2024 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Listening to others, even when you think they’re wrong

I’ve been listening to the excellent podcast series, “The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps.” I’m still on the ancient Greeks. On one level, those thinkers had some absolutely bonkers ideas.

Thales thought that everything is or comes from water. Parmenides thought that everything is one solid and undifferentiated mass, that change is impossible, and that the world of experience is illusory.

But these thinkers are worth paying attention to. Following Thales, we think that there is some underlying unity of matter. Parmenides provoked some hard thinking about logical argument and the nature of reality.

The lesson is that often we fruitfully can engage with others even when they are largely wrong or when we think they are. And often people who are mostly wrong still have something interesting to contribute to the conversation.

What in the heck does this have to do with Colorado politics, you’re probably are wondering at this point. I’ve been seeing a lot of name-calling and straw-manning when we’d be better off with more empathy and attempts at understanding.

Sex abuse suits

Consider the recent legislative vote over whether to try to jump the courts and allow lawsuits over old cases of sexual abuse. The legislative vote, over whether to send a measure to the voters, failed on party lines.

If you listen to various Democrats, Republicans voted against the measures just because they are obtuse and evil. But if you read Marianne Goodland’s report in Colorado Politics, you might get a sense of the Republican position.

Goodland writes, “The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last year that legislation passed in 2021 that removed the statute of limitations was unconstitutional because it was retrospective.” A fundamental legal principle is that government should not create punishments after the fact. Is that what this year’s proposal does? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly a reasonable concern. And people who voice that concern deserve better than to be tarred as rapist sympathizers.

Comparably, I’m pretty sure that pro-choice Democrats (and Republicans) do not appreciate being tarred as murderers by people like Rep. Brandi Bradley.

Insults over gun policy

In a recent bit of 9News opinion commentary, Kyle Clark discusses “a sickening rise in indecency toward the families of mass-shooting victims and survivors.” Clark refers to Alex Jones “claiming the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax”; Marjorie Taylor Greene “harassing teenage survivors of a school shooting”; Rocky Mountain Gun Owners suggesting that Sen. Tom Sullivan, who lost a son in the Aurora theater murders, perhaps “is going postal”; and a local gun-rights activist telling Tom Mauser, who lost a son in the Columbine murders, that he “needs to stop exploiting the death of his son” and that he needs to heal himself of his “demons.”

Clark is right to condemn such remarks and tactics. However, I’m not sure he’s right about there being a rise in such abuse. I remember not long after the Columbine murders that some people in the gun-rights crowd sent Mauser all sorts of nasty messages.

If, as a gun-rights activist, you cannot say to Sullivan, Mauser, and other victims of gun violence, “I am so very sorry for your loss” (with “sorry” in this context reflecting empathy), and understand why Sullivan and Mauser advocate stricter gun laws, then, I suggest, you do not have the moral fiber to engage fruitfully in politics.

Back when I first met Mauser and we sparred over gun policy, he had just lost his son and mine had not yet been born. Now that I have a child of my own, I can see even more clearly that the loss of a child, particularly to violence, is probably the worst thing that can happen to a person. Mauser worked through his grief of losing a child to raise two other children. Whatever you think of his politics, he’s an admirable person.

Even on gun policy I share a lot of common ground with Sullivan and Mauser. I favor red-flag laws (although I’d like to see due process tightened up). I favor universal background checks, except I think the way they are conducted should be substantially changed. I think there properly should be some liability for people who recklessly allow access to their guns by dangerous or irresponsible people (we can argue over the details).

Clark, though, looks only at one side. Also since soon after Columbine, various anti-gun activists have relentlessly hurled insults at gun owners, saying they sympathize with murderers and the like.

While Clark twice quotes a Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Tweet and condemns the social media post of some crank I’d never heard of, he ignores the obvious demonization of gun owners by the majority of state legislators in the House, who in HB 1292 declare, falsely, that arbitrarily defined “assault weapons are not suitable for self defense . . . or any purpose other than mass killing.” This language paints hundreds of thousands of Coloradans as would-be mass-murderers. (See also Dave Kopel’s commentary.)

Why would I support people owning “assault” weapons? If your only thought is that I must be crazy or enjoy murder, bluntly, you’re being a jerk, not a serious participant in a difficult conversation. To quickly recap: We’re talking about semi-automatic guns with some arbitrarily defined cosmetic features. I think generally people should be able to own guns, including semi-automatics, for self-defense against criminals and would-be tyrants. I have heard all of the arguments against my position, and I have considered them seriously. I ask only that you consider my arguments seriously too.

Let me make a comparison. People who think it’s perfectly reasonable to own what many Democrats call “assault” guns see the bill in question roughly as an abortion-rights person would see a bill that created all sorts of arbitrary restrictions on when and how people can get an abortion, on the order of “no abortions on Sundays or on Tuesday mornings between 9 and 11 am.” Would Democrats accept such “reasonable, common sense” restrictions on abortion? Obviously not.

A time to listen

I am not saying that we always have to take seriously someone’s stated position. Sometimes someone’s “arguments” are transparently self-serving pretexts. Example: Putin’s rationalizations for invading Ukraine. But, in the context of Colorado politics, we should accept as a default that the person making an opposing argument is motivated to achieve a good outcome and has an argument worth engaging. Decent people often disagree.

Thankfully, we’re well past the practice of murdering people because they say annoying things, as the Greeks murdered Socrates. Still, a lot of people today do the equivalent of accusing Socrates of offending the Gods and corrupting the youth. Socrates knew he was irritating; he called himself a gadfly. But we should try not to be irritated by people who challenge our political positions; we should try to reasonably answer them and learn from them. Even people who are wrong about almost everything are right about something.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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