Common ground

So Orlando, and the aftermath. There’s a lot on my mind, and I think I want to speak to religion, and to who was targeted here, and to common ground. Not in that order.

But first: The day I heard about the shooting in Orlando, I didn’t react. “Oh look, 50 or so dead, 50 or so wounded. Another day in America.” And I went on with my day.

It took me days to feel any kind of grief. And that’s because gun violence is so so common in the US. I’m not used to that, and I probably never will be. I grew up in a country with strict gun control, where even a single gun death is a big deal and headlines. Here, I read about two kids of the age or 2 or 4 being shot dead, accidentally, in the space of a month or two. If I weren’t numb, I’d be curled up in a corner.

The shooting is often framed as an act of violence against the LGBT community, and it was that. And, it is important to point out on what specific night the shooter chose to target the club: It was Latino night. And drag queens were about to perform. So this was violence specifically against queer people of color, and trans people, and that does matter. As a white cis gay man, I can be as outraged and hurt as everyone else, and I think I can say “my people were attacked,” and at the same time, this must hit home even harder to people who are non-white and queer, or non-white and trans, or any combination thereof. I’ve been made aware of the “ring theory of comfort,” and I like it. You look at who is how close to a trauma, and you draw rings … the victims, their family, their friends, people like them, people a little less like them, everyone else … and then follow a simple rule: Comfort IN, dump OUT. Makes a lot of sense to me.

In the aftermath of the shooting, my social media started to fill up with gun control arguments, for and against. There’s a lot of copy-pasting of arguments, just so the people who already agree can agree some more, and very little finding of common ground.

So I ran a little experiment. I asked some conservative friends where we do have common ground. This was my list:



The results were heartening. On the gun control issues, as expected, I didn’t get a lot of traction. I also learned that “assault rifles” are a different thing from “assault weapons” and a civilian AR-15 is not, technically, an “assault rifle.” What can I say. I’m not that technical when it comes to guns. I learned that “universal” background checks are a concern because of issues like inheriting a gun, but “expanded” background checks are an easier thing to get consensus on.

And I learned that I had uniform common ground on more government spending for health care, and confronting homophobia, transphobia and “toxic masculinity”. On reflection, maybe I should have asked about islamophobia as well.

And that’s huge. I see these words and acts of violence come directly out of rigid gender roles – the “toxic masculinity” part – which then express themselves as homophobia and transphobia. That unholy stew is made so much worse by the fact that we don’t have a functioning mental health care system.

I’ll take it. I’ll build consensus where I can, and keep discussing this with my pro-gun friends.

Another thing I’m learning is: The gun control issue is, on a personal level, so intractable because it is not about statistics and rational argument. It’s about emotion, and that emotion is fear. We both want the same thing: Security for ourselves and our families. And we both think of ourselves the same way: I’m the good guy here. Just that we have diametrically opposite ideas of how to provide that security. My pro-gun friends think guns provide that security, I think guns jeopardize that security and make it more likely to get hurt. I got statistics on my side, I do think, but that doesn’t address the emotional component.

So I’ll find common ground there too, just by reminding them that we ultimately want the same thing, and we both think we’re doing the right thing.

That said, I’ll still do my utmost to put my voice behind more gun control, and I like Mr. Takei’s idea of using the existing gay rights organizations to push it through. I really do think the facts and statistics support my position.

Lastly, I’ll come to religion. Thumper is railing against religion in the wake of Orlando. And I get it. I really do. I get the anger and the frustration. I’m about as godless as you can get, myself.

I also know that religion has good components: It supplies a sense of transcendence, of being part of something bigger than ourselves, and a social network. And, frankly, atheists and humanists plain suck at providing anything of the sort. The church of the flying spaghetti monster is trying, and I applaud them for it.

I can reasonably be described as a secular humanist, and I am a-theist by definition (“not a theist”, I don’t believe in anything supernatural), but I am not anti-theist. Let me repeat that: I’m not anti-religion in the slightest. I’m anti-violence, and for inclusion and freedom of expressing one’s unique humanity.

That human need for feeling part of a greater whole isn’t going away, and we have to figure out how to supply that without all the destructive and hateful baggage.

Oh and also, our brains like to manufacture religion. It’s true. Evolution is playing a joke on us. Go watch this, it’s truly fascinating science.