First off, tremendous thanks to each of you who sent me missives — between one sentence and multiple pages — on what parts of civilization you love paying for with your taxes. (If you missed last week’s newsletter, you can find it here). I was a true joy to find out so many others felt the same — even if a solid half of the hundreds who wrote back live in Canada and Europe, particularly in places where taxes are even higher. So much of our thinking about societal regulations and obligations is a matter of ideological upbringing, context, inculcation.
I thought a lot about that as I was reporting my most recent feature, on the fight between gun rights activists in Idaho who want to “firm up” (and expand) existing (permissive) gun laws and those who, following the never-ending string of shootings, want to curtail them. I’ve found that both sides of this debate really struggle to understand that the other side views the issue not just from a different moral stance, but a different ideological and logical one.
At least in Idaho, and with these activists, they absolutely believe that the way to have more safety in public spaces is to have more guns available — which is precisely why the Second Amendment, to their minds, codified that right. (That and the ability to protect themselves from tyranny, but that’s a secondary concern). To be unarmed in a public space is to open oneself to danger. You might not believe that yourself, but try and understand how that viewpoint might occupy someone else’s mind, especially if they’ve grown up, or worked, or served, in a place where carrying a weapon = safety.
Again, I’m not saying I necessarily personally believe that — but if you want to understand why gun rights advocates are successful, and intractable, it’s because of this line of thinking. And, to be fair, they consider the anti-gun-rights line of thinking just as alien and absurd as anti-guns-rights think of theirs. It’s a pretty stark divide: More guns = more safety vs. fewer guns = more safety. I get it, this might be hard to understand. It might feel like it flies in the face of logic. But accepted logic isn’t objective; it’s the way we think things work according to the information available and amendable to our thinking.
You can look at contemporary mass shooting stats and think BAN GUNS or you can look at it and think MORE GUNS, and I’ve tried, as best as I can, to articulate the ideologies that inform that thinking in this corner of Idaho — while also pointing to the fact that no law is absolute, or “logical,” or actually God-given, even when they’re in the Bill of Rights. We often frame laws that way, but laws are arbitrary and ideological and imminently changeable, which is, of course, why we’re constantly fighting over their interpretation. But regardless of what side of this conversation you’re on, it’s worth understanding the other side if you’re serious about changing their minds.
As a side note, I’m pleased that this has been widely read and shared on both sides of the political/ideological spectrum. My goal, particularly with features like this, is for everyone to have small quibbles, be slightly pissed that they didn’t come off better, but admit that it was fair. I know there are people who think that every piece of feature writing should be a piece of activism. I get it. Sometimes I want the same. But just as there’s a place for pieces that reconfirm what you already believe, there are also pieces that make you think more broadly about why you believe it.
Could I understand the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance just by listening to Facebook videos? A lot of it, sure. But what really made me understand their strategy and viewpoint was talking to them, and observing them, at length. And what made them talk to me was a lengthy back and forth about the fact that I was from Idaho, and that I wanted to keep reporting on the area, and had no interest in pulling a Sacha Baron Cohen on them, or giving them ammunition, for lack of a better word, for the idea that “liberal” journalists only produce fake news.
Will it matter? Will the people who’ve shared the article with “I never trust BuzzFeed but this is fair” synthesize that into their larger understanding of liberal fake news? I dunno, maybe, a few. That’s great. That’s part of what I’m going for. But certainly not all of it, or even the primary objective. When a journalist, or a politician, spends all of their time trying to convince mostly bad faith spectators of their legitimacy, the results just feel forced. My aim, again, with stories like these, is how can I tell it in a way that thrills none of the subjects, but also encourages begrudging respect?
Because what I’m really trying to do — and what serves the reader, not the subject — is elucidate the ideologies at work, with as much context as allowed before it turns into a book. And because I’m a culture writer, not a beat reporter, there’s always a kicker/so-what at the end that attempts to drive home the larger questions at stake, and why understanding this stuff, really understanding it, beyond a headline or a tweet, really matters. Yeah, a county is suing a city over the right to open carry at a musical festival. But so what? I hope you’ll read, and tell me what you think.
I also wrote about the Mister Rogers movie! This movie should not work, structurally/conceptually speaking, and I’m still kind of amazed that it came together. I do think there are faults, but the overall effect, like that of the Mister Rogers documentary, was to make me weep like a messy baby. I wrote about that deep ugly cry, and what I think is motivating it (hint: WE WORK ALL THE TIME AND ARE ALLERGIC TO OUR FEELINGS) and, unlike the Idaho piece, it is quite short.
The piece was also somehow picked up by Drudge, so if you need a small delightful thought for the weekend, please imagine my inbox, filled with older, Drudge-reading men, all of them with AOL email addresses they share with their wives, thanking me for a small cry.
Things I Read and Loved This Week:
On an incredibly vibrant area of the country that is very precious to me: The Divide in Yakima is the Divide in America
This piece on sleeping alone is much more complex/interesting than just “it’s great”
Of course: Marie Kondo goes Full Goop
A short but compelling meditation on what politicians are actually talking about what they talk about “middle class”
For those of you interested in how shitty jobs keep staying shitty, regardless of the “great” unemployment numbers — take a look at the Job Quality Index
Runner-up to this week’s just trust me (NYT)
This week’s just trust me
Random Recommendation of the Week:
Buying old postcards of your hometown/favorite place on eBay. Here’s one I’m currently eying from here in Montana, but no matter where you live, truly, there’s something to be found.
If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox once a week-ish, forward it their way. You can find the shareable, online version (and subscribe) here. You can follow me on Twitter here, and on Instagram here. Please excuse any weirdo sentences or typos; relative inattention to detail is what allows me to make the mental space to do this every week for free.