bookmark_borderHochul’s disturbing comments about “radicalization”

“I have called upon and am working closely with our Attorney General to identify what’s going on on social media, and those questions are now part of our background checks. So, just like in the old days, you’d talk to someone’s neighbor. Now you can talk to their neighbors online and find out whether or not this person has been spouting philosophies that indicate that they have been radicalized. And that’s how we protect our citizens as well.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul made these comments at a press conference on August 24. Hochul is referring to her state’s new law which requires applicants for gun licenses to provide their social media usernames so that police can ensure that the content of their posts is acceptable before issuing a license.

These comments are disturbing for several reasons:

First, the use of the word “radicalized” presumes that radical views are something that originates outside of a person, as opposed to from within. It follows from this presumption that radical views are bad and wrong. After all, if certain beliefs can only come to be held due to outside influences, and not due to thoughtful, deliberate reflection, then those beliefs must be irrational and incorrect. But there is nothing inherently bad about radical views, and they are just as likely to be correct as moderate ones. A person can come to hold radical views through careful deliberation, just as a person can come to hold moderate views through such deliberation. In fact, one could argue that radical views are more, not less, likely than moderate ones to be a result of philosophical reasoning and analysis.

Second, it is deeply wrong to base permission to exercise fundamental rights on whether or not a person’s views are considered acceptable. According to Hochul, if an applicant has been “spouting philosophies that indicate that they have been radicalized,” then that is reason to deny their application. In other words, Hochul believes that exercise of Second Amendment rights should be limited to people whose views are deemed sufficiently mainstream and moderate. This is, to put it bluntly, absurd. Holding radical views is absolutely not a valid reason for denial of a gun license. As explained above, whether a person’s views are radical or moderate has nothing to do with whether those views are right or wrong. But beyond that, people’s philosophies, beliefs, and views should have no bearing whatsoever on whether their gun license applications are granted, because people’s philosophies, beliefs, and views are none of the government’s business. Even if an applicant holds beliefs that are completely and utterly wrong, that is no reason to deny them the ability to exercise fundamental rights. 

Third, by conditioning the granting of Second Amendment rights on the acceptability of people’s social media posts, Hochul is treating these rights not as rights at all, but as privileges. Gun ownership is a fundamental right. In criminal law, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, because the consequence of being found guilty is for the person’s freedom to be taken away. Similarly, denying a person permission to own and carry a gun takes away a fundamental freedom. Therefore, decisions with regard to gun ownership must use the presumption of innocence standard as well: as long as the government does not have proof that a particular person is unfit to hold a license, the government has a moral obligation to issue the license. Applying for a gun license should not be treated like applying for a job. This is not a situation in which the government can set any standards that it wants and restrict licenses to only the applicants who meet those standards. The government should not be investigating or evaluating a person’s reputation, statements, philosophies, or beliefs, whether by talking to neighbors or by viewing social media profiles. To view rights as something that should be granted only if a person passes these evaluations is to view rights as privileges. And rights are not privileges; they are rights.

In conclusion, Hochul demonstrates two highly disturbing and false assumptions: First, that when it comes to political and moral philosophies, moderate equals good and radical equals bad. Second, that the ability to exercise gun rights should be conditioned on whether or not a person holds “good” political and moral philosophies. Not only is it authoritarian to restrict freedoms to people who hold the correct views, but it is even more authoritarian to presume that the correctness of someone’s views is a function of how popular and widely held those views are. Yet this is exactly what Hochul is doing. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of minorities against a tyrannical, bullying majority. By openly stating that the expression of unusual views is a legitimate reason to deny a person rights, Hochul is completely defeating the entire purpose of the Bill of Rights and completely disregarding the concept of individual liberty. It is beyond disturbing that any public official would demonstrate such mindless conformity, such moral bankruptcy, and such disrespect for people who think differently than she does, as Hochul has demonstrated through her public statements. It is not okay for the government to limit rights to only those people whose philosophies it has deemed acceptable.

P.S. Although this is not directly relevant to the topic of this blog post, I would be remiss not to mention Hochul’s recent decision to order all Republicans to leave her state. “Just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong,” she said at a campaign rally. “You are not New Yorkers.” Needless to say, these appalling comments are additional evidence of Hochul’s bigotry and intolerance towards people who think differently than she does. So much for progressivism being the philosophy of tolerance, diversity, and inclusion.

bookmark_borderWhy student loan forgiveness is unjust

In the debate about student loan forgiveness, people often point out that many people opposed to loan forgiveness had their college education paid for by their parents, Therefore, the implication is, the opposition to loan forgiveness is illegitimate, because opponents are so “privileged” that they never had to take out loans themselves.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that some parents saved up to pay for their children’s college education demonstrates exactly why student loan forgiveness is unjust.

Student loan forgiveness is unjust not because it is essentially a government-funded bailout of the rich, as many conservatives argue. It is not unjust because it subsidizes colleges, thereby allowing them to continue increasing their prices (although this is probably true). It is not unjust because it forces people who chose blue-collar careers to subsidize people who chose to study less practical subjects such as gender studies (although this is probably true, too). It’s not even unjust because it goes against the principle of personal responsibility by letting people off the hook for the financial ramifications of their decisions (although this is true as well).

Student loan forgiveness is unjust because it changes the rules after people have already made decisions based on the old rules.

Before student loan forgiveness was introduced as a possibility, it was assumed that if someone goes to college, they must pay for it. This is, after all, the way that things work with any product or service. If a person chooses to purchase a product or service, then the person must pay what the product or service costs. For some products and services, including college, there is the option to pay the cost now, as well as the option to pay the cost later, usually with interest added (also known as taking out a loan). Given that they would need to pay the cost at some point regardless, my parents chose to save up money so that they could pay at the beginning, rather than taking out a loan and facing the likelihood of having to pay interest.

But then, thanks to Joe Biden, the rules changed so that people who chose the second option (taking out a loan) are now being told that they don’t have to pay at all! (Technically, they have to pay $10,000 less as opposed to nothing at all, but the same principle applies). This means that my parents, after having already made the decision to pay at the beginning to avoid being charged interest, are now being told that if they had chosen the second option instead, they would be charged a smaller, not a larger, total amount of money. But it is too late for my parents to change their decision, because they have already paid. And there is no way for them to get their money back, because instead of treating people equally, the Biden administration is bestowing the $10,000 discount upon only those people who chose the second payment option (taking out a loan). 

Needless to say, had my parents known that they would receive a $10,000 discount if they had simply not paid and taken out a loan instead, they would have chosen this option. Choosing the first option (paying at the beginning) required my parents to save up money, and they made sacrifices in order to do this, such as working full time and foregoing other purchases. If they could have saved up less money with zero negative financial ramifications, my parents would have been able to take more vacations, make improvements to their home, or buy additional clothes and toys, to give just a few examples. It is patently unjust that parents who chose the vacations or the home improvements (or perhaps who chose not to work at all) instead of saving up money are now going to be rewarded for their choices with a $10,000 discount, while my parents are stuck having paid the full price with no way to get any of their money back. 

In conclusion, there is definitely a need to make college less expensive. But the problem with student loan forgiveness is that it makes college less expensive retroactively, after some people have already paid the full amount. Student loan forgiveness makes it so that one of two payment options comes with a discount… and people are not told this at the time when they must make a decision, but only after the decision has already been made. In other words, student loan forgiveness changes the rules after people have already made decisions based on the existing rules. This is what makes it unjust. When loans are forgiven, a situation is created in which people like my parents, who made sacrifices to save up money, turn out to have saved up that money for nothing. If people with student debt are going to get $10,000 of their debt forgiven, then people who have already paid must receive a $10,000 refund.

bookmark_borderWhen it comes to rights, you don’t need to demonstrate a need

One of the most common arguments in the gun rights debate is the idea that certain types of guns (or guns in general) are “not needed.” It is frustrating to see this argument being made again and again, because it is 100% wrong and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the nature of rights.

These tweets are a recent example: 

What this person, and so many others, fail to grasp is the fact that a person doesn’t need to need something in order to be allowed to have it. Fundamental rights exist regardless of need. If something is a fundamental right, as owning and possessing guns is, then people have the right to do it, whether they need to or not. 

Melissa is correct in stating that carrying a gun into Target or Subway is not needed. But so what? So only activities that are needed should be allowed? That’s interesting, because getting married is not needed, yet gay rights advocates treat it as an obvious truth that people have a right to marry the person that they love. (See this post for more examples of things that are not needed, but that everyone would agree people have a right to do.)

Next, Melissa pompously demands that gun rights supporters “demonstrate a need.” Well, no. That’s not how it works. If something is a fundamental right, as gun ownership is, then no one is obligated to demonstrate any need in order to exercise it. If something is a fundamental right, then people can do it for any reason at all, or for no reason.

With regards to the question that Melissa asks, obviously it is not good to have a situation in which anyone “goes and mowes [sic] down some people.” But the way to avoid such situations is simply for people not to use their guns to mow down people. The way to avoid such situations is not to require people to prove that they are not going to mow anyone down, because such requirements invade the privacy of all people and therefore violate everyone’s rights. 

Contrary to what Melissa is implying, it actually would be a good idea for “some closeted racist POS fresh out of HS, to legally ‘qualify’ to carry just because he’s 18.” Obviously, racism is not a good thing. But you can’t require people to prove that they are not racist before allowing them to exercise fundamental rights. If something is a fundamental right, as carrying guns is, then being 18 is completely sufficient to qualify. If something is a fundamental right, then everyone has the right to do it. If something is a fundamental right, then racist people are going to have the ability to do it along with everyone else.

Just as people are not obligated to demonstrate a need in order to exercise fundamental rights, people are not obligated to demonstrate a lack of racism, either. Rights are not privileges reserved for those who have demonstrated sufficient need or moral character. Rights are rights.

bookmark_borderSkepticism of institutions is not the problem; the institutions are the problem

When I first saw this tweet, my immediate reaction was, “You consider this to be a bad thing… why?”

There is nothing inherently bad about wanting to abolish government agencies or wanting to impeach and/or imprison government officials. Whether wanting such things is good or bad depends entirely on whether the agencies or officials have done anything wrong to deserve abolition, impeachment, and/or imprisonment. Yet the author of this tweet is ridiculing Republicans for their wishes with regards to government agencies and officials. And while doing this, he is not even bothering to argue that these government agencies and officials are good, and therefore not deserving of abolition, impeachment, and/or imprisonment. He is simply presuming that wanting to abolish, impeach, and/or imprison government agencies and officials is intrinsically bad. This viewpoint is disturbingly authoritarian. According to Filipkowski, trusting and respecting the government is inherently good, and disliking or criticizing the government is inherently bad. According to Filipkowski, the government is apparently worthy of trust and respect merely by virtue of being the government.

If the FBI, CIA, IRS, and Department of Education are acting wrongly, then they deserve to be abolished. If the President, Vice President, DHS Secretary, and Attorney General are acting wrongly, then they deserve to be impeached. And if the NIH Director is acting wrongly, then he deserves to be put in prison. In my opinion, all of these agencies and officials are, indeed, acting wrongly, and therefore Republicans are correct in wanting their abolishment, impeachment, and imprisonment. Instead of criticizing Republicans in this situation, one must ask what, if anything, government agencies and officials have done to cause people to hold such negative attitudes towards them. One must at least consider the possibility that the government agencies and officials in question are actually to blame for people’s negative evaluations of them, and therefore that the negative evaluations are correct. In my opinion, this is exactly what is the case in this situation.

Below is another example of the illogical and authoritarian attitude that societal institutions are inherently good and inherently worthy of trust and respect:

As you can see, Alex Young has taken it upon himself to ridicule the completely valid and reasonable criticisms that the Firearms Policy Coalition makes of the institutions of the ballot box, jury box, and soapbox. He demonstrates the same type of disturbing authoritarianism as Filipkowski does. By ridiculing the FPC for expressing disillusionment with societal institutions, Young is presuming that societal institutions automatically ought to be treated with reverence, merely by virtue of being institutions. To Young, if someone voices criticism of societal institutions, that reflects badly on said person, and makes them deserving of dismissal and ridicule. Like Filipkowski, he fails to even consider the possibility that it is actually the institutions that are flawed, and that the person making the criticisms is therefore correct in doing so.

In this case, the FPC is indeed correct in pointing out that the ballot box, jury box, and soapbox do not serve as effective “boxes of liberty.” What Young states so flippantly and dismissively is actually true. Indeed, it is a bummer that people’s fundamental rights are subject to majority rule, that the jury box is illusory, and that large corporations have the power to decide what speech is acceptable. These things are actual problems that need to be taken seriously, and it is both despicable and bizarre that someone would react to a problematic situation not by criticizing it, but by criticizing (particularly in such a flippant and dismissive tone) the organization that is pointing out the problem. Young needs to acknowledge that what is going on in our society actually is a bummer, to put it lightly. Instead of flippantly dismissing the FPC’s observations and ridiculing the organization for making them, Young should be praising the FPC for drawing attention to real and important problems with our government and society.

bookmark_borderRebutting a bully

“Today I looked Robert E. Lee in the eye and said, ‘You have no power over me.’ Now the healing can begin.”

This is what someone wrote in a social media post after Richmond, Virginia’s statue of Robert E. Lee was wrongly and disgracefully removed.

These words could not be more wrong. In this person’s warped version of reality, the losing side of a war that took place over 150 years ago is somehow the side that has always held power, and rubbing salt in the wounds of those who are already suffering somehow constitutes healing.

What I would say to the person who wrote this is, Robert E. Lee has never had any power over you. The Confederacy lost the Civil War in 1865. The Confederacy is the losing side of the war, while the Union is the winning side. Why are you so eager to inflict a new level of defeat upon people who were brutally and mercilessly defeated more than 100 years before you were born? You, and people like you, are the ones who hold power in our society, while the people who share the ideals of the Confederacy (liberty, individual rights, and resistance to authority) are the ones who hold no power.

Dear person who wrote this: Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy were rebels who fought back against authority, while you represent authority and the establishment. Robert E. Lee represents thinking for oneself and daring to be different, while you represent mindless conformity. Robert E. Lee represents the oppressed, while you are the oppressor. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy were the underdogs, while you are a bully. 

In other words, people like you are the powerful. People like Robert E. Lee are the powerless. It really is that simple. Monuments to Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy by their very nature represent rebellion and resistance to authority. For reasons that I will never fully comprehend, it is these ideals that you and so many other people demonstrate such a vicious, sadistic, and mindless eagerness to tear down and stomp on, both literally and figuratively.

In no way, shape, or form does it make sense for a bully to gloat that their victim – a person who has never hurt them in any way and who died over 150 years ago – does not hold power over them.

Dear person who wrote this: You, not Robert E. Lee, are the one who holds power and who always has. 

How dare you – a person who has always been part of the winning side, the majority, the mainstream, the establishment – gloat about inflicting further pain on an unpopular and powerless minority? You have no right to paint yourself as the victim. That distinction belongs to Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy.

Dear person who wrote this: You write about healing being able to begin, when you have nothing to heal from, because you are the one inflicting the pain, not the one enduring it. What has taken place over the past few years with regards to Confederate statues is an example of the winning side rubbing salt in the wounds of the losing side, of the advantaged stomping on the already disadvantaged. What you characterize as “healing” is actually the infliction of horrific pain on innocent people who have done nothing to deserve it and who have already suffered unimaginable losses. How dare you use the word “healing” to describe something that is its polar opposite?

Dear person who wrote this: You have things completely backwards. You are the authority, you are the majority, you are the mainstream, you are the establishment, you are the winning side of the Civil War, and you are the bully. It is disgraceful that you would gloat about inflicting further pain on those who are already suffering, and then call it healing.

bookmark_borderThe war on “ghost guns” is a war on privacy

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix, and New York Attorney General Letitia James recently announced federal lawsuits against companies that sell gun component parts. Their beef is that these retailers distributed parts that people can use to assemble untraceable firearms, also known as “ghost guns.” The fact that New York public officials decided to ban (via a law that took effect in February 2020) something that does not hurt anyone, and subsequently to file a lawsuit against companies that did not hurt anyone, is immoral. And in their public comments, these officials made numerous false and illogical statements that demonstrate their incorrect understanding of morality, justice, and rights.

In his public statement announcing the unjust lawsuit, Adams said: “Whether they are hidden in the trunks of cars or packed in a plain brown box, ghost guns are illegal in our city, and we will take every lawful action possible to stop gun retailers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city… We will not stand by while illegal operators flout the law, endanger our communities, and kill our young people.”

But companies that make ghost gun parts do not “kill our young people.” The people who fatally shoot people are the ones who kill those people, not the companies that make the guns (or the parts used to make the guns). I’m also not sure why Adams chose to mention the age of the people that he falsely accuses companies of killing. Age is not a morally relevant characteristic. Would Adams consider it less problematic if the people being killed were old? 

Hinds-Radix said: “Sadly, people in our city, including children, have been shot or killed with ghost guns… The companies should be forced to assist the city in recovering illegal, untraceable ghost guns they delivered here.”

The same point about age not being a morally relevant characteristic also applies here. Why mention that some of the people killed were children? But more importantly, there is no reason why companies should be forced to assist the city in recovering ghost guns. Ghost guns do not hurt anyone; it is the people who shoot other people who hurt people. Companies who sell the parts used to make ghost guns are not doing anything wrong. Therefore, they shouldn’t be forced to do anything. It is the people who choose to shoot other people, not the companies that sell component parts, that should be punished. 

New York Sheriff Anthony Miranda announced his intention to “hold these retailers accountable for willfully endangering the health and well-being of New Yorkers.” 

But the retailers did not do anything wrong. People who shoot other people, not the retailers that sell component parts, are the ones who have done something wrong and therefore should be held accountable. It is unjust for companies to be held accountable for something that they did not do.

Attorney General James stated: “While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold. There should be no more immunity for gun distributors bringing harm and havoc to New York. My office’s lawsuit holds 10 gun sellers accountable for fueling the gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers. Illegal guns do not belong on our streets or in our communities and we will use every tool necessary to root them out.”

I’m not sure why James considers it a bad thing for gun sellers to avoid accountability, given that they have not done anything wrong. For the same reason, I’m not sure why she thinks that there should be “no more immunity for gun distributors.” If a party or entity hasn’t done anything wrong, then immunity is exactly what they should have, and avoiding accountability is exactly what should happen. 

In addition to the mistaken idea that gun distributors should be held accountable for other people’s actions, another thing that strikes me about these statements is their emphasis on safety and communalism, and their complete disregard for the rights of individuals. There is no mention of individual rights, liberty, or freedom in any of these statements. Instead, the politicians go on and on about “the safety of our city” and “the health and well-being of New Yorkers.” They bemoan the fact that gun distributors “endanger our communities” and the “harm and havoc” that they bring. Again and again, they mention the impact on “communities,” “families,” and “loved ones,” as opposed to considering people as individuals.

If our leaders actually thought of people as individuals, as opposed to mere members of families and communities, they would realize that ghost guns are actually beneficial, rather than harmful. Because they are untraceable, ghost guns enable people to maintain privacy with regards to gun ownership. This is unequivocally a benefit to individuals. But, as is all too often the case, individual rights such as the right to privacy go completely unrecognized and disregarded by people who care only about safety, health, and the common good.

By criminalizing ghost guns, our society is taking away people’s right to maintain privacy with regards to gun ownership. Perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, shortly after filing the ghost gun lawsuit, Adams announced a similar crackdown on “ghost cars” – cars that can’t be traced. These actions illustrate a trend towards treating privacy not as a fundamental right that should be protected, but instead as something that should be made illegal. And unlike ghost guns and ghost cars, disregard for privacy rights is truly harmful.

bookmark_borderViolating people’s rights is not a right

Within the past couple of weeks, I have noticed a disturbing trend, in which politicians and other public figures have begun to claim that they have a right to violate the rights of other people.

The first example that I noticed is this June 23 tweet by California Governor Gavin Newsom:

First of all, it is disgusting and reprehensible that someone would characterize a Supreme Court decision preserving individual liberty a “dark day” or “shameful.” These words are the exact opposite of the truth. Additionally, I am not sure why Newsom would speak of a “radical ideological agenda” as if that is something bad. How radical or moderate something is has nothing to do with whether it is good or bad, and ideological simply means having to do with moral beliefs, which also has nothing to do with whether the thing in question is good or bad. But most importantly, Newsom, preposterously, claims that by preserving individual liberty, the Supreme Court is somehow infringing upon the rights of states. In other words, he is presuming that states have a right to violate people’s rights. Not only is this false, but the fact that someone would make such a presumption is shocking to the conscience. There is no right of states to protect their citizens from being gunned down. Of course, states have a right to ban the gunning down of people, which all states have (obviously) done. But states do not have a right to enact policies designed to make it difficult or impossible to gun down other people, because this necessarily entails banning activities (such as the ownership and/or possession of various types of guns) that do not harm anyone. And this violates the rights of innocent people. By claiming that states have a right to enact such policies, Newsom is claiming that states have a right to violate people’s rights. But no one has the right to violate the rights of others. The whole point of rights is that they cannot be violated. It is disturbing that this would even need to be stated, but there is no right to violate people’s rights.

This tweet by Keith Olbermann is disgusting for similar reasons. First of all, Olbermann states that it has become necessary to dissolve the Supreme Court, even though there is absolutely no basis for stating such a thing. The fact that an institution made a decision with which Olbermann disagrees is not a reason to dissolve that institution. Second, Olbermann puts the word “court” in quotes, implying that the Supreme Court is somehow not actually a court. But the Supreme Court actually is a court, so there is no reason for Olbermann to do this. Most relevant to my main point is Olbermann’s reference to states that the Supreme Court has allegedly “forced guns upon.” This wording makes no sense and demonstrates that Olbermann shares Newsom’s false, preposterous, and immoral presumption that states have a right to violate people’s rights. In reality, states do not have any right to be free of guns, because the objects that people own and/or carry are none of a state’s business. Therefore, state policies that interfere with people’s ability to own and/or carry guns violate people’s rights. And states don’t have a right to violate people’s rights. Therefore, stopping states from violating people’s rights is exactly what the Supreme Court should do. Olbermann somehow thinks that it is good for states to violate people’s rights, and bad for the Supreme Court to make them stop doing this, which is the opposite of the truth.

On a similar note, this article by the Daily Kos makes the common mistake of using the word “radical” as if this is somehow bad, which it is not, for reasons that I explained above. Regarding the reference to the “belligerent gun rights community”… it is absolutely shocking that people might be belligerent after having their fundamental rights relentlessly ridiculed and trampled on for decades. I can’t imagine why anyone would be belligerent in such circumstances. Additionally, the author of this article, Joan McCarter, makes the same mistake as Newsom and Olbermann when she refers to “states’ right to control guns.” As explained above, states do not have a right to control guns, because doing so violates people’s rights. And as also explained above, states do not have a right to violate people’s rights. No one does. Furthermore, McCarter bemoans the possibility that because of the aforementioned “belligerent gun rights community,” states might be “forced to buckle” and actually respect people’s rights. But states are morally required to respect people’s rights, so they should be forced to do so. Forcing states to respect people’s rights is exactly what ought to happen.

And finally, we have New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who preposterously claims that there are no restrictions on gun ownership, something that anyone who has ever attempted to purchase a gun would know to be blatantly false. In reality, there are far more restrictions on gun ownership than speech. Has Hochul ever been required to take a training course, fill out an application, pay a fee, go to her local police station, and be fingerprinted, before being allowed to voice her opinion on a topic? Somehow I think not. More to the point, just like the above-discussed public figures, Hochul claims the existence of “our right to have reasonable restrictions.” But such a right does not exist. Neither Hochul, nor any other person, institution, or entity, has any right to have restrictions on people’s ability to own and/or carry guns, because having such restrictions violates people’s rights. And there is no right to violate people’s rights.

In conclusion, to claim that governments have a right to violate people’s rights demonstrates utter moral bankruptcy, complete lack of logic, and an incredibly twisted and warped understanding of rights. It is disturbing that so many public figures have made public statements endorsing such an immoral, illogical, and simply wrong idea.

Source for all these quotes: Firearms Policy Coalition via Instagram

bookmark_borderGun control punishes innocent people

“White supremacy,” the headlines screamed in the days after the Buffalo shooting. Again and again, newspapers went out of their way to mention, as many times as possible, the race of the killer and of the victims. Articles featured quote after quote by so-called experts who pontificated about the growing threat of “right-wing domestic terrorism” and the “toxic beliefs” that allegedly motivated the shooting. Politicians solemnly droned on and on about the “poison” of white nationalism and how it must be eradicated from our society. The common thread among all these sentiments is that they demonstrate a greater interest in condemning and blaming groups of people based on their skin color and/or ideology than in condemning and blaming the shooter himself.

Then came the shooting in Texas. Unable (for the most part) to use this incident to attack white people for their skin color, the political and media establishment opted instead to attack everyone who believes that individual rights should be respected. Just as they have been countless times, the mindless, authoritarian platitudes are repeated ad nauseam. Pro-rights activists are viciously ridiculed for being irrationally “obsessed” with guns. The Republican Party is labeled a “death cult.” Newspaper headlines bemoan the “toll” of gun ownership and the “inaction” of Congress. Laws that actually respect fundamental rights are criticized as “lax” and “weak.” People smugly lecture anyone who will listen that Second Amendment rights apply only if someone is a member of a militia. “Since when is gun ownership a human right?” they derisively ask. (The correct answer: since the beginning of time.) “What clause in the Constitution gives you the right to mow down 10-year-olds with assault weapons?” they scream with a nastiness that is matched only by their idiocy. (The correct answer: none, and no one is arguing that any clause does. Only a moron would equate using a gun to mow down 10-year-olds with merely owning one.) “Enough is enough,” people mindlessly repeat. (My question is: enough of what? Enough of people’s fundamental rights being respected?) Even among Republicans, anti-rights sentiments abound, frequently prefaced by such dishonest statements as “I’m as pro-Second Amendment as they come, but…” Again and again, politicians and activists bemoan the fact that government has “done nothing,” as if it is somehow self-evident that punishing innocent people is the correct response to a tragedy.

Let me tell you unequivocally: punishing innocent people is never the correct response to anything. As I’ve stated before and will continue to repeat as long as there are those who disagree, people have a fundamental right to do anything that they want as long as it does not violate the rights of anyone else. Rights are absolute. You don’t get to take rights away simply because doing so would prevent tragedies from happening. And rights are not contingent upon their exercise being safe or healthy. Rights cannot be violated under any circumstances. Far too often, our society responds to tragedies by violating everyone’s rights in an attempt to prevent similar tragedies from happening again. This punishes everyone for the actions of a few. And punishing innocent people is never OK.

Many people seem to have the idea that if they can just be emphatic enough, or angry enough, or graphic enough in describing a tragedy that has happened, then it will somehow make it clear that innocent people should be punished. I am tired of hearing politicians and activists pompously moralizing, again and again, about parents grieving the deaths of their children, about communities in mourning, about the gory details of the violence that was committed. No one denies that the deaths of innocent people are tragic. What we deny is that punishing innocent people is an acceptable response. It simply does not follow from the fact that a bad thing happened to someone, that innocent people ought to be punished. And this is true no matter how bad the thing is. No amount of dramatic storytelling, graphic detail, or pompous moralizing will cause this to follow. No amount of grief, no amount of rage, no amount of self-righteousness gives someone the right to punish innocent people.

I am an autistic person who loves statues and history, who believes in individual rights, and who is just trying to get through each day the best that I can. I am angry, and I am exhausted. I am tired of public officials, celebrities, and people on the internet falling all over themselves to proclaim their solidarity with whatever group happens to be popular at the moment, while ignoring the feelings and needs of people like me. I am tired of having my fundamental rights taken away when I haven’t done anything wrong. I am tired of being stigmatized and shamed for actions that I had nothing to do with, solely because I happen to have the same skin color as the perpetrator. I am tired of being attacked and insulted for having the audacity to believe that rights should not be violated. I am tired of being punished by having my liberty restricted for actions that I did not do and situations that I did not create. 

Instead of focusing on punishing the actual shooters, far too many politicians and members of the media focus on punishing entire groups, whether that be white people, young men, gun owners, victims of bullying, pro-rights activists, or legislators who opt to respect rights instead of violating them. I am tired of the sneering faces, filled with self-righteous intolerance, condemning and blaming me for another person’s actions. I am tired of the scorn, vitriol, and insults being heaped relentlessly upon me – and upon all people who believe in individual liberty – as if I am the mass murderer. I am tired of being called immoral, when failing to distinguish between murderers and innocent people is the epitome of moral bankruptcy. 

I haven’t survived a mass shooting, or lost a family member or friend to one, but I am a person, and my well-being matters also. I have experienced, and continue to experience, unbearable loss, anguish, and pain, yet society has not only neglected to punish everyone for what happened to me, it has neglected to punish even the perpetrators themselves. What makes these pompous and self-righteous people so superior to me that society has decided that when I am harmed, no one should be punished, but when they are harmed, everyone should be?

Headlines about people being killed in mass shootings understandably capture the public’s attention, and the photos and stories of the victims understandably tug on people’s heartstrings. As the faces of shooting victims are splashed across newspaper front pages and the TV news, and their family members tearfully and angrily testify before Congress, it seems sacrilegious to argue against the idea that such tragedies should be prevented by any possible means. However, attempts to prevent tragedies at the expense of individual rights must be opposed, because freedom is crucial to having a life that is worth living. The gradual chipping away of liberty – whether by mandating medical procedures, banning the ingestion of substances, or imposing hurdles to gun ownership – is not as dramatic as a mass shooting. But it is just as destructive, if not more so. Of course, these victims didn’t deserve to die. But neither do I deserve to have my life destroyed by being robbed, one by one, of the things that make it worth living. The face below is not the face of a shooting victim. It is not the face of someone who has been harmed by gun violence. It is the face of someone who has been harmed, and will continue to be harmed, by authoritarian policies that attempt to prevent crimes by punishing those who do not commit them.

This, as you may have guessed, is my face. If you support gun control, you support harming me. Just as mass shootings end innocent lives, immoral laws destroy innocent lives, one violation of individual liberty at a time, by making them no longer worth living.

That is not as attention-grabbing as children being shot to death. But it is equally important.

It is wrong for mass shooters to punish innocent people. And it is equally wrong for the government to do the same in response.

bookmark_borderIdentity, representation, and fairness

“They’re just statues.”

“They’re not alive.”

“How can you get so upset about an inanimate object?”

More times than I can count, I have been asked these questions. 

To me, statues are a matter of identity. I love Christopher Columbus, and I love the generals who fought for the Confederacy. But even more importantly, I see these people as myself. When I see a statue of Columbus or someone from the Confederacy, I feel that the statue essentially is me. Not literally, of course, but symbolically and spiritually. When I see such a statue, it makes me feel represented. It makes me feel included. It makes me feel that people like me are welcome and accepted in our society.

That is why it has been so incredibly hurtful, traumatizing, and devastating to see Columbus statues and Confederate statues being violently destroyed across the country and world. The symbols of my inclusion and acceptance in society have been hacked to pieces with sledgehammers, smashed on the ground, beheaded, thrown into harbors, set on fire, and had nooses tightened around their necks. How do you think that would make someone feel?

Additionally, how do you think it would feel to see the people who are supposed to be in charge in our society – mayors, governors, senators, congresspeople, the president – react not with unequivocal condemnation but with ambivalence? How do you think it would feel to read statement after statement saying something like, “destroying property isn’t the best way to make one’s point, but the protesters’ feelings are completely understandable”?

And how do you think it makes me feel to read about analogous situations involving other cultures’ statues and monuments – the vandalism of a George Floyd sculpture in New York City, for example – and to see politicians react with exactly the harsh condemnation that they withheld when it was my statues being destroyed?

In short, it makes me feel persecuted. If there were just one or two isolated acts of vandalism targeting people like me, that would be sickening and infuriating, but tolerable. But when these acts are a consistent pattern, happening again and again all over the country and in other countries as well, the pain becomes so horrible that life is no longer worth living. These actions are just as hurtful as if these violent attacks were done to me. And our government, whose job it is to protect people’s rights and to ensure that justice is done, did nothing. In many cases, governments actually took actions that benefitted, rewarded, and/or publicly honored the perpetrators. Companies, sports teams, organizations, almost without exception did nothing. Or, worse, they chose to publicly express support not for the people who have been hurt, but for the movement that committed the hurtful actions. 

The question that occupies my mind every second of every minute of every hour of every day is this: How can I continue to exist in a world where all of the institutions that make up our society hate people like me? How can I live a happy life in a society that consistently, pervasively, and repeatedly sends the message that people like me are not welcome here?

I have been going to a therapist to try and figure out the answers to these questions. My therapist once explained to me that every person has the right to hold whatever ideas they wish in their internal world, but problems arise when people try to impose their ideas on the external world. In other words, I can enjoy my historical figures, and even consider them my friends, in my internal world, regardless of what happens to their likenesses in the external world. It is understandably upsetting, she told me, to see the statues destroyed, but it’s not the case that my rights were violated, because I don’t have a right, per se, to see the historical figures from my internal world reflected in the external one. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and have come to the conclusion that if there were no statues and monuments at all, no holidays honoring individuals or groups, and no places named after historical figures, then I would agree with what my therapist said. But the problem is that there are statues, holidays, and place names for some historical figures and not others. Some people get to see their internal world reflected in the external world, while I do not. This disparate treatment is unfair and unjust. Therefore, I do believe that my rights have been violated. 

I will soon be getting a statue of Stonewall Jackson to put up outside my house. My therapist thinks this is a good idea, because although the statue will technically be part of the external world, he will be located on my own property, and therefore will enable me to honor a person that I love and identify with, without the dangers inherent in having a statue on public land.

Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy and excited to get my Stonewall statue. But the thing is, I shouldn’t have to. 

I shouldn’t have to pay $3,000 to erect a small statue that actually represents me, while other people get to have large statues, located on public land and paid for with government funds, of the people that they identify with. Those who identify with Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or Paul Revere, or Martin Luther King, Jr. do not have to pay to erect their own personal statues. While other groups get to have their internal world reflected in the external one through public art, the art that represents my identity is banished from public spaces and relegated to my own backyard. I think it is awesome that organizations such as Monuments Across Dixie and campaigns such as Lee Rides Again are raising money to build statues on privately-owned land. But when you think about it, they should not have to do this. People like me deserve to be publicly acknowledged as welcome and accepted members of society just as much as anyone else does.

In conclusion, while there is certainly something to be said for focusing on one’s internal world, I’m not sure that this is sufficient in cases where one is not merely failing to get one’s way, but actually being discriminated against and treated unjustly. Giving up on the real world, and withdrawing into the imaginary one, reflects a disturbingly bleak view of the world and its future. Unfortunately, this might be my only option given that the real world has decided to persecute and discriminate against people like me. 

One final note: You might ask why I identify so strongly with Columbus and Confederate people. Why are statues of these particular people necessary for me to feel represented and included? I am a woman, so many people might think I should feel represented by the Boston Women’s Memorial, featuring statues of various women from history. I am on the autism spectrum, so many people might think it would make me feel included when Autism Acceptance Month is celebrated every April. Many people also make the argument that Columbus Day and Columbus statues are unnecessary because there are numerous historical figures other than Christopher Columbus whom Italian Americans could choose to represent us. But although I find the Women’s Memorial beautiful and creative, I appreciate that there is a month honoring autistic people, and I wouldn’t mind the addition of more Italian American statues, none of these things move me emotionally. None of them resonate with me. None of them make me feel represented or included. I feel a spiritual and emotional connection with Columbus and with people from the Confederacy. Perhaps this is because they are considered rebels and underdogs; perhaps it is because they were quirky and different; perhaps it is because they are misunderstood and looked down upon. Just as people cannot be expected to provide a logical justification for being straight, or gay, or bisexual, my identity cannot be reduced to arguments or reasoning. The bottom line is that each individual person has the right to decide what types of statues, monuments, and holidays represent them. No one has the right to impose their ideas of representation on anyone else.

bookmark_borderWhat I would have written if I had thought quickly enough…

“Imagine being proud of this shit,” someone wrote.

“Imagine thinking that being a daughter of the Confederacy is a good thing,” wrote another person.

Well, I am proud of it, and I will not apologize for being so.

I do think it is a good thing, and I will not apologize for thinking so.

I have just as much of a right to be proud of the things that I identify with, as you have to be proud of the things that you identify with.

Imagine going out of your way to leave a nasty comment on someone’s social media page, just because they are different from you. Imagine going out of your way to insult and ridicule someone, particularly someone who is already being insulted, ridiculed, and attacked, just because they identify with something that is different from what you identify with. 

That is what is truly difficult to imagine.