Thursday, November 24, 2022

Where I Got The Question

I recently wrote that, when evaluating candidates for elected office, I only need them to answer a single question. It's not that I'm a single-issue voter, it's that a single issue correlates reliably with the other issues that I care about. (Reminder: candidates who are pro-choice swing my way on the other issues, while anti-choice candidates don't.)

To give credit where it is due, I connived the Just Tell Me This approach to political assessments from the writing of mediocre science fiction author L. Neil Smith. He was a lunatic about a single issue: guns. Here's his take:

If a politician isn’t perfectly comfortable with the idea of his average constituent, any man, woman, or responsible child, walking into a hardware store and paying cash — for any rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything — without producing ID or signing one scrap of paper, he isn’t your friend no matter what he tells you.

If he isn’t genuinely enthusiastic about his average constituent stuffing that weapon into a purse or pocket or tucking it under a coat and walking home without asking anybody’s permission, he’s a four-flusher, no matter what he claims.

What his attitude — toward your ownership and use of weapons — conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn’t trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?

Um, Mr. Smith? Since you trust everyone, why do you carry a gun?

Asking dead people questions is pointless and, really, kind of unfair. So let's put that one aside. The answer doesn't matter anyway because, of course, it is based on a false premise: Smith didn't trust everyone. That means his comparison of the voter to the politician is a classic example of the false equivalence. Smith asserts the voter should be given the unreviewable right to acquire deadly power over everyone around him, while ignoring the fact that the politician is asking for the consent of those over which he seeks to wield power. Smith's voter just buys power, while Smith's politician needs the voter's permission to get it.

It's a false equivalence to say the voter is being asked to trust the politician while the politician refuses to trust the voter, because the politician is presenting themself to the voter for the voter's evaluation. The politician has no access at all to power over the voter, unless and until the voter (and at least another 50% of the rest of the voters) finds the politician fit to have that power. A true equivalence would have the voter willing to condition their access to deadly power on the same review: are they fit to have it?

Returning, briefly, to the question I set aside: there is a difference between trusting one person and trusting everyone. Maybe Smith even knew that, as he referred to the "average constituent" being armed, rather than the outliers. Average folks don't commit mass murder. Outliers do that. So, sure, anyone who can show they are fit to have a gun, should be able to have a gun. Those who can't show it shouldn't have one.

I suppose Smith may have thought letting someone unfit to have a gun, have a gun, was still okay, since he may have been a quick-draw artist or something. But note that even Smith couldn't quite bring himself to say truly "everyone" should have a gun, because he qualified "child" with "responsible," which opens a can of worms Smith just ignored. For example, if he didn't think an irresponsible child should have a gun, was he okay with irresponsible adults having them? Again, was that because Smith thought he could shoot the irresponsible adults before the irresponsible adults shot Smith? I don't know. I just know I don't trust everyone, and neither did he or else, again, why did he want a gun?

Don't be a victim of a false equivalence. Smith didn't trust everyone, nor does any candidate for office. Nor do I. You don't either, I'd wager. Candidates must prove they're fit to hold power over others before they get any. Seems only reasonable that the rest of us ought to be held to that standard too.

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