Don’t think I’ll be going back to THAT pharmacy anytime soon

I had minor surgery on Wednesday, and naturally there were three or four post-op prescriptions to be picked up on the way home. So I dutifully took them, assuming they were various kinds of antibiotics or something (though I made a point of knowing which one was the pain medicine). But one particular medicine seemed to run out surprisingly quickly.

I looked at the label. “Take twice daily for 10 days,” it said, and then added at the bottom, “Quantity: 10.”

I called Helen and showed her. “Do you think I was supposed to take it twice daily for five days, or do you think they were supposed to give me twenty pills? I mean, one of those two has to be wrong, am I right?”

There was, obviously, no way to resolve the question without calling the doctor’s office. Having duly gotten the doctor’s nurse on the phone, I explained the issue.

“What medicine is it?” asked the nurse.

I read the name.

“What is it again?” she asked.

I said it again, very carefully.

“Oh, wait,” she said, “I know what that must be; they’ve just misspelled it. That’s your stool softener.” Then suddenly her voice changed as the penny dropped. “Wait a minute!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you’ve been taking that twice every day??”

“Well, that’s what it said to do on the bottle; so that’s what I’ve been doing?”

Her response, in a voice full of emotion:

“Have you even been able to leave the house???”



My mother gives me a bit of a scare

It is the middle of the work day, and I am in a conference room with half a dozen co-workers, when my iPhone buzzes. I glance at it and see that it is displaying the first few words of a group text from my mom to myself and Helen and my sister:

“Darrell just came in rather in a tremor…”

My heart sinks; has my 76-year-old dad had a stroke? Is this the end of the active life he has always led? — after all, just last week he and my mother were out with two come-alongs and a bunch of posts reinforcing one of their garden terraces…

Rapidly I use my thumbprint to unlock the phone, switch to Messages, touch the most recent message from my mom:

“Darrell just came in rather in a tremoring voice saying that that sled Kenny gave us is REALLY fast.”

So, um, I guess I don’t have to worry about declining activity level yet…

An example of why the “Queen of Romance” does not actually write in the same genre as other Mills and Boon / Harlequin writers

Essie Summers’s fellow Mills and Boon authoresses were known to comment on how the rules were different for her than for everybody else. But they didn’t resent it, for two reasons. The first was that they had all been most unselfishly befriended and mentored by Summers, who was a minister’s wife and Christian first and an authoress rather distantly behind those two callings. And the second, I think, was that they fundamentally realized that Summers wasn’t writing the same kinds of novels that they were writing.

On the surface, of course, every Summers novel fits the Mills and Boon (that is, Harlequin) pattern for light romance: there is a girl in her early twenties, there is a man whom we all know upon first meeting will wind up being the man for her, there are misunderstandings and obstacles the overcoming of which will keep the book from being over after Chapter One. But while every Summers novel has the obligatory male and female leads, and she certainly (as a blissfully-happily-married woman herself) believed in romantic love, the fact is that her interest was wider and she established very early on what it was that she intended to write about. Her novels are very much about love; but they are about families more than they are about couples. Life and love were, as Summers knew very well, far too rich a subject to be exhausted by romantic love alone; and besides, romantic love detached from the rest of life is not even truly itself. So, generally speaking, she simply refused to be confined to romantic love on its own, and practically always presented it within the wider and richer context of family love in general. And, being Christian, she thought of all human love as arising within the context of the love of God, though as she was writing for a mass market (as opposed to the sort of modern Christian novelist whose books can only be found in explicitly Christian book stores) she keeps explicit mention of religion, most of the time, to a minimum — in effect, to children’s bedtime prayers, and to the characters’ attendance at church, and to her oft-repeated assertion that the church is a place for sinners as well as for saints, and to her tendency to have characters periodically announce how strongly they felt about Christian ecumenicalism. In other words, her books are “Christian” in just about the same sense, and to the same degree, as is Pride and Prejudice. (At the time, of course, Christianity was still simply the common culture in New Zealand, as it had been in Austen’s England; Summers’ career as the Queen of Romance as ultimately to end as an indirect of cultural change when she got tired of the increasing pressure from her publisher to include explicitly sexual episodes in her novels.) To the non-Christian reader, I would think it would come across very much the same way — as a background of assumed decency and the duty to think of love as being concern for the welfare of the beloved, rather than as an evangelistic tract.

At any rate, because for Summers the relationship between two people who are falling in love takes place within the context of the others who love each of them (or in some cases who fail to love them as duty would required), you get scenes such as this one from No Orchids By Request, in which the hero and heroine, very early in their courtship, go have dinner at the home of mutual friends:

Life swung back into ordinariness as they went into the Harawiras’ home. Before they shed their coats Mere said, “Maraea can’t make up her mind who she’d rather have hear her prayers and tell her a story…Elizabeth or Jeremy.”

“We’ll both go,” said Jeremy.

“We won’t,” said Elizabeth. “We’ll take it in turns. Children just love having a grown-up to themselves, they are much more natural.”

Jeremy came out from Maraea’s bedroom and said to them, “It should count for another star in my crown that I didn’t laugh in Maraea’s face. Really, your daughter, Johnny! In the middle of her prayers she said suddenly, ‘…and thank you, God, for giving us tongues.’ Unfortunately I exclaimed, ‘Whatever for?’ She opened her eyes, said reproachfully, ‘Will you please wait till I’ve finished talking to God!’ and carried on. Then she said, as soon as she’d finished, ‘Else how would we lick postage stamps!'”

Summers’s own personal favorite novel was 1965’s Sweet Are the Ways, in which a young female novelist just achieving success and security in her career, falls in love with the Presbyterian minister next door (who comes with an orphaned nephew and niece, it being very close to a Summers requirement that either the leading man or the leading lady must come equipped with small children from page 1, without having engaged in immoral conduct in the acquisition thereof). Of course Summers was herself, by 1965, a well-established author married to a Presbyterian minister (which is not to say that Elspeth and Dougal are self-portaits of Essie and Bill). By allowing Elspeth to live next door and thus take over the housekeeping and become part of the household without violating morals or propriety, she is able to portray Elspeth functioning as a minister’s wife even though she is not yet married. So Sweet Are the Ways is, in many ways, a love letter to Summers’s own parish, with many more characters than the typical Summers novel. And it includes passages such as this one, passages which are hardly what you think of when somebody says “Harlequin Romance,” written by woman who was a minister’s wife first and a novelist second.


The phone rang. Dougal put his Star Sports down to answer it.

Dr. Mark. “I’m afraid Margaret Murray’s summons has come, Dougal. I don’t think she’ll last the night. She said she’d like Elspeth to come over, too. Can you both make it?”

“We can,” said Dougal, so sure of Elspeth’s reaction that he didn’t need to ask her. The children’s lights were off long since.

Uncle Tim said, “I’ll leave my door open to listen if the children should want anything. But they rarely do.”

Elspeth slipped on a big coat with deep pockets and tied a green georgette scarf over her head. They breasted the hill, dipped down, and took the lane to Murrays’ farm. Margaret Murray had known for some time, but it had never been a strain to visit her. She had taken it as she had taken life, as it came. Much better than having to pretend all was well. She had made her arrangements, had put her house in order, literally and spiritually.

She’d bought a television set a month ago, for Chris, her husband, to fill in the evening with after she’d gone. “We never felt the need of it. Liked sitting reading aloud to each other. But it’s grand company for folks on their lone. Hester’s nearby, of course, with her husband running the farm now, but Chris isn’t moving in with them. He thinks young folk ought to be on their own as long as possible. But Hester’s a good lass and will look after him if he needs her, later.”

Elspeth had always like the way Margaret Murray said her husband’s name. Chris. It always sounded young, though they had been married forty-three years. You could always tell by the way people said each other’s name if they loved each other.

Chris Murray was sitting by the bed, his wife’s hand in his horny one. Hester was over at her house, having the sleep she needed so badly.

Margaret’s mind was clear, untroubled. She had a twinkle in her eye. “Elspeth, I wanted you to finish that last chapter of the book you were reading to me. Poor Hester’s got to the stage where she breaks down if she reads it aloud.” She chuckled. “I just don’t feel like sloughing off this mortal coil till I know what’s happened to that girl. It’s bound to come out right, but I’d like to hear it. I’ve always liked to finish things.”

Dougal wondered if Elspeth could take it. Sometimes calm courage like this got you by the throat, and she hadn’t sat by as many death beds as he had.

He need not have worried. Elspeth read as she had always done. He guessed that she must have sent up a little prayer that her voice would not falter. She read unhurriedly, even sounding amused in the right places. She finished it and put it down.

“Thank you, Elspeth,” said Margaret Murray. She turned to her minister and said, “You’ll have your little Bible with you? There’s only one psalm for an occasion like this, isn’t there?”

Elspeth felt her throat tighten. An occasion. As it was. A glad, triumphant occasion. For Margaret Murray had walked with her Lord all her days and was now going into His actual presence. Her soul was required of her.

Dougal read the twenty-third psalm, the faint burr in his voice that had survived three generations making it seem right and fitting.

Then he said, “What other reading do you want, Mrs. Murray?” He guessed it would be the fourteenth of John. It was.

She added, “But would you read it from my copy of the Revised Standard Version?”

Elspeth felt she would remember all her life the sound of Dougal’s voice. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?…”

Margaret Murray smiled when he had finished, said, “That’s the translation I like. Not the one, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ I’ve never cared much for mansions. They aren’t what I’ve been used to.”

Then she added, a gleam of pure mischief in her eyes, “Thank you, Dougal lad. There! I’ve said it. I’ve always wanted to call you Dougal, but I would never be doing it in case I would forget and be calling you that in front of other people…which wouldna be right for a minister.”

She took her hand out of her husband’s for a moment and grasped Dougal’s. Elspeth was on the other side of the bed. Margaret Murray took her hand, too.

“God brought her to Fair-acre Valley, didn’t he, Mr. MacNab? The parish has been a better place for her being here.”

Elspeth’s color came up, bright, betraying. Dougal was completely unembarrassed. “Why, yes, Mrs. Murray, I think so.”

Margaret Murray released their hands, patted them. It was like a blessing. The blessing she knew she would not be there to give them. Elspeth realized all her own defenses were going down.

Margaret Murray’s hands went back into Chris’s. She fell instantly asleep. They wondered if it might be that sleep from which there is no earthly waking and prayed it might be so, though she had been free from pain today.

Half an hour later, during which time none of them spoke, Christopher Murray said to Elspeth, “I think her breathing has altered. It’s shallower. Would you go over for Hester now?”

Hester came, but it was a long time before Margaret Murray stirred. She looked a little puzzled when she woke. Then she said, “Oh, I had such a lovely dream. Wee Jeannie was there, playing in a field.” She looked at Dougal. “I remember at Ewen Sinclair’s funeral you said in a prayer, ‘where all friendships are knitted up.’ How true. I grieved terribly when wee Jeannie died. I used to pray that some day God would take that ache from my heart. It was almost a physical pain. It’s a terrible loss when you lose a child…flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone…but that ache’s gone now. I’ll be seeing her soon. I’ll be able to catch up on the lovely lost years of her childhood. But you won’t be long, will you, Christ?”

He somehow found words, words that did not shake. “I’ll not be long, lass.”

She smiled at him in a way that isolated them in a world of two.

“And never remember any word you ever said to me in anger, Chris. I said many more to you. I had a hasty tongue when we were first married. But the words of love far outnumbered the others. And we had some grand makings-up.”

“Aye, that we did, Margaret.” He was entirely unembarrassed.

She fell asleep, smiling.

For a long time there was no sound in the room save their breathing and the settling of embers in the fireplace.

Suddenly a wind sprang up in the aspen poplars close to the house. Margaret Murray opened her eyes, looked at the window and said in a glad, strong voice, “Oh, it’s morning…a lovely morning!”

They all looked at the window and saw only darkness there. But Margaret Murray’s soul, renewed and vigorous, had found morning, and dewy meadows…and they all of them felt that beside the One who had come to meet her with outstretched hands walked a little child.


I trust you see what I mean — and why I, who had read War and Peace and Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov by the time I was in seventh grade and had collected personal copies of everything Solzhenitsyn had published by the time I finished the eighth, and whose favorite two books are Pride and Prejudice and La Divina Commedia, and who has read the Aeneid in the original Latin and Plato and Xenephon in the original Greek…why it is that I think the fifty-seven out-of-print light novels of a Harlequin Romance writer from New Zealand are worth my time.

NOTE: Two passages I enjoyed from Summers’s autobiography can be found here and here, while I look here at how Mills and Boon went about destroying the entire essence of a Summers novel in the process of a process of “translation” into French that was really more of an act of criminal slashing and burning.

Thoughts on what it means to accuse someone of “political correctness”

I saw a very odd comment on Facebook today. One of my sons mentioned that the term “politically correct” seems to him to be an insulting term associated with bad behavior when used specifically “by those who complain about it,” and one of his friends (who is definitely liberal but hopefully not politically correct) responded as follows:

Most of the time when people complain about political correctness, they’re complaining about why they can’t say the N word when black people say it all the time, or why people get angry when they call trans women “Trannies,” or that women today just can’t take a joke, and they meant their remark about that one’s boobs as a compliment.

I don’t know who you’re hanging out with, but their usage is askew from the common usage.

Now there are two explanations for this comment that come to mind. The first is that the young gentleman is committing the common error of confusing “common usage” with “the way the term is used by the people I hang out with.” However, my son was very explicit in stating that he was referring to the term “as used by those who complain about it,” meaning primarily moderates and conservatives – and the friend’s comment sounds very much like the kind of things that small-minded liberals tell each other conservatives mean when trying to reassure themselves that the conservatives are nasty-minded people who should be sneered at, rather than intellectual equals who might be in danger of having a valid point. I know several people who use the term “political correctness” primarily as an insult; and they all object strongly to the three examples my son’s friend listed, and yet do not consider themselves politically correct (and indeed would be insulted if you accused them of “political correctness”). Indeed, the class of people who use the term “political correctness” primarily as an insult includes pretty much everybody who does not self-identify as a liberal, and (though many liberals will go through whatever intellectual gymnastics are necessary to avoid admitting it to themselves) the vast majority of such people would object strongly to the kinds of behaviors my son’s friend mentioned. Now I grant you that my personal circle of acquaintances is not a great sample size, though it is I think quite a bit more intellectually diverse than is the personal circle of acquaintances for most journalists or university professors. But fortunately, thanks to the internet, it is possible these days (if one is intellectually curious enough to go to the trouble) to access a much wider sampling of American thought and linguistic usage than is found among personal acquaintances. And I feel comfortable in saying that my son’s friend needs, intellectually speaking, to get out more, and also to start listening to what the people who disagree with him actually say rather than to what he and his friends like to reassure each other those nasty people “really” mean.

In modern American usage, the term “political correctness” is overwhelmingly used, as a simple statistical matter, by people who consider what they call “political correctness” to be a blight on society. The number of people who have not clued into the fact that the average American’s natural association with “politically correct” is negative, must be more or less the same as the number of people who have yet to figure out that a very sizable number of Americans — including the majority of American women — have an extremely negative set of associations to the word “feminist.” This does not of course, in itself, mean that there is anything wrong with political correctness or feminism; but it does mean that in modern American society the term’s connotations are negative and its meaning in the national discourse is determined primarily by those who would be angered if they were themselves accused of being politically correct. (It should be noted – and this probably contributes to my son’s friend’s obtuseness on the point – that the usage of those two terms on university campuses and in media contexts such as CNN, diverges rather dramatically from its usage in society as a whole, as those are overwhelmingly homogeneously liberal enclaves with notoriously little comprehension of, or desire to comprehend, the viewpoints of non-liberals.)

When such persons refer to “political correctness” they are referring to a combination of several elements, only one of which really has to do with a set of political opinions. The term is predominantly used to denote a set of immature or intellectually contemptible or morally objectionable behaviors, as they appear when the person who thus behaves happens to hold conventionally liberal political and cultural views.

It is true that the term implies that the “politically correct” person holds liberal views. Nobody is likely ever to have accused Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan, or Thomas Sowell or Milton Friedman or Charlton Heston or Chris Kyle, of being “politically correct.” Naturally liberals do not consider this an insult, but people who are not liberal do not exactly consider it a compliment – and the term is used primarily by persons who are not liberal. It is a disastrous mistake, however, to assume that “politically correct” is therefore simply a synonym for “liberal” and to use it as such. For “politically correct” is shorthand for the following deficiencies of character, intellect and social functionality:

  1. The term implies that the “politically correct” persons have not derived their opinions by rational thought, careful examination of evidence, and honest and sympathetic attention to conflicting viewpoints, but are instead mere slavish intellectual conformists. They are among those (so goes the implication) who, having no ideas of their own, have chosen to borrow them, in this case from the orthodox Left. To be accused of being “politically correct” is to be accused of having no capacity of independent thought, a mere sheep in the liberal flock. Of course the accusation may be entirely unjust; but that is what the term implies. Note that a common (and unethical) conservative rhetorical move is to identify a number of ideas that the targeted individual has as being orthodox in their liberalism, and then to call the individual (rather than the views) “politically correct,” thus sneaking in by emotional implication the accusation that the individual has arrived at his views uncritically, with a desire to be thought of well by fellow liberals, rather than by rational analysis of the evidence at hand. This is cheating, and is in itself enough reason, I think, to avoid the use of the term in most cases. It is not hard, however, to understand how this has come to be part of the implication of the term given the other behaviors that are usually present when a non-liberal comes to believe he is dealing with political correctness.
  2. The “politically correct” person privileges his own opinions and prejudices morally – that is, when he encounters someone who disagrees with him, he instantly assumes – or at least behaves as if he assumes – that the other person is morally contemptible. He treats disagreements, in other words, not as differences in OPINION, but as differences in CHARACTER. Those who disagree with him are not mistaken, nor do they need to be reasoned with. They are Evil, and they need to be ostracized or socially intimidated into silence (though naturally, since liberals do not generally like the word “evil,” the term the politically correct person uses will be “racist” or “sexist” or “fascist” or “homophobe” or some other openly abusive term whose intent is to terminate dialogue and intimidate dissent). To call a person “politically correct” is to accuse him of having a deep and chronic attitude of intolerance toward anyone who declines, for any reason, to at least pretend to share his opinions. Clearly many liberals are not so nasty; therefore it is wrong to use “politically correct,” with all its negative associations, as a synonym for “liberal.” On the other hand, when you find yourself dealing with a person whose response to a conservative opinion is instantly to resort to abusive and accusatory language, and in particular to the wielding of the Big Four accusatory terms (racist/sexist/fascist/homophobic), then this is pretty good evidence that you are in fact dealing with someone whose behavior warrants the term.
  3. Closely tied to the previous characteristic is the politically correct person’s reaction when another person states an opinion which with the politically correct person disagrees. The politically correct person’s instinctive response is not to attempt to prove that the opinion is false, but instead to announce that the opinion is “offensive.” The politically correct person gives every appearance of being ass enough to believe that the statement “That is offensive,” is a statement about the other person’s belief rather than being (as it plainly is) a statement about the politically correct person’s own psychological profile – that is to say, he seems not to realize that all it really means is, “I and other like-minded persons feel hostility and anger toward people who utter that opinion.” And he appears ass enough to believe that “I and those like me feel hostility and anger toward persons who utter that opinion,” is the same thing as “That opinion is false” – or perhaps he is narcissistic enough to think that “I and those like me feel hostility and anger toward persons who utter that opinion”, rather than, “That opinion is false,” is what ought to matter to the world at large rather than mattering merely to the narcissist, to those friends and family who care about him personally, and to his therapist.
  4. The politically correct person is morally stunted in a very specific way, which also happens to be the most important way in which a person can be morally stunted. The fundamental characteristic of a healthy conscience is that one applies the same standards to one’s own conduct that one applies to the conduct of those whom one dislikes. But an accusation of “political correctness” is in part an accusation that the politically correct person does unto others what he screams bloody murder about when others do it unto him. Thus the following is an example of stereotypically “politically correct” behavior. One of the most common words used by the politically correct as an accusation is “offensive,” which can only be used as an accusation if one accepts the premise, “It is wrong to say things that hurt other people’s feelings.” And the politically correct are adamant that your intention does not matter – it does not matter that you had no intention to offend, or that you feel no malice, because what you said was “offensive.” The politically correct just love Louis C. K.’s line about how “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t,” and they consistently interpret that line to MEAN, “And therefore you have done them wrong” (which, by the way, I don’t think was the point he was actually trying to make). Now absolutely none of this constitutes any sort of grounds for condemnation UNLESS it is wrong to hurt people’s feelings, even if not on purpose. The politically correct, therefore, are of all people in the world the ones who make the most noise about the importance of not hurting other people’s feelings – and yet nobody is quicker to resort to language whose sole purpose is to wound and abuse than are the politically correct, whose natural and instinctive and usually first reaction to hearing someone express an opinion with which they disagree, is to start hurling around the terms “racism,” “sexism,” “fascism,” and “homophobia.” If a gay-marriage activist calls you a homophobe, and you say, “You know, that’s a pretty harsh thing to call a person and you have really hurt my feelings,” you would be most unwise to hold your breath waiting for an apology, as you are far more likely to get f-bombed than apologized to. What the politically correct person is really putting forward, of course, is simply the standard demand of the conscienceless narcissist to be allowed to treat others in ways they are not allowed to treat him. It is evil for you to hurt his feelings, or the feelings of those whom he (in his benevolence of character) has taken under his protection – even if you have no malice and no ill intent. But those whom he hates, and for no reason other than that they differ with his opinions, he can deliberately and with open hostility insult and abuse unrestrainedly…and somehow that is okay.


To call someone “politically correct,” then, in ordinary speech, is to insult them, just as the term “feminist” is, in the mouth of the majority of Americans, an insult. And the reason that “politically correct” is an insult is very much the same as the reason most American women – including a sizable percentage of those whose political views largely coincide with classical feminist political views – do not wish to be called “feminists.” That is, the term does NOT, at this point, denote in the ordinary mind a set of opinions, but instead denotes a set of behaviors and attitudes. “Feminist” no longer means, to the ordinary non-feminist American, “person desirous of political and social equality for women.” It means “shrill, humorless, man-hating bitch.” In the same way, “politically correct” absolutely does not mean “liberal,” even though one by definition must be liberal in order to be politically correct. “Politically correct” means intolerant, self-righteous, immature, morally stunted, and incapable of dealing in a rational or socially functional way with political disagreement.

If you want a good example of what non-liberals see as political correctness, look at the brouhaha over the name of the Washington Redskins. You have a group of people who are politically liberal insisting that the name “Redskins” is “racist” and “insensitive.” They, in general, think very badly of other persons who decline to be as offended as they are. Yet they have so far failed to swing the general public opinion over to their side, and the single biggest reason is that the anti-“Redskin” movement is exactly the sort of thing that non-liberals are annoyed by and describe as “politically correct.”

  • It is very clearly implied by every word the anti-Redskin movement utters that if you are not yourself offended by the name “Redskins” – as literally millions of Americans, including literally millions of indigenous Americans, are not – then they consider you to be morally inferior to the (mostly white) liberals who choose to be offended.
  • The term “redskins” was originally coined by indigenous Americans and is not considered offensive by most indigenous Americans, including, for example, the Navajo residents of Red Mesa and the majority-indigenous-American residents of Kingston, Oklahoma – whose football teams are proudly called “Redskins,” and whose residents overwhelmingly have a lower opinion of the native American activists who lead the protests than they do of Daniel Snyder.
  • The most visible anti-“Redskin” noise-makers, all three of whom ooze self-righteousness whenever they write or talk about the issue, are the sportswriters Bob Costas, Peter King and Gregg Easterbrook, all notable for being, among other things, rich, middle-aged, white, and very clearly of the opinion that the fact that they find the name “Redskins” offensive on behalf of indigenous Americans is proof of their own moral virtue vis-à-vis the unwashed masses who see no problem with the term.
  • Insofar as the protest has highly visible indigenous American involvement, those visibly involved not only are not supported by most indigenous Americans, but indeed are actively disliked by a great many indigenous Americans. (I can remember reading W. P. Kinsella’s The Moccasin Telegraph, which can hardly be accused of being unsympathetic to concerns of bigotry and discrimination against indigenous Americans, and noting with some surprise that of all the characters in all the short stories therein, the individual and organization painted with the most contempt, were Russell Means and the American Indian Movement.)
  • “It’s terrible for you non-liberals to hurt people’s feelings even unintentionally, but it’s fine if I hurt yours deliberately” attitude on display: check again the Red Mesa story, and the quote deliberately and publicly provided by Amanda Blackhorse (posted on her own Facebook page, no less): “The adults [all Navajo, I might add] in that school should know better [meaning, they have no business disagreeing with me], and they are not informed of this issue [meaning, they disagree with me] – and shame on them for that.” (I presume that Ms. Blackhorse is aware that in English “shame on you” is an accusation that one has done something shameful.) Or, more contemptibly, consider the protestors who hurled abuse at the teenaged kids who were there to enjoy a football game, calling them among other things “sellouts.” Blackhorse had warned that if the students accepted the free NFL tickets, they would “be mocked and treated as tokens and pawns.” And they were indeed mocked – by Blackhorse’s supporters. Who else, after all, was ever likely to mock them in the first place?
  • Also on blatant display is the politically correct narcissism that cannot comprehend the difference between “I and the people who share my cultural allegiances, prejudices, and preconceptions react to this name by being offended” and “This name is intrinsically offensive” – because to the politically correct, everybody else’s reality must be defined by the politically correct person’s psychological idiosyncracies.

You will never get a clearer example of this than the gob-smackingly asinine and self-revealing Monday Night Football rant by Bob Costas. Costas’s ludicrous and ignorant rant is a perfect example of what makes it so difficult for the non-politically-correct to resist the temptation to hold the politically correct in contempt. (I remind you again that “politically correct” is NOT a synonym for “liberal” and that it concerns primarily behaviors, not opinions.)

Costas begins by openly acknowledging that there is no reason to think the people who like the name “Redskins” are motivated by racism or malice, and furthermore admits that most indigenous Americans do not find it offensive. In other words, he admits that (a) the overwhelming number of people who use the term do not mean it as an insult, and (b) the majority of the only people who would have any sort of right to feel insulted by the term, do not think the term is insulting. In a sane society, this would be tantamount to admitting that the people who were screaming about how offensive it was should recognize that they were being unreasonable, and that they should drop their protests and stop worrying about it (or, if they found themselves unable to stop obsessing over it, to seek appropriate professional psychological help). But Costas is not just a liberal. He is a politically correct liberal – that is to say, he is unable to cope psychologically with the possibility that it is his own behavior, rather than that of others, that deserves criticism and requires amendment. He is a politically correct liberal – that is to say, he is unable to muster the relatively tiny amount of intellectual firepower necessary to distinguish between, “I and all the other rich middle-aged white liberals I go to cocktail parties with find this term offensive,” and, “This term is inherently offensive.”

Note in particularly how ignorant a person has to be to say that a particular word is INHERENTLY offensive. There is literally nothing in the world that is more absolutely subjective than human language. Words change their meanings all the time because their meaning is determined by how people use them and by nothing else (which is why when somebody tells a man, “You’re looking very gay today” the instant first assumption is that he appears to be homosexual, it being utterly irrelevant that in 1850 the word had no such meaning). When Costas says that practically none of the people who use the term mean it as an insult, and most of the people who would be the topic of the hypothetical “insult” do not find it insulting, what he is saying is, quite literally, that in modern America the term is not an insult. And yet you find him, towards the end of the rant, allowing genuine passion to enter his voice as he says, “’Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage, or a noble character trait [even though the Navajo of Red Mesa consider that their heritage is thereby honored; and even though you would think that it would be an honor to…well, you know, to have a National Football League franchise named after you; and even though the Red Mesa Navajo is football team is named “Redskins” literally because the Navajo dude who suggested the name in the first place, did so because he was a fan of the Washington Redskins]. Nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.” Um, no, Bob, it is possible (though you have given no actual reason to think so) that it used to be a slur; but what you have yourself admitted is that it no longer is.

And then Bob finishes, with what he clearly considers to be a rhetorical coup de grâce: “Isn’t it possible to understand how some people might be offended by it?” Why, yes, Bob. Yes it is. It is possible because we all know human nature and we know that there are people whose feelings get hurt very easily, and because we know furthermore that there is a good living to be made by the professionally outraged. We know that liberal culture actively and deliberately incentivizes anybody who is not a white male to be hypersensitive to any excuse to declare themselves the victims of racism or sexism. Indeed, we know that some liberals are so eager to train members of racial minorities to perceive themselves to be victims of racism, even where none is intended, that they will actually stand around and scream “Sellout!” at children who have committed the unforgivable thought-crime of having failed to have their feelings adequately hurt by a term that they have no reason whatsoever to believe was intended to hurt their feelings.

But anybody not stupid enough to participate in a societal suicide pact knows that either of the two following behaviors cause unnecessary conflict and pain in society, and therefore that any sane society will discourage both of them and will make learning not to engage in either of them an essential part of growing into adulthood:

  • Saying things that would (either because of context, or tone, or the ordinary usage of the tone) reasonably be interpreted as offensive, to people whom one does not intend to offend. An American who says to a fellow American, “That’s a bloody nuisance,” is not behaving offensively. An American who says to a random crowd member in front of Buckingham Palace, “That’s a bloody nuisance,” needs to be taken aside by somebody and constructively informed that, in London, he is rather more likely to offend those present by saying “bloody” than he is by dropping an f-bomb. And the reason he needs this explained, is that if he is a decent person he would WANT to know the cultural difference, so that he can comply with cultural expectations of what is offensive and what is not, and thereby avoid causing unintentional offense.
  • Taking offense to things that one knows were not spoken with offensive intent, or to things that reasonable persons would not find offensive in themselves. Now of course, in a society that has a history of discriminating against a particular ethnic community, reasonable people will defer to that ethnic community’s judgment as to what is offensive and what is not with regard to things of significance to that community; but where that community as a whole finds a particular term or phrase inoffensive, any decent person will presume an absence of malicious intent unless there is some independent reason to suspect otherwise. And if you see somebody who is constantly getting unreasonably offended, that person needs to be taken aside and given constructive criticism about growing up and keeping his panties unwadded.

Now the politically correct liberal demands that the most generous possible interpretation must always be put on his own utterances, and indeed very often demands that he be allowed to be deliberately insulting whenever he wants. Thus the very clear implication of every column that King or Easterbrooke have written on the subject, and of Costas’s own rant, is that even though the literally millions of Washington Redskins fans who want to keep the team name unchanged have no ill intent, they still deserve criticism for being insensitive and implicitly racist (unlike their moral superiors, such as, just to take three examples at random, Easterbrooke, King and Costas). Now this is something that any reasonable person who liked the name “Redskins,” would quite properly find offensive. But Costas would clearly think it unjust if someone else were to accuse HIM of behaving “insensitively and offensively.”

But he openly confesses that he knows that the term “Redskins” is not used by NFL fans or indeed by ordinary modern Americans with any malice or intent to offend; and furthermore that most of the people in the very community that has the right to be determine what is offensive or not, by and large do not think the term is offensive. That means that any person who is offended by it anyway, needs to be taken aside and told that he has no business being offended. Can we see how some people might be offended by the name “Redskins”? Indeed we can; and we can also (unless our personal bulbs are as dim as Costas’s) see how some people might be offended by having a middle-aged rich white guy lecture them on what racists they are for using a term that most members of the actual “targeted” group themselves don’t have a problem with. And if we are sensible (and think it would do any good), we will go to the people who are being unreasonably offended and tell them, “These people mean no harm and you are being unreasonable; cut it out.” We will also go to the white liberals who are running around needlessly accusing millions of their fellow Americans of being racist, and who are doing so without cause, and will tell them, “You are being unfair and offensive, even though we’re sure you at least tell yourself that you mean well; cut it out.”

But that would mean that Costas and King and Easterbrooke would have to admit that they are wrong, and to the politically correct liberal, admitting that one is wrong is always the duty of somebody else. So you get the incredibly fatuous Costas solemnly pronouncing that he has it right, and the majority of indigenous Americans have it wrong, and that since Costas and his intellectual kind find the term offensive the Navajo who are Redskins fans are to be ignored. Where do these Navajo persons get off, after all, declining to be offended by something that rich middle-aged white guys have informed them are Insulting To Native Americans? Who do they think they are, forming their own opinions rather than the ones decreed for them by Bob Costas and his cocktail-party set? To the politically correct liberal, after all, the primary moral obligation of other people is to live their lives the way the politically correct liberal wants them to. And why should they meekly defer to his conscience rather than to their own? Why, because…because…because people who think the Catholic Church has too high an opinion of its own infallibility, have never had to deal with a politically correct liberal.

That is what most people mean when they use the term “politically correct.” That is why the term is genuinely insulting, in pretty much precisely the way that the term “Redskins” is not. And that is why you should in general feel no qualms about cheering for a sport team named the “Redskins,” but you should be very reluctant indeed to use the term “politically correct” when all you really mean is “liberal.” The term “politically correct,” in modern American usage, is predominantly used as an insult, in pretty much precisely the way the term “Redskins” is not. But most liberals are decent people, and they do not deserve to be called “politically correct,” any more than 99% of conservatives or Tea Party members deserve to be called “fascists.”

So don’t ever use it unless your intent is to be insulting; and if you decide to bring out that particular rhetorical gun, make sure you’re aiming it very precisely rather than just spray-shooting the whole liberal crowd. After all…do you know what you are if you run around talking as though all liberals were politically correct?

You’re as bad as any politically correct liberal, that’s what you are. So just, you know…don’t.

What Statistics about “Gun Violence” Tell You About Those Who Use Them

Before I say anything about my nominal topic, there is one thing that I have to emphasize as strongly as possible. You must always remember that a great many people who are very nice and calm and rational and wise in general have specific subjects about which they go batcrap, drool-flecked crazy; and most often these have to do with religion (which category includes Sierra Club environmentalism and the “science” of Neil DeGrasse Tyson) and politics. When you are dealing with a person discussing a political belief about which they feel very very deeply, you are ordinarily NOT actually dealing with the person themselves, but with the amygdala-hijacked personality that only comes out to play when you get onto their triggering subjects. NEVER generalize about a person’s character based on their political beliefs or their regrettable behavior in the defense thereof.

Now, to our topic of the day.

Basically, whenever you hear a person start quoting statistics about “gun violence,” you know that at least one of the following things is true of that person, in the mental state they enter whenever they think about the political issue of gun control.

  • They have given very little thought to the matter (which probably shows simply that they make good life choices, as I will explain later on); or…
  • …they are either very ignorant or very misinformed; or…
  • …they are very stupid; or…
  • …they are knowingly dishonest; or…
  • …they are the sort of liberal who reacts emotionally to guns the way these no doubt very nice ladies reacted to the Nectar of Satan.

Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours, satirical photograph of teetotaller women, still from c. 1890s movie filmed in Edison’s Black Maria studio

And the reason comes down to a simple application of a general principle in clarity of thought: the statistics that non-idiotic people think are relevant, tell you what they think is important.

Here are the sorts of assertions one gets from many gun-control advocates:

  • States and countries with more guns have more gun deaths.
  • Where gun-control laws are lax, more people are murdered with guns.
  • The stricter the gun-control laws are, the fewer gun suicides there are.
  • The more guns you have, the more gun crimes are committed.

And the first two things to notice about all of these assertions is that, firstly, across certain ranges of gun ownership rates, they are not only true but tautological (the invasion of Europe by the Huns, for example, was 100-percent gun-violence-free, making even the Amish be more prone to gun violence than was Attila) – and secondly, that the only people who would rationally be interested in such statistics are people who think that death by gunshot is worse than death by other means, or that a robbery is worse if the robber has a gun (even if nobody gets hurt). The very obvious question that any sane person could be expected to ask when someone says, “But gun control causes gun violence to go down!!” is, “Um…if somebody commits murder, does it really matter whether they use a gun or a Buick?”

In other words, the sorts of questions that any sensible person would naturally be interested in are:

  • Is it true that states and countries with more guns have more premature deaths?
  • Is it true that where gun-control laws are lax, more people are murdered?
  • Is it true that the stricter the gun-control laws are, the fewer suicides there are?
  • Is it true that the more guns you have, the more violent crimes are committed?

In order to be interested in gun murders specifically, you have to either be very silly, or else to have some sort of idea that gun murders are worse than other murders. And it is particularly flagrant intellectual malpractice in the case of the issue of gun control, where one of the major arguments in favor of widespread gun ownership is the idea that guns can help reduce all kinds of violence, not just gun violence – and that those who benefit most from gun ownership are those who, being physically weak, are most vulnerable to non-gun violence and who therefore find a gun to be a potentially life-saving equalizer. It is, for example, very odd for people who claim to be opposed to physical abuse of women by violent and vindictive ex-lovers, to be running around quoting statistics about “gun violence” instead of “violence against women.” A single notorious example will suffice.

Consider a case in which a violently and chronically abusive man who is irresistibly physically stronger than his ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, determines to do her harm. This scenario is – ask any battered-women’s advocate – all too common. I will give you two outcomes. One of them is treated as a positive, or at least neutral, outcome in any statistic about “gun violence;” the other is treated by such statistics as a Bad Thing. Ask yourself which one you think is the more desirable outcome.

In the case of the first outcome, while filing for a gun license and starting the ten-day waiting period imposed by her state, the victimized woman takes out a restraining order against the murderously violent ex-husband, in the naïve expectation that restraining orders are actually effective in restraining the sociopathic and the violently misogynistic. Or perhaps she simply starts dating again. Or perhaps she commits Nicole Simpson’s mistake of simply having male friends. The restraining order is served upon the ex-husband, or the ex-husband hears that the victim has started dating, or the ex-husband happens to drive by the park where the victim and her best friend (whom the ex doesn’t realize is gay) are out walking their dogs together. And so that night he shows up at her house and beats her, and perhaps her new friend, to death with a tire iron, or maybe he, oh I don’t know, say, stabs the two of them to death with a knife.

In the case of the second outcome, the battered woman in question, having a realistic view of her ex-husband’s mental state and of the limitations of the police force’s protective capacities, takes the precaution of acquiring a handgun and learning how to use it before restarting her dating life and filing the restraining order. And when her world-class-athlete ex-husband shows up at her house and comes at her with a knife, she shoots him and kills him.

Now, I think any sane person would prefer the second outcome to the first. But as measured by any “gun violence” statistic, the second case is a bad outcome: a gun death has occurred. Look! Proof that gun ownership is bad! Meanwhile the first case is a good outcome: a potential gun death (namely, that of the murderous misogynist whose victim’s gun-purchase waiting period had not expired) has been avoided by stringent gun-control laws. Now don’t start throwing howling fits about how this is unfair: this is how the statistic actually behaves.

Put it this way: the ordinary decent person thinks that the most important clarifying question to ask when somebody dies violently is, “Was it a good guy or a bad guy that died?” That is, there is a major difference between the death of a serial killer who is slain by a heroic police officer, and the death of an innocent person at the hands of a murderer; but no real difference at all (to the ordinary decent person) whether the dead man died from a knife wound or a gunshot wound. And if the character of the deceased is what matters to you, then when you set out to find statistics to inform yourself about the impact of widespread private gun ownership, it won’t be “gun deaths” you’ll be interested in. You’ll start with information about violent and accidental deaths, and then you will rule out deaths in cases of legitimate self-defense. You’ll distinguish between accidental deaths, suicides, deaths in which one bad guy kills another (a quite high percentage of murder victims in the United States are violent criminals killed by other violent criminals, especially in the inner cities), deaths in which an innocent person successfully defends himself against a violent criminal, deaths in which an innocent person defends himself against a person whom he mistakenly but understandably thinks is threatening him, deaths in which a criminally negligent person casually shoots a person whom he claimed to feel threatened by because “when that n****r rang my doorbell I naturally assumed he was there to rape my women,” and deliberate homicide of an obviously innocent person. You will use, in other words, statistics that reflect the various moral categories of violent deaths.

Or you can be the kind of person who quotes “gun death” statistics, in which the difference that really matters to YOU (unless you are simply too much of an idiot to understand your own arguments) is the difference between someone who gets shot (quelle horreur!) or somebody who, like the mother of a childhood friend of mine, dies when one of her four baby-daddies runs over her with a car and then drives back and forth across her prone body several times (well at least, thank God, it wasn’t a gun death). Remember, any time you use a statistic about “gun violence,” you are using a statistic that would reward a community in which Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman both die by stabbing (not gun deaths, no worries) and punish a community in which Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman both live to a ripe old age because one of them pulls a gun and shoots O.J. dead (oh my God, another gun death!). And you will be doing this even though one of the major reasons women choose to buy guns, is to protect themselves from violence at the hands of people who are bigger and stronger than they are and who would overcome them in any non-gun fight.

At this point some of you who are in the habit of quoting “gun violence” statistics, and who naturally are feeling defensive and angry at this point, will argue, “But this is ridiculous; the cases in which people shoot bad guys who would have beaten them to death are so few that they are statistically irrelevant – this is a total red herring.” Well, I imagine there’s a good chance you are right…but then, if the cases in which guns are used to prevent violent deaths really are as statistically insignificant as you say, you will get the same results by using “violence” statistics as you will get by using “gun violence” statistics; which naturally leads to the question of why you use gun violence statistics when the ordinary statistics would make your case for you.

In other words, let’s say the world really is the way gun-control advocates seem to think it is. Let’s say that there are a baseline number of violent and accidental deaths that would occur if guns had never been invented, or if only people who worked for the government had guns. And let us say that human nature is such that introducing guns into such a society would not prevent any significant number of violent deaths, because guns would never be used by innocent people to save their lives from murderous people (in other words, you think not only that Kleck and Gertz are wrong in thinking that over a million Americans per year successfully use guns to defend themselves against criminal attempts on their person, but also that the NCVS’s outlier-of-a-lowball estimate of 80,000 per year is grossly overstated – or else that practically none of these self-defenders’ lives were in danger). If that is the case, then you will not need to resort to statistics about gun deaths specifically, because the number of violent deaths in general will go up whenever gun ownership goes up – if your belief is valid, then the statistics about violence in general will validate your belief.

Look, any time you start to quote a statistic in defense of your political position, the first question you should ask is NOT, “Is this statistic accurate?” You should certainly ask that question, but it is only the second question you should ask. The FIRST question you should ask is, “What does my selection of this statistic say about my priorities and my moral value system?” A person who distinguishes between deaths that are cases of legitimate self-defense and deaths that are homicide or negligent manslaughter, thinks that the difference between trying to commit murder and trying to defend yourself against murder is an important difference. A person who distinguishes between gun deaths and knife deaths but doesn’t distinguish between Nicole and O.J.…well, that person has a rather different set of moral priorities.

Take another example. If you are not a racist, then the difference between “person who commits violent crimes” and “person who obeys the law” is a much more important difference than the difference between “person who is black” and “person who is not black.” Therefore, for people who are not racists, a perfect criminal justice system would be one in which all persons guilty of violent crime were caught and punished, and no innocent person was ever convicted. So let us imagine a population composed of equal parts white people, Asians, Hispanics, and black people, but where 90% of crime was committed by white rednecks, 8% by Asians, 1% by Hispanics, and 1% by black people. In that world, the ordinary sane person would hope to see a prison population that was 90% white and only 1% black. And there would be something vile and racist about the criminal justice system if when you went and looked at the prison population, 25% of the people in jail were black and only 25% were white. For that would absolutely have to mean that either lots of white criminals were getting away with their crimes, or else lots of innocent black people were getting convicted.

But if you go and listen to the ordinary liberal talking about how racist our legal system is, nine times out of ten the statistic you will hear is how the racial makeup of the prison population differs from the racial makeup of the population as a whole – in other words, this person is using a statistic that would see the prison with only 1% of black people in it and would cry racism because of the “underrepresentation” of black people (rather than black criminals) and the “overrepresentation” of white people (rather than white criminals). The statistics that are relevant to non-racists – that is, to people who think that the difference between criminal and victim is more important than the difference between black and white – are the comparison of the racial makeup of the prison population to the criminal population, and the comparison of the racial makeup of the walking-around-free population to the law-abiding population: first you classify people by what really matters, which is character, and then only within the character-driven buckets do you sort by race. But to the kind of mind that is permanently obsessed with race, and to whom the first buckets into which people always must be thrown are those defined by race, the comparison of the racial makeup of the prison population to that of the general population is what matters, because the difference between criminal and law-abiding is utterly ignored.

Now the liberal could say here, “But what I am complaining about is the fact that society is racist and that black people are disadvantaged by being raised within a culture of violence.” Well, in the first place, if this is true, then it is not the legal system that is racist; the legal system under the liberal’s hypothesis would simply be responding properly to the regrettable affects of racism in other parts of society. Yet even here, the fact that the liberal chooses the statistic that he chooses does him no credit. I give you, O Gentle Reader, a social experiment that you can use on the next college student you encounter who is ranting about the racism inherent in our legal system (if, that is, you do not feel that you are desperately in need of said young person’s friendship). You very politely observe, if the young genius ever pauses for breath, “But is it not true that the black representation of our prison population more or less corresponds to the black crime rate?” You can then expect to hear lots of accusations about what a racist you are, along with a great deal of ranting about how the black crime rate is skewed upward precisely because the legal system arrests and hassels and convicts black men more enthusiastically then white men. You allow this rant to continue until you cease to find it amusing, and then you calmly say, “You misunderstand me. I do not refer to the rate at which black people commit crimes. I refer to the obscenely high rate at which black people report being the victims of crimes. I refer to the fact that in this society black people suffer at the hands of criminals so much more frequently than do the members of any other race. Do you not find that discrepancy outrageous?” Ideally you would have arranged for the young person’s face to be videotaped, in order to savor the look thereon at your leisure.

You really will find that the people who go on and on about the racism of the legal system are emotionally focused so entirely on sympathy for black criminals as compared to white criminals that it practically never seems to cross their minds that someone else might think it more important to focus on sympathy for black crime victims as compared to black criminals. That is, their own thinking is so dominated by race, and so little concerned with character, that it doesn’t even cross their mind that other people might think entirely in terms of character and hardly at all in terms of race. Let us assume that what you are concerned about really is the fact that in our society black people are much more likely to suffer the countless bad effects of growing up in the midst of a crime-ridden society. Well, you can demonstrate this far more effectively by looking at the rates at which black people say, “I have been victimized by crime!” than by looking at the rates at which prosecutors say to black people, “You have committed a crime!” – and you would think that nobody would believe this more than someone who is certain that prosecutors are a bunch of white racists who are constantly running around looking for innocent black people to accuse of crimes. If, therefore, you really are trying to show that society has a problem with racially disparate rates of suffering the effects of growing up surrounded by violence, but your statistic of choice is the racial makeup of persons incarcerated rather than the racial makeup of persons victimized by violence…well, you know, that’s not really the way to make the rest of us think very highly of your intelligence.

It really is simple: people who are not racists, think the important difference is the difference between people who commit crime and people who don’t, and they instinctively select statistics that take that fundamental difference as their point of departure. People who are racists, think the important difference is the difference between people of one race and people of another, and THEY instinctively select statistics that treat race as the only variable that matters. Myself, I don’t know whether the legal system is racist or not; my guess is that it probably is more racist than conservatives like to think and less racist than liberals like to imagine. But what I do know, is that a person whose statistic of choice is one that treats the difference between black and white as critical while treating the difference between criminal and victim as insignificant, is either a racist or a fool.

And so we turn back to the original question, which is what it tells us when a friend, or an acquaintance, or a nephew who has been reading The Daily Kos Guide To Making Thanksgiving Dinner A Living Hell For Your Family Members, throws out some “gun violence” statistic. What you have to imagine is simply this: what would that particular person answer if you asked him why he is using “gun violence” statistics rather than simply “violence” statistics? Much more importantly, if you are yourself in favor of gun control and you have quoted those statistics yourself in the past…why do YOU think you chose to use a statistic that would ignore O.J.’s murder of Nicole and Ronald as being literally not worthy of notice, but would have treated Nicole’s or Ronald’s self-defensive killing of O.J. as being just as undesirable as the murder of a convenience store clerk by a gang-banger?

I think for many of you the answer would probably be, “You know, I just never thought about it.” Which is to say, you have given very little thought to the matter. May I please observe that this is nothing to be ashamed of, and quite possibly is something to admire? The world is full of complicated issues and nobody has time to give careful thought to all of them. Pretty much everybody in the world holds a basket of political views where at most a small number of them have been thought through with some effort, but the majority have just been arrived at more or less casually, because we had other things to spend our time on – such as, for example, playing with our children, or working in a soup kitchen, or making a living. The truth is that for the overwhelmingly majority of us, our political opinions will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on government policy, and therefore the practical value of our putting in effort on the formation of political opinions is more or less the same as the practical value of our playing Call of Duty. (Obviously I think Kant and his categorical imperative provide about as much insight into the moral world as do the Deep Thoughts Of Justin Bieber.) It is practically certain to be true that just about any useful thing you do to improve your own life or those of your immediate friends and neighbors, will do the world more good than spending that time on refining your political opinions would have done – especially since the more thought you have put into your political opinions, the more likely you are to have become conceited about them and to hold in uncharitable contempt those who disagree with you. (Yes, it is quite true that it follows from this that the time I spent writing this blogpost was ill-spent. Put it down to the fact that from time to time my OCD manifests itself in the compulsion to do something like this, and the itch only goes away by scratching.)

Really, I think, “I haven’t thought it about it that much,” is by far the most common reason people use gun violence statistics. Being vaguely liberal by disposition, or having mostly liberal friends, they happen to be in conversations or on websites where somebody is more or less bound to trot out impressive-sounding gun violence statistics. So the next time the subject of gun control comes up, what pops into their heads? Naturally, that totes impressive factoid that the Huffington Post guy used to DESTROY all those NRA types who are too unsophisticated to give proper deference to the opinions of the Huffington Post, namely that The More NRA Bumper Stickers A State Has, The More People Shoot Each Other At Stop Lights. (By the way, I would bet good money that this is actually true.) And when we think of strikingly cool factoids that seem to show we’re right…well, it’s natural to trot them out.

Now what about people who seem to have thought about the problem a LOT (sometimes to the point of obsession) and still use gun-violence statistics? Why do THEY do it? I think by far the most likely explanation is that, in that case, you are dealing with somebody who has an instinctive, emotional antipathy to guns. When you look closely at the arguments gun control advocates use, practically none of them survive rational scrutiny – and yet almost all of them suddenly make sense if you simply grant one additional premise: “There is something emotionally or morally wrong with people who like guns.” In fact the arguments used by gun-control advocates remind me very much of the arguments used by the old Temperance movement. I do not mean to give Prohibitionists too hard a time, though I think their arguments were very foolish arguments and that Prohibition was a catastrophically bad idea. After all, one of the good places to find prohibitionist arguments is in the writings of that noted and vocal Temperance man, Abraham Lincoln. I simply mean to point out that under every Temperance argument you found a combination of very weak or non-existent factual basis, buttressed by a bone-deep emotional conviction that alcohol was itself an Evil Thing – and that is also what you find when dealing with passionate advocates of gun control.

It simply is painfully obvious that a great many liberals – generally very nice people who have the very best of intentions and are at least as intelligent and reasonable as is the average Republican – have pretty much the same emotional reaction to the thought of recreational gun use that the average decent and well-intentioned Baptist minister of the 1950’s would have had to the thought of two men engaging in sodomy. There is a gut-level revulsion against the whole idea.

Take this internet meme from Occupy Democrats:


This is a particularly stupid image. It is patently obvious, for one thing, that the kids on the bottom are happy and the kids on the top are not; but this difference escapes the attention of the person who created the meme. It is glaringly obvious that in the top picture the middle child is one accidentally-pulled trigger away from putting his brother in either the hospital or the morgue, while in the bottom picture everyone is practicing proper gun safety; but this difference escapes the attention of the person who created the meme. It is obvious with only slight reflection that the parents of the children in the bottom picture are almost certainly taking the picture during a family celebration of Christmas morning, while the parents in the top picture either don’t care enough about their children’s safety to put down the camera and take the gun away from the middle kid, or else are not there at all while their children misuse guns in the home; but this difference escapes the attention of the person who created the meme. There is only one difference that the person who created the meme notices: being liberal, he not only notes that the kids on top are black and the kids on the bottom are white, but also assumes that is the only difference that could possibly be worthy of notice. And the reason is that, to him, this is not a juxtaposition between responsible gun use and responsible parenting on the bottom, and dangerous gun use and negligent parenting on the top. To him, the picture on the bottom represents dangerous gun use and irresponsible parenting, because guns themselves are by definition Evil Things. It’s not that they don’t see the parental neglect in the top picture; it’s that what they think they see in the bottom picture is child abuse. When the meme was posted on the Occupy Democrats Facebook page, it was accompanied by this simple comment: “So true – although you should have a problem with BOTH.”

Imagine that you show the following two pictures to noted Temperance evangelist Billy Sunday.



I think you would find he would not see any difference between the obviously irresponsible abuse of alcohol in the upper photo, and the way alcohol is being enjoyed in the lower one. And this is true even though, as a Christian preacher, he doubtless read many times the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus saves the party by turning seventy gallons or so of water into first-rate wine. What Billy Sunday would have seen was simply, in both pictures, the Nectar Of Satan Working Debauchery. To Mr. Sunday there simply was no such thing as a right and proper use of alcohol. And if Mr. Sunday had had a Facebook page and had posted those two photographs side by side, he would probably have commented, “You should have a problem with BOTH.”

To a very great many liberals, especially life-long coastal urbanites and formerly-small-town social climbers trying very hard to feel superior to the rednecks back home, there is simply no such thing as a right and proper recreational use of guns, the way that there IS a right and proper use of kitchen knives, or of baseball bats, or of cars. So to them – and it is very important for the rest of us to understand this – gun violence really does seem to them, intuitively and self-evidently, to be in a different category from stabbings or assaults with blunt instruments or deliberate runnings-over of ex-wives. I said above that ordinary decent persons use “statistics that reflect the various moral categories of violent deaths.” But to these liberals, that is exactly what they are doing, because the difference between gun violence and other kinds of violence seems to them to be precisely a moral difference. To them, murders with knives and bats and cars are regrettable but largely unavoidable things, because of course you can’t tell people they can’t have knives in their kitchen or play baseball or drive cars. After all, decent people cook and play sports and drive; there’s nothing immoral about owning knives or baseball bats or cars. But gun violence is absolutely unnecessary, because no decent person would even want to own a gun, and people really ought not be allowed to own those Tools of Satan anyway.

[UPDATE, TWO YEARS LATER: Kurt Eichenwald makes explicitly the argument that I said two years ago appeared to underlie the position of most gun control activists. He is, of course, being either rather disingenuous or else rather stupid — the point of these guns is not to murder people; it is to kill them. Whether it is murder or not depends on the specifics of the case. Mr. Eichenwald appears to be under the impression that killing somebody in self-defense is the same thing as murder — since for every person in America who buys a gun in order to murder somebody, there are a hundred who buy guns to protect themselves and their families against bad people. But Mr. Eichenwald was clearly very upset and not functioning rationally so it is probably unfair to demand sense from him in the emotional state he was in when he was tweet-storming. My point is simply that he makes explicit exactly the assumption that I said long ago seemed to be fundamentally necessary in order for gun control arguments to have any pretense to rationality. So I think I can reasonably claim to have done a decent job of trying to understand those guys. Still think they’re wrong, of course…]

There is plenty of room for honest difference, among people who genuinely care about protecting the lives and health of innocent people, about the advisability of gun control. Many reasonable people can be found on both sides of the policy question, and there is much to be learned from each other by candid and mutually respectful discussion.

But there was no point in arguing with Billy Sunday about the Wedding at Cana. There is no point in arguing with Occupy Democrats — or, we now can see in 2017, Kurt Eichenwald — over gun control. And the sooner the rest of us understand and accept that, the less breath we will all waste.

Now, I gave three other possible explanations. Of course you may be dealing with somebody stupid, or with somebody ignorant and misinformed; there is no political opinion under the sun that is not held by large numbers of stupid, ignorant and misinformed people.

And it is true that there are dishonest people out there. As it happens, when you start using simple rates of violence rather than specifically gun violence, the evidence, to put it mildly, does not look nearly so supportive of the gun-control cause (though conservatives who think this evidence gives them a slam dunk are prone to overstating the evidence in their turn). You could write a textbook on abuse of statistics using nothing but the arguments of advocates of gun control, and at least some of the people committing the outrages against sound practice have to be well enough educated to know that they are giving a vigorous, elbow-pumping double bird to factuality and candor. But as statistical training is relatively rare among even college-educated Americans, I think in almost all cases you need not assign to malice and deceit what can be amply accounted for by simple ignorance, thoughtlessness, or cultural chauvinism.

But you should at least make sure that when you yourself introduce statistics into a political discussion, you have first thought about what your choice of statistics will say to the other people in the room.