Deep pockets and shallow ethics

Dear President Biden,

Most everything coming out of your White House has been much more palatable than anything that ever came out of DLT’s White House. This includes your recent Executive Order targeting ghost guns and stabilizing braces for pistols, and putting more money towards community-based violence prevention programs. At least it looks like you’re doing something (anything) constructive to address the public health crisis of gun violence. That ought to count for something, right?

Maybe. I’m not sure, though.

My worry is that the public will be lulled into thinking something substantive has happened and will move on while the profit-monsters quick as lightening figure out ways around the first two parts of the EO by rebranding those items or making minor adjustments that let them slip by the rules. Also, unless the deep-seated issues driving anomie and rage are squarely faced and addressed, it seems unlikely that the violence prevention efforts will be of much use either.

I know your hands are tied and that we are all being held hostage by the gun lobby and the well-armed 2nd Amendment mis-readers who’ve been lapping up the steady social media diet pushing narratives around scarcity, entitlement, rugged individualism, and toxic masculinity. Those PR people are good, aren’t they? Just think how different things would be if they were using their powers for good……

But they aren’t using their powers for good and damn if they don’t have their shticks down pat. Actually, I’m guessing that a lot of it is that they’ve got big money props that allow them to keep a very close eye on how a given ad or social media campaign is performing and when one starts to slip, they can quick pay a bunch of people from whichever segment of the population they want to pull in to do some focus groups about a new batch of fear mongering, race-baiting PR materials. No worries about human subjects protections or representativeness of the samples or using coercive remuneration schedules or any of the stuff that we (rightly, ethically) have to pay attention to when we do research. Deep pockets and shallow ethics make for a bang up combo when it comes to figuring out how to get people to do things (and, critically, buy things) that are not in their best interests.

All this is to say that while I know proper research won’t ever enjoy the deep pockets or succumb to the shallow ethics of the gun lobby, I do hope that you’re trying to figure out how to get NIH and the CDC substantial, steady monies for gun violence prevention research. We desperately need to build the science base in this area.

Assuming we won’t ever go all New Zealand and just recall every last one of the damn weapons of war, I think we need to build this science using novel research collaborations because gun violence is so multi-determined. I also think those collaborations need to include public health wonks, clinicians of various kinds, those with experience in the prison industrial complex, experts on toxic masculinity, and people who understand how to harness persuasive messaging for good and, and, and….

I saw an article by Shane Harris in the WP this morning about the US national security intelligence community’s fairly bleak report about the world’s future as we face more and more dire crises. He closed with this:

“Ultimately, the societies that succeed will be those that can adapt to change, but also forge social consensus around what should be done, the authors write. In a splintering world, that may be the hardest scenario to imagine.”

I think the authors of the report are right and I also think we are hosed if the only ones who can adapt to change quickly and agree on what should be done are those with deep pockets and shallow ethics. We’ve got to figure out how to empower and vitalize those who are thinking of their grandchildrens’, grandchildrens’ grandchildren.

May we commit to real, true safety.
May we be willing to radically reset around guns.
May we redefine strength and stop fueling toxic masculinity.
May we not accept small measures on any of this.

Tracy Simpson

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