[Edit: Since posting this, I have gained more clarity about the definition of “anti-intellectualism”, which is hostility specifically and directly toward intellectuals, education, and reason. It is not merely the rejection of reason, facts, and scientific knowledge in the context of some other issue. That said, gun control is not anti-intellectualism. The rejection of well-established but inconvenient truths is some other facet of human nature for which I do not have a term.]
We are suffering from many things in this nation, and one of the biggest is anti-intellectualism. It is a multi-faceted problem problem that I have been trying to grasp for some time. After the latest mass shooting and the current onslaught of gun control rhetoric, it has occurred to me that gun control is one of the left-wing’s afflictions of anti-intellectualism.
(This is not intended as a complete essay, but part of my thought investigation into anti-intellectualism. In context, I view anti-intellectualism and antiscience as tools to influence voters and consumers. Though there is a common perception that such thinking is primarily limited to conservative politics, liberals have a substantial list of their own pet dogmas.)
False statements. Misleading statements. Misrepresentations of data. Appeals to emotion and rejection of logic. This is the usual gun control rhetoric.
I have a friend who likes to debate. Indeed, he has a philosophy degree (from Russia, no less) and is formally educated in logic. He and I have occasionally tried to discuss the topic of gun control. I was astonished at his reaction. He actively and consistently refused to consider the evidence. (He ignored me when I accused him of confirmation bias, a topic we’ve often discussed.) When pressed, he asked me, “Where is the data that supports the gun control advocates?” I thought for a minute, and I couldn’t think of any. (This was before Everytown began compiling their dubious lists of shooting incidents.) I tried to explain this to him. They don’t have any data. All they have are misrepresentations of data. I tried to explain to him, but he didn’t believe me. Instead, he accused me of confirmation bias. “They must have data supporting their position,” he insisted. However, he was wrong. I still haven’t found any.
(If you are a gun control advocate, you are undoubtedly thinking, “Oh, yeah? Well, what about [insert assertion of fact here]?” Believe me: whatever you’ve heard is easily unraveled. If you doubt this, I would love to have a conversation with you. However, that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now.)
The only way to hold a position advocating gun control is to ignore the facts or to actively misrepresent them.
I understand why politicians do this. Politicians at both ends of the spectrum use gun control as an emotional hot button to mobilize their voting base. Republicans stir up fear about losing their gun rights, and more conservative voters show up at the polls. The NRA assists them with this. Democrats stir up fear about mass shootings and school shootings, and more liberal voters show up a the polls. The media assists them with this. It has become an arms race (no pun intended), and both sides must do this to keep up with the other side.
What I need to understand is why people do this.
Obviously, a lot of people approach both sides of the idea primarily from an emotional standpoint. Gun control advocates are afraid of guns. Gun proponents are afraid of criminals (and tyranny).
But why don’t people eventually succumb to reason?
Maybe it’s a chicken and egg problem. Politicians and the media reinforce existing biases and confuse the facts. Confirmation bias on both sides. But how did the cycle begin?
Maybe I should be looking at the problem from the opposite side. Instead of wondering why people abandon reason, I should ask myself when people actually rely on reason. How often are matters of public opinion actually informed by facts and science? Are they ever? Or is it really just a matter of coincidence? Some scientific outcomes match the public’s preconceived beliefs and some contradict the public’s beliefs. When they agree, the public pats itself on the back and congratulates itself for its scientific ideals. When they disagree, the science is buried. When the public is of two minds, the science is bandied about by some and criticized and ridiculed by others.
So in that sense, science and logic do not significantly influence public opinion. Are there cases when it has? Perhaps I should look for those and examine those, examine how a matter of science became a matter of popular belief. What circumstances made that possible?