Why Do I Argue with Racist, Sexist, Gun-Loving People?

Almost every time I have a day off with no pressing work to do (so, roughly, two times a year!), I end up getting into arguments with racist, sexist, climate change denying, and/or gun-loving square dancers (*see note below) on Facebook. Normally, I would never encounter people with such vastly different views from my own, so I can go about my daily life in a nice little bubble thinking that everyone thinks basically the same way that I do. However, since I started participating in square dance related groups and becoming FB friends with square dance callers, I am made regularly aware of the existence of a huge contingent of Western society that does not think like me.

On the days when I have time to get involved in such discussions, I almost always receive emails and private messages from people who agree with me, asking me why I bother. I bother because I want to understand why people think the way they do. We all think we are individuals who have come up with our views and opinions all on our own, but we have not. A huge web of societal influences — coming from our parents, our friends, our teachers, our communities, and the media we encounter, amongst other sources — pushes us to accept certain “truths” about our world. Some of these truths are so deeply ingrained that we do not ever remember learning them.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

There are all kinds of problems in the world that stem from people hunkering down with their views and refusing to engage with those who disagree with them. If I shut myself down and refuse to engage with those who hold views that differ from mine, how can I get upset when I feel that people are not listening to me, or not “seeing reason” (as defined by me).

Probably the best example of this is the gun debate. I will readily admit that I JUST DON’T GET IT. If you were given the choice of living in a society where there were virtually no guns, and very little gun-related violence, versus living in a society where everyone had guns, and there was more gun-related violence than in most other parts of the world, wouldn’t you chose the one where no one had guns? Well, yes, if you come from a family that never had guns around, you have never touched a gun, and you have never been involved in a situation where you might have wanted to have a gun in your hand. And, yes, if you currently live in a society where your chances of even seeing a gun, let alone be harmed by one, are virtually nil. Not so, however, if your family has always had guns, you have fond memories of hunting with your dad, and your neighbour’s house was broken into at gunpoint last week.

It’s not that the gun-shunners are daisy-eyed optimists and the gun-lovers are Yosemite Sam wannabes. It’s that our upbringing, and our current environment, have conspired to bring us to certain views, and it is very, very hard to see the world in a different way. ESPECIALLY WHEN FEAR IS INVOLVED. I would say that fear underlies the argument on both sides of the gun debate. Those who want to get rid of the guns are afraid of the guns, and those who want more guns are afraid of not having guns around when they feel the need to protect themselves.

The problem with both of these viewpoints is that they are based on a very ego-centric view of the world. One thing our Western upbringing gives us in common is the idea that what we as individuals think is the most important thing — the only thing — we need to consider. We have an unbelievable tendency to ignore the fact that we live in society. I studied Psychology to a very high level at university and I thought that gave me a great deal of insight into the way the world works. However, I took my first university-level class in sociology a couple of years ago and my brain practically exploded. Without considering issues from both the psychological and the sociological perspective, I was only seeing half (or less) of the picture. I came to the rather painful realization that my entire worldview, until that point, was horribly skewed.

That experience was the second time in my life that my understanding of the world was completely changed through a particular experience. The first was when I came to Japan and realized that the world was not filled with other people who thought exactly like I did. In fact, as a suddenly very visible, and very minor minority (white, Canadian female in Japan), I found myself having to constantly defend my views on all subjects. Until that point in my life, I had been surrounded by people who thought like I did on most subjects. At the time (i.e. in the 24 years of living in Canada until that point), I didn’t realize that I was surrounded by people who thought like I did on most subjects. I definitely argued with people in Canada, but I realize that the sphere of all arguments I had had to that point in my life could be contained in the dots on the letter “i” in the word “international”. Being pulled out of the comfortable womb of my native land did a very good job of making me see things like “culture”, “privilege”, and “normal” in an entirely different light.

Okay, I may be veering slightly off-topic here. My point is this.

(1) I argue with people in order to try to understand where they are coming from, because I know that they have had a different experience of the world from me. It was only about three years ago that I finally understood that some people actually LIKE guns. That thought had never occurred to me, and without that knowledge, trying to come up with solutions to the gun problem in the United States is impossible. (And, by the way, some people, due to their own background and upbringing, think there is no gun problem — this is also something I only recently realized.)

(2) I argue with people in order to try to help them learn from my experiences. I also hope to learn from theirs. We can’t possibly experience everything in this world, so we have to make do with second-hand experiences sometimes.

And finally, (3) I argue with people because it is, for whatever reason, something I feel I have to do. I cannot see a post like this…

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… or this…

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…and not say anything. I just can’t.


* Note: Not all square dancers are racist, sexist, gun-loving climate change deniers. I belong to a square dance club in Japan and those words do not characterize any of the people that I dance with. I only realized the connection between square dancing and these ideologies when I joined the above-mentioned Facebook groups for discussing square dancing. I don’t like to classify people as “left-wing” or “right wing” because I have found that doing so shuts down all intelligent discussion, but it does seem that I am rather “left”, while square dancing has been traditionally associated with the “right”, for some reason.

5 thoughts on “Why Do I Argue with Racist, Sexist, Gun-Loving People?

  1. JC

    I agree with your sentiment but then the memes that you posted are about racism and the race card and the lack or not there of and not about guns. A bit confusing.

    I was a bit surprised that you weren’t aware until recently that there are people who really like their guns and that some people don’t see that there is a gun problem. Of course then I’m from rural Iowa so :-)

  2. Shaney Post author

    That’s a good point about the memes vs. the content. I have recently had debates about both topics (with square dancers), so I kind of put them in the same category. I can see how that can seem strange for people who are not inside my head. :)

  3. Shawn Googins

    Shaney,

    Civil discourse, or argument, I believe you have a right to your opinion. I value your opinions whether I agree with them or not. I enjoy guns, I believe I have a right to defend myself and my family. Frankly I wish I didn’t need a gun, or other weapons, but society is violent and I will choose to prepare myself and my family. I don’t believe that man alone is responsible for climate change (or the ever changing title to fit the social agenda), I am a physicist and I have seen the data from both sides. I believe in conservation, reducing man’s impact on the planet, but reject the zealots on either end of the spectrum. Yes I believe the race card is played all too often, and people just need to stop being offended at every turn. I have no problem with people gay or straight and respect their opinions, yet I am tired of people ramming their opinions in my face contantly. Just live you lives and stop waving your rainbow, southern, white power, black power, or whatever color your flag is in my face.

    And Shaney, I like you. We’ve never met, but was happy to help you make sense of what was happening with radiation during Fukushima. I enjoy “conversation” with you, seeing the world from another perspective, because we all have to live with each other and learn to get along and to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, sometimes that results in violence. But I prefer to be a sheepdog rather than a sheep. Because the wolves will always exist.

  4. Shaney Post author

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Shawn. We seem to be on different sides on many issues, but if we can continue to have respectful conversations about them, then we can both benefit.

    I very much appreciated your help during the Fukushima situation. It was tense time and there was a lot of misinformation around, so it was extremely valuable to me to have your input as an expert. I am not sure if I mentioned it at the time, but we created a Facebook group for people in the Tsukuba area at that time to help people understand what was happening. I expected the group to have maybe 100 members, but it grew and grew, and now there are around 2600 members. The roots of that group go back to the time when accurate information about radiation was at a premium, and it was extremely helpful to be able to report on the situation from your professional perspective. A whole lot of people were able to calm the heck down and get on with their lives because of you and your colleagues. I, and a great number of other people, are indebted to you for that.

    I look forward to our future “conversations”. I imagine we still won’t agree on some of the big issues, but we can keep trying to find common ground! If we can ever find a way to convince each other of anything, we will have to bottle it up and sell it. :)

  5. Melissa Noguchi

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shaney. I am ever a proponent of trying to see debates/differences/conflicts from all sides. How can we grow as people without opening ourselves to at least listening (I mean thoughtfully listening) to other people’s perspectives?

    I especially like the way you put it: “If I shut myself down and refuse to engage with those who hold views that differ from mine, how can I get upset when I feel that people are not listening to me, or not “seeing reason” (as defined by me).”

    Interacting with people that have differing and/or decenting beliefs to our own can help serve as a check and balance to our own beliefs. And I think it’s important to review our own beliefs, especially if we don’t have a good explanation for why we hold those beliefs. Coming to Japan has opened up my world and my perspective, too. That’s something I will always be grateful for.

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