Between the mid-term elections, the most recent mass shooting, and Roy Moore going down as a pedophile, it has got me thinking all kind of psychology-related thoughts about how come (a) our politics is so polarized and (b) people fight so hard against the obvious ways we could build the more perfect union, like the need for and probable success of gun regulations that will lower the number of gun-related fatalities we suffer, which by not doing makes us the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid.
My thoughts about these two issues are closely intertwined. I think if we examine them using Social Dominance Theory, we can take a step back from the ever-loving stupid that is engulfing us as a nation.
How is it humanly possible not to take action on gun violence after gun tragedies both big and small have affected the country (Sandy Hook, anyone? Aurora? Those horrified and chilled the nation), communities (Mother Emmanuel Church? Virginia Tech?), and individual families (two-thirds of all gun fatalities, every single fucking year, are from suicides) so frequently, so regularly? It ain’t humanly possible not to want to do something to stop it, not to believe it is possible to do something to stop, but it is politically possible to stand by and do nothing.
Between the alleged child molester, Roy Moore, and the staggering loss of 4% of a town’s population in one short five minute burst of gun fire, you gots to wonder (a) how did we get here, and (b) what the fuck America? Really? This is your exceptionalism? This is your no problem we can’t solve? What the fuck happened to the offspring of the WW2 generation? Why the fuck are our macho gun-humping raping he-men such pussies that they can’t confront and solve our gun violence problem?
Support for Gun Control Measures
It is turning into something like an overused hackneyed trope canard zombified reference to say that Americans support gun control measures, at least some of them. According to Pew Research Center surveys, we have sharp divides on some gun proposals and bipartisan support on others. For example:
- Preventing mentally ill people from acquiring guns (89% Repube and 89% Dem support); and
- Banning people on no-fly lists from purchasing guns (82% Repube and 85% Dem support)
That’s it for amazingly close levels of support, but majorities support these proposals:
- Improved background checks (77% and 90%);
- Bans on assault-style weapons (54% and 80%); and
- Creation of a federal database to track gun sales (56% and 85%).
We often hear from the talking heads on TV that gun owners, NRA members, and gun porn enthusiasts of all stripes, kinds, and flavors support these measures. So, what gives? Why don’t we have these laws?
The thing is we could go through a whole slew of other issues: climate change, police and justice reform, Obamacare, Medicare for all, vaccines just to name a few (okay, I’m having trouble thinking of more and am too damn tired to go look them up. Feel free to list others in the comments.) Issues where we are good and polarized: there is little middle ground, there is no mood for compromise, and people support individual policies and proposals that affect the issue — kids staying on their parent’s insurance — but hate the other side — hate Obamacare.
What gives? If we have such widespread agreement on issues, why can’t we enact them as policy and law? There must be something that is preventing such agreement from being enacted by our representatives, right? We’re a democracy, right? We elect them to do what we want, but we keep re-electing the motherfuckers who keep not enacting “common” sense gun reform, so are we lying when we’re voting and re-electing the McConnell’s of the world or are we lying to the pollsters who call us up and ask about what we would support because both cannot exist in the same person without some nearly fatal cognitive dissonance occurring.
Let’s not get all cynical and jaded about this shit. It is us. We gotsta own that shit right there. It ain’t the no good corrupt politicians that we can’t do nothing about but term limit them outta office because we’re too goddamn stupid to figger out how to work the political process to prevent our slide into becoming the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid! Let’s look at the “science fact” that explains it.
Social Dominance Theory
Social dominance theory is like social identity theory on steroids. SIT explains how we get into groups and why we use stereotypes and trash talk other groups, but SDT explains the desire for the in-group to be superior to the out-group. Remember, the in-group is any group you belong to and the out-group is everybody else. There are other groups out there in that great expanse of human flotsam and jetsam that we don’t belong to, so in-group members develop stereotypes as a shorthand to refer to them and manage those relationships. All that is great and well and good and all but what about our polarization around gun violence and other issues?
Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto developed SDO after realizing that hey, every society in human history had a group-based hierarchical organizing structure. Every one of the buggers, okay, except certain indigenous ones. Not only that, the dominate groups suppressed, oppressed, and were unimpressed by the subordinate groups. Dominates take the better resources for themselves leaving the rest to survive off of the crumbs that fell from the table and the leftovers scraped into the trash bin. Great. We’re the dumpster divers of American culture. I guess we always knew that, though, right. If we were honest with ourselves.
The primary forms of discrimination and anti-group violence we observe around the world and throughout history are simply manifestations of this general tendency for humans to form hierarchical social organisations [sic].
— Jim Sidanius The Guardian
One of the factors that distinguish individuals is how much inequality between groups can you tolerate. Well, it don’t matter since you ain’t at the top, and you can’t change nothin’ no way, no how! Unless you’re Ed Gillespie or any of the gun-humping, transphobe, misogynist Repube politicians that just got their asses handed to them on a voting platter. Maybe, it does matter how much inequality the dumpster divers of America can tolerate. If we’ll vote. If.
We minimize group conflict by all agreeing that the dominate group is the superior one! So, that’s what we’re doing? This is minimized conflict? Because we’ve all agreed that the Roy Moores and Harvey Weinsteins and their ilk are superior? Now, we’re enjoying diminished conflict? Great. I’d hate to see what increased conflict is like if we aren’t agreeing that the rich and wealthy are superior to the rest of us. Of course, we’ve all signed off on the convenient fiction that white people and men and white men are superior.
The doms have developed ideologies — the poor are lazy takers, ring a bell? Which, in case you hadn’t realized, is an update of the browns being the lazy, shiftless, rapey, steally buggers — that both promote and maintain the inequalities that plague our society. By being all “we hold these truths to be self-evident” about all of our oppressive stereotypes that we use to pit groups against each other and hold the figurative heads of a group underwater until they stop resisting.
Gun Violence Explanation #1
And, so we get that first great big fat juicy explanation of our gun violence problem. Slogans like, You’ll take my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hand, and The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. These is jus’ our good ol’ elites suppressing the rest of us by keeping plenty o’ guns around to keep us murdering each other and committing suicide all day long! What fun! And, bonus: we beg them for it! We want more of the same! Keep it coming boys because we, the suppressed masses of conservative Christian voters living in Cancer Alley just don’t have enough misery in our lives! We’ve only got deadly cancers decimating our communities and gun suicides and gun murders ending our lives prematurely and rampant alcoholism and opioid addiction wrecking havoc everywhere! That ain’t near enough to keep us too busy and distracted from trying to displace all y’all up there.
Social Dominance Orientation
So, these two clever wiseacres weren’t resting on their laurels, no siree, they went ahead and created somethin’ they called the Social Dominance Orientation — and NO, mom, it is not some weird group dominatrix thing! Not that’s there’s anything wrong with that if it were — to determine the degree of how much acceptance of inequalities that people’s gots.
As you can imagine, asshats like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, Mother Pence, Mitch Compromise is for Losers McConnell love themselves all the inequality they can get, and good solid progressive types like you and me all loves them some equality. And, people’s what got lots of racist racism pumping through their racist veins all love themselves inequalities, too. You can name any one of the bad ~isms or social phobias (sexism, homophobia (can we still say that?) nationalism, conservatism, asshatism) and they all rate high on the SDO asshat scale.
Some smarty smarty went and did the unthinkable with the SDO, they went and tested people’s SDO scales AND their environmental beliefs. You know already, don’t you? You know because you, too, are a smarty smarty. Sure ’nuff people with high SDO scores also harbored a high degree of hatred for the environment.
On the one hand, people who hold altruistic values, who want to achieve equality in society, tend to be more pro-environmental. On the other hand, people who are focused more on self-enhancing values and social dominance tend to be less concerned about the environment. This is the descriptive finding and it’s quite robust, but we don’t know yet why it’s the case.
— Taciano Milfont, The Guardian
So, you were right all along. You knew that the selfish bastards who hated other peoples because of the color of their skin and their economic situation and the danglely bits twixt their legs also hated the environment, too. Apparently, being a selfish bastard who thinks inequality is jus’ fine and part of god’s plan — amirite, Roy Moore? — apply inequality evenly through their lives.
Sidanius ain’t been sitting on his keister, neither. He recently determined that much of the racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant bigotry that we see running rampant in the streets of ‘Merica today are due to high SDO scores and these people act to maintain and promote hierarchies and inequalities.
Gun Violence Explanation #2
We’ve arrived at our second big fat juicy sciency explanation of our political polarization: gun-humpers are simply doing the bidding of their doms. They ain’t no big macho-men! They is lil gimps oppressing themselves, they mothers, and everyone else for no other reason than they feel a bit better about it. They have been bought cheap by the capital and political power elites. Hell, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell feel they have their balls pushed so deeply into their pockets that they don’t even have to hide what they’re doing any more. Have you seen that tax bill? Oh, yeah, fake news, cry snowflake, cry, and whatever else they parrot to keep ’em from thinking.
Gun Violence: A Viable Strategy
But, all is not lost. The sneaky sneaky academic types who have been studying this phenomena do have a suggestion for us. That suggestion is re-framing pro-environmental causes, common sense gun control positions, pro-choice policies, marriage and bathroom equality as patriotic. In other words, co-opt the terms and trappings of conservative patriotism and use it to bring ’em along.
Those dern sneaky conservatives have done some inoculating of themselves to stymie the effectiveness of that technique by spreading the lie that our Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians like Roy Moore and not deists more like Obama would be if he were.
We live in a very stratified, hierarchical society using every means at our disposal to maintain the inequality and the advantages of the rich and famous. The people who carry out those means — the violent and prejudiced means — do so because they find some soothing truth in the message of inequality — they don’t deserve the rights and goods we give ’em — but they might could be brought over to our side by couching our causes in patriotic, preserving-the-system conservative terms that is more pleasing to them. And, when you think about it, progressives are patriots trying to build a more perfect union. They really should be working with us, not agin us.