We have all seen it. We have all been there and heard it. A blatantly false, absurdly concluded, and astronomically imbecilic comment from a know-nothing politico, pushing their favorite form of do-nothing horse manure… for the children. Or we hear that same comment from GenPop repeated in an earnest, yet ill informed, attempt to curb violence.
I’m sorry, curb gun violence.
But why? Why are gun controllers so dedicated to blatant verifiable falsehood? Why do they lie with such conviction?
It turns out people are more likely to repeat a lie, one that they even know is a lie, if they feel it could be true. If someone could foresee circumstances where the lie would become true, they are less likely to view the falsehood as being morally incorrect. It is a very ‘Ends Justify Means’ sort of view of the world, and it is a subject we have a study recently published on.
It Might Become True: How Prefactual Thinking Licenses Dishonesty
The American Psychological Association has released a study (linked above) that covers what is, in essence, an ideological purity albi to telling a lie. If the lie is in service to ‘the cause’ you believe in, and that it serves the greater goals of ‘the cause’ to repeat the falsity, the lie isn’t viewed as dishonest or morally affrontory. At least not in the same way as a “regular” lie would be viewed.
What would constitute a “regular” lie?
It would be one that caused harm and perpetuated a falsehood that didn’t serve a morally ‘greater good’ in some manner, as identified by ideological preferences. An example would be promising to return borrowed money in a timely manner, not doing so, and having no intention of doing so. That would be seen as a harmful lie, and one that constitutes theft.
But as we add variables to the base scenario we can change how that lie is perceived by people, and that perception will shift predictably along ideological lines. Not the broad left and right necessarily, the deeper sympathies we hold.
Just ‘how wrong’ the lie is from a certain point of view can be changed. Within certain parameters the lie and the theft will be ‘justifiable’ to more and more people.
Remember the lie is confirmed a lie, there is no intention by our hypothetical borrower to pay back the funds despite agreeing to do so and promising to do so. This person has unequivocally stolen money from someone who lent them that money.
Suppose we go one step further and set an amount. The amount lent/stolen is $500. A not insignificant amount by most measures but also not world shattering for many people, even those on tighter budgets. The borrower has now stolen $500 from the lender.
But now let’s make the person who lent the money reasonably well off, $500 is 0.5% or less of their annual income, while it represents 2.5% of the borrower’s. A $100K+ earning lender to a $20,000 earning borrower. The borrower lied about borrowing and repaying, they have stolen the money.
But you (and I) very likely already have come up with several very reasonable situations in which a $20k earner who borrowed 2.5% of their annual income, $500, and being unable to pay it back afterward is little to no fault of their own. Sudden unexpected cost is the nightmare of anyone at any income level who is paycheck-to-paycheck. We then further justify it by how little $500 harms the lender comparatively to how much it helps the borrower. It is quite literally of 5x greater value to the borrower than the lender in this scenario.
Recall again, we have established the borrower lied and has stolen the money. However we set our base judgement very differently based on the totality of the circumstances as we see them, or in this case as we imagine they could be. Most of us are quick to visualize a scenario that makes the theft more okay. Not totally okay, but almost. We will still state it is wrong, but we understand and can sympathize.
Now, reverse the incomes.
A person who makes $20,000 lends $500 to a person who has an income of $100,000+. Try and find the moral justification for the borrower to steal the money. You can’t, not nearly as easily. The emotive response is much more negative towards the borrower and far more sympathetic to the lender.
The lie, and the theft, remain the same $500.
Last version of the exercise, increase both incomes by 10x. Now it’s $500 between someone who makes $200k and $1 million. At these levels we hardly care who lent it to who. Now we might wonder why they’re even bothering over it. It represents less than one day of effort for either party.
We would still say stealing $500 is wrong, but it feels very different talking about $500 between two people who both earn more than that a day than if one or the other person may earn that in two weeks. But the lie and the theft are the same $500.
We just easily manipulated a “regular” lie that could be universally stated as wrong, stealing $500 from somebody and lying about it is wrong, into three scenarios. One where the lender was very sympathetic and thus grievously wronged, one where the borrower was very sympathetic and thus should be excused the wrong, and one that neither party would be grievously harmed by the loss of the money.
Circumstantial Morality Scaling
People have fewer ‘absolutes’ than we like to think, or that we will claim. Most would state, in the raw, that stealing $500 from someone else and lying about that is wrong. Yes? Lying about returning money is wrong, and stealing it is wrong.
But by adding three very basic outlines to that situation we can drastically change how wrong it feels.
When the borrower is in an ostensibly weaker financial position, it may almost feel okay that they kept the money. At the very least sympathetically understable reasons that the money was kept could be contributing to why, reasons other than simple greed.
When the borrower is shown in the stronger financial position, the assumptions flip. The motive for the borrower lying and keeping the money is much more likely to be assumed as simple greed, not need. No morally better motive is likely to be ascribed.
When borrower and lender are both assumed to be well off, our interest in the theft at all tends to drift into why either party is concerned with the lie and the theft anymore.
But again, we confirmed at the start that the borrower is lying and has stolen the money.
Lies that ‘might’ eventually come true seem less unethical – APA
The American Psychological Association states,
People may be willing to condone statements they know to be false and even spread misinformation on social media if they believe those statements could become true in the future.
Whether the situation involves a politician making a controversial statement, a business stretching the truth in an advertisement or a job seeker lying about their professional skills on a resume, people who consider how a lie might become true subsequently think it is less unethical to tell because they judge the lie’s broader message (or “gist”) as truer. The study was published in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
From the study:
Scholars have long argued that it is unethical to tell falsehoods (Aquinas, 1273; Harris, 2013; Kant, 1787; St. Augustine, 421). From as young as 4 years old, we recognize and condemn lies (Wimmer et al., 1984). Moreover, individuals and groups will incur significant costs to punish dishonesty (Boles et al., 2000; Brandts & Charness, 2003; Keck, 2014; Ohtsubo et al., 2010). Yet, people do not judge all falsehoods as equally wrong (Effron & Raj, 2020; Levine & Schweitzer, 2014; Rogers et al., 2017; Schweitzer & Hsee, 2002). For example, people are more willing to excuse lies that are told with benevolent intentions; people sometimes even judge benevolent lies as more ethical than truths (Levine & Schweitzer, 2014). Moreover, people feel less compunction about lying by omission rather than commission (Levine et al., 2018). Thus, just because people recognize a falsehood as such does not mean they will harshly condemn it.
Gun Controllers Feel Morally Justified in Their Lies
Because a Gun Controller passing a rule, even if they got their deceitfully, means they have done it to “saved lives” and have “stopped violence” through their actions. Those are both morally laudable goals, among the highest of morally laudable goals are the preservation of life and peace. We have law and religious texts both that continuously and vociferously espouse the virtues of life and peace. They are two core tenets of human civilizations, especially westernized ones.
For example, people are more willing to excuse lies that are told with benevolent intentions; people sometimes even judge benevolent lies as more ethical than truths (Levine & Schweitzer, 2014).
So saying there is no purpose for an “Assault Weapon” or a “Weapon of War” in the hands of civilians is a lie with benevolent intentions. It ignores all the lawful reasons and proper uses of AR’s and associated firearms and maligns the weapon category because the intention is benevolent. The intention being to save lives and keep the peace.
This is why Gun Controllers are so ‘stupid’ in their pursuit of their goals. This is why they ignore evidence they are wrong and that their policies are harmful. The benevolent intention is seen as more sacrosanct than the harsher and dirtier truth that free people can use that freedom to harm each other. Violence is always an option for action. It is not a ‘good’ option in nearly all cases, but it is always an available one.
People sometimes even judge benevolent lies as more ethical than truths
This is especially true in gun control. Because the truth is not pretty. The truth that violent people are largely free to act as they choose until somebody acts directly against them. The same is true for benevolent people and indifferent people, they are free to act. An otherwise benevolent or indifferent person can choose, at any time, to act violently too. Free will is terrifying when you think about it, everyone can do as the choose. Not without consequence, but they are free to act.
So the benevolent lie, “if it just saves one life.” is used to justify and morally white label gun control policy as good, regardless of actual efficacy.
We have all the data in the world that says our prohibitions do not prevent tragedy, regardless of how strict or loose we make them. The will and attitudes of the people determine how violent they are in general, not their access to a high capacity magazine. Setting policies up that restrict the whole population in a vague, nebulous, big-giant-net attempt to catch motivated violent outliers has failed in every venue we have tried it.
Usually the best result Gun Controllers can attempt to point at is, ‘see, nothing really bad happened while the policy was in place’ or the favored tactic of ‘less bad things happened when we measured it this way, so the policy is sound’ both of which usually ignore all negative policy effects and other societal stimuli that could have contributed to the positive outcome.
It is the same spurious logic that keeps someone using a terrible holster or carry method simply because, “It works for me.” The translation of that is, “Nothing bad has happened, as least that I must acknowledge, so therefore I am assuming what I am doing is good instead of dumb luck helping me. I have not critically considered this and picked out risks, benefits, and likelihoods.”
Risks, benefits, and likelihoods continue to be weakest point in Gun Controller logic, they instead rely on utopian thinking of 100% efficacy in their policies.
I am assuming that most, certainly not all, but most Gun Control advocates are the benevolent idiot (and thus the benevolent liar) because they genuinely want to do a good thing. They want to save lives and keep the peace, they are just unable to come to the terms of the difficult reality.