Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hold on to your sanity

In reading the comments about gun rights, gun control, whatever you choose to call the current furious national debate about the place of firearms in our society, I've been struck by the passion of some of the rhetoric.

Okay, "passion" is a deliberately kind word; "frenzy" comes closer to the impression I've gotten. And to be fair, there are some on the control side of the ledger who are just as irrational in their hatred of gun owners and gun advocates as some gun advocates are in their paranoia that the government is coming after their weapons. No false equivalency is intended: I've read a lot more from paranoid gun advocates than from frightened and clueless would-be gun banners. The nuttiness isn't one-sided, is all I'm saying.

I firmly believe most Americans — and by "most" I'm not talking the thin majority that Obama eked out to win his second term, I'm talking more like 75 or 80 percent — are relatively sane on this issue. We might not all agree on the specifics of whatever proposals the president and Congress eventually debate, but we're going to agree on some common-sense measures like universal background checks and reducing magazine capacities. We might even start to repair the shamefully inadequate mental health care system as a bonus. (I'm not holding out much hope on that score, but it's not like anybody's happy with the non-system we've got now.)

The thing is, the wing nuts in this country have altogether too much power to take over the discourse. It's not just on the firearms debate: it's on any debate about public policy. There are conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs everywhere, and they think somebody is out to silence them so they shout as loudly and as much as they can.

What the wing nuts say is, at first blush, crazy. It violates what you know to be common sense. The thing is, if you hear something often enough, no matter how bizarre, it stops sounding bizarre. It loses its shock value. If it goes on long enough, it might even become The New Normal.

A new normal is not always bad. Greater acceptance of ethnic minorities, for instance, is a good new normal, as far as I'm concerned.

But what a lot of wing nuts spout these days isn't about greater tolerance and understanding. It's not a positive message about how to make the world better. Rather, much wing nut rhetoric tries to foster a greater sense of embattlement and crisis. It's all about fear.

The First Amendment forbids us from muzzling wing nuts. Allowing screwy ideas is the price we pay for allowing a lot of good ones, and it's a small price — generally.

But as with healthful eating, you have to be careful about your diet of ideas. You keep guzzling wing nut ideas, you're going to lose your own sanity and balance after a while. Random nuttiness creeps in everywhere, of course. But these days, it's pretty easy to suss out whether a given source of information is heavily biased toward Teh Crazy or not. If it is, stop listening to it. Stop calling attention to it. Stop letting it be an influence in your life.

Don't let Teh Crazy take over. Don't let somebody batter you into paranoia. Hold on to your sanity. It's an increasingly precious resource.

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