Opinion

Hyperbole and the Straw Man in American Discourse, Part II

by Michael Roach

There exists a theory in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect, developed in 1999 by two Cornell doctors, David Dunning and Justin Kruger. This effect is a “cognitive bias” in which the relatively “unskilled” person suffers from “illusionary superiority.” In short, an individual is too stupid to realize his stupidity. As Errol Morris for the New York Times summarized, “Our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.”

Unfortunately, I’m afraid to report that many in our country’s leadership may suffer from this psychological deficiency. This effect usually manifests itself into creative and elaborate denial campaigns by lawmakers backed by extravagantly funded PACs or special interest groups.
This seems like typical Washington politics. Nothing new here, except that this kind of behavior from our elected officials has had repercussions of the most serious kind. There have been issues in which due to perpetrated lies, confounded assurances, and downright ignorance –due to psychological or other effects – lives have been lost.

One of the most blatant issues in recent history was the false rationale for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, in which the intelligence community told us that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” something that was completely false. But now, that retrospective information is irrelevant as according to the U.S. Department of Defense, 4,487 soldiers lost their lives in the conflict in Iraq, not to mention the many killed and wounded foreign soldiers, Iraqi troops, and civilians as well as the now unstable the entire region.

Now, we face another event which has caused more deaths than the War in Iraq, the growing gun epidemic. This issue has been a plague on our country for far too long and the consequences have been steep. We now live in a country where Chicago’s gun related homicide rate has become so high that the city is not-so-lovingly referred to as “Chiraq”. We also live in a country where, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, almost 50 out of 61 mass shootings from 1982 to 2012 were carried out with legally purchased firearms.

I don’t need to tell you that shootings have been much more frequent and deadly in recent times. It’s a sad fact that one could go on any news website and see on the front home page some coverage of a shooting or gun related incident happening not only in dense urban centers but in schools, rural areas and small communities. Gun violence is spreading its ominous influence over the whole of America.

The push for gun control legislation, despite White House pressure, died down in 2013 after the President’s proposal was shut down in the House. Source: theguardian.com

The push for gun control legislation, despite White House pressure, died down in
2013 after the President’s proposal was shut down in the House. Source: theguardian.com

Yet, even with the increase in mass shootings including school shooting massacres of Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech, the legislature designated by President Obama’s administration to address this spike in gun-related incidents was shut down in Congress.

Whether this is just the Dunning-Kruger effect in full swing or not, it poses a huge threat to the security of children and virtually all others who are exposed to areas where any and all guns are not only available, but easy to acquire due to the lack of background checks and fundamental gun reforms.

Frequent talking points incoherently chanted by gun supporters include this phrase that has been uttered so many times without any true comprehension of the idea it raises, that they might as well slap it on a t-shirt: “Guns don’t kill, people do.”

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, of the total 16,259 total homicides in the United States, 11,078 are firearm homicides, 68 percent of the total amount.

Nevertheless, that incomprehensible drivel of a slogan signifies a resigning attitude amongst pro-gun supporters that increased mass murders are simply an unavoidable aspect of human nature. This attitude cannot be described as anything but pure apathy for the victims of increased gun crime and gun culture in America.

The National Rifle Association and gun companies will be and have been fighting hard on this issue – like the cigarette companies throughout the 1960’s. The only thing is, special interest groups like the NRA, have a special section in the Constitution called the Second Amendment which has to be the most elastic law ever written in human history.

America’s priorities must be put into order. Hopefully, the welfare and wellbeing of our citizens and more importantly the lives of our young children will be more highly valued than the right for someone with certain anatomical insecurities to compensate with a high-powered assault rifle. No one’s attacking liberty; only those taking away “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from thousands of people by gunpoint.

Gun control or rather the lack thereof, is one of the issues which highlights the difference between the United States and the rest of the western industrialized world. Issues such as gun control, environmental protection and campaign finance all have largely been taken care of in Europe.

After suffering a string of gun related shootings similar to the Sandy Hook massacre in 1988 and 1997, Britain engaged in enacting
sweeping gun reforms which largely banned all weapons including rifles, shotguns, and handguns. As a result, according to the UK Home Office, in 2010/2011, there were 60 shooting homicides victims. Compare that with the 11,078 gun related homicides in the United States.

Britain was able to take a positive step in the fight against gun related crime because their government made a commitment against unnecessary gun deaths and valued lives over “gun liberty”. And while public opinion is for the re-legalization of handguns, none of them are for the American style of marketing firearms supermarket style.

Moving on to environmental protection, Europe has been far ahead in the implementation of comprehensive limits on greenhouse gas emissions as well as overall promotion of environmental safety.

As part of the treaty named the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the European Union, unlike the United States, ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – the single most influential international environmental treaty ratified so far – which sets obligations on industrialized nations to meet certain emission standards. And so far, its been a resounding success. According to the European Commission, in the 2008-2012 period, the EU surpassed a 8% emission reduction rate was surpassed with an average 12.2% below base-level emission reduction rate.

Coastal cities like Venice have seen the worst of climate change. Due to the melting of the polar ice caps, sea levels are rising at a rate of .13 inches per year. Source: telegraph.co.uk

Coastal cities like Venice have seen the worst of climate change. Due to the melting
of the polar ice caps, sea levels are rising at a rate of .13 inches per year. Source: telegraph.co.uk

Steps have also been taken to reduce reliance on coal and fossil fuels with a commitment to the EU’s goal of a 20% of total energy generated from renewable energy with countries such as Sweden, Latvia and Finland already possessing 30% or more in renewable energy out of their total energy composition.

The greatest achievement made, however, in the battle to improve the environment has been the acceptance that global climate change is not fictional and it is affecting everything in our everyday lives.

Take Venice for example, which has witnessed a gradual increase in the water levels which have on more than one occasion flooded the majority of the city, causing many officials and environmental professionals to decree that Venice is sinking. European governments realize that we don’t have time for denialism and swift action in the EU will in the long-term help the environment.

Finally, campaign finance has ceased to be a major issue in the majority of countries in the EU for a while now. In the UK, campaign finance laws have limited the amount of money parties receive from individuals and groups. According to the UK Electoral Commission, in 2010 the maximum amount of money in the election was raised by the Conservative Party at £7,317,602 or roughly $12,292,107. Contrast this to the $778,642,962 raised by then Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

In Germany, private donations only account for a third of the total revenue raised, with the rest coming from party membership fees and public subsidy. The Dutch government limits the amount of money spent on the media by granting the parties free access to public broadcasting networks. In all cases, political campaigning such as advertisement has been heavily regulated. The influence of wealthy individuals on the electoral process is greatly diminished as a result.

America is living in a snowglobe of overused hyperbolic assertions and false straw man arguments which has kept our country back from confronting real issues. The sooner we break through the glass bubble keeping America in this sort of nostalgic John Wayne view of America, the quicker we can save our globe, our democracy and the lives of our citizens.

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