Willful Ignorance

Why do so many anti-gunners choose it?



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By Claire Wolfe, May 31st 2014
JPFO writer contributor, © 2014.

Why do so many people choose ignorance?

I made the mistake of debating some anti-gunners the other day and that question hasn't left my mind since.

I don't like debating antis and my part of the conversation was brief. I wasn't trying to change their minds about the issue (that's not going to happen in an online forum), but only to point out some facts about a public demonstration that horrified them. To wit, I tried to correct them on these and a few other points:

  • The particular firearms they were so upset about weren't "assault rifles"
  • The guns weren't "murder weapons"
  • The people with the guns never "threatened" anybody
  • While I don't see the point in drawing conclusions about the size of any gun owners' sexual equipment, in fact some of the people being criticized were women and threrefore didn't even have that particular appendage.

The response from the antis wasn't just the usual emotional stuff (including predictable violent statements from several that anyone possessing a gun in public should be killed on sight -- and they'd be happy to do the deed). The overwhelming response was: I don't care about the facts. Nobody used those exact words. But they said things like, "I don't care whether you call them assault rifles or chicken noodle soup, they're still deadly spray-and-pray weapons" or "Maybe they haven't committed murder yet, but that's their only purpose" and "Yes they did threaten people; the demonstrators had guns, and that right there is a threat."

In my view (and I've said this to that particular bunch of people before about other freedom-related issues), I don't really care if you agree or disagree with me. But we should all at least know what we're talking about when we open our yaps or take publicly to our keyboards. If nothing else, it's important to know your enemy to fight effectively. And isn't it always a good idea to present yourself as a serious, well-informed person rather than a frothing bigot?

Occasionally, on issues other than firearms, I've broken through. I've persuaded this same group that some issue is more complex than any slogan or single-minded media report can cover. Unfortunately, the effect doesn't last; a few days later they're shouting again. And when the issue is guns I've never made one iota of headway on my "I don't care if you agree with me, but don't you care about facts?" campaign.

Of course, the anti-gun movement trades in emotion. It's literally a policy, developed at the higest levels, to accentuate emotions and disregard facts. I know that. When a discussion turns to ravings about "paranoid redneck racist gun owners compensating for their tiny equipment" it's best just to leave the forum or the room.

But I'm fascinated by the question of why anybody would choose, deliberately, to remain ignorant.

Why choose ignorance?

Oh, of course, we're all ignorant about many things. That's the inevitable human condition. Sometimes, too, we choose to be ignorant about a subject because we just plain don't care. Or because it's over our head. In this age of information glut we may tune out information either because we don't think we need to know it or because we've already studied it so thoroughly we're not likely to benefit by plowing through one more book, article, or discussion.

What fascinates me is people who choose to be ignorant about things they claim to care passionately about. That just doesn't make sense. Yet that's characteristic of the bunch I tangled with and seems common among hoplophobes, from the halls of Congress to the most obscure online forum. So what might be going on?

  • These people aren't stupid. Many of them are quite intelligent and accomplished in other areas of life.
  • Some minds, some temperament types, do simply handle emotion better than facts. Antigun leaders clearly count on that. But that doesn't explain what's going on with the folks I butted heads with; the forum where I met them is populated by people whose lives were changed by facts and reason -- and who are quite proud of that.
  • It's easier to react emotionally to an issue than to slog through data or give your opponents a hearing. That's probably part of what's going on. But if you actually care about a subject, that wouldn't stop you. And again, these people appear to care with a passion.
  • They've already concluded that they "know what they know," and the rest is unnecessary detail. That would explain part of it. Someone who has already concluded that all guns are evil might think it's merely a diversion to learn the difference between semiauto and full-auto or select fire. But it still leaves unanswered the question of why they're so adamant in the first place that guns are evil when they haven't informed themselves.
  • The human mind simply has a mysterious propensity for believing what comforts us, what our friends think, what experts or moral leaders tell us -- and above all, what fits our personal biases. Thinkers from Plato to Ayn Rand have observed the human tendency to prefer comfortable illusions to new facts. Psychologists aren't even close to understanding this, but novelists, philosophers, and poets know all about it. Thomas Pyncheon observed, "Ignorance is not just a blank space on a person's mental map. It has contours and coherence, and for all I know rules of operation as well."
  • One of those "contours" is surely the human ego. It stings to learn you're wrong -- especially when you've been blasting your opinions all over creation and some inconvenient new knowledge informs you you've been making a fool of yourself.

We do not see ourselves. Those anti-gunners who don't "need" to know any facts about us or our firearms because they've already concluded we're evil would be outraged (and would not believe it) if you pointed out that their thinking, including their willful ignorance, resembles the attitude Ku Klux Klansmen toward blacks or 1930s Germans toward Jews.

They understand that KKK members and those "good Germans" were bigots. They'll never see themselves that way, because after all, they're opposed to bigotry. (This blindness is why some of the worst intolerance abroad today is perpetrated in the name of "tolerance.")

The scariest are those anti-gunners who say they'd like to see us all dead. Or say they hope our children are shot to death. Or even say they'd like to kill us themselves. These sentiments are terrifyingly common. But the violently inclined anti-gunners see themselves as moral crusaders against evil. And no crusader in history ever let too many facts -- or the human decency of their chosen enemies -- get in their way.

On the contrary, while wishing us dead or imprisoned, they see themselves as shining stars of morality and human betterment.

And who wants to let a few dry facts interfere with such a glorious self image?

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