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Why Guns Are Not Like Spoons

I. Why Guns are Not Like Spoons

“If guns kill people, then spoons make people fat.” That’s a favorite analogy of pro-gun folks to ostensibly make the point that it is bad decisions, and not the inanimate tools themselves that cause undesirable results from the use of the tools. This is a bad analogy, but it is not surprising that bad analogies sound perfectly logical to people predisposed to agree with them, because many such people are terrible at analogies. Unfortunately, most people who disagree with the analogy have a general sense that it is wrong, but can’t point out exactly why. That’s because people who disagree are, also, mostly terrible at analogies. Liberals and conservatives alike may unite in being bad at analogies. Remember that section of the SATs?

Tree:Leaf::Book: _______.
a) Cover
b) Page
c) Chapter
d) Read

It brings up bad memories for most people. The temptation is to read that question as “tree is to leaf as book is to ____” and then rely on sense or intuition to inform the answer. However, the best way to find the answer is to create as highly accurate a description of the relationship between the first two words as possible, then plug in the other words into the description to see what fits best. So, plugging in a simple relationship: e.g., “Trees need leaves” isn’t very good because you can also easily say “Books need covers,” as well as “Books need pages.” A highly accurate description describing what leaves are in relation to trees would be:
Leaves are the smallest but still very important individual components of a tree, which typically has high numbers of them.”
The only answer that fits “books” in the above sentence is “pages.” What makes a good, strong analogy is when the relationships between two sets of words are very highly similar and the differences are minimal.

Let’s walk through this exercise with Guns:Kill People::Spoons:Make People Fat.
Guns:Kill People::Spoons: _______

In this analogy, “make people fat” is an inaccurate answer. What is a highly accurate description of the relationship between “guns” and “kill people?” It is “the primary purpose of a gun is to kill people.” Does this work for the other set? “The primary purpose of a spoon is to make people fat?” No, that is not true. A more accurate answer is “The primary purpose of a spoon is to feed people.” We can word it in other highly accurate but less stark terms while maintaining a good analogy. An alternative example is Guns:Fire Bullets::Spoon:Shovel Food.  “A gun can be used to fire bullets , and a spoon can be used to shovel food.”

The correct analogy is not “If guns kill people, then spoons make people fat;” rather, it is “If guns kill people, then spoons feed people.”
Looking at it the reverse way, the relationship between a spoon and making people fat is “if a person uses a spoon for a long period of time, and makes bad decisions of what to use the spoon for, then in conjunction with other factors, some unrelated to spoons, a person gets fat.” That is not the relationship between a gun and killing people. If a person uses a gun correctly, one time, for its intended purpose, it kills a person immediately.

Sure, you can use a gun for other things. Like killing animals, “merely” injuring people, scaring people away by firing shots, target practice, scaring people by waving it around, collecting it and hanging it on a wall, or hitting someone with blunt end. You could even eat with it—dip the butt in some nacho cheese or something. You can use a spoon for other things. Like hanging on your nose, storing in your drawer, collecting and hanging it on a wall. You could even kill someone with it. Stab someone super hard, or something.

However, these other uses aren’t really the gun’s or spoon’s primary purpose, and they aren’t super important for alternative uses. One really buys a gun because it is especially designed for killing one or several people at a time from some distance. And one really buys a spoon to eat things like soup and cereal.

II. Why Comparing Guns with Other Inanimate Objects Matters

The distinction of the fact that the primary purpose of a gun is to kill people is relevant because as a society, we tend to regulate physical items themselves based on a combination of a few things, including 1) their primary purpose (i.e., benefit) and 2) their lethality. Guns and other weapons are different from other items because their primary purpose/benefit and their lethality are one and the same. Another common comparison gun advocates make is “well, heart disease kills way more people a year—600,000–why don’t people focus on regulating cheeseburgers?” or “cars kill 30,000 people a year too–why don’t we get rid of all cars?” The answer is that we do regulate cars and cheeseburgers and try to prevent their related deaths, but we do it with a logical relationship to their primary purpose and their immediate lethality. I assert that as Americans, we regulate guns in an illogical manner as compared to everything else we regulate.

(Warning: generalizations are forthcoming. As I have previously written, generalizations are a useful language construct for the purpose of summarizing many underlying details. The body of literature and studies on each concept discussed herein is vast. See links for supporting facts and sources. For example, this link to the CDC’s Annual Fatal Injury Report. The most comprehensive book I have read on the subject of violence is
“The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” by Steven Pinker. Some of my thoughts about human nature and violence derive from that book, which I highly recommend. I’d be happy to further discuss my reasoning behind any of my broad assertions. Additionally, I characterize of different kinds of death as worse than others. This characterization is subjective, but based on my observations of how people tend to react to them, such as how they are reported in the news.)

We (humans, Americans) tend to regulate most physical items based on many factors. In addition to the factors of primary purpose and lethality, we also take into consideration (often subconsciously), several other factors. We do consider the absolute number of deaths per year from a given cause, (e.g., 600,000 from heart disease, 480,000 from smoking, 30,000 from car accidents, 33,000 from guns) but that alone isn’t a determinative factor for how we regulate a particular item.

Much of all human endeavor is related to preventing and/or delaying death, and we have made many improvements in these endeavors over time. The most compelling evidence of our success are our drastically increased life expectancies around the world, especially in the last 100 years. We generally view all deaths as sad, but since all people die eventually, we tend to focus our efforts on preventing and delaying the kinds of death that most seem the most preventable; that is, those deaths that seem most atrocious, heart-wrenching, and/or unnecessary. But what factors inform how we view different causes of death in these ways, and how usually go about preventing and delaying death through laws and policies?

For one, we consider the directness of causality of a given cause of death. Heart disease kills over 600,000 per year, but it does not have one direct cause (e.g., one cheeseburger), but rather many cumulative, far-removed causes (e.g., thousands of cheeseburgers, pizzas, beers, and fried foods, combined with a lack of exercise, genetic factors, etc.). This is why no one would have been horrified if a stranger came and gave out 100 cheeseburgers to concert-goers in Las Vegas a few days ago. We consider direct causes generally worse and more preventable than indirect causes. The distinction between the level of directness of a cause is an important one, not only conceptually, but legally as well—liability or guilt of any offense in court usually requires a direct, or at least, proximate causation. We do regulate unhealthy things like food, but only a little bit because of its indirectness of causality to death.

Similarly, we consider immediacy of a cause of death. We all know that smoking will likely kill you, but not for a long time. If it does, it will likely do so in the form of illness somewhat later in life. We consider immediately-caused deaths to be generally worse than deaths caused over a long period of time. However, we still regulate cigarettes heavily even though death is not immediate, because its cause is direct. Notably, our most restrictive laws regarding cigarettes pertain to a smoker’s ability to smoke near others who do not want to inhale smoke.

Our heavy regulation of second-hand smoking is due to the fact that we also consider whether a cause of death is something self-inflicted or done by others. We object very much when someone else’s actions kill us. Prescription and illegal drug overdoses kill about 50,000 people a year. Like unhealthy food and smoking, drug use is primarily self-inflicted. Because we value our own autonomy and the ability to make our own decisions (even bad ones) ourselves, we consider deaths inflicted by others to be generally worse than ones that are self-inflicted. Still, even though they are self-inflicted, we consider the epidemic of these deaths to be tragic and a crisis—one that the medical community, private businesses and the government are actively trying to address. Drugs are highly regulated and/or illegal, and we actively try to prevent people from harming themselves through their regulation.

Another consideration is whether a cause of death is accidental or intentional. Most deaths occurring because of a vehicle crash are accidental. However, they are direct, immediate, and caused both by one’s self and others, making them especially painful to those they impact. As a result, government, business, individuals, and other organizations have made drastic, concerted efforts to reduce the rate of vehicle accidents over time. There are numerous testing and licensing requirements, entire codes of traffic laws, traffic infrastructure designed to reduce deaths, and ever-improving car safety technology. As a society, we have been remarkably effective at reducing auto fatalities over the last 60 or so years, and we are likely to see a precipitous drop from the current level of around 30,000 in the next few years due to the rapid development of crash-prevention technology. Once bright spot about causes of death that are direct, immediate, and inflicted by others, like auto accidents, is that they are easier to identify and therefore the most preventable through concerted effort—hence, the effectiveness of regulations.

Guns are used to inflict 11,000 deaths per year directly, immediately, by others, and worst of all, intentionally; these alone are the number of gun homicides. There about 33,000 total gun deaths—roughly the same number as deaths from car accidents—but approximately 20,000 of those are from suicides and a little less than a thousand are from accidents. If we just take the approximately 11,000 gun homicides per year (out of a total of 14,000-ish homicides), those are the ones that it would seem we would spend the most regulatory and societal effort to prevent, precisely because they are easily identifiable and therefore preventable. The suicides and accidents would also seem to be a target of legislation at least on par with the level of regulations on cars, given that they are still caused directly and immediately. However, there are very few regulations on guns at all. By “few,” I don’t mean that they are non-existent; it’s just that they pale in comparison to those surrounding the next most comparably lethal item: cars. And extreme resistance to even the most mundane laws and policies prevents progress in reducing these very preventable deaths.

When it comes to guns and other weapons, though, not all guns and weapons are equal in their lethality. Two additional factors come into consideration when we regulate weapons in general, which include 1) how many people can be killed by them at once and 2) from how far away. It makes intuitive sense that the more people can be killed from farther away, the more deadly a weapon is. Before turning to the lethality of guns, let’s address knives. Knives a bit unique in that their primary purposes range from “spreading butter” to “stabbing” (e.g., a military grade knife), so their primary purpose/benefit is sometimes, but not usually, the ability to kill itself. But because of its shape, it can be classified and used as a weapon. By the measures of “how many/how far away” it can kill people when used as a weapon, its lethality is relatively lower than that of guns. About 1,700 homicides a year are committed with knives—about 15% the number of gun homicides. Based on the wide range of primary purposes of knives, and their lower lethality, we can see why knives are moderately regulated. For example, they are prohibited on planes, in many business establishments, and sporting venues.

Just within the subset of “guns that are legal”, there is a wide range of lethality based on the criteria of “how many” and “how far away.” For example, shotguns and hunting rifles, though capable of killing humans, are primarily designed to kill animals. There are a wide variety of just this subset of guns, but certain features make them relatively less deadly against people than other guns (debatable). For example, shotgun ammunition is comprised of shot, which are small pellets that spray diffusely, so as to kill smaller animals like birds. Such ammunition is loaded often one at a time, or through a small magazine typically holding five or less shells. Many hunting rifles are designed for larger caliber bullets, for killing larger animals, but are also typically loaded through smaller magazines of ten or fewer rounds (bullets).

Handguns, in contrast, are designed for killing people and have features such as being compact and holding bullets sufficient to kill or injure a human from relatively close range. They are designed to kill only a few at a time at most, due to their round capacity. Many hold 5-15 rounds. Again, there are a wide variety of this subset, some more lethal than others.

The deadlier types of legal guns include popular semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15. What characterizes them as semi-automatic is that they can fire one bullet per trigger pull without the need for re-cocking (handguns may be semi-automatic as well). These are designed to kill many people at once, given the design features of semi-automatic firing and the magazine capacity (magazines holding 10, 20 or 30 rounds are common). Other features make this type of rifle more accurate over a longer distance than a handgun (e.g., the long barrel, a sight, firing velocity, and a buttstock for holding the rifle in place on one’s shoulder). There are a wide variety of semi-automatic guns of this subset as well.

Above this level of lethality, weapons are highly regulated and prohibited. For example, fully automatic guns (some known as machine guns) are illegal. These can fire even more bullets at a faster pace because depressing the finger once, continuously, will cause bullets to keep firing. Bombs, land mines, grenades, and other explosives are generally illegal under state and federal laws. Rocket launchers are illegal. Obviously fighter planes and missiles are illegal. Nuclear bombs are the most lethal weapons available, and can kill so many people from so far away that entire countries are prohibited from having them. The prohibition on American citizens on having any of these kinds of weapons is pretty non-controversial.

There are of course, many reasons why there is so much resistance to gun laws and policies in America, including the fact that our Constitution provides a right to bear arms that is open to wide interpretation, and that gun enthusiasts display a unique devotion to these items themselves (similar to the kind of devotion that motorcycle and car enthusiasts display for those items, but with a more fervent bent). However, if we simply compare the level of regulation that we normally apply to items based on their lethality, both to items that are less lethal and more lethal than legal guns, we can see how our level of regulation of guns is out of step with our otherwise logical approach to regulating harmful things.

Below is a list of identifiable items (some non-lethal ones chosen at random) ranked by level of lethality. The ranking includes a consideration of the above-mentioned factors of primary purpose, directness, immediacy, whether self-inflicted or not, and whether resulting death is accidental or not. For items that are actually designed for the purpose of killing, two additional factors of “how many” and “from how far away” are also included. Next to each item is a characterization of the level of regulation applied to the item. There are higher regulations on guns in some states than others, but there are glaring holes in regulation (such as the fact that you can legally buy a gun without a background check or sometimes without identification at a gun show or online) such that the regulations can be easily rendered non-existent. Such gaps in regulation do not exist with regard to, for example, cars. Cars must be at least licensed and registered in every state and for every purchase.

1. Broccoli                                        None
2. Spoons                                         None
3. Cheeseburgers                         Minimal
4. Alcohol                                        Medium
5. Drugs                                            High
6. Cigarettes                                   High
7. Cars                                               High
8. Knives                                          Low
9. Sporting Guns                          Low to Medium
10. Handguns                                Low to Medium
11. Semi-automatic Rifles        Low to Medium
12. Automatic Guns                    High/ Generally Prohibited
13. Bombs/Explosives              High/ Generally Prohibited
14. Rocket Launchers                Prohibited
15. Fighter Planes                       Prohibited
16. Nuclear Bombs                     Prohibited

Based on how we otherwise logically address the lethality of items, the fact that we regulate guns any less than we regulate cars doesn’t make much sense. The fact that there are low regulations on semi-automatic rifles, but that automatic guns are prohibited, is equally nonsensical. If we are going to regulate the safety of items on a comparative basis, we should do so in a proportional manner.

When comparing any item to guns, we should take care to evaluate exactly how they are similar and dissimilar. The farther removed the similarities are, the less effective the comparison. Saying that “anything can be used to kill someone” just dismisses everything we logically understand about physical objects, and is not persuasive regarding non-regulation of guns. If we were to apply our normal rationale to gun regulation, we would regulate sporting guns at least as much as cars, handguns quite a bit more, and semi-automatic rifles quite heavily. To do otherwise is to ignore every rational thought we have about how to reduce death and improve safety.
We have been so successful at extending our lifespans and reducing death and danger in the face of so many potential harms by applying reason, studies, and cause-and-effect relationships. We can apply these same tools to reducing deaths by guns as well. In doing so, if we are going to make comparisons between guns and other things, let’s scrutinize the validity of those comparisons. We may find that it is most productive not to make comparisons or analogies at all, but to evaluate causes and effects of gun deaths solely in view of the attributes of guns alone.

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Talk to Trump Supporters

I’ve noticed certain trends in FB arguing over the past few months, primarily revolving around Hillary vs. Bernie and Trump vs. anti-Trump. I’ve seen a wide range of the quality of discourse in the Hillary vs. Bernie arguments from very low to very high. Typically the arguments, regardless of quality, receive a high level of engagement (lots of comments). But the discourse around Trump vs. anti-Trump has primarily been limited to memes/videos from pro-Trump, and utter dismissiveness (“just unfriend me if you are voting for Trump”) from anti-Trump, and a pretty low level of engagement—that is, most such posts don’t result in an argument.

If you share just one political view with me, which is that Trump should not be President, whether you identify as pro-Hillary, pro-Bernie, pro-third party, or Repub/Dem-who-can’t-stand-Hillary-but-also-don’t-want-racism/ higher-chance-of-apocalypse-in-the-White-House, I urge you to engage this election cycle as effectively as possible. I am of the mind that people can be influenced, and there are more and less effective ways to influence them. Therefore, I urge you not to automatically unfriend all your FB acquaintances who are Trump supporters. I do think it is critical that we learn to engage with them and change the minds of those who can be changed. I believe that many people who have been convinced to support him on the basis of weak arguments can be convinced to change their minds based on stronger arguments.

I’d like to suggest the following strategies for being more effective when talking specifically with people who disagree with you. I do not claim all these ideas as my own; they are derived from a combination of books and articles I have read, seminars I have attended, and my own experiences:

1) Pick your battles. I’m not suggesting that you pick fights with people who post angry, illogical rants, or post things that are overtly racist or abusive. Chances are, you have rid yourself of those people already. Not everyone has to be convinced not to vote for Trump. Some people simply cannot be convinced. However, there are some people in your universe—your uncle, your former business associate—that you like on some level, and who, despite their support for Trump, do have other redeeming qualities. They probably like you on some level as well, and can be positively influenced by what you think.

2) Attack ideas—don’t attack appearances. The quickest way to devalue your argument in the mind of your opponent is to include attacks on personal appearances. It may sound funny to you to say Ted Cruz has an ugly face, or make fun of Trump’s hair, spray-tan, or fingers, but those attacks are absolutely unpersuasive to his supporters. They even create more sympathy in their minds because they are so unfair, in the same way that attacks on Hillary’s voice or outfits or Bernie’s hair or suits are unfair. Late-night comedians are especially guilty of this and it takes the power out of their argument every time. They do it for laughs from a group that already agrees with them. But have you ever heard someone tell you a joke that you thought was not funny at all, but rather mean? It makes you dislike the joke-teller.

3) Avoid calling people idiots for what they believe. Also, avoid just flatly telling people they are wrong without support. No one believes that they personally are an idiot. And starting out with an accusation that they are wrong tends to make them dig in their heels at the outset. Even if you prove people wrong eventually, they are unlikely to admit it. Democrats have been, um, bad at not calling each other wrong idiots recently.

4) Share personal stories. This is usually the most powerful way to make your point without attacking someone. It is hard to explain to someone that they are racist for supporting him. It is easier for them to see that they are hurting actual Hispanic and Muslim people by supporting him when you share stories. I know legal immigrants who are afraid their status might be revoked and their families broken up. I know Hispanic and Muslim Americans who have been shouted at in public to “go home.” These stories are heartbreaking and compelling.

5) Ask questions to understand what their arguments are. You can’t know if you are being effective if you don’t understand where they are coming from. You may think there is no good imaginable reason under the sun why anyone would support him, but just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist to them.

Why do you support Trump? Do you agree that he should build a wall? Do you agree that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US? Do you think that freedom of the press should be limited? Do you think we should no longer have free trade with many other foreign countries? Your response is going to be different depending on if they say “yes we should build a wall,” or “I don’t agree, but I don’t think he is really going to do it.” Asking that question first is better than starting out by stating “building a wall along the Mexican border is the most idiotic and racist idea I have ever heard of.” They might already agree.

On the flip side, don’t ask questions that are unlikely to solicit a productive answer. If you ask someone “Is there anything Trump could say or do that would make you not support him?” the answer will almost certainly be “No.” That’s like asking someone “why are you wrong?” They can’t imagine the answer to that.

6) Be prepared to rebut their arguments. There are lots of good rebuttals to Trump’s arguments, and if you are an active newsreader, you have come across them. Many of Trump’s supporters may not read the same articles you read (or any at all!) and therefore may not have ever heard a good, reasoned rebuttal before. They might be convinced if they hear one.
For example, you say “why do you want to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.?” They will probably say what Trump says, which is “well, somebody has to do something about terrorism!” To this, you could lay out a multi-point reasoned argument, like: 1) our police, military, CIA, and government leaders are always, constantly “doing something” about terrorism, which is why they are exceedingly rare; 2) doing “something” is not an answer if that “something” is unconstitutional, racist, and ineffective. The President can’t do those kinds of things.
They have other arguments, like “he’s a good businessman” and “he’s a good negotiator,” both of which can be effectively challenged. They can be more complex too, and be related to how they disagree with Democrats and don’t want to vote Democratic. I think the mistake we are making as anti-Trump citizens is that we are not even asking his supporters why they support him. It is so clear to us why he is unacceptable that we cannot even entertain the idea that other people have reasons, because the reasons seem unimaginable. Let us find those reasons out and do battle with them.

7) Don’t be discouraged if at the end of the conversation, no one tells you “hey, you’re right! I’m wrong!” This is unlikely to happen ever. Most people won’t admit defeat but many will soften their positions, especially over time. And people are more likely to “change their minds in the face of new information” than “admit they are wrong.”

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Why That “Transfinancial” Meme is Terrible

I’ve noticed a meme circulating in some of my conservative friends’ social media posts that is clearly intended to mock the plight of transgender people in view of transgender rights being in the news. It goes something like this:

“I’m Transfinancial. It means I am a rich person in a poor person’s body. Give me money to fix my disorder!!

I’d like to point out why this is a bad analogy for arguing that trans people either 1) shouldn’t have the right to be themselves like everyone else or 2) are pretending to be something they are not.*

The premise of this analogy is that being rich or poor is an identity in the same way that being a man or a woman is an identity. It’s not, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s say that being rich or poor IS an identity on par with one’s gender identity. Here are a few reasons why the analogy is not applicable:

1) You are born identified as rich or poor at birth. However, no one will suggest to you that you shouldn’t be able to change this.

2) If you identify and know yourself to be a rich person and work to align yourself with this identity instead of what society had assigned to you at birth—“being a poor person”–society will not generally mock you for doing so. You are very unlikely to be hated, beaten or killed by others for doing so.

3) If you work toward transitioning from poor to rich, the government will not take official action to intimidate you or to make it more difficult for you to do so. States will not make laws mandating that you stand in a poor person’s line at the bank your whole life so that others may see that you were born poor.

4) Some may see a poor person working to align their deep and personal understanding of themselves as a rich person as “pretending,” but among entrepreneurs, this kind of pretense is actively encouraged, and not shamed. Sometimes you feel that you ARE something inside that has not yet manifested outwardly. If you aren’t harming anyone, what is the problem with pursuing your truth? It is not the whole world’s business how rich or poor you are—it is only the business of yourself and people who are directly interacting with your finances.

5) People born poor who try to become rich will experience different outcomes in the world. Some may have an easier time than others, and once they are rich, no one may ever know that they were otherwise. Some people assigned poor at birth have a harder time aligning themselves with society’s expectations of what it means to look and be rich due to a number of circumstances, but that doesn’t change the truth within their hearts.

Another problem with this meme is the premise that transgender people are asking others to bear some personal burden in allowing them to exist as in the world as people. But they are not asking for money or special rights, or even for positive acknowledgement. They only ask to be able to peacefully exist in the world like everyone else.

And as I asserted previously, being rich or poor is not an identity in the same way as being one’s gender is an identity. In our society, we tend to hold as “identities” things that are somewhat inseparable from our own minds and bodies, such as our skin color, our religion, our gender, and our sexuality. We do also classify ourselves by the outer things we have or do, such as how much money we have, our professions, or our hobbies. Certainly we can “identify” as rich people, as physicists, or as golfers, but what we tend to hold most dear to ourselves, and protect in the form of rights in our country, are our mind/body identities. It doesn’t even matter if our identities are those we are born with or if they can change as a result of choice. You can change your religion as a result of choice and we protect the shit out of that. So comparing someone’s gender identity to someone being rich or poor misses the point of people’s rights being affected by their very identities.

Finally, please everyone stop using bumper-sticker-length arguments to be assholes to other people.

*Note to those already well-read on LGBT issues: I realize that the existence of this meme and my discussion of it is not the most consequential piece of writing on the subject of transphobia; a much bigger problem than the bad meme is the great danger transphobia poses in the actual lives of trans people. However, when bad logic is used to promote hateful ideology, I think it is helpful to deconstruct the bad logic to reduce its power, and that is one way I can contribute. Also, I realize my discussion of trans identity here is cursory and rudimentary, but I believe that most people who would entertain the validity of this meme have an understanding of trans identity that is cursory or rudimentary at best and non-existent or harmful at worst.

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Marching, Civil Disobedience, and Looting are All Different Things

We should make an effort to differentiate between marching, civil disobedience, and looting. They are different things, in the same way that admirable policing and excessive force are different things. After all, our arguments are only as strong as our ability to distinguish and analyze facts, instead of lumping generalizations together. To complain about marching, civil disobedience (i.e., blocking traffic) and looting all in one breath is imprecise.

Most would agree that peacefully marching in designated areas is appropriate and sometimes effective, because no one is breaking the law and sometimes people in power listen to marchers. Most would agree that looting is inappropriate because it is breaking the law, specifically committing an intentional tort or crime against another individual, and nobody listens to looters (because they are not asking for anything, and they have no credibility regarding laws).

Non-violent civil disobedience is a bit more controversial. It usually involves breaking the law or at least societal rules. Examples include 1) blocking traffic, 2) placing yourself where authorities say you should not be, 3) boycotting segregated busses, 4) sitting-in in a segregated restaurant. However, civil disobedience does not involve an intentional tort or crime against an individual. Civil disobedience does involve inconveniencing others. A current complaint I hear about protesters blocking streets is that it inconveniences white and black people alike. The inconveniences are often frustrating. Sometimes, they have serious consequences. A black or white person stuck in traffic on a blocked road could be late to work and get fired. An emergency responder might be delayed from responding to a black or white person’s medical emergencies. These consequences are real. They are also unintentional. But people bring up these consequences and say, “see, your civil disobedience is not helping. You’re hurting your own people and your own cause.” This sentiment ignores the fact that the very reason people are protesting right now is because of widespread, deeply felt injustices that result in systematic oppression and an epidemic of deaths in black communities.

Even if you don’t think racism is a problem, enough people do that they will stand on the freeway and risk arrest, tear gas, and death themselves to tell others that it is a problem, so maybe we should listen. During the Montgomery bus boycott, which went on for months, many black people complained, Many lost jobs. Many were harassed on the streets as they walked. Many yelled at their leaders and said they should quit. When protesters staged sit-ins at segregated restaurants, it was all kinds of inconvenient to black and white people. It increased racial tensions a lot. People got hurt and died. However, large groups of people decided then that it was important to interrupt the day-to-day lives of white and black people in an inconvenient way to call attention to the enormous problem of racism that is largely ignored by those who don’t suffer its consequences.

Though looting has never produced any societal changes, civil disobedience has produced just about ALL of the societal change for people who are in positions of low power. To say that protestors should not march in or block the streets because a large number of them ARE experiencing oppression, injury, and death, just because a few people MIGHT indirectly suffer unintended consequences really ignores the legitimate concerns of the oppressed.

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Why it doesn’t bother me that Hillary rolls in dough like a boss.

Bernie Sanders himself, and Bernie Sanders’ fans get very worked up about the amount of money in politics. As a result, his campaign is focused on big-money-related issues: overturning Citizens United, limiting the power of Wall St/big banks, universal healthcare (to eliminate profits from insurers/pharma companies), and millionaires and billionaires in general. What follows as the biggest liberal criticism about Hillary is that her well-funded campaign has received contributions from some of these entities (big banks) that Bernie rails against. She has even received hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal speaking fees from some of these companies. Bernie fans are appalled about that money, and then are appalled at the fact that I and other liberals are not similarly appalled. I know many of my FB friends are very passionate about Bernie (you know who you are), and I don’t mean to pick a fight. I would just like to explain why I am NOT appalled that Hillary Clinton gets so much cheddar and why the charts and infographs about how much money she gets are not persuasive to me (or to many other Hillary supporters).
Look, I agree that the amount of money spent in politics for campaigns to get elected, and for lobbying once politicians are elected is excessive, a waste, and a big problem, but I do not think it is the biggest or most consequential problem in politics. I also do not think money in politics is the single root of all the problems in our democracy. I don’t tend to believe that any one factor is a single root of problems in a complex system. Money and power are often quite intertwined, and it is unlikely that money will ever be completely extricated from political power or democracy. And though money itself is powerful, but it is not supremely powerful. It has its limits, just like other forms of power.

As an example of the limits of the power of money, in 2012, the Koch brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect far-right politicians in races across the country. Though they had some success, they certainly weren’t able to buy the election across the board. They failed so hard at taking down their biggest target, Barack Obama. All the money of these right-wing Super PACs funded by Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelstein, the RNC, and other favorite bogeymen of Democratic fundraisers couldn’t buy the election. As another example, Jeb Bush was by far the best-funded Republican primary candidate this year, and has spent over $100 million on ads to win the primary. He has been drowned out by at least four other candidates with less political spending money because they have some kind of appeal to Republican voters that he does not.
Money in politics does cause problems, but those problems can be overcome by other factors, such as grassroots activism, media coverage, a large volunteer force, a well-organized campaign that appeals to individual voters, and the spread of information on the internet and from person to person. The best example of that phenomenon—of other power factors overcoming money—is Bernie Sanders’ campaign itself. Look at all the people moved by his ideas and the grassroots spread of that information. As much as money has increased as a source of political power, so has social media technology and the internet in general. A very similar example is Donald Trump’s campaign. Though he is individually very rich, his actual campaign spending is minimal in comparison to Jeb Bush’s.

I think that for people who regularly deal in plenty of power and/or money, there is a limit to how much large campaign contributions can influence them. That is, I don’t think they are “bribed” or “owned” or “bought” in proportion to how many dollars they receive. For us ordinary citizens, if Goldman Sachs paid us $600,000 out of the blue for speaking to them, we might feel quite obligated to do whatever they wanted at any time, especially if we lived paycheck to paycheck prior to that fortuitous event. However, someone like Hillary, or Obama, hasn’t had to worry about money in a while, and actually will never have to in the future. Further, $600,000, in comparison to the $1 Billion in total contributions modern presidential campaigns raise and spend, isn’t enough for a company or industry to buy whatever influence they want on a single candidate. Many organizations with competing interests donate to the same candidates; just as insurance companies and banks donate money to Hillary, Obama, and every other candidate, so too do teachers unions, factory worker unions, and environmental groups. If an oil company contributes $1M and an environmental group contributes $200,000 to the same candidate, does that candidate ensure that the oil company receives five times more favor when that candidate is in power? I submit that it is impossible for a single politician in any position to quantify and then dole out favors in proportion to all the hundreds or thousands of interest groups that he or she has received money from. When you have hundreds of slightly varying interests competing for your attention as a politician, I think you have to weigh things other than money—such as the overall impact of a given policy on all your various constituents–and make judgments as best you can.

A common complaint of Bernie’s camp is that “BIG” money interests spend tons of money on lobbying and therefore control our political process. These days, it’s “Big Pharma,” “Big Health Insurance,” “Big Banks,” and “Big Oil.” (In the old days, it used to be “Big Steel,” and “Big Rail.” Money only keeps you in power so long).I wholeheartedly agree that big companies in these industries do many shitty things that affect society and individuals badly. When those companies do things that hurt us, they should be reined in and heavily regulated. Like when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry drive up healthcare costs, something like the Affordable Care Act should cap their excesses. When the banking industry causes harm to individual families and our economic system, something like the Dodd-Frank act should move in to protect consumers. When the fossil fuel industry causes harm to the environment such that our whole planet is in jeopardy, they should be left on the sidelines to fade away as governments promote cleaner energy industries.
And speaking as a liberal, I still can’t say “I agree with everything Bernie say, but…” because I don’t agree with the drastic nature of changes he wants to implement. For example, I don’t think we should try to shift the country to single-payer health insurance in one fell swoop, eliminating the private insurance system and the entire healthcare industry setup all at once. I prefer changes to be targeted, precise, and incremental, Obamacare-style, not “throw away the whole thing and start over” revolution-style, because revolution-style changes tend to bring about unwanted side effects and casualties.

Obama implemented lots of meaningful change through his style of governing. As much money as these “Big” companies spent on lobbying congress and donating to Obama’s campaign, other concerns—the concerns of the people– drove Obama and Congress to implement new regulations in their industries. These Obama policies supremely pissed off pharma, health insurers, banks, and oil companies. These are policies that Hillary supports and wants to continue to improve.
So I don’t buy the line that Hillary is a “corporate puppet” or whatever. That’s too simplistic of a way to consider how presidents make decisions. Hillary has been one of the most powerful women in the country for a couple of decades now. She should be getting paid for speaking like the baller she is. She’s also the most qualified person to run for president ever, which is what you gotta do when you’re a lady trying to get a job only men have ever held (see, e.g., female NFL referees, coaches; all CEO positions ever). For this reason, it is not surprising that all major newspapers, members of Congress, and many highly effective liberal organizations (Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign) have all endorsed Hillary. It’s not because they are all similarly “paid” or “bought” by big bad corporations. I was not paid by any corporations to write this in support of Hillary. We’ve considered things other than money, as Hillary does.

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“It’s Tradition” is not a very good reason to do something

“Tradition” is the least persuasive rationale for continuing to do something. Tradition as a reason is weak because its purpose is basically 1) to remind you of something positive you associate with the past and 2) to free you from having to think of a new way to do something. It is easily trumped by other reasons. Now, if tradition is the reason you do something, and there are no other compelling reasons NOT to do that thing, tradition may stand uninterrupted for a long time and be harmless. For example, why do I put up a Christmas tree in my house and decorate it with ornaments every year? Because it is a tradition, and there are no more compelling reasons why I do not. It’s pretty, it reminds me of past Christmases which I also enjoyed, and I don’t have to think about what to decorate my house with. It is even an artificial tree, so it literally doesn’t impact anyone other than the people in my house. It’s a different story if we are talking about a Christmas tree put up by city hall. In that case, you may now have different compelling reasons other than tradition. For example, it excludes people from other religions, or it violates the Constitution. Those other reasons are more important than tradition.

Other traditions can and should be easily trumped. Traditionally, brides wear white and grooms wear black. If you are a bride and groom and you like that, and have no reason to change, then great. Tradition it is. Again, it’s pretty, it reminds you of other weddings, and you don’t have to think about it. But really, any reason is a good enough reason to buck that tradition. For example, what if the bride or groom just likes tan suits better than black tuxedos? Tan suit wins, and out the door tradition goes. There may be other even more compelling reasons to buck wedding traditions. Traditionally, a bride marries a groom. Fine if you are a woman that wants to marry a man. But what if you are a woman that doesn’t want to marry a man, but want to marry a woman? Then that reason is more important than tradition. The tradeoff is that you have to think about how and why you are doing things differently. What should we wear? Two dresses? Two different color dresses? A dress and a suit? Two suits? What color suit, and why? It might be hard to have to think of new ways, but for a woman who wants to marry a woman, it is far more preferable to think about new things to wear than to throw up her hands and just marry a man because that is an existing tradition.
Same thing for team names. Tradition is a fine enough reason for the Giants and Dodgers, because there are no other compelling reasons for those not to be the names. No need to change the name of the Dodgers every year. However, for the Washington Football team, the argument is “it’s tradition” vs. “it’s racist.” Guess what? “It’s racist” is a much more compelling reason than tradition.

Same thing for the Confederate Flag. “It’s tradition,” which can be similarly expressed as “it represents pride for Southern history” loses out to other far more compelling reasons, the main one being that most black people see it as a continuing endorsement of the side that fought to keep black people slaves. Because of its connotations, racists still use it as a code identifier to other racists, and black people often feel threatened by those who fly it. Tradition should lose so hard on this one.