, but attack nonetheless). I painted a bullseye on my head, and people opened fire.

Okay. Fair enough.

The day after everything exploded, in an attempt to rectify whatever foul I had committed, I wrote a second post, in which I tried to explain myself more clearly and less offensively, and to acknowledge the possible poverty of my initial approach.

Then, I sat back and counted the tumbleweeds.

The pitchfork-laden crowd that had done such an effective job of raining criticism down upon my head the first time around apparently had other barns to burn. A couple of the people who had taken me to task stopped by, but for the most part…silence. No linking, pretty much no commenting. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Now, you may be tempted to take this as me making everything about Me. But I’m really not out to be patted on the head, or to be showered with compliments for addressing my own misstep. That’s just what decent people do; no big whoop there. It is telling, though, that given the central remonstrance (men never listen) offered to the first post, no one had much to say when one of us tried.

But it’s a broader point I’m making here:

This bloggy-sphere of ours is the quintessential typecasting machine. It nails us to the lowest point in our rhetoric, and leaves us there to rot. It catches us on our worst day, at our darkest moments, and etches the image in stone. We become the villain of the story no matter what that story really is.

Now, I’ve been told exhaustively that it isn’t the blogosphere that does this, and that’s a valid point. The Internet doesn’t kill people; people who use the Internet kill people. At the end of the day, it’s us. We’re the ones who determine the nature of this beast, and the fact that its nature is so prone to conflict and confrontation says far more about us than it does about the medium in question.

We tend to choose the shortest possible route from A to B, and the shortest route from post to response is too often a bloodthirsty yell. It is your label of choice. It is the distance from the target, the remove that displaces responsibility from the one who pulls the trigger.

We are all human, and we all respond to criticism or disagreement in human ways which are often less than constructive, if not outright destructive. We all have our dark side and our light. We all have our triggers, and we’re all quick to pull them. And we all leave little chalk outlines strewn behind us as we go.

Sometimes we are the villains. More often, I think (I hope), we are simply people with complicated things to say and little clue how to say them, desperate for the patience and understanding of others, but unwilling to grant either ourselves. And here’s the rub: when we’re not willing to extend the same consideration to others that we desire for ourselves, everyone becomes our enemy. We arrogate to ourselves the best of intentions while assuming everyone else is out to get us. And you know what they say about assumptions…

They make bloggers out of U and Me.

Second-Hand Bullets

Pinkas-boy-gunso doctor doctor won’t you please prescribe me somethin
a day in the life of someone else
Cuz I’m a hazard to myself

– Pink

Let’s talk about cigarettes.

If you want to slowly flood your system with toxic substances and increase your chances of chronic and/or terminal illness, that is your right. In any case, I can’t really point too many fingers. We all have our poisons of choice. I’m well on my way to a Doritos-related heart attack. But, then, I’m not force-feeding you corn chips on buses and airplanes, or in hotels and restaurants, either. There’s no such thing as second-hand cholesterol.

Therein lies the difference between my poison and yours. Mine is mine; yours is everybody’s. Su carcinogen es mi carcinogen…whether I like it or not.

Guns used to be like Doritos. Outside of violent crime, gun-related deaths were restricted to the home, or at the very least involved only those who chose to own a firearm. While I find all such incidents regrettable, at least they could truly be attributed to the consequences of personal choice. But this is no longer the case (most recently in my home state of Texas). Now, guns are becoming cigarettes.

Except for one thing: in the case of cigarettes, we have moved away from public harm toward public safety. We have chosen to respect the personal choice of those who choose not to smoke. We have restricted the spaces in which smokers may partake of their habit, in order to limit the involuntary exposure of non-smokers. To a large extent, buses, airplanes, hotels, and restaurants no longer present a problem. Because, while we respect your right to poison yourself, we also respect the right of others not to be poisoned by you.

Let’s look at a similar issue: drunk driving. From the standpoint of absolute freedom of choice, an argument might be advanced that an individual ought to be free to do so if she chooses. It’s no one’s business but her own if she knowingly acts in a way that endangers her life. Except it’s not just her life that’s endangered, is it? In this case, her right to act is counterbalanced by others’ right not to be acted upon. So we legislate against drunk driving. This doesn’t by any means ensure that no one will do it, but it does put into place a legal structure whereby we might be able to mitigate a great deal of the risk. We see a danger, and we act to curb it to the best of our ability.

In the case of guns and gun safety, though, we are actually moving in the opposite direction. The Texas legislature just passed an open carry bill (HB910), and Gov. Abbott signed it into law on June 13, at a gun range, of course. This bill, which takes effect on January 1, 2016, will allow licensed carriers to carry their firearms openly in a belt or shoulder holster. OK Corral, anyone? To make matters worse, they have also passed a campus carry bill (SB11), which at its fullest strength would allow students 21 years of age and older to carry their firearms in dorms, classrooms, and campus buildings. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, one may protest: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But, then, that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s people who decide whether or not to pull the trigger, and so, it’s people who make guns dangerous. And people are notoriously prone to panic-induced chaos. There’s a reason you’re not supposed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And, given the ridiculous amount of mass shootings that have taken place around the U.S. in the last few years, we’re all primed to hear the first shot. Which makes it unwise to equip Tom, Dick, or Harry (or me, in case you care to accuse me of elitism) to take the second.

I was recently taken to task by someone who pointed out that if 21-year-olds are responsible enough to vote, join the military, etc., etc., etc., then they are also responsible enough to carry a gun onto their college campus. Setting aside the age of last week’s Charleston shooter (which was 21, if you’re wondering), this is hardly the point. It’s not just about the people with the guns; it’s the message(s) they’re sending.

The last thing we need is for a new generation to grow up under the impression that guns are cool. Back to cigarettes: one of the constant refrains of the anti-smoking campaign has been “Don’t smoke in front of your children, because they tend to do as you do, not as you say.” And then there’s the effort to convince teenagers that smoking “ain’t cool.” But guns are a fashion accessory.

There is also the minor issue of conflict resolution strategies. Do we not understand that these laws, and their “personal safety” justifications, perpetuate the idea that the solution to potential violence is more potential violence? That the only palliative to our lack of social consciousness is less social consciousness, and more social belligerence? Forget “these are your lungs on tobacco”; your brain on bullets…is dead.

Just as there are people who choose not to smoke or be associated with tobacco in any way, there are those of us who choose to neither own nor be associated with guns. In fairness, smokers are generally fairly conscientious when it comes to following the rules: there was grumbling at first, I’m sure, when the limiting trend began, but by and large, they are a respectful lot. Baylor, for instance, joined the ranks of smoke-free campuses at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, and the transition went largely without a hitch. Meanwhile, the gun lobby seems to be going out of its way to force the rest of us into the firing line.

Imagine the gall of suggesting that law enforcement officers be free to ask open carriers for proof of license! Since all 21-year-olds have their age pinned to their foreheads, what could be the use of so overbearing a measure? By all means, ID kids trying to buy tobacco or alcohol, but how dare you infringe upon their rights by asking for legal paperwork on the deadly weapon strapped to their hip? Now, everyone’s up in arms because of possible signage restricting open (or concealed) carry in businesses: in Texas, ├╝ber-respect for the businessman apparently ends when they tell you to leave your toys outside.

If you, in your hubris, want to channel Cary Grant or John Wayne, then for the love of God, do it in the privacy of your own home and leave the rest of us out of it. If you’re going to be an ass, then at least make sure it’s only your ass that’s on the line.

‘Cause second-hand bullets are real.