Why internet flamewars haven't solved gun violence, climate change, and healthcare yet

Every time there's a mass shooting in the United States, social media goes through a very predictable cycle. After yesterday's shooting in Florida (if you are reading this on another day, just replace "Florida" with whatever state was the most recent), this meme went around the internet:

My feed, which skews progressive, tends to devolve into bilious fury pretty fast. Which I totally understand -- kids getting killed over something that was totally preventable is probably the one thing that we should be getting spluttering mad about. But a lot of the comments end up lashing out at the gun owners in their feeds. And there's a bit of a problem with that: every gun owner I've ever spoken to supports some level of gun control. The numbers hold this up: most Americans agree that some form of gun control is a very good idea. 84% of Americans believe in background checks. 89% believe there should be restrictions for buying guns if you have a mental illness. 83% believe that gun sales should be banned to people on no-fly or watch lists. 

If they, the gun owners, believe in some level of gun control, then us getting into flamewars on Facebook (about how gun control worked in Australia, about how gun deaths in the US compare with the rest of the world, about how the 2nd Amendment can be read differently and also as it's name suggests, can be amended) is a huge waste of time. We largely already agree on the facts, at least with enough consensus that, if we all voted on it, we'd approve at least some gun control measures, and some lives would be saved.

In America, consensus doesn't translate into policy change

The same is true of a lot of other supposedly divisive issues: 68% of Americans believe climate change is man-made. 61% of voters believe we should cut defense spending, not increase it. 60% of voters believe in Medicare for all. 83% support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 80% of Americans believe that large corporations and the extremely wealthy should be taxed MORE, not less.

The question then, is this: if we all largely agree but our government isn't making policy changes based on that consensus, then who is the government serving? Who benefits from this situation and has the power to keep change from taking place?

A video came out a few years ago that explains what's going on. I know it's annoying when articles ask you to watch a video, but this one is worth taking a couple minutes on.

The TL;DR, if you can't take the time to watch it, is what you expect: basically, broad, countrywide consensus on issues does not translate into policy changes. But if the rich (whether it's rich people or rich corporations) want something in America, they are likely to get it, regardless of what the rest of America thinks. If they don't want something to happen, it is not very likely to happen.

Which is why we aren't getting gun control -- because gun manufacturers don't want it, and have effectively organized against it. If Americans are like, "Hey, children shouldn't be murdered in their classrooms, let's maybe do something about all of these guns," the gun manufacturers, through lobbying groups they fund like the NRA or through funding given to think tanks, can insert narratives into the media about how the real solution is more guns, a gun in every classroom, and about how "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

 Available at  Welcome to Night Vale!

Here's the bad news: Facts aren't going to save us.

It should be clear to us, by this point, that we aren't going to win by proving anyone wrong, whether it's in an internet flamewar or on some sort of daydream national stage where we publicly embarrass the President of the NRA so brutally that he breaks down crying, admitting he's wrong, and says they'll give up their violent ideology and work to make amends with the families of all of the people that died because of the policies they've pushed for years. We are (literally, in the latter example) dreaming if we think that's going to be the case.

Facts don't have power in this situation, because facts are not, at the moment, the main currency in our political economy. If they were, then we'd be doing a lot more to fight climate change. We'd stop fighting the War on Drugs. We'd drastically change the War on Terror. We wouldn't use the death penalty. And we wouldn't have Donald Trump as our President.

This is depressing, but the sooner you get over it, the sooner you'll be able to actually start taking steps to change things.

What matters to the powerful is not truth, but power itself.

Activists like to talk about "speaking truth to power," but as Noam Chomsky once said, "You don’t have to speak truth to power, because they know [the truth] already." Rather than speaking the truth to a power that doesn't care about what the truth is, we should instead try to take their power away from them.

In the US, money is power. Power is money. People who are extremely rich are extremely powerful. They are the ones influencing policy. And if we don't like the way they're doing it, we need to ask ourselves -- how can we take their money away from them? 

This is a big question that I'm going to write more on in the coming months, but I do have a few ways we can get started right now:

First: Get off your high horse. The people you are friends with on Facebook are not the people who put this system in place. They might be helping to support it, but if you talk with them, they will probably agree with you on the broad points, and probably would change things if they were in control. Also, if you are a working adult, you have likely, at some point, had to "sell out." You have made a decision which, if money were not a factor, you would not have made. You took a job you found to be a little skeezy. You have continued working for a person you did not respect because you wanted the paycheck. You didn't speak up over something wrong that was happening because you were worried you might lose your job. Most of us are not pure. Most of us have made compromises because of money. And we've rationalized what we did after the fact.

Now, imagine that it wasn't a job you would lose if you did the right thing, but a massive corporate empire. Imagine what sort of rhetorical pretzels you'd be able to bend yourself into in order to justify not making changes. It's important to understand this: Trying to convince a person of the truth when accepting that truth would mean fundamentally changing everything about who they are and have been for their entire lives is not an easy (or even really a worthwhile) task. 

What is more effective is to work to take away their power. Slowly erode it over time. Elect officials (locally, if you can't elect them on the state or federal level) who aren't friendly towards them. Stop buying their products. If you have investments, make sure they aren't in companies that are undermining our democracy. Don't give money to oil companies, or gun manufacturers, or private prisons, or big banks. Put your savings into local credit unions instead. If you have the stomach for it, get involved in acts of civil disobedience and protest. Get involved in your community. Start changing things in small ways. The big changes always follow from the small ones.

Most importantly for now is this: We can get creative about how we take away their power, but we're not doing ourselves any favors by getting into heated internet blow-ups with the people who aren't responsible for these problems in the first place. There is a way out of the situation we're in. It's just not in the direction we've been heading.