The minister at my local Unitarian Universalist church said in a sermon that left-leaning folks should stop calling gun-rights advocates names such as “gun nut” and “moron.” She said that it sure is tempting to insult them, but it’s counter-productive.
Her words got me thinking.
After the sermon, I asked her about it. I said, during the civil rights movement of the 60s, didn’t protesters call their opponents names like “racist” and “bigot”? She said that during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s progress came from non-violent protest, not from name calling. Check your history, she said.
I discussed this issue with friends. One friend said, “I think name-calling is absurd unless your intention is to piss someone off. I think pissing someone off is absurd unless your intention is to escalate a conflict. I am a big fan of nonviolence.”
Another friend said
She’s right about the name calling being not productive. Still, when someone is stockpiling weapons to prepare for some apocalyptic event, or defend themselves against government tyranny or the UN, it’s kind of hard to pretend they are rational people with a legitimate point of view. I usually refer to them as “gun fetishists”, “paranoid”, and “delusional”. Sigh, I guess I will try to stick with terms like “gun enthusiasts” and “survivalists”.
Yet another friend said we should take the term “gun nut” seriously and treat these people as if they have a mental illness. We shouldn’t provoke them by calling them names. I responded, “Good idea! Let’s visibly and vocally treat them as deranged. That’ll really annoy them and make them look ridiculous. We can write condescending articles.”
Finally, Bill Moyer warned me that name-calling can backfire and generate sympathy for the target.
Is the minister correct about history of the civil rights movement? Are the minister and my friends correct about name calling being counter-productive? Moreover, are gun nuts really nuts?
Let’s start with the last question.
The psychology of gun obession
Are gun enthusiasts REALLY mentally deranged? It depends on which ones we’re talking about. Some gun owners are just hobbyists.
Who are the gun nuts? I’m referring to gun enthusiasts who collect weapons and who oppose restrictions on assault rifles, waiting periods, and ammunition. I’m referring to gun enthusiasts who imagine waging war against the US military. I’m referring to gun enthusiasts who treat the Second Amendment as if it’s foundational to our freedoms and a justification for easy access to assault-style weapons.
Back now to my question. Are gun nuts REALLY deranged? Well, are skinheads or the Taliban deranged? I rather think they’re just wrong-headed. They’re caught up in a toxic ideology. They may be somewhat paranoid and aggressive. I doubt that most of them are paranoid schizophrenic. Is the psychology of political zealotry akin to the psychology of religious extremism? Such extremism is different from individual psychosis. I bet, though, it shares some features.
I’ve heard gun nuts called gundamentalists. The name is apt, because to outsiders their obsessive devotion to an unreasonable ideology seems odd and extreme.
A psychologist friend said that gun obsession is “more likely a mood or anxiety disorder than a thought disorder like schizophrenia.”
There’s a huge range of ways that people can be stupid or mad, especially in crowds.
The best analysis of the psychology of gun enthusiasts I know of is by Peter Michaelson. In The Psychology Behind Mass Shootings, Michaelson describes the paranoia and violence of mass murderers. His description gives insight into the psychology of gun fetishes.
Negative emotions accumulate inside them, producing bitterness, anger, despair, and, finally, rage. Their rage, even when hidden from others, produces a third-rate sense of power that covers up their emotional entanglement in hopelessness and passivity. They crave power because they feel so powerless, yet in their dark negativity they can express only negative, destructive power. They seek death because they feel so powerfully overwhelmed by life.
Because their weak self-regulation compels them to continually recycle negative emotions, they hold on to grudges. These grudges and grievances accumulate in them, giving them a feeling of substance, a place of being to which they cling in the chaos of their inner conflict.
In a later, even more incisive analysis, The Double Barrels of Gun Mania, Michaelson says that guns “provide two psychological defenses–the double barrels of self-defeat–that make their ownership so desirable. One barrel discharges the illusion of safety and the other the illusion of power. Why do so many gun owners grasp at these illusions or inner defenses?” He goes on
Such gun enthusiasts are unconsciously determined to validate their inner fears. Rather than resolve the inner conflict that produces their fears, they make them seem legitimate by emphasizing emotionally the dangers and menace that might exist in their towns, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
Guns don’t represent true power. If America were taken over by an immoral force–a financial elite, for instance, that bought off and corrupted our politicians–gun enthusiasts would be standing around casually, blithely ignorant of non-violent dangers, fondling their weapons only for the defense of their self-image.
Hold onto that image of gun lovers fondling their guns. Michaelson concludes:
This nation’s preoccupation with guns is not so much fear-based as passivity-based. We don’t connect well enough with our better self and the higher values of integrity, courage, wisdom, and compassion. On an inner level, many people allow their inner critic to be the master of their personality and to pass judgment on their worthiness. Inwardly, they’re emotionally weak and defensive, familiar with feeling helpless and overwhelmed, yet desperate to exhibit some pretense of assurance and power.
This is neurosis, not mental illness. A neurotic person is prone to being negative, defensive, fearful, anxious, and reactionary. Too many gun advocates are seeing the world through their neurosis. In many families, it’s often the most dysfunctional or neurotic individuals who set the tone for the family and hold sway over it. Only determined intervention by healthier members of the family can save the situation. The American family needs our intervention in many areas of national life, beginning with the enactment and enforcement of wise gun regulation.
Another consideration is the insanity defense: if we said that gun nuts really are insane, we’d presumably have to resolve them of responsibility for the ill effects of their obsessions. But I don’t think we want to take that step. Gun nuts need to be held accountability for the irrationality and harmfulness of their obsessive devotion to guns.
On bad ass name-calling
So, since gun nuts are just neurotic blockheads, they’re fair game for name-calling. But if they were truly deranged (psychotic) then, yes, we should medicate and hospitalize them. The problem is that there’s a huge range in the middle.
In general, I think we progressives emasculate ourselves and fail to take advantage when we have a leg-up on a situation. We’re inappropriately passive, in view of the viciousness of our political enemies.
Consider how effectively right wingers eviscerated liberals like Mike Dukakis and Jimmy Carter, and how they Swift-Boated John Kerry.
Consider how Rush Limbaugh successfully badmouthed liberals to the point that we now call ourselves “progressives.”
And it was all based on lies and distortions. We’re correct about these gun nuts, and yet we’re still are hesitant to call a spade a spade — or a nut a nut.
Why is it that conservatives’ criticisms, slanders, and insults stick, but when we go on the attack, our words bounce off or revert back onto us? Their arrows hit the mark. Ours bounce off. They win, we lose.
Consider how much damage our ideological opponents did to the nation and the world.
They start senseless wars, sell off the US Treasury to crooks, threaten the world ecosystem, enable massacre of helpless children, turn the country into a police state — and we’re not allowed to call them names, because we might hurt their feelings?
In 2008, when Bush and the Republicans were at the nadir of their popularity, it seemed possible that the Republican Party and their crazy, destructive ideologies would be out of favor for years to come. Instead, Obama’s bipartisanship helped revive them, and the Tea Party went on to win the 2010 midterm elections. What a disaster!
We progressives need to get some balls! We need to stand up for ourselves, not in a paranoid way, but in a self-assertive realistic way.
I’m not calling on us to attack our opponents with violence and guns. I’m calling on us to loudly and clearly speak truth to power and violence. There’s a risk that we’ll demonize them and become oppressors ourselves. But there’s also a risk that we fail, due to passivity, to stand up for what’s good and reasonable.
I’m also not calling on us to just use name calling. To be effective, you have to first present a reasoned argument why someone’s ideas are bad or silly. Then, if they persist in holding them and if the ideas are harmful, call them names. We call someone who’s very smart “a genius.” We call someone who’s very dumb “stupid.” Why not use the label if it fits?
Gun nuts’ paranoia and unreasonableness threaten our safety. They are allied with some pretty unsavory people — gun manufacturers, for example.
Let’s everybody carry a gun — to work, to school, and to shopping — then we’ll all be safer, right?
Right wing policies threaten our economic and environmental well-being and the safety of people throughout the world.
The Canberra Times published a copyrighted cartoon by Pope showing gun lovers in a playground taking care of their guns as if they were children. “You don’t realize how precious they are ’til someone tries to take them away…” one guys says as he cuddles his gun in a blanket.
See this link for more images about gun nuts and their stupidities.
I bet gun nuts sleep with their guns. They fondle their guns and make love to the barrels with their tiny dicks. lol. No wonder they’re called “gun lovers.” He he he he! See this video by Bill Maher for some more ridicule of gun nuts: The Home of the Brave. Guns seem to be phallic fetishes that compensate for inner weakness and rage. As Bill Maher says, both gun nuts and the Pentagon have too many guns and want even more. The obsession with violence, militarism and guns seems endemic to America’s ideology of exceptionalism and aggressive individualism.
We need a multi-pronged attack on conservatives, utilizing almost all weapons in our arsenal, including logic, shaming, humor and insult, but excluding violence and guns. The aim is to repudiate their ideas in the marketplace of public opinion and to “disarm” them by showing that their ideologies are based on unhealthy emotions and attitudes.
I plan to do more research about topics brought up in this article.
There are actually significant, interesting issues here, about the psychology of mass movements, mechanisms of political change, and methods of marketing and propaganda.
Addendum: I’ve been looking for articles concerning the topic of political name calling. Despite the promising name Does Name-Calling Politics Improve Your Argument? doesn’t give useful arguments, in my opinion.