If there were one national debate to point to as the prototype of bad arguments, it would be the gun control debate. No, I’m not saying a particular side has poor arguments and is clearly wrong, I’m saying everyone engaged in the conversation seems to be doing a poor job of communicating their points. This is evidenced by the fact that, despite raging for decades, very little has changed in the eyes of the public. People who want guns still want them, people do don’t – don’t.
Like all good endless debates, the conflict arises from the warring factions actually having two entirely separate conversations that never meet in the middle. The pro gun control advocates are having a conversation about public well being. All the while the gun rights advocates are having a conversation about personal autonomy. You’d think those two concepts would make for an interesting and fruitful debate, but since both sides are unaware of the disjointed nature of their debate, they just see the arguments of the opposition as drivel.
Here is my big idea: people can be separated into two groups on any given subject; outcome think and process think. There’s already a hundred ways that people try to explain the divide between liberals and conservatives. The difference is my idea is much better than those other models, so listen to me instead.
Outcome Think just means that problems are identified and addressed by their outcomes. Billy is getting bad grades so we do what we need to improve his grades. In this case his grades are how education is measured and fixing the grades is considered the same as fixing the education.
With Process Think, there merely needs to be a system in place that is believed to lead to a desirable outcome. As long as billy is studying hard, his education is fine and grades may not be a valid indicator of that.
Neither of these ways of thinking are complete. They narrow the complexity of the problem down to easily defined variables. In the case of billy, both methods aim to improve his education, but because that is difficult to define they look at either grades or study habits.
Ideally, both the process and the outcome should be considered, but that’s hard. Like, really hard. So instead people pick one or the other way of modeling their problems and stick to it. The one you pick has a lot to do with the political party you side with. On average liberals are outcome thinkers, conservatives are process thinkers.
Liberals see that the outcome of gun violence is bad. Conservatives see that the process of owning a gun is good. Everything after that is just mental gymnastics to defend that central viewpoint.
This divergence in thought process leads to yet one more distinctive characteristic of the two party system. The gap between outcome equality and opportunity equality. When it was pointed out that the number of women in congress is very low compared to the number of women in the country, liberals cried sexism.
In their minds, the only way to tell if the process was just is if the outcome fit their prescribed ideal. Since women are equal to men, and half the population is women, half of congress should be women. The conservatives saw nothing wrong because there was no rule in place barring women from election. The process was just, even if the outcome did not appear so. In their minds the ratio of men to women was a sign of women’s preferences rather than oppression.
Many people mocked the idea of outcome equality as being naive, but it was just a logical extension of outcome thinking. In that particular case, it was outcome thinking directed at the wrong type of outcome, but the thought processes was the same as other less ridiculed liberal agendas.