I have had several conversations recently that have disturbed my tranquility. My interlocutors are people I like, and believe to be nice, intelligent, good people. Yet each brought an idea to mind, at least to my mind, that is dreadful.
I was at a scientific conference in Saarbrucken, Germany the day a faculty member was murdered by his graduate student at the University of North Carolina. At dinner the conversation naturally turned to gun control as there was a scientist there from UNC. I argued for the 2nd amendment, but not particularly well. What I should have mentioned was Chesterton’s fence. It is important to understand why the 2nd amendment is there at all before ignoring or removing it. I also did not mention France, where I believe the gun control laws are as restrictive as anywhere in the United States. Yet consider these recent notorious murders in France. There were the mass murders in the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the November 2015 Paris attacks with illegal guns (and bombs in 2015). In some sense the single murder of Samuel Paty was more shocking. This social science teacher was decapitated with a knife for teaching about freedom of speech with Charlie Hebdo images of Allah. And then there was the biggest mass murder, the 2016 Nice truck attack. It is well known that airplanes can be murder weapons from 9/11. In France there was Germanwings Flight 9525. A suicidal copilot locked himself in the cockpit and flew his plane into a mountainside killing everyone on board. Gun control has been ineffective at stopping determined murderers.
A London friend was describing to me many of the restrictive laws on driving in his city. He complained about the loud scooters, suggesting that they should be outlawed. And recalling his recent family vacation near St. Tropez, that jet skis should be banned as well. I agreed with his distaste for these noisy intrusions on tranquility, but argued for consideration of the rights of the noisy louts.
I am on an expert panel for PhD scholarships in Flanders. The interview meeting was held in Brussels (the capital of Flanders….and Belgium,and Europe, and the region of Brussels itself). At dinner with some of the panel members the conversation turned to climate change. One engineering professor is a militant climate change advocate, that is he took it upon himself to debunk deniers on social media. I did not have the stomach to argue about the “science” with him. But I could not help notice how the table talked about their moral superiority in reducing their carbon footprints implying the moral degeneracy of the “deniers.”
These conversations had a common leitmotif. The educated, technical elite (all but the Londoner were PhDs) assumed an intellectual and moral superiority over gun owners, louts who make excessive noise, and climate change deniers. There was no empathy, let alone sympathy, for these people. We can think of the statements of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all of the MSM.
The assumption of moral superiority that dehumanizes opponents also supersedes politics; that is, the compromises that allow for peaceful coexistence. The unease I feel in the pit of my stomach is that this is the road to hell for individual sinners, but also for society. This was the path trod to the guillotine, the gulag, and the gas chamber. Either the powers that be will be executing the gun owners, louts, and climate change deniers; or there will be a revolution and the executioners will be the reverse.