“Freedom is alienated in the state of passion; it is abruptly engaged in partial enterprises; it loses sight of its task, which is to produce an absolute end.” –J.P. Sartre
Last week, I published a provocatively prophetic post outlining four reasons why protests like “March for Our Lives” typically fail. Nearly a thousand people tuned in to my “preppy” blog to hear what I had to say, and the response was awesome—many folks sharing and re-sharing my post on their social media feeds and whatnot. There were some dissenters, of course, and some others who maybe didn’t quite understand my argument. But overall, I’m very thankful for those of you who interacted with my writing.
But now I’ve got more for you.
Not surprising, the gun question has America’s attention right now (or at least it did last weekend), and many people have felt a strong need to weigh-in on the conversation. Many of you made comments to my post in particular, ranging from robust legal opinions to social justice histories. Spirited interaction confirms that we collectively feel the need to change the current cultural situation on guns; how to do it, though, is an entirely different matter.
After my post, I tried something new. Facebook offers what’s called a “boost,” or a paid-for marketing effort that targets people (by your selection) who display relevant subject matter interests. It worked well, and I’ll definitely use it again. But what fascinated me was the demographic data I received at the end of my five-day, $30 campaign.
Out of more than 4,000 people who saw my ad, around 600 clicked-through—just under a 15% conversion rate (which is excellent). Obviously, a lot of people resonated with the topic. But what blew my mind was the gender breakdown. 592 of my “boosted” readers were men, and only 8 were women.
Now, there appears to be no evident reason, as far as I can tell, why my writing (on its own merit) would have compelled women to stray and men to stay. It was gender-neutral content, but what this shows me is that the colorful canvas of our present gun debate may not be as colorful as we think. It occurred to me that women may not be interested in the issue of gun control unless it’s very closely tied to them. Having not performed a strict network or close-tie analysis, this theory is largely based on the rough estimate of my own experience. It’s not statistically reliable. But, consider this.
Men are generally assumed to be more interested in the gun question than women, given the traditional, conservative ties between their politics and practice (e.g. men go hunting, women don’t). But does that mean women aren’t interested in the discourse on gun control at all?
Of course not, because we saw last week a young, teenage girl, Emma Gonzalez, become the face of “March for Our Lives,” which made national headlines. Did it make the news because she was a woman? Maybe, but it may just as much have been by chance, or luck of the draw. A passionate young female with a deeply caring voice spoke first, being in the right place at the right time, henceforth in a rather fortuitous manner becoming the movement’s poster child. She even scored a Wiki page for her effort.
Perhaps, though, something else is going on beneath the surface. Gonzalez was a leader at her high school, the same Parkland school of the shooting that got us talking further about the gun debate in the first place. Emma was there. She saw the dead. She felt the scare. She was close to the action, and maybe she felt compelled to transfer that experience on to others. I think as much is completely obvious.
Yet, predominantly men have been interested in the afterward. To understand why this is so, you need look no further than books like Angry White Men. The men of America, although certainly not all, feel that with increased gun control they are losing something: freedom. But to raise their voices against a vast cultural outcry, or at least increase their awareness of others who are trying to do the same (a.k.a. me, with my blog), is a natural response. To me, it signals that one possible reason we fail to gain consensus on the gun question is due to an underlying gender-based culture war.
But I’m no expert on the sociology of gender, so I’ll leave that issue for someone else. No doubt, though, culture wars (plural, implying other kinds of ideological warring) may indeed form a 5th reason why this kind of pronounced effort to shape public policy tends to fail. But as much as I’d like to say that such a cultural combat would cause social movements to fail, what I saw last weekend did nothing more than lend support to my previously given reasons for the general ineffectiveness of protests (and also by extension social movements, too).
While you, my readers, evidently appeared excited to read and respond to my thoughts on the protest, national media coverage of the event and of the march’s political message dwindled even faster than I could have originally anticipated. Since the student-led protest calling for increased gun control policies and new political leadership, we’ve heard virtually nothing from all major media outlets via the internet. The lines went dead.
Naturally, many things could have contributed to such an immediate drop-off. Perhaps the fact that students had to go back to school played a major role, representing inherent institutional bondage and a strong barrier-to-sustain. Maybe the news of Stormy Daniels titillated our collective fancy and caused us to lose attention. Or possibly most of us decided to pay closer attention to falling stock markets, global trade issues, and budget-spending politics.
What really happened, I think, largely reinforces my original argument: protests don’t do much besides marginally shape public sentiment due to lack of purpose, lack of authority to enact change, lack of intellectual rigor, and resistance to political calibration (re-design). Of those four reasons I initially provided, it seems justifiable that at least two of them largely affected the outcome of “March for Our Lives.”
The first of these concerns the issue of authority. Indeed, the topic of gun control is complex. Just as much as one person could see the gun as a symbolic implement of human freedom, another could see it as a destructive self and culture apparatus steeped in corrupted institutional ideology. For some, the “gun” is simply a part of their lives, and for others it’s something that shouldn’t be a part of their or anyone else’s lives.
And there’s plenty of opinions in between, which is actually the main reason why I’m writing this follow-up post.
The gun question, not dissimilar from other American dilemmas we face, has so many different shades of opinion that it’s an almost entirely un-interpretable and un-actionable public issue. We have, although unseen by most Americans, created a cultural symbolic image based on the vast plurality of our opinions that boasts of many colors, a hard and crusted fabric, and frayed edges—no frame. It’s raw. It’s incomplete. It’s fragmented. Indeed, it’s as much modern as contemporary, and it’s dangling on a vast wall filled with other hapless paintings like it. And everyone’s standing in line waiting to see it, but they can’t get in.
What I’m talking about is the incredible distance most people have between themselves and the resolve of the gun control dilemma. In my last post, I mentioned that there’s a big difference between “influence” and “authority.” Sad to say, the vast majority of people in America have little influence on cultural decisions, often the cause of apathy, ignorance, or veritable stupidity. Only a few, those 1%ers or global elite we like to routinely chastise, really have the kind of authority that can shape or resolve cultural dilemmas.
I think most of us understand this part, but the picture gets obfuscated as we develop our responses to this rather unfortunate situation. And so, there are principally two ways our culture usually reacts to issues that can only be settled by an elite few:
Method #1: We Try to Vote-in a New Regime
One of the march’s speakers was a high school student whose passion-filled rhetoric aimed, almost as a coach-like figure, to encourage and mobilize Americans to vote-in a completely new bastion of representatives in the next election. She knew the current ones couldn’t get the job done. So, her entire speech was dedicated to this motive, the get-out-and-vote mantra, and literally nothing else.
In truth, her speech was not oriented at all to the present. A march on Washington typically attempts to persuade current, seated lawmakers to change their views and policies. But this girl’s speech aimed only at future lawmakers, embedding the stark presumption that current lawmakers were either unwilling or unable to enact stricter gun policies. She had already given up on our current Congress (of course, also our sitting President), which isn’t surprising in all honesty. Her argument: we can’t trust our current elected officials to act in our interests, so let’s get some new ones.
Method #2: We Try to Pressure the Current Regime to Capitulate to Our Demands
Another of the student speakers, a district debate champion and coach, articulated some good points and displayed a better base knowledge than most of the students. He conveyed that our system is not able to address issues of social responsibility because of the subject matter that our education system considers basic and fundamental—since it excludes courses that instruct on public morality, psychology, and how to basically get along in the world. His response, “[Those classes] are found in our arts and our sports.” True, but still not good enough.
Why? Because the end of his message was simply: “Something needs to change.” Vague. And that is often what many social movements bring with them, nonspecific attempts to pressure existing governing officials to capitulate to, although inherently justified, whimsical demands. Indeed, contemporary social movements even seem to some people as pure theatrics, an experiential high or feel-good party. Regardless, “something” just isn’t good enough when coupled with zealous screams for political action.
Which leads me to my last point. Inasmuch as intellectual rigor most certainly does play a role in preparing a social movement for success, social movements of today will inevitably fail unless we get to the real root of the problem: design failure.
Everyone feels it, but we’ve been programmed after hundreds of years to work toward change from within the existing system’s control mechanisms. Only when we accept the need for political calibration, along with the inevitably endemic pain it will involve, will we begin to generate the power to re-create a world in which guns no longer take our precious young lives and freedoms become tacitly corrupted by government and fellow man.
Thus, Sartre was right. The passion of today tends to reduce the democracy of tomorrow.