The Dangers of Politicization

In the wake of the Arizona shooting, Stephen Budiansky makes the analogy between guns and cars:

We have made a reasonable social decision, I think, that the benefits of the automobile outweigh its harm; yet that has not prevented us from honestly acknowledging its harm and the perfectly plain fact that how roads and cars are designed and regulated have an enormous impact on death and injury, completely apart from human volition. (Per capita auto-related fatalities are today half what they were in 1950; deaths per vehicle-mile have dropped sixfold, almost entirely through technological modifications.)

Yet only when it comes to guns do people attempt, usually furiously, to deny that anything but individual responsibilitymatters, as I mentioned the other day. If we are ever to have a real discussion on this topic, we need to begin with the simple admission that guns — like drugs, medicines, cars, power tools, ski helmets, and every other piece of technology in the universe — can be built and employed in ways that are inherently safer or ways that are less safe.

The real difference between gun control and auto safety, it seems to me, is that one is politicized and one is not. You can discuss auto safety in detail because you don’t have to spend your time debating the broader principles of how far the ‘freedom to drive’ extends.   Changes in policy are not seen as an assault on fundamental values or a slippery slope toward governmental tyranny (if you’re a gun-nut) or indiscriminate violence (if you’re a pacifism-nut).

If gun control wasn’t politicized to the degree that it is, it could be discussed and regulated at the detail rather than the principle level, with the full participation of gun owners, gun manufacturers and gun opponents. If you accept good faith on all sides, of course no one wants guns to be unnecessarily abundant or unsafe. If the NRA wasn’t a de facto political organization, I’m sure they would have great insight into the factors that increase and exacerbate gun violence, and how to rally gun owners behind preventing them.

A number of other issues suffer from the same politicization-imposed mass blindness, immigration being the most prominent. The details of immigration policies, including their actual economic and social impacts, can’t be discussed honestly or in detail because they’ve become signifiers for a larger debate. You want to relax immigration rules because you don’t care about falling domestic wages! You want to tighten immigration rules because you’re a racist!

But once you get into the details, of course no one is advocating for open borders. And of course there are impacts of immigration that need to be prevented and mitigated. But we’re so busy debating the principles we don’t share that we forget the details we do.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Dangers of Politicization

  1. On the open borders thing, I attended a function a few years ago. The speaker was an advocate for immigration that works with the us and Mexican governments, but he was also a representative of Mexico. He literally told us, and people disrespectfully walked out on him, that they have no plans to help their poor and that we should take then. And this function was a banquet to get help for our city’s poor.

    The attempt here was to broaden what we see as the local poor. But by the time it ended, the speaker made it seem that Mexico did not want to try to improve itself for its people. The speaker literally made it sound like i have no business ever considering moving to his countey, because there are no opportunities.I doubt that’s true, but it was the impression that he gave by the words and demeanor he used. When the speaker realized that he was talking to the wrong audience with the wrong message, he had his arms outstretched, grinning the way that cartoon villains do when they are begging for mercy. And I believe that was the biggest problem. He had one success in that town giving a speech to college students earlier that day. This was a benefit to get support for a local homeless shelter and program from business leaders and representatives high in the community. If he used the same speech, as he hinted at when he yelled out Pelosi’s cell phone and related that the college students overflowed her inbox, then he did not take into consideration the differences between a more active college audience and a more conservative assortium of business and community leaders. The thing is, had he truly changed things up, he may have come off as dishonest. At least he was up front and not scared to back down from his convictions. Because that was something else, something positive that I took away. He genuinely cares for the people that get caught in this argument. And he does what he can. While I may have trouble with parts of his speech, I find something greatly respectful and honorable in that.

    I agree with what you say here. These topics are too politicized too much. And most things are. I am not trying to nitpick here, but giving you something that I saw firsthand. The problem is, there are too many hands in the cookie jar that oftentimes either get off message or just lost due to any number of things. For this to change, some of those voices must either change their dialogue and make it clearer, and others must develop hearts to care and ears to hear with. In other words, the discussion needs to change.

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