Thursday, December 1, 2011

What About Me?

I was discussing gun violence with a friend who likes guns and thinks everyone should carry them. He sent me an article which said that the right to carry a gun should be viewed from the perspective of the person who wants to carry a gun, not from the perspective of public safety. The article said that the only important question in the gun debate is, “What about me?”

The author made the point that proponents of guns are concerned primarily with themselves and that people on the other side of the issue are also concerned about the public welfare. I would have thought that such an observation would be considered insulting to people who are in favor of guns. But my friend explained to me that he was more concerned about himself and his family than about his friends, and more concerned about his friends than about strangers. He said such self-centeredness is “natural.”

It is sometimes difficult to determine what is natural and what is not, but when speaking of humans and other social animals, both instinctive and learned behavior are clearly natural. Certainly there is competition in nature. But just as certainly, the survival of humans has always depended upon cooperation. Throughout history and before history, humans living in a great diversity of environments have survived not because we have big teeth and claws but because we were able to live together and benefit from each other's efforts. Just like bees and hyenas and dolphins and penguins do.

Somehow people on the right of the political spectrum have forgotten that humans depend upon one another. They look to their rights as individuals to carry weapons, and they reject the wording in the U.S. Constitution that says the right to bear arms is reserved to a “well regulated militia,” and that it is guaranteed in the Second Amendment because it is “necessary to the security of a free State.” Where the Constitution says “State,” they substitute the word “me.”

This same self-centeredness is one of the biggest differences between the rhetoric of today's Occupy movement and the Tea-Party movement. Occupy protesters talk about economic justice for all people. Tea-Partiers say they just don't want to pay their own taxes. When Occupy protesters promote policies because they think they will be good for society, Tea-Partiers call them Socialists.

The Tea-Partiers and a large segment of the Republican Party seem to think that concern about other people is bad. Their economic policies are based on the central idea that if we do what is good for rich people, poorer people will benefit as an indirect consequence, as the wealth trickles down. But the efforts of the Republicans are not intended to help the poor or middle-class. Helping them is just a byproduct of policies that are designed to help the rich. They reject as a matter of principle the very idea that we should even try to help poor or middle class people. They think that helping people leads them to expect help and makes them lazy, less productive, and ultimately union members and public school teachers.

The U.S. Constitution begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” It's is pretty clear that the country was established for “we” and not “me” and that the benefits are intended to inure to all people. It is odd that the Tea Party, which draws its name from the revolutionaries who worked for independence, has so much trouble with the concept of the common good and the general welfare.

1 comment:

  1. Lee, have you watched any of The Human Spark, a PBS show about how early people became people like us. Last night, they talked about one of your points, that the survival of humans depends on cooperation. The Neanderthal were early travelers and made it from Africa to Europe fairly quickly. However, they did so in small bands that never grew very much and did not work with other small bands of the same species. They did not know how to cooperate, so they died out. The early people who became us, the Cro-magnon, developed better communication and a more cohesive culture, so even though their ancestor had not yet traveled from Africa to Europe, they learned how to work together. When they finally started spreading out beyond the horn of Africa, they did a better job creating communities and hence survived. There are a lot of theories out there, but this was what was discussed in the show.