We all probably know someone in our lives that is an emotional thinker. How they “feel” is more important than facts. Critical thinking is subordinate to emotions in these people. Decisions are often made in a way that resolves internal, emotional conflicts by deflecting the pain. There are two main types of emotional hoplopaths; the traumatized and the irrational. The traumatized exhibit psychological damage, locking their reasoning up. The irrational have little or no ability (or desire) to think critically. Both are often guilty of ignoring evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
These emotional thinkers are not able to properly deal with their emotions. Those of lower intelligence will react impulsively, often out of anger or overwhelming sadness. These irrational individuals cannot use reason to reconcile how they feel with how they interact with guns. Traumatized and higher intelligence persons use perverted logic to come to a false conclusion; that is a negligent discharge was not caused by the shooter, but because the gun was faulty.
The average emotionally driven person will engage in activism to resolve inner feelings on guns and violence. “If I go to this anti-gun rally, it will make me feel better when I think about gun violence.” That’s a choice that isn’t made with much thought; the decision to join the cause is made reflexively as the unconscious motion to scratch an itch. Emotion calls for an action that will resolve the internal conflict; not necessarily solve the problem.
The emotional hoplopath’s dislike of guns can be emotional, based on personal experience or simply opinion. It can also be based out of ignorance (again, there is always considerable overlap), such as they have no experience with guns and are conscious largely only on the negative aspects of firearms. They have “knowledge” of firearms that is not a constructive or especially factual knowledge, but based on their experiences, direct or inferred. These would be the folks horrified by media reports of gun crimes.
An emotional hoplophobe may have experienced tragedy involving guns or may have been traumatized at a young age. The emotional generally have been so conditioned by living in, for instance, a violent, gang infested neighborhood, that their perception has been entirely altered. Some have undergone mental changes due to the effects serious psychological trauma. The thought skills to rationally think about guns are there, but the emotional aspect prevents them from using those tools. The conditioning aspect of constant exposure to negativity is difficult to overcome from without and least likely to be altered by positive reinforcement.
The emotional aversion usually results in hate and activism, while ignorance typically is limited to only expressing one’s opinion. Lacking awareness of their own emotions or the control that emotion has is another major difference between ignorance and emotional aversions. Emotional types are rather like egocentric individuals trying to be introspective; thoughts critical to their established beliefs make them uncomfortable, so deep thought is avoided.
An example is a man who lost his son in a gang murder; rather than blame his son’s membership in a gang, blames easy access to guns. Personal responsibility for violence (or avoiding it) causes an intense conflict when the person or a loved one is to blame, or at least contributed, for the trauma. No one wants to be at fault for their problems, nor do they wish to besmirch the memory of a loved one. Trying to ban guns is an easier task (and requires less painful emotional introspection) than addressing the root causes of crime. Admitting that someone had a drug, temper, or gang problem requires an acceptance of personal blame that must be avoided to preserve the person’s ego.
Likewise, blaming an individual group for its contribution to violence is also unacceptable to many. African-Americans are statistically the most homicidal race in America and account for the majority of violence. Poverty, gangs, and drugs are endemic among lower-class blacks and all contribute to crime and victimization in that community. Yet admitting that the black community has a problem with those things is a de facto accusation against the community. Though it is true that drug abuse and gang violence is out of control in black America, anyone who points out that factor is labeled a racist. Instead of trying to eliminate the roots of black drug use, poverty, and gang membership, it is more politically correct for lawmakers to target guns in the quest for ending inner city violence.
Lawmakers look at problems and provide a solution using the tools at their disposal; legislation. Often, the actual solution is beyond the control of a legislator. They cannot control how aggressively police and prosecutors combat crime using the laws at their disposal. They cannot control social factors that influence the individual’s decision to engage in criminal behavior. But by writing a law, effective or not, it satisfies their emotional drive to “do something.” It is the classic problem of “when the your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” When the new law proves effective, another one is called for, promising to be the next cure.
To change emotional thinking, we have to identify the thought processes that lead to the emotional decision. Identification of what’s really going on inside the mind allows for the formulation of effective strategies to challenge the emotional thought process. For instance, someone who based their opinion on gang murders from the evening news may have their mind changed by regularly seeing stories about successful defensive gun uses and the positive aspects of the shooting sports.
Think of a prisoner raised from birth in solitary confinement. Every time the door opens, he is blinded by daylight, kicked, and sprayed with a hose. If light brings with it pain and humiliation--the prisoner having no concept of the joys of the outside world--can we blame him for hating light? All of us (perhaps even ourselves) had an emotionally based opinion changed by being exposed to the balance of an issue that we were missing.
This interruption in emotional thinking will not take place if one is never exposed to opposing viewpoints or the positive aspects of a negative subject. Additionally, if one deliberately ignores the other side and/or mentally blocks its effect, there will be no interruption. Imagine the prisoner ignoring the cries of his cellmates to look out the door at the beautiful world outside. The emotionally bound thinkers consciously or unconsciously choose to keep information contrary to their emotional conclusion from their thought process.
Why some are like this, I don’t know. The best quote on the topic comes from Robert A. Heinlein: “Most people can't think, most of the remainder won't think, the small fraction who do think mostly can't do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion--in the long run these are the only people who count…” However, there is a fraction of emotional hoplopaths that are beyond our reach.
The hoplophobe is ignorant of guns and afraid is therefore afraid of them; whether this results in hoplopathy is dependent on the individual.
An example of a hoplophobe would be a New Yorker who, back home, is verbally aggressive when someone is rude or inconsiderate. Westerns tend to be slightly more quiet, reserved, and non-confrontational. This New Yorker is afraid to vocalize her frustrations (yell at people) because “you all have guns out here and I’m afraid someone will pull one out and shoot me.” This isn’t true, however, she combines her experience of a more aggressive culture with the armed culture of western America and imagines that we would respond as one might have in the days of the bygone Wild West.
Most hoplophobes are ignorant persons who never actually manifest their ignorance and fear as hatred of guns. Where the transition from simple ignorance, hoplophobia, to hoplopathy lies would be if the New Yorker joined an gun control group and did more than just vote and express her opinion privately. The second chief difference between -phobia and -pathy is what actions one takes.
The ignorant have no depth of knowledge to draw from or lack the mental tools to think critically. Those with limited access to information are the people who pro-gun thoughts never occur to because there is no exposure to other ways of thinking or information. Their store of gun knowledge is either empty or filled with useless junk. The first group have a deficit of correct information and the second are those who also lack an ability to retain and process information. These latter group simply are not intelligent and make their minds up based on what others tell them; in other words, stupid people.
A limited frame of reference prevents new information from challenging assumptions. This can be a personal choice of excluding information outlets or until recently, no alternative sources. The structure of pre-Internet media is a perfect example of this. Nightly reports of drive-by shootings, school massacres, and politicians and “experts” explaining how guns are dangerous creates a unified wall of opinion and negative reinforcement. Groups like the NRA were generally treated as “fringe” by the media and society for most of our lives.
Those who are informed and thus influenced by the media are like the winds and tides; powerful because they have mass, yet they do not control their own direction are at the mercy of far more powerful forces. The sheep that get their news without thought and have their opinion shaped by the mainstream media can literally be described as changing their politics with the tide. This ignorance breeds aversion because years of negative reinforcement is unbalanced by anything positive.
However, the ignorant who lack informed knowledge (vs. the stupid) can be converted to pro-gun positions the most easily. Many have uninformed knowledge based on the media, but personal exposure to gun owners or experiencing a life-changing event can lead them to viewing guns as defensive tools, not makers of mayhem. Thankfully, many can be redeemed in today’s information society. Examples abound of those who grew up in the suburban areas of anti-gun states becoming ardent Second Amendment supporters simply because they were exposed to new knowledge. These converts are very rarely emotional thinkers.
Since the 1990s, we have seen the destruction of the mass media narrative and the erosion of the monolith that much of the public would not question. Factual information about guns and gun violence was limited to specialist publications that the disinterested would not take the time to buy or seek out. Alternative news sites, blogs, and the sharing of ideas and discussions that social media has facilitated made it much easier for an average person to have access to contrary viewpoints. As a result, in the last twenty years there has been a dramatic shift in public opinion against gun control.
The other division are the stupid; those that Heinlein would define as “can’t think.” The reasons could be many; low intelligence, poor education, no interest in all but base pleasures and necessary work, or disinterest in anything even slightly intellectual. Those who might care rely on those in authority to do the thinking for them. They have been told by the news, a politician, a clergyman, or a respected relative that guns are bad or had bad experiences themselves. No mental structure exists for processing contrary information and weighing out which is more likely to be correct. To be cynical, this is the block that if they are involved in gun control at all, it is as mere votes, cheap labor (signatures or demonstrators), or human props.
The main difference between the first two groups and the antagonistic is that the former two generally don’t know any better or simply do not possess the ability or access to information to think critically about the topic.
To be continued...
Clayton E. Cramer
Gun Free Zone
The War on Guns
The View From Out West