So far it is an inchoate shift in attitudes, rather than a consolidated united front movement, but it's going to get there at some point in the near future. The near-term goal should be to highlight the commonalities across the new attitudes, and to band together politically to achieve all of them as part of a single new movement to regulate chaos in order to prevent societal destruction.
That would reverse the reigning orthodoxy, akin to Social Darwinism, of letting anyone do anything and hoping that the optimal outcome (for individuals or for society) will result from unfettered behavior.
In this post we'll be focusing on social-cultural issues, even though there is a similar shift on more economic issues (banks, social media companies, immigration, inequality, etc.). This is like a new Temperance movement, which is running in parallel with a new Progressive economic movement -- just like they paired with each other during the last struggle to overturn a laissez-faire Gilded Age.
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As revealed by a new poll from Fox News, the rearguard Conservative Movement (TM) has failed to win the argument on gun regulation.
Put aside particular items like banning assault weapons or requiring background checks, and look at which general goal is more important -- protecting the right of citizens to own guns, or protecting citizens from gun violence? A bit over 50% say protection from gun violence, a bit over 40% say protecting gun rights, and under 10% are undecided.
Those figures do not depend on class or age / generation. Men, whites, and Independents are split evenly, when they should have been decisively in favor of gun rights, to balance the expected anti-gun views of women, non-whites, and Democrats.
Gun nuts have only focused on preserving their hardcore libertarian base -- gun owners, Republicans, white Evangelicals -- and alienated the middle enough to make them 50-50 allies at best. Like all extremist interest groups, the gun nuts will either not accept those numbers as true, or they will dismiss their relevance and refuse to try to win back the middle.
They will shrink even further into their echo chamber, ramp up their already high level of anti-social paranoia regarding gun-grabbers advancing toward them in a great big confiscation apocalypse event -- which would now seem to be confirmed by how ambivalent the average American, not just the typical liberal Democrat, has come to feel about their cause.
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As the extremists retreat further from attempts to reach out and make deals, the opportunity arises for those who are not rabidly pro-gun or anti-gun to strike grand compromises. As detailed in an earlier post, I don't see these being compromises on a particular issue, with endless haggling over the precise kind and degree of regulation on firearms. Rather, the side screaming for more gun regulation will more or less get their way -- in exchange for giving up to the other side on some separate issue, where there will be much greater regulation, for example on immigration (regulated downward).
Trading more gun control for more immigration control may seem a bit too random of a pairing, though. So perhaps the trade should be one form of harm-based regulation for another. Liberals are rabidly anti-assault rifle, but also rabidly (as it were) pro-pitbull. Conservatives (distinct from libertarians) are pro-gun and anti-pitbull. In a stylized trade, both sides would agree to remove assault rifles from the population of firearms, and to remove pitbulls from the population of dogs.
If the conservatives felt like pitbulls were not enough to make the trade worth it, make it violent criminals instead. If the goal is to reduce the threat of violence, remove both assault rifles and violent felons -- not by killing them off, just keeping them locked up instead of turning them loose back onto the general public to commit further violence.
Or conservatives could push for a trade related to preventing harm -- preventing pollution, degradation, and other forms of degeneracy. In exchange for banning assault weapons, both sides agree to ban red light district activities like strip clubs or legal marijuana shops.
Liberals have their own puritanical views on food and drink, so maybe there could be another trade within the framework of preventing pollution -- the Right gets a (figurative) war on drugs, while the Left gets a war on sugar. Both sides would be spared the sight of people who viscerally disgust them -- junkies for the Right, fatties for the Left.
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These have mostly been material things that could be subject to bans, but there are also informational media that could be subject to regulation in the social interest. During the golden age of the 1950s, government censors prevented all sorts of "bad influences" from showing up in comic books, movies, and music -- today that would have to extend to internet media and video games.
Pin-up posters were fine, but hardcore pornography was illegal. Alcohol was OK, but not marijuana. Violence in movies was fine in moderation, but not gore. Sexual innuendo was allowed in pop music lyrics, but not graphic descriptions. Certain profane words could not be said on TV, radio, etc.
Those were all aspects of mass media that conservatives wouldn't mind seeing a return of.
On the other hand, right-wingers were not allowed to use their own taboo words, and had to make arguments with terms that were not socially offensive per se. Whatever they said privately, in the mass media for public consumption, they said "negro" rather than "nigger," "fairy" rather than "faggot," "tramp / hussy" rather than "slut / whore," and so on and so forth.
Again, in private situations they could say taboo words, or make taboo gestures like the middle finger or jerking off. But in a social and public space like the mass media, these were not allowed.
Would conservatives be willing to bring back "words you can't say" in the media, including those that free speech / libertarian right-wingers might prefer to use themselves, in exchange for bringing back "images you can't show" in the media?
Liberals are more abstract and verbal, and are more sensitive to offensive words, while conservatives are more corporeal and visual, and are more sensitive to offensive sights.
The danger of censorship, on the verbal side, is going beyond regulating isolated words to entire ideas regardless of which specific words are used to express them. On the visual side, the danger is going beyond regulating discrete images to entire scenes or events regardless of which images are used to convey the gist of who did what to whom (e.g., banning all scenes that convey sexual behavior having taken place, rather than just hardcore pornography).
So the compromise in regulating the media would likely be restricted to the discrete items, rather than broad bans on ideas or scenes.
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The main laissez-faire objection to these bans is that they won't be effective -- you can't make bad things go away just by passing laws against them.
First, they certainly do reduce the level of bad things, and that's what we're looking for.
But more importantly, the effectiveness of these public campaigns to "ban X" does not only come from the direct results of the ban. It comes also from the change in norms that is signaled by the broadly popular, publicly supported, and lobbied-for ban.
When drugs and porn are banned, people get the idea that substance-based and sexual degeneracy are socially "out," so they start dialing down their inclination toward degeneracy, lest they be perceived as deviants and treated as pariahs by others.
The ban is like a social pressure -- threatening ostracism if others do not adhere to the new norms that are signaled by the ban. Without a highly visible norm that everyone knows is there, how can violations of it be policed (somewhat by law enforcement, but really by your fellow citizens)?
Perhaps a tacit norm is fine for policing an enduring problem, but then when a new problem emerges, there may need to be an overt concerted effort to signal a norm against it. That will be more likely when technology is the driver -- promiscuity is an old enduring problem that everyone understands needs to be policed, whereas hardcore porn videos streamed into an internet-capable device are new, and require a more overt regulation. Ditto for assault rifles or hand grenades, as compared to earlier weapons.
That's how it worked to drive tobacco consumption, and cigarettes especially, out of the public sphere. The government could raise taxes and limit access to cigarettes all they want, and it would make a decent dent alone -- but reinforced by the greater social pressure that the restrictions had signaled, they all but wiped out cigarette smoking within a single generation.
Banning high-carb food and drink, banning porn, banning assault rifles, banning pitbulls -- all would unfold the same way as in the war on cigarettes. Some direct effect, backed up by an even more powerful social pressure.
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These problems are not going away, and the dam has already begun to break on the laissez-faire morality of the last 40 years. Hardcore libertarians on any issue -- allow all guns, allow all porn, allow unlimited pot, allow unlimited sugar, etc. -- are losing the argument, and have begun to grate on the average person's nerves, especially when they attempt to give an overarching framework to justify their views. It boils down to embracing chaotic destruction-creation, and Social Darwinism will improve society by separating the strong from the weak.
We see where unregulated chaos and Social Darwinism has gotten us, and we don't like what we see, unless we're Boomers who have been shielded from the consequences of their decisions since they were babies.
"I don't know how to define dystopia -- but I know it when I see it."
Now is the time for striking grand bargains on regulating these social-cultural issues, not doubling down on all-or-nothing partisanship.