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Monday, December 17, 2012

More Rhetoric Resisting Gun Violence

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, my response to a comment from my friend JimF:

In classical rhetoric one discusses the logical, tropological, and topical dimensions of discourse. The logical and tropoligical are reasonably familiar -- deductive structures and fallacies on the one hand, and the force of figurative operations and questions of style on the other -- but the topical gets a little less attention, the topics representing argumentative genres, the citation of familiar moves within which but also the clever manipulation of which can produce legitimacy, confirmation bias, signal social positions, consolidate opposition, or facilitate change. In my teaching of them, these discursive registers correspond to the Aristotelian appeals, and so: logical/logos, tropological/pathos, topical/ethos (an ethical appeal where ethics is more like morals/mores, an anthropological/ ethnographic/ subcultural question of imagined audience). Anyway, when one speaks as you do of an argument forming "along familiar lines," your insight is a topical one.

When you become attentive to these dynamics you learn to appreciate the way even small deviations from the expected script can signal openings -- sometimes the small change against the background of otherwise familiar moves in the dance is all the more forceful as a change for instance. This time the deathly minuet in the aftermath of a mass shooting I have been intrigued that to find that the long powerful effort to silence the political question of guns violence by insisting one must only vilify evil and comfort the grieving was absolutely ineffective, was rightly called out as a politicization in the service of the failing status quo masquerading as non-politicization, and that the defenders of ever more guns in the hands of ever more people as an end in itself were rendered either silent or defensive for once.

I am hopeful that it may soon be possible to mobilize a discourse of gun safety closing the gun show loophole and banning private ownership of military issue multiple ammunition clips and assault rifles where I was not hopeful before -- or that gun-nut intransigence on this issue may become a political loser for its advocates as other right-wing extremisms also recently have done, eg, anti-gay bigotry, anti-immigration hysteria, anti-contraception, anti-taxation at the expense of working government, climate-change denialism, and so on. Obama appears to be an inflection point as Reagan was, this time marking a re-oriention of public discourse against reactionary structural assumptions of Movement Republicanism.

It is true that the mother of the shooter appeared to be a gun-nut, but there are survivalists of the eco-left as well as the anti-socialist rapture-ready right who might find themselves in comparable positions facilitating the violence of the distressed child through access to an arsenal. Some people are fruitlessly re-litigating a culture war through the usual archetypes -- self-congratulatory right wing left wing shooter narratives, eg -- but I really don't think this constitutes the substance of the response this time around. I suppose, "Mark Plus" was indulging in a bit of such pre-emptive white-racist patriarchal-prick gun-nut culture war noise-making when he sought to change the subject here and project all his apocalyptic Stalinobama fantasies onto the scene of the latest mass-shooting lest too much be made of the apparent wingnut coloration of the actual protagonists of the drama, for instance. But I really think that stuff is not driving this round of the debate, at least not yet.

I am glad that the mental health piece of the problem is part of the discussion as you mention, and I am glad that it isn't functionally substituting for the safety regulation piece this time around, and I hope it leads to more money and less stigma for mental health support in this country. Something I haven't heard much talk about is that there is unprecedented support for mental health in the Affordable Care Act which may be providing the beginnings of an address to this vast problem already, so that if Obama presides over some sane safety regulation of gun ownership in this country that will mean that his Administration will manage a more comprehensive address of the shared problem of gun violence in this country than any President in our history.

As for the specific question of the diagnosis of the shooter as someone on the autism spectrum, I worry about the looseness of that talk in our public discourse, and I think it matters that any profiling practice deploying inapt mental health categories amplified by our inept war on terror mindset that manages to capture all actually high-risk folks (which I think is actually impossible) would end up stigmatizing a disproportionate majority of individuals who are not really risks to public safety at all, making any policy beyond providing access to more mental health support a displacement of violence and its social costs from one class of innocents onto another.


Anonymous said...

The President, members of Congress, Generals, high-ranking bureaucrats, central bankers, DoD flunkies, well-heeled oligarchs, all of them are protected by people wielding guns. They don't have to worry about some crazed lunatic breaking into their homes and executing their kids one after the other. They don't worry for an instant. Guns protect and deter, and if they didn't, if these plutocrats were less safe as a result of armed security, they wouldn't have armed security. The ruling class is thus very well-protected. Why would you advocate denying at least a little bit of that same protection for a poor loser like me? Is the world I live in in suburban Connecticut really less dangerous?

Dale Carrico said...

Not only you but literally everyone else is less protected, less safe, less secure because of the insane proliferation of military weapons. You may feel otherwise, but your feelings are not facts.