Thinking a dozen moves ahead in a game of chess, the combination in boxing, the bets one makes early in a session of Texas Hold’em; the practice of anticipating various possible futures and acting accordingly is the linchpin of strategy.
And its practice in our nation seems to be, sadly, on the decline.
The simple act of thinking ahead is something supposedly fundamental; we ask our children to adopt the practice and wring our hands when they don’t. “Why can’t you just consider the consequences of you…not getting that job…not doing your homework…not applying for college…taking those drugs…driving after you drink?” We ask our children to consider many possible futures, even as we learn that most teenagers are not physiologically able to consider future in the same manner as adults.
It is, of course, those very same teenagers who would remind us that we ask them to “Do as I say, and not as I do.”
The simple fact of this matter is that today’s (single) sound-byte driven, ideologically charged political culture is unable to think a dozen moves ahead because we the people are too busy yelling about the first move and its greatness or deficiencies. Adding fuel to the fire is that movies are the only medium for which we the people have the tolerance and attention span to absorb information from for more than a few minutes. It is no coincidence that lone wolf heroes win the (evermore) bloody day at the end. The bad choices, unfortunate casualties, and reckless good fortune are reduced to simple plot points on the road to heroic accomplishment. Why then should we demand a different political outlook?
Rambo, Chuck Norris, and The Governator; three characters united in their inability to play chess. And they seem to be the primary influences on our problem-solving culture.
Take, as an example, the prevailing arguments made by today’s pro-unlimited gun access advocates. This isn’t a post on what should or shouldn’t be done, rather this is a critical look at the two defining arguments used by the gun lobby to advance their collective points of view. Have they thought their arguments through to the logical conclusion? The Rational Middle argues that they have not, and that a careful look at the end game would change the notions of rational gun legislation on that side of the aisle.
According to the gun lobby, our second amendment is the guardian of the democracy, preventing the subjugation of Americans with the threat of a citizenry able to return fire. The notion had validity, 200 years ago, but it isn’t immediately obvious why the argument has any traction in the 21st Century. Even the best armed citizen militias would struggle against a modestly motivated police force, and none would stand against the full force of the U.S. military. The only end game with a chance of success (if one considers a shooting war against the elected government “success”), is a scenario where defections from the military cripple the government.
Second Amendment advocates stand on a claim of love for our democracy, yet the notion of personal firearm ownership as a bulwark for liberty has as its only possible end-game an armed take-down of the democracy.
According to the gun lobby, public safety is enhanced by a larger relative population of citizens carrying concealed weapons under permit. We need not examine the research on gun violence versus regulation in other industrialized nations, as we can study the end-game on the simple issue of an armed civilian response to a criminal attack. Let’s take the example of potentially arming teachers (as a way to avoid future Newtown’s and Columbine’s) as our case in point. Under a common hypothesis, the teacher would be safety-trained, and would have to certify on a range before acquiring the permit.
So what happens in an assault? The best case scenario is that the assailant starts shooting in a different classroom, giving the armed teacher the opportunity to ambush the assailant on entry to the classroom (and after the assailant has killed his or her targets in the first room). In that scenario, the fortunate teacher and children in the second room survive if he or she is accurate in their first engagement with a living target (in other words, that the stress response doesn’t exaggerate the spread as it usually does, and the teacher doesn’t shoot high as is common among new soldiers in their first engagement.)
The alternate scenario is the best description for most conflicts involving a CCW. An assailant walks into our hero teacher’s room and starts shooting. This is where the terrible reality of the end-game rears its ugly head. For the CCW holder, the only chance for survival (and for the survival of his or her students), is their ability to react to the initial shots (hopefully inaccurate initial shots), draw their weapon, unsafety the weapon, and accurately engage the assailant. Such activities are the subject of the regularly rehearsed choreography of SWAT teams and military special operations teams, so it seems more than fanciful to bet the safety of kids on the concept. It is clear that this end game offers a better chance of survival for more civilians than having no arms at all in that scenario, but it is also immediately apparent that a better option would be to work against the occurrence of that scenario in the first place.
The operative phrase is “Something just has to be done!” Good answers to that question are only available to the democracy that considers the widest possible number of solutions, and thoroughly traces those solutions to their respective end-games. This notion is, of course, the foundation of enlightened democracy…whether the lights are dimming on our version is another question entirely.