On those rare occasions when the subject of any restrictions on guns is raised in the Virginia media, the words are carefully chosen. The media uses words that stop short of causing the reader to ask whether something is wrong with his or her reasoning; wrong with his or her values as these values relate to violence and the use of firearms. The words, in and of themselves, often mask rather than shed light on the truth. The words miss an opportunity to raise in the reader’s mind the fact that he or she needs to rethink a flawed bias. The deceitful aspect of this word parsing is that it gives the reader a false sense of security and confidence in a terribly flawed line of reasoning. The media’s words tend to obscure the truth, rather than expose an insidious line of illogical thinking.
Indeed, when it comes to guns, logic collides with bias and emotions—logic loses. This fact has always puzzled me. Morgan Jones in his book, The Thinkers’ Toolkit, points out that “most (humans) earn a failing grade in elementary logic… We’re not just frequently incompetent (in thinking logically), we’re also willfully and skillfully illogical.
Jones’ book adds that “compelling research on cognitive psychology has shown that we are logical only in a superficial sense; at a deeper level we are systematically illogical and biased.” I would go a step further, we not only prefer the emotional gratification of our biases, but many humans are anti-intellectual to the point of being intellectually dishonest and in some cases, paranoid. In fact, the paranoia of some is frightening. This element of society advocates unrestricted access to weapons—even if it means giving the mentally ill and unstable—the right to bear arms. And, when this paranoia reaches into the pulpit, it is even more alarming. I want to ask—would Jesus have carried a gun?
The bias that prevents laws restricting unstable and dangerous individuals from owning guns is in fact, a bias on the part of individuals who are either unwilling or unsuited for dealing with the real world. This bias has prevented laws being considered, much less passed that would block individuals with ties to or sympathy for terrorist groups from buying weapons.
There is only one way to change a flawed bias once it has taken root, and that is through exposing ourselves to new information and objectively weighing that evidence against our mindset. If we have only half-truths and fragmentary evidence, and are not exposed to all sides of the argument, we come up with conclusions that make us feel comfortable in our prejudice, but we are woefully lacking in all other aspects of reason and logic. We fall prey to sound bites and clever playing with words. The sad truth is that most of us accept sugarcoated words in order to avoid truth, in order to avoid reality.
The choice of words—the need to be ethical in what you say and write, and the need for accuracy—recently came up in a course I was teaching, an analytical writing course for a member of the Intelligence Community. To my dismay, one young intelligence analyst (a lawyer) said that in official publications, she could not use the word “genocide” in describing the widespread killings in Bosnia. The reason given was international law. To write and call the execution of thousands of innocent civilians “genocide” in official U.S. publications would trigger some aspect of a UN resolution. She explained that under international law, if the term “genocide’ is used, the UN and its member states must take action to stop it. I have no problem with that. Isn’t that why we signed the treaty?
Furthermore, members of the Intelligence Community give their analysis to policymakers; they do not set or make policy. Anytime you prevent members of the Intelligence Community from using the correct word to describe a situation or a problem, you do a disservice to not only our elected officials, but also the American public.
Instead, the U.S. government, and the news media called what was happening in Bosnia “ethnic cleansing”—never mind that there are examples in history of “ethnic cleansing”—where groups of people are forcibly moved from one area to another without anyone losing his or her life. This too was “ethnic cleansing.” This lack of precision in language describing an atrocity undercuts the whole idea of getting at the truth. Yet, this type of word game is what the lawyers are forcing on us—whether it involves the murder of Angela Dales at the Appalachian School of Law, the Virginia Tech killings, or the mass murder of thousands of Muslims in Bosnia. (To be continued)