Tag Archives: Politics

Remembering Levinas

In one of my recent articles, “Objectivism Revisited”, I criticized the underlying philosophical justifications behind Ayn Rand’s epistemological theory and its support for unfettered free-market capitalism. My motivation for this piece came from the recent Congressional battles over support for the $700 billion economic bailout plan, which House Republicans strongly derided on the grounds that any and all governmental encroachments into the market would cripple the contemporary American business ethic. Pundits on television and in the print media engaged in a war of words over the theories of Objectivism without realizing where their ideas were coming from or the long-standing philosophical debates intrinsic to their discussion. I wanted to invoke that intellectual history in relation to the current American fiscal crisis in order to shine some additional light on the barrage of unjustified claims waged by both sides of the economic debate. In the ensuing point-counterpoint that followed on questionablesource.com, I remembered an often forgotten intellectual giant, who also attempted to move beyond the war of ideas in a unique and unquestionably brilliant fashion. Before I introduce his thought to this forum, I think that it is important to summarize where the discussion has taken us so far.

Indeed, there are variety of justifications for free-market capitalism, many of which I strongly agree with. Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom”, now somewhat of a Cold War relic, correctly points out the variety of benefits that capitalism has bestowed upon the human population, from increased food supplies to structural insurance for individual freedom to the global stability that comes with economic interdependence. Life expectancies are longer and the quality of life has been better for more people in a world driven by capitalist logic than the regulatory paradigm of statism. All of these benefits are nothing short of historical facts. Capitalism has been a positive development in many regards for human beings. Objectivism, however, takes a step further in its justification for the historical phenomenon of capitalism that I consider to be philosophically violent and a continuation of the same dangers she rejects.

In Rand’s attempt to construct an unwavering and eternal justification for the free-market, she developed a theory of knowledge – an epistemology – that gave credence to the idea of objective knowledge, otherwise known as “truth”. Objectivism claims that there is objective truth for any individual based upon what their survival, purpose, and rational self-interest require, albeit relational to society. If I am hungry, then, “objectively”, food is of value to me – it is “true” that I need food, even though the words/concepts I use to describe this need, given to an individual by society, are arbitrary. From this position on the nature of knowledge, Rand argued that protecting these individual declarations of “truth” was the essential task of both government and any system of morality. Rand believed that the only regulatory regime capable of sustaining the freedom necessary to sustain these expressions of truth is free-market capitalism. Capitalism allows these desires and needs to be weighed justly, she contended, because the free-market never marginalizes the claims of an individual or intervenes on behalf of some greater philosophical principle. For Rand, the free-market is an expression of perfect justice – it assigns the proper value to all things. Therefore, interventions into the market, like the proposed economic bailout package in Congress, are always detrimental to individuals, because they infringe on the neutrality and justice of the system.

Rand constantly criticized the monotheistic religions for their construction of moral systems that did not have a basis in the needs and desires of the individual, but in a higher authority. She saw their ideological power as only destructive of the true potential of human beings to ascend through motivated action and sustained purpose. From this existentialist rejection of religion, Rand denied the possibility of altruism – a purely unselfish act towards an other – on the grounds that all actions were inherently self-interested. This impossibility, she argued, was because of the fact that all people ever express is their objective demand towards attaining what is in their rational self-interest. Even if you help someone, it is because you wish to express your benevolence and the benefits of doing so will reflect on your social capital, et cetera. I was previously criticized for portraying Rand’s Objectivism as Rationalism – the belief in the ability of the individual’s rationality to solve any problem – so I hope that this description of her epistemology and moral justification of capitalism gives better weight to the pluralism that Rand endorsed. In any case, it does not really matter what I portray Rand’s ideology as, because it is still ideology and that is what I ultimately want to tear down, not just Objectivism.

At a first glance, Rand’s epistemology and ethical/moral justification for free-market capitalism seems quite legitimate, if not obvious. Freedom is unquestioned in her paradigm and she advocates a system of political, economic, and social regulation that maximizes the rational self-interest, purpose, and esteem of a population. The problem with an epistemology that allows for the existence of human truth, however, is actually quite severe. Just like the monotheistic religions that Rand so viciously assaults, Objectivism takes the instances of objective truth tied to individuals and places it in the hands of a supervenient knowledge device – in this case, the free-market. The free-market becomes God for Rand, a perfect arbiter of justice and interest. The free-market, however, is no more godly than the textual contentions of the monotheists – it is entirely the production of human thought and action. That is ultimately my criticism of Objectivism. In its attempt to eternally justify capitalism through objective value and its denial of authority, it constructs an ideology that gives preference to capitalism and reason, rather than highlighting the responsibility we have towards other human beings. Ethics – traditionally defined as societal rules of conduct – for Rand, is brought about through the active construction of reasoned thought. This active construction of ethics is what makes her thought ‘just the same’ as everything she tears apart throughout intellectual history.

In my opinion, there can never be any objective truth in our plane of reality. There are only subjective knowledge claims, always open to interpretation and reevaluation dependent upon contingency and time. In this regard, I want to highlight Rand’s conclusion that altruism does not exist using the example of hunger and food. While it may be true that you need food to survive and it is of value to you, it is still a subjective choice to eat food. Let’s say that a mother and son are stranded on a desert island. They know that help is coming, but it won’t be there for one month. There is only enough food for one of them to survive in that time. The mother, acting against her self-interest, may declare to her son that he should eat the food, because she loves him and would rather die than see him do otherwise. Rand denied the possibility of such an event, an altruistic action by the mother, because she thought that any action is inherently self-beneficial. Clearly, as this thought experiment shows, that is not the case. The mother sacrifices herself for her son in a way that is entirely to her detriment. Rand is missing the point with her definition of ethical/moral conduct. There are other obligations that exist prior to reasoned thought and self-interest, as demonstrated by the mother-son example.

Rand, in many ways, is tied to the rise of existential thought, brought to bear by authors like Jean-Paul Sartre, Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Heidegger. Sartre and Kierkegaard wanted to tear down the idealism of truth long entrenched in the Western tradition since the seminal thought projects of Plato and Aristotle, much like Rand. Sarte, however, was motivated by the linguistic/phenomenological turn of French thought to argue that values and ideas exist only in the vacuum of what an individual decides to give preference to. Language, and all structures within society, are arbitrary and relational. Kierkegaard had similar goals, but sought to define the meanings held fast by an individual in relation to a personal conversation with God. The danger in Objectivism and existentialism, something that I failed to effectively grapple with in my last article, is that both prioritize thought and reason instead of actual instances of dealing with people in a face-to-face manner. For Rand, this ended up with her denying the possibility of altruism and seeking God in the free-market.

With this brief background completed, I want to progress onto the real subject of this article – the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas is an extremely complicated thinker and, admittedly, my grasp of his work is probably juvenile. Much of my understanding comes from a wonderful article written by Professor Anthony Beavers at the University of Texas-Austin entitled, “Introducing Levinas to Undergraduate Philosophers” and I must give credit where it is due. That being said, I think that Levinas’ conceptualization of ethics is the most advanced I have ever heard and I thoroughly believe that engaging his work is essential for humanity to progress beyond the violence of the past. Please bear with me while I try to elucidate his work, it’s quite complicated, but highly relevant to our discussion of Rand and ethics.

Levinas was a Lithuanian Jew, whose family was expelled to the Ukraine, because of their religious beliefs. Pursuing a higher education, Levinas moved to France to study phenomenology under the eminent Edmund Husserl and from there, he moved to Freiburg, Germany to study under Martin Heidegger. Levinas, unlike many philosophers in his tradition who turned to existentialism, turned to Judaism and Talmudic interpretation. He sought a basis in morality through the most ancient collective study of morality available. During World War II, Levinas enlisted as a translator in the French army and when it fell, he was captured and sent to a labor camp. There, he dealt first hand with the horrors of ideological power made manifest through Nazism. His own former teacher, Heidegger, came to embrace Nazism, which he retroactively justified through existential thought as the action of the heroic Being of Dasein. How could this wonderfully intelligent rationality and exploration of Being could justify or even culminate in Nazism was beyond Levinas. The meaninglessness and alienation inherent to existentialism and its allowance of the individual to define their own meaning in regard to their own self-interest led him to question the basis of reasoned thought as a basis for ethical action. There was something entirely unethical for Levinas about using your ideas to define the “other” – the other person, the ‘not same” – before contact with the other was even established.

With this background, Levinas spent the rest of his life trying to answer the question of the moral “ought” – in other words, why be good? For Rand and other existentialist thinkers like Sarte, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche ethics – the conduct of the individual towards the other – comes about through reasoned thought. However, the “active” construction of ideas, Levinas argues, in the tradition of Descartes, is an entirely individual production. If ideas are only productions of the mind and ethics refer to your actions in regard to real people, then reasoning and thought cannot found the basis for ethics. Beavers explains:

“If we can accept this notion that ideas are inventions of the mind, that ideas are, when it comes down to it, only interpretations of something, and if ethics, in fact, is taken to refer to real other persons who exist apart from my interpretations, then we are up against a problem: there is no way in which ideas, on the current model, refer to independently existing other persons, and as such, ideas cannot be used to found an ethics. There can be no pure practical reason until after contact with the other is established.”

Therefore, when you construct another person through your ideas, you cut off the “connection” to the other. Levinas calls this process of shutting out the other “totalization” and it occurs whenever you reduce someone to rational categories, “racial, sexual, or otherwise.” Levinas believed that Nazism, and indeed all violence, comes about from totalization. Totalization is unethical, because it denies the otherness of the other by reducing the other to your own ideas without regard for the real contact between persons that is the basis for an ethics in the first place. Therefore, in order to construct an ethics, one cannot turn to ideas about the other, but instead must turn to “sensibility”. Sensibility exists prior to thought – it is the “passive” nourishment of the self by the environment. Beavers uses the examples of food and music in order to explain what nourishment through sensibility refers. When you eat, you actively make the food part of your body. When you listen to music, you “digest” it and it becomes part of you. Living and sensibility are matters of “consumption” – you take what is in your environment and make it a part of you. Levinas explains further, “Nourishment, as a means of invigoration, is the transmutation of the other into the same, which is the essence of enjoyment; an energy that is other, recognized as other, recognized … as sustaining the very act that is directed upon it becomes, in enjoyment, my own energy, my strength, me.”

The act of nourishing your “self” is pure enjoyment; it is the source of the joy of life. Before you enjoy something, however, you must distance yourself from it and comprehend your own independence from it. In doing do, you construct the egoistic self. Beavers explains, using the example of food, “I can represent the bread, but this will not feed me. I must eat it. But then in eating my bread, the memory of hunger, evinces a separation between the bread and me. Thus, in enjoyment, the self emerges already as the subject of its need.” Thus nourishment is happiness, but selfish happiness. This selfish happiness through environmental nourishment is the “flux” that is “subjectivity”. Sensibility is the foundation of the subject, for Levinas, not rational thought, and, as such, it achieves an extra-mentalism that rationality lacks. Therefore, the foundation of the subject is not active, but passive. With this, Levinas comes to the “ethical moment” – when the egoistic self encounters another person and it wants to nourish itself with that other person, but it cannot. Indeed, “The other resists consumption.” The other “pushes back” and denies the egoistic enjoyment that the “I” desires with the initial encounter. The other has power over you, because it is “transcendent” and beyond the rational capabilities of your intellect to digest it – it is from the “other side of Being.” This encounter is most expressly manifested in the “face-to-face” with the other person. Your passivities intersect in the dual attempt at nourishment when the “ground of interpersonal contact” – the face – is measured through sensibility. Levinas calls this imperative moment “proximity”:

“…the proximity of the Other is not simply close to me in space, or close like a parent, but he approaches me essentially insofar as I feel myself—insofar as I am—responsible for him. It is a structure that in nowise resembles the intentional relation which in knowledge attaches us to the object—to no matter what object, be it a human object. Proximity does not revert to this intentionality; in particular it does not revert to the fact that the other is known to me.”

At this moment of proximity, the critical distinction that I want to invoke between existentialist authors like Rand and Sarte becomes tantamount to my writing. Where Rand sees the active process of illuminating the other as a method of rationality, purpose and esteem and Sarte sees the alienation and “antagonism” of the other, Levinas “finds the ground upon which ethics first shows itself.” Your very subjectivity is determined in this moment, where neither of the two people can lay claim to the other or reduce each other to the “same”. Your subjectivity is literally held “hostage” by the other. Beavers explains again:

“The self is subjected to the other who comes from on high to intrude upon my solitude and interrupt my egoist enjoyment. The self, feeling the exterior in the guise of the other pass through its world, is already obligated to respond to the transcendent other who holds the self hostage. In turn, this means that “the latent birth of the subject occurs in obligation where no commitment was made.” I do not agree to live ethically with the other at first, I am ordered to do so. The meaning of my being a self is found in opposition to the other, as an essential ability to respond to the other. I am, above all things, a social self indentured a priori, made to stand in the place of the other.”

This standing-in-the-place-of-the-other is deemed “substitution” and it is the crux of Levinas’ construction of ethical responsibility. When you are held hostage by the other, in the face-to-face, your identity is defined. This moment of substitution is the ethical moment. “In substitution my being that belongs to me and not to another is undone, and it is through substitution that I am not ‘another,’ but me.” Please read that sentence again, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read. Substitution is the “sacrifice of self” and stands exactly contrary to Rand and the existentialists. Where Rand sees the moment of self-interest, Levinas sees the moment of other-interest. In an almost direct response to Rand, Levinas says, “One is held to bear the burden of others: the substitution is a passive effect, which one does not succeed in converting into an active initiative or into one’s own virtue.”

The virtuous action of the Objectivist is secondary to the passive substitution inherent to Levinassian thought. You have to stand before the “other” before “freedom and reason” even enter into the equation. As such, the ethical responsibility that you have towards other people is a priori to the individual freedom and rationality inherent to Objectivism. The conceptual science of Rand falls to the wayside in the face-to-face – your own subjectivity is secondary to the other person. Levinas explains, “Ethics, here, does not supplement a preceding existential base [as Heidegger would have it]; the very node of the subjective is knotted in ethics understood as responsibility.”

Thus, the responsibility to substitute your own existential Being for the other’s is the foundation for the moral “ought” when engaging the proximity of the other. Wow. Clearly, Levinas’ conceptualization of ethics is difficult, not only because of its verbiage, but because it requires the same active thought, reason, and engagement with language that he denies is the foundation for ethics. As such, Levinas is full of contradictions – something that Rand explicity denies legitimacy as something that we “wish” to be true, but isn’t. This is where Rand falls apart – she gives greater credence to the logical than the real person standing before you. In doing so, she ends up creating an entire epistemology and morality of capitalism that is more important than the actual responsibility we have to help other people. Levinas gives the best Western (not the hotel) intellectual justification for the Buddhist/Taoist belief in practicing kindness as the fundamental ethical philosophy of action that I’ve ever heard. I find that in philosophy it is hard to traverse the gap between words and action, because the words necessary are so difficult that you get lost in them. That is, in my opinion, precisely what happened to Rand. She lost sight of, what my colleague Walther calls, the “practical.” With respect to the initial problem of the economic bailout that I posited at the beginning of this essay, it would be most ethical to disregard the complex ideologies of Objectivism and simply consider what, right now, would help the most people. It appears that, of all people to act Levinassian, Warren Buffett has accomplished that with his words to the Congress yesterday. A bailout, instead of the war of words, will come and hopefully the suffering of the American people at the hands of the free-market ideology of the Bush administration will cease.

Levinas provides a unique and brilliant path from the words to the actions, without falling apart intellectually, and that is precisely why we must remember him. If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: Levinas advocated the “wisdom of love” instead the “love of wisdom”. I know I always will.

The Issues at Hand, #2 – Cosmopolitanism

When former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani indicted the Democratic party for being too “cosmopolitan” at the Republican National Convention, I lost feeling in the left half of my body, then collapsed on the floor.  After regaining consciousness and mobility, I did a few dictionary searches for the word cosmopolitan.  I was quite sure that I had missed an important definition change, because Giuliani used the word so pejoratively:

“I’m sorry that Wasilla, Alaska isn’t ‘cosmopolitan’ enough for Barack Obama…(moderate to heavy cackling like a vampire).”

Wikipedia, my non-biblical source of transhistorical Truth, confirmed that I did not take a Rip Van Winkle-like nap and that the word still implies the belief in a “single moral human community”.  The original Greek etymology of the word, taken directly, describes a person who believes they are a “citizen of the universe”.  Diogenes (G.O.P. Translation: Sinner) first invoked the idea of cosmopolitanism when he argued against a nationalist conception of the self.  He contended that identity politics, the foundation of nationalism, unnecessarily divided people and overtly denied the simple equality of all human beings.  Immanuel Kant (G.O.P. Translation: Nazi) later used the idea when he attemped to describe what a “perpetual peace” would look like on the international scale.  For Kant, cosmopolitanism expressed the idea of a mental space where people could co-exist without killing each other for shiny rocks and the right to say, “Fuck me?! Fuck you!”  He imagined a federation of republics, not democracies, for fear of stupid people taking over and ruining all of the hard work of the intelligensia (see page 487 of the Oxford English Dictionary for the definition of the word ‘foresight’).  Even though their territories and citizens were divided by name, Kant believed that universal disarmament and diplomacy under the guise of cosmpolitian thought could put an end to violent international conflict.  Martha Nussbaum, professor at the University of Chicago, home of the Fightin’ C++ Programmers, is the most prolific contemporary advocate of cosmopolitanism in her studies of international relations.  She sees an important place for the belief in a singular morality amidst the sectarian violence of the post-modern world.

So, what am I talking about and why is it relevant to the 2008 presidential election?  In this second installment of “The Issues at Hand”, I demonstrate the fortitude to follow through on my promise to address each important issue of the campaign. This, of course, stands in contrast to that piece of shit Sufjan Stevens, who, despite whatever claims he makes, clearly isn’t going to write a folk album for all fifty states.  [This entirely separate topic brings up a lot of questions like, what the fuck would be on the “Idaho” album? How many songs about potatos is too many? Could he write a song for Sarah Palin’s minor in political science at that state’s flagship “”””university””””? How many quotation marks does it take to get a point across?]  The issue that I’ve decided to take on revolves around the question of American hegemony – to what extent should the United States continue to forcibly assert its military and cultural dominance on the international community/shitstorm?  The above comment by Giuliani highlights the anti-cosmopolitanism that defined the Republican National Convention and enumerates the conservative commitment to coercively projecting American power abroad.  This is unacceptable.

The rhetoric of the RNC on the issue of a guiding framework for foreign policy, most notably the chants of “USA! USA! USA!”, securely places them in the camp of malignant nationalism.  What is most important to them is that the citizens that reside within the historically arbitrary borders that define the United States have it better than anyone else.  The constituency of the Republican Party, or, more accurately, its “con-stitch-ency”, believes that America must possess the best of everything at the expense of others.  Historically, this makes sense – after World War II, the US was handed a massively powerful place on the international stage that allowed it to define the norms and institutions that govern global politics and economics.  This was very helpful for the American standard of living and now we have it better than just about anyone.  The downside is that when you play the game of relative power, it is zero-sum and someone else must lose.  Enough people have lost enough in the world that now people are rising up against us (see wonderfully stupid post-9/11 books like “Why They Hate Us”).  Dividing up the world into “us” and “them”, as the object of Walther’s man-crush, Pink Floyd, sang, is the fundamental anti-cosmopolitian project.  Unfortunately, Karl Rove a.k.a “The Architect” a.k.a. “Angry Because He Was A Fat Fuck That Girls Wouldn’t Give A Reach-Around To” knows that nationalism is the best way to win an election and has once again engineered a campaign to make the vote about “patriotism” and “military service”.  I’m starting to realize that without wars, there wouldn’t be any military service for Republican candidates to use as an excuse for a patriotic qualification.  Oscar Wilde said, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious,” (and my mother said “The Rock” wasn’t educational) and that is precisely what flag-waving nationalist conservatives are – vicious.  They don’t want innovation in energy policy, because that would engage us in a non-zero-sum game. If you can keep getting more of something with renewable energy, that means you can’t take something from someone else.  You can’t own the wind or the Sun and that fucks the Republican understanding of private property without proper lubrication.

If the Republicans want to deny the equality of all human beings and their belonging to a single moral community, then they will continue to construct self-fulfilling prophecies of violent conflict throughout the world.  If politics is phrased as a conflict between “us” and “them”, then the anti-cosmopolitans will get their wars.  American hegemony is not what the world needs more of – what our foreign policy needs is to put an end to games of relative power that deny other people critical resources for survival and basic prosperity.  Agricultural subsidies, unfair trade agreements, and attempts to stifle growth in countries like China and India will only be met with more resentment and the perception of “enemy”.  Conservatives get so angry at their “enemies” without realizing that we are the ones who are making that declaration first.  They are our enemies because everything we do on the international stage, save a few token gestures and sincere philanthropy, tells them that the American Dream comes at the expense of the Human Dream.  Cosmopolitianism, Rudy, is everything that people should believe in, particularly in these increasingly anxious times.  But, then again, you should know that.  You lived with two gay guys and their pet Shih-Tzu, dressed in drag, and marched in gay pride parades down the streets of that quaint old town, New York City. I hope you choke on a pretzel. (Just kidding Carnivore, don’t invoke a rendition protocol and send Treadstone after me.)

The Issues At Hand, #1 – The Second Amendment

As much as I enjoy reading every pundit say this and that about Barack Obama and John McCain, I think that it would be much more productive to actually address specific issues.  I don’t really care whose baby Sarah Barracuda’s daughter is having, unless of course it is Alf’s.  As much of a head rush I get from listening to Barack Obama speak, what is the point of agreeing with someone because they are charismatic?  That seems to me to be a dangerous method for making decisions and quite similar to the herd-mentality embraced by Republicans that us so-called Liberals decry.  That is why I am launching an ongoing column, in many parts, called “The Issues At Hand”.  Today, I’m going to analyze what appears for some reason to be a continued talking point in the presidential election – the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Conservatives that compose the “base” of the Republican Party seem extremely intent on continuing to possess firearms, while Democrats have pointed out that guns are for shooting people.  I have chosen this issue first, because, in my opinion, it isn’t very difficult to poke fun at.

John Kerry, Idiot

This is the full text of the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Talking Point #1: “Guns are important because they allow me to defend myself from a possible dictatorship.”

I have bad news for anyone who thinks that having an assault rifle or grenade launcher is going to the stop an aggressive American federal government.  They have these things.  One is called the Air Force, the other is called the Navy.  As much power as you feel from gripping your sweaty Republican hands against some American Steel, at this point there is simply no way of ever standing up to the US military.  This is a lost cause.

More importantly, any scenario where the US government “comes after” its citizens either collectively or in part is well beyond highly improbable.  When I say “comes after”, I mean anything that would warrant opening fire on them as they come tanking down Cherry Street to your lovely home.  Let’s say they have some completely unjust reason to pursue you, like being “X” minority.  Is the general idea that you’re going to start killing federal marshalls until they leave you alone?  Wouldn’t it be better just to get arrested and let the other citizens of the country try to save you?  Even if a 1984 state comes to power, it could only happen with the support of the citizenry of the United States.  As a democratic state, if crazy people take office, it’s because we put them there.  It’s almost like this is some huge catch-22: “I need to protect myself from crazy government officials with a gun, but the only way I can keep having a gun is to vote for crazy government officials. Fuck!”  So, short of everyone democratically deciding to hunt your ass down, having a gun isn’t going to save you from any action brought by the federal government.  Stop deluding yourself.  Even under the guise of a “state’s rights” argument, this is ludicrous.  I’d love to see the Texas Air Force compete with the US Air Force.  What would that last, like five minutes?  To those of you who might be saying, “Well, doesn’t that mean we should just arm our states more?”  To which I reply, (1) with what money, (2) we’ll still lose, and (3) internal arms races have not historically proven helpful at keeping a state unified.  The text shown above only appears to support the maintenance of “state militias”.  If you want to join the National Guard, I think that is what the Second Amendment protects.  But having an AR-17 in your closet is not a “state militia”.

Talking Point #2: “I have a gun to protect me from when the Russians/Chinese/aliens invade!”

Yeah, that’s how it’s going to go down.  The Russo-Sino-ETs are going to land their ships on the coasts and start pouring in.  Then it will be every person for themselves as martial law grips the country and one man must save America using only his wits, a gun, and some dental floss.  I don’t think so MacGuyver.  Remember that military we have?  I think that they can handle it.  If you honestly think there is a probability that they cannot, don’t you think that in that situation the feds would just start handing out weapons to everyone?  If we had a draft for a proxy war in Vietnam, can you imagine what would happen if the US was actually on the brink of falling to a foreign state?  I think it would be a credible assumption to say that the military would get us involved if they thought they had to.

Talking Point #3: “I have a gun for self-defense from criminals.”

This is a slightly more compelling argument, but only because the last two involved the US military attacking its citizens and alien invasions.  Every study ever done has shown that the only person you’re likely to shoot is a member of your family.  Carrying a Derringer in your purse isn’t going to help you get out of a sticky situation anyway.  Unless you have a serious Annie Oakley complex, drawing on someone in the street doesn’t seem like a safer option.  The conservatives reply, “That’s why we train at shooting ranges.”  I have a better idea, become a police officer.  From what I’ve seen, it’s not that hard to get in.

Talking Point #4: “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAW!!!! Hunt me up some animals.”

This final point is what I believe all of this to really be about.  People like guns because you can use them to shoot a twelve-point buck with a forty odd scope at two hundred yards.  This right to hunt animals, however, clearly falls into that category of “not fucking important at all unless you’re an egomaniac” category.  Could it be fun?  Sure.  Are there positive benefits to hunting?  Sure.  Do these pros outweigh any of the cons?  Absolutely not.  There is simply no need to have guns available to the general population for hunting.  As for “keeping populations in check”, volunteer for the Forestry Service.

Final Talking Point:  This is not what the Founding Fathers intended.

This is the most “history-defunct” Amendment to the Constitution.  I say “history-defunct” because the Second Amendment is the perfect example of something that used to be important, then lost its necessity and became a burden.  Two hundred years ago, when the Britons were all up in our shit – i.e. the War of 1812 – the Second Amendment looked pretty damn compelling.  One hundred and fifty years ago, when white Southerners tried to secede to maintain slavery – the Second Amendment made sense (wait, aren’t most pro-gun advocates white Southerners?).  Since then, however, a few things have happened.  Like planes.  And nuclear deterrence.  Not to mention that the unified nature of the US government has made state militias irrelevant anyway.  The Founding Fathers wanted America to survive in the face of violence.  Guns allow you to do that.  That is, however, what the military and police are for.