In countless news articles, discussions and on TV people say we need to discuss several major issues. And, as evidenced by recent news developments, two of the most commonly cited issues are rape and gun violence.
And they are important issues. Unfortunately, these discussions are very unlikely to lead to any successful solution for the 5 reasons that follow:
1) We look for simple solutions:
And those often don't work. Banning assault weapons, putting a security guard in every school are feel-good policies without being thought through. There are good ideas buried there, but the good ideas are nuanced and nuanced policies take a lot more persuasion to get the general populace behind.
2) We pay attention to the sensationalized stories:
Instead to the general problem. While it is nice people care about gun violence after we see a mass shooting, and don't get me wrong they are tragedies, mass shootings are only a very small percentage of gun deaths in the United States. If our policies are directly responsive only to these incidences we won't address the root causes of the much bigger problem.
3) These issues have already been discussed:
In books, blog posts and a variety of other media. Unfortunately, they are often too long, boring and time consuming for most people. ABC did a 5-minute panel on the discussion, but the problem is the issue is much too complicated for a 5-minute discussion. It requires serious time, background knowledge and research to have a discussion on these issues and most people are unable to give that commitment.
4) We don't like to be wrong:
I, like many others, are guilty of looking for information that supports my views rather than the other way around. And this becomes problematic. We only see two sides, not a spectrum of solutions. This has three implications. First, this leads to fights, rather than successful compromises. Look at all of the debates: pro-life/choice, pro-gun/anti-gun and even the now feminist and "men's rights" movements. Taking sides entrenches people and leads to fighting, creating a situation where people can't see good alternatives that don't really fit into the story of either side. In addition, these two sided issues turn off most people in the middle. Most people don't want to have to fight about politics. Finally, even if you are willing to give your voice, you won't be heard since the people on both sides are only seeking out more literature that supports them rather than an alternative view.
5) We take easy ways out:
In general rape discussions, both on the internet and in person, we like to condemn the "obviously bad" opinions. Todd Akin and now his half-supporter Phil Gingrey are easy to scapegoat for having such abominable opinions. But attacking their opinions rarely creates a successful discussion. The situation becomes let's just attack someone we all don't agree with, feel good and go home. Unfortunately that too will never lead to anywhere substantive.
I don't bring these points up simply to deride our situation. Hopefully, we can facilitate these discussions and reach pragmatic solutions that will benefit society. But in order to reach that point, we need to first look at why we are failing to get there. I believe this can be that start.