Disingenuousness and High Horses

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

Nothing puts me on my high horse as quickly as disingenuous behavior. In the gun control debate that is still raging fiercely on social media sites like Facebook, I find that I am less annoyed (still annoyed, but less) with those Wayne LaPierre types who make their stance known than I am by those who flirt with the issue, posting something now and then to support whatever they see as the conservative standpoint and then immediately hemming and hawing as to their intent.

Example: This week, a video of Obama from 2008 showed up on Facebook pages. To introduce this video, one Facebook poster wrote:

“Obama: I Will NOT Take Your Guns away

I’m not a huge 2nd amendment activist, but I do believe in honesty. I only like flip flops on my feet!”

Curious, I watched the video, only to hear a version of nearly the exact same thing Obama said in his recent gun control speech: that he is not looking to take away handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles. (Instead, he is asking Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines as one of many measures that may make mass shootings like the Sandy Hook massacre less likely to happen.)

Although I normally stay away from conservative Facebook pages like the plague, I admitted in a comment that I didn’t understand the post, since Obama has continued to say the same thing in more recent speeches. The poster replied: “I’m just saying I hope he was honest in his campaign speech and his current intentions. That’s all.”

Disingenuous.

Still, satisfied that my question had at least been acknowledged and addressed, I gave the poster a “thumbs up,” much to Natalie’s chagrin:

“I wouldn’t let that fly for one second. I’d ask, ‘You said, “I only like flip flops on my feet!” So, who flip-flopped? Your implication is that Obama did. Your next post implied that Obama did not. So . . . the only flip-flopper I see is you.'”

But I was eager to move on and away, although the thread seemed loathe to let me do so. Another commentator addressed me by name and informed me that our 2nd amendment means we must have the same weapons our military does to defend ourselves against the government.

When I pointed out that we have long ago lost the ability to defend ourselves against the government, he cried straw man and moved into argument #2, which was my apparent “skewed” understanding of the 2nd amendment.

When I pointed out that I had recently read the 2nd amendment in preparation to teach a section on gun control in my Rhetoric and Composition class (more recently I suspect than anyone on the thread had done, if at all), the original poster cried red herring! He proceeded to assert that just because I teach critical reading and rhetoric doesn’t mean I understand it, which explains — of course — his eagerness to cry fallacy. I listed my qualifications, which only prompted him to say that he wasn’t challenging or even referring to my understanding and teaching.

Disingenuous, again.

The conversation continued to devolve, but not before reminding me of the following five truths:

(1) For some conservatives, change in any form is “bad:” The original poster’s implication, that Obama would be “bad” if he reneged on comments made four years ago reflects why the conservative party may be headed, as House Speaker Boehner lamented recently, “for the dust bin.” Change is sometimes necessary to address current problems. Obama did not flip flop on the particular point in question, but even if he did: to reexamine previous assertions, to consider changing in response to a string of mass shootings (Tuscon, Aurora, Oak Creek and Newton), is more noble, not less.

(2) There seems to be both a worship of and fear of the US military: How many times have I rolled my eyes over discussions of reducing the deficit, when the GOP has refused to give an inch on military spending, despite the fact that the US spends a ridiculous amount compared to other countries? Because of the GOP, we have an unmatched military and arsenal of weapons; and, now, in the gun control debate, some conservatives are insisting on keeping their assault weapons and high capacity magazines so that they will stand a chance against the “monster” they created, should it turn monstrous.

(3) “Literal” interpretation, whether of the Bible or the Constitution, is problematic: At one point, a commentator insisted that as a “CITIZEN” for whom the Constitution was written, he has a right to teach me the 2nd Amendment. I think he must be mistaking me for Piers Morgan.

As Natalie pointed out in private discussion: “No, he’s not the citizen for whom the Constitution was written unless he’s MUCH older than he claims. The Constitution was written pre- these sorts of weapons.”

Back in December, I read a New Yorker article about the fraught history of both 2nd Amendment interpretation and the NRA. As Jeffrey Toobin explains, “For more than a hundred years . . . according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.” Then, a powerful group of conservatives “pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms,” and ultimately won.

Toobin concludes, “Conservatives often embrace ‘originalism,’ the idea that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed when it was ratified, in 1787. They mock the so-called liberal idea of a ‘living’ constitution, whose meaning changes with the values of the country at large. But there is no better example of the living Constitution than the conservative re-casting of the Second Amendment in the last few decades of the twentieth century . . . In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.”

Recognizing historical/cultural context is important, as is the willingness to change when change is needed (see, again, point number 1).

(4) Higher education is desired, but also dismissed and scorned: Most of my conservative peers with young children will mention the college funds they’ve started for them while simultaneously dismissing and even ridiculing college instructors.

In this Facebook interaction, both the original poster and a commentator attacked my reading and argument, and then seemed particularly offended when I mentioned that I’ve been trained on a professional level to do both.

I’m no Constitutional scholar, so the 2nd Amendment isn’t my expertise — but critical thinking and language is. I don’t presume to know about accounting or nursing or any range of other professions. In fact, I often poke fun at my utter lack of knowledge in any field other than the one I practice.

My trade is words. I read them; I interpret them; I write them; I live them.

I caused quite the stir when I corrected a sarcastic remark addressed to “ms. Fisk” by saying “Dr. Fisk.” The original poster implied this was a “high horse” thing to say. But, after 10 years of higher education and a dissertation, I’ve earned my title.

(5) Facebook is sometimes like a return to high school: One of my more brilliant, entertaining Facebook friends (Jonathan Alexandratos: I’m looking at you) said the following after several people challenged one of my Facebook posts about gun control:

“I think I’m having flashbacks to, like, Middle School gym class! And I don’t want to be mean to anyone, naturally. (People this underemployed aren’t allowed to be mean.) But after a while it just sounds like the prison is telling me all the other wonderful uses for the electric chair. ‘Lots of us use it to cook eggs on!’ ‘It’s a stunning example of Bauhaus art…’ ‘Sometimes? It’s just a nice, warm place to sit.'”

I was indeed teased in middle/high school and never imagined that the teasing would continue by many of the same people (now in their 30s, for God’s sake) with the advent of social media sites like Facebook, but here we are. During the past few days, I’ve opened my news feed to thinly veiled references about needing a “Dr,” in quotation marks, for this or that.

Here are the differences, though, between Facebook and high school; and they’re important ones: First, I’m not bothered by the teasing, as I was in middle/high school. I’m transfixed by it at times; it’s a curiosity, for sure, to think of how little some people change with the passage of time, how easily they fall into the same habits.

Secondly, you may call it a “high horse,” if you will, but I prefer to think of it as being confident enough not to be demeaned and, instead, to assert both my worth (something I was too shy to do in high school) as well as the worth of others unfairly forgotten or ignored.

Some of these “others” are Sandy Hook parents whose testimonies in the gun control debate are given second fiddle to people like Bill Stevens, a Newton resident who channeled Charlton Heston in an address to Connecticut lawmakers. As a last word, the Facebook poster heretofore referenced tagged me when posting Stevens’s video, one entitled “Sandy Hook Father Owns Congress,” and commenting “Wow and Amen.”

Two things:

(1) To say “Amen,” to add a religious dimension to an argument against any additional gun control and in favor of the proliferation of military style assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and hollow point bullets (weapons of mass murder, if you will) is to blaspheme the “Prince of Peace” you claim to follow. I continue to be amazed that the very Facebook acquaintances who post devotionals and gospel songs on a near daily basis also post arguments that are so clearly a perversion of the life and example of Jesus.

(2)  Bill Stevens neither owned Congress, since he was not on Capital Hill, nor has a right to the title of “Sandy Hook father” solely because his daughter goes to another Newton school in the Sandy Hook district.

When I said as much, the poster corrected the former (the bit about Congress) but refused to correct the latter, saying, “He is from Newtown, daughter went to school a mile or so down the road . . . close enough to a Sandy Hook father to me!”

Saying that Stevens is a “Sandy Hook father” is a disservice to the actual Sandy Hook parents, like Veronique Pozner, speaking out for change. Veronique (mother of 6-year old victim Noah), also, was at this event. She insisted on seeing her son’s body, despite the fact that the coroner warned her against it (his jaw and left hand were mostly gone), and she insisted on both an open casket (with a cloth below Noah’s closed eyes) and on the governor seeing the body. She explained “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”

Neil Heslin (father of 6-year old victim Jesse), also, was at this event. He said, “I tried to think of a reason why we would need guns and weapons like that for hunting, and the only thing I could think of is maybe deer management . . . I ask that we ban those weapons and I ask that we look more into mental health, education and the people who have those weapons. There should be strict background checks.”

Bill Wheeler (father of 6-year old victim Benjamin), also, was at this event. He said, “Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard and casual. The liberty of any person to own a military assault weapon and high-capacity magazine and to keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life.”

Peter Paradis (father of 29-year old victim Rachel), also, was at this event. He said, “I am a gun owner; Rachel enjoyed shooting as well. We don’t need 30-round clips to kill a deer, we don’t need AR-style rifles to go target shooting. We need action.”

As Saki Knafo writes about this particular event, “As with the earlier hearing on gun violence, opinions were mixed on whether the legislature should pass stricter gun control measures, like a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines. But none of the speakers whose children died in the shooting opposed such measures, and some vehemently argued in favor of them.” Of all the Sandy Hook parents, Mark Mattioli (father of 6-year old victim James) focused more on mental health than gun control, although even he addressed the necessity of more strictly enforcing existing gun control laws (the NRA has weakened the regulatory ATF agency to the point that it can, at best, “recommend” gun sellers do such things as keep records and not sell to drunk people).

In short, there is a difference between Stevens’s designation as “Sandy Hook parent” and Veronique Pozner’s, et al, and I said as much. The poster’s response: “In your OPINION. I have my own opinion.”

No. That Pozner is a “Sandy Hook parent” and that Stevens is not is a matter of fact, not opinion. There is a body of a six-year old boy to prove it. To suggest that there is no difference is: at best, disingenuous; at worst, morally bankrupt; and, in either case, a very definitive third strike against the Facebook poster in this week’s debate.

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