Monday, April 20, 2009

On the Aggression of Gun Control

A few days ago, I made a post on facebook on the effects of how the United States chooses to control guns. I would call it an offhanded note, not intended to be either overly academic or particularly divisive. The post didn't even make a claim of rightness or wrongness or a call to action. Actually, the post was a summing up of a 20/20 broadcast that goes over the ability of an armed student to protect him/herself from a school shooter. The special, while straying off topic, did a lot in the way of testing and verifiable evidence: . It also discussed the ease with which some states allow guns to be bought anonymously. I thought that this would be an interesting bit of information for my friends to chew in light of American made guns showing up more and more in the drug wars in Mexico.

But what interested me most about this post to facebook is the responses that I received from this post as opposed to other notes that I have both witnessed and made. Commonly, in notes, there's a kind of general head nodding, where those who respond to the author do so in agreement, and those who don't agree tend not to reply at all (for one reason or another). But in my note on guns, I got part of my “friend” population up in arms over defending the right to bear arms. As you may be able to imagine, my discussion turned from its (maybe unspoken) intent of discussing the very real and testable issues behind how guns are purchased and regulated in America to ideological stances and dichotomous claims about “keeping my guns.”
Through responding to the post (and having my political, ideological, and intellectual stances challenged), I began considering the nature of this argument and how aggression functions as a tool of argument, and how as a tool, it might misfire, and cause argument to be less of a discussion from which knowledge can be gleaned. Essentially, I find the rhetoric of aggression interesting. But, I suppose I'll have to define aggression.

To me, aggression is a movement. Imagine that we are having a discussion about the abilities of the current president. Imagine that there is a physical space for this argument, drawn in chalk between us. It's a large circle, in which are all the topics that compose discussing the abilities of the president. Each of us puts one foot into the chalk circle in order to discuss the qualities and qualifications of said president. I would call this a normal discussion. Now, imagine that we each have our own circle, labeled ERIC for me and YOUr name for you. These house (not necessarily unrelated) issues that haven't been defined as being in the center ring. As I said, aggression to me is a movement, and that movement comes when I step forward, from having one foot in the argument and one foot in my own beliefs to having one foot in the argument and one foot in your personal circle.

That's a little abstract, so maybe it would be good to see this idea play out. . This is a website,, that I've used in discussion before. I love it because while it is often intellectual, it is often inimical to my beliefs. It challenges me. But, follow the link. The replies are not listed chronologically, but they are listed under the main responses that are considered most “hot.” Therefore, the most interesting responses (followed by discussions of said responses) are those that appear first.

The topic of the discussion, as you can see, is the argument that being religious doesn't equate to being stupid. Because this is a discussion that has such personal ties on both sides, there's a higher probability for aggression to occur (consider our personal circles as being closer to the circle of argument, or even overlapping in this instance). Before you even need to scroll (but let me caution that the spacial orientation of each of these reddit responses is subject to change), check the post by required3. As of my last viewing of the discussion, this is the top rated post. And, as you can see, it already poses itself aggressively by claiming that people who are believers “can learn to think,” and aren't necessarily inherently stupid. Via his claim, he is already sidestepping the main thrust of the discussion: to discuss whether faith in some religion is intellectually informed or if it is otherwise, and instead argues by means of stepping into the personal space of those he doesn't agree with.

(For a standard definition of aggression, visit . The definitions, I think, are somewhat accurate to our use of aggression as a tactic used within online discourse.)

I'll leave you to read on, though. There are interesting trends in the rhetoric of aggression in this forum, and it might be interesting to note how shadowhaint and a645657 push back against aggression by some posters in interesting ways. Overall, though, I think that the inability for the redditors to really stay themselves from talking about the actual ideas behind the claims and the aggression that causes one to question the sanity of other respondents in the discussion doesn't allow for a logical stance to be taken by any side of the argument, and so no groups of people are really able to say, “I agree,” and rally under specific arguments.

In my own post, I saw aggression take an obvious form, and a form that has roots running back from my reporting on an evening showing of 20/20 to our political rhetoric around faith and gun control. By means of using the argument “you are saying this because you're a liberal -insert-word-here- Christian that...,” one steps out of the circle of discussion and really creates an argument that cannot be logically argued against so as to create a better argument for the stance that is taken in the argument. Keep in mind that I am not saying that it cannot be argued. It is easy to respond that it is in fact not a faith issue, but an issue of guns being used in Mexico's drug wars, or it is the statistics around school shootings, and append a “this is why your claim about my faith is utterly wrong,” but that does not work as a proof for the debate, rather, it sidelines the argument and necessarily 'keeps' the discussion focused on faith as opposed to on the claims and evidence brought forth by 20/20.

Another way to expand upon both the definition and the conceptualization of argument as a circle which is drawn between personal circles is to look at aggression as grabbing territory, and taking the offensive by means of fighting on enemy territory. I think that this paints a problematic image of aggression. This requires us to look at aggression as a sort of a diplomatic break down. It characterizes aggression as something that is done when the aggressor takes action against a hostile argument.