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With Second Amendment Dead, We Need CHARACTER Assassination

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Don't get me wrong; I'm NOT asking any good, red-blooded Americans to turn in their guns. With modern governments banking so many effective tools of tyranny, anything serving as a check on that daily compounding despotism is a major asset in "We the people's" ever-eroding balance sheet. In fact, it's quite revealing to hear Obama, a trained Constitutional lawyer, discuss the Second Amendment in terms of hunting and self-defense while strangely omitting the ONLY rationale for a right to bear arms--tyranny-fighting militias--our Founders put there. I'd bet a CEO's golden parachute that Obama's deficient knowledge of Constitutional law ISN'T the problem here.  

(Whoever's wrong on this bet obviously can't afford to pay. The loser should just pony up for a few "rounds.")

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Irresponsibly, I digress. While the thought of organizing effective militias in an all-pervasive surveillance state armed with nukes and drones may indeed merit ridicule, the high civilized art of character assassination is NO laughing matter. In fact, what may be the least forgivable vice in a small, neighborly community is arguably the highest civic virtue when facing a gaggle of irresponsible, bought-off elected officials hell-bent on destroying civilization and trampling underfoot all legitimate dissent while they do it. We should feel NO moral qualms about assassinating character when the "character" in question is largely a product of televised propaganda and when those feigning true character are those in whom our world most requires "the real deal"--elected officials, in other words, who've been literally entrusted with the fate of civilization.

See, history DOES repeat itself, but sometimes it takes a deeply trained instinct for what's perennial (usually fostered by a solid liberal arts education) to peg the enduring pattern in the ever-changing weave. Never is this statement truer than in an age of advanced technocracy, when the latest vision of the technorati--hardly always for the better--revolutionizes our landscape daily. But modern technology--above all, communications technology--has created one safeguard that's a potential potent cure for many of its own vices: its ability to create global community. Not that such community is an acceptable substitute for face-to-face intimacy human beings must always find in fleshy "meatspace," but the cyberspace version of "presence" does have distinct, unprecedented advantages as a POLITICAL force multiplier. But to deploy these political cyber tools most effectively, one must combine them with a crude but perennially effective communal weapon forged long before hunter-gatherers huddled round fires in caves. I refer to the devastating moral control weapon of gossip.

Gossip more powerful than guns? Where did I ever get such a half-cocked idea? Among other sources, from psychologist Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, a brilliant but highly accessible political book most Americans--especially rabid partisans--should deeply take to heart. But here, I'm not concerned with Haidt's piquant diagnosis of our political ills, but with his illuminating discussion of the role such "control mechanisms" as gossip, shaming, and shunning have always played in creating livable human societies. See, despite sharing every organism's innate disposition to self-preservation and self-seeking--and hence, to moral "cheating" when not under others' close scrutiny (a bent clearly evident in politicians)--we humans have also evolved spontaneous feelings of guilt and shame that suit us to live (and thrive) in communities. So important are these feelings as part of humans' evolved mental equipment that we regard people who lack them (even if they compensate by considerable charm and social slickness) as somehow deficient, diseased, and ill-suited for the best things human life has to offer. We speak of them as "sociopaths" and "psychopaths." Unfortunately, a certain number of these, craving power as an ideal outlet for their unchecked predatory selfishness, gravitate toward politics.

Now, I seriously doubt most of our politicians are psychopaths or sociopaths, but I do suspect that today's dysfunctional U.S. government, largely a self-serving tool for the predatory "1%," attracts more of these conscience-challenged misfits than a healthier political regime ever would. So, in a majority of cases, even now, some widespread gossip and public shaming will prove painful enough to the relevant politicians to offer an effective means of behavioral control. This is precisely why our First Amendment provides for freedom of speech and assembly, a free press, and a right to redress of grievances; we get to give our leaders feedback, and to dress them down when we're seriously peeved. That's exactly why, as our government grows more tyrannical, outraged protesters are herded more and more into "free speech zones" where they won't be heard, and where a corporate-owned mainstream press won't report their outrage. Or will report it, but only in a snarky, dismissive manner. In this way, politicians who ARE capable of shame hear only the flattering drivel of 1%ers' lobbyists and ever more rarely the scathing moral outrage of the sorely abused majority.

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Before sighting my main point--the present superiority of gossip to guns--squarely in my crosshairs, I need to stress the effectiveness of shaming gossip even against our political psychopaths. Granted, they may feel no shame or guilt themselves, but they do need the widespread good opinion of others to function in a world where moral considerations DO move the vast majority. To win elections, say. And this is precisely where the power of modern communications technologies (above all, the Internet and alternative media) to spread unfavorable gossip--to propagate "malicious memes"--can potentially annihilate the power-serving laudatory blather we hear from the mainstream press.

So when I declare the Second Amendment "dead," I by no means question the usefulness of guns as last-resort backup, nor deny the recent, rather dubious triumphs of the NRA. Rather, I'm adopting the standpoint of modern-war pacifism--for armed resistance against our admittedly tyrannical government amounts to civil war--and asking whether the hideous destruction of modern war should be risked without exhausting ALL other means first. Relentless character assassination brought down the apparently omnipotent Boss Tweed, so we, assisted by modern media, should consider making it our weapon of choice.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he actively seeks (more...)
 

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