The Social Contract
The following discussion and reflections were prompted by four questions centered around the topic of gun control, with the purpose of evaluating how we as Americans consider the social contract and alterations to our rights.
The purpose of the opening question that I posed to Laura (the first speaker) and Alex (the second speaker), illustrated the distinction between the values of our different rights. I would say that we as Americans value the overarching rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness above the distinct rights which define specific matters. If we as Americans value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness above all other rights, it would make sense that we would be willing to alter the nature and limitations of our rights in order to accomodate and adequately protect (as Laura put it) the rights which go beyond the political spectrum and appeal to the convictions of all Americans. This willingness to alter our rights has resulted in 27 amendments to the Constitution. Furthermore the amendment of an amendment is not unprecedented either, take for example Prohibition. This displays our ability as a country to recognize that some of the boundaries we set (or in the case of gun control, won’t set) are not always in the best interest of the country and need to be rectified.
At the heart of this issue is the nature of the American social contract. The social contract requires the citizens give up some of their rights in order to receive adequate defense from their government. We give up privacy for monitoring on the internet, we allow ourselves to be searched before we board planes, and we pay taxes to the local, state and federal governments in order to receive their protection. We have demonstrated our willingness to change the boundaries of our rights in order to hold to our American Creed and the fundamentals of life and liberty and the ability to pursue happiness. The contraction of the right to bear arms in order to provide for the common safety of the people would be a compromise within the social contract that would translate into a changed American culture.
At the present, many Americans take pride in what Laura describes as the unique cultural phenomenon surrounding guns in America. It is this glorification which personalizes the issue for many Americans and contributes to the divisive nature of the subject. The other aspect which divides so many people, is that gun control is a topic rooted in safety, and the idea of safety essentially breeds fear. Because of the differing opinions of Americans on how to keep their children safe, we have suggestions of alterations, the fear associated with being able to protect one’s family is aggravated at all perspectives of the political spectrum for varying reasons. On the right, the fear is aggravated by the idea of someone taking away a possession which could potentially protect their family if we do implement gun control, on the left, the fear is aggravated by the idea that the gun and the person holding it is an uncontrolled variable if we don’t implement gun control. The emotional appeal in the topic of gun control is owed entirely to the fact that the value of safety in both body and rights is so intermittent with this topic. While we may not be able to find common ground (as we found ourselves concluding during the discussion), it may be possible to lessen the division which breeds harmful rhetoric. The popularization of unbiased media sources is a crucial step our country needs to take in order to move forward with any resemblance of unity.
As citizens, as Americans, I think that our role in the social contract translates into the gun control as such: in order to receive the protection of our government, we must be accepting of alterations to our rights regardless of whether or not they are contractions to those rights or expansions. The common safety of Americans is worth more than the undefined intricacies of a right from 200 years ago, and it’s worth more because it protects the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which are listed in our American Creed.
Overall I think this podcast was incredibly beneficial to me as someone who actively participates in the political sphere and feels strongly about this issue. I always try to see the opposite side of every argument, but this podcast especially forced me into the role of devil’s advocate. I personally hadn’t looked at the opposite side of the argument in a rational way until Sydney began talking near the middle of the podcast and I flipped the question onto her. While I still disagree with the opposing side and I’m sure that there are lots of people in our country who just want their guns for the sake of having them, the argument behind fear of the Bill of Rights being altered to some degree makes sense to me. I only opened myself to thinking in the opposite mindset when having such a controlled conversation about the reasoning of sides though, which I think it the first step to any kind of progress. This project was also very interesting because it forced me into a role of a kind of mediator as well, despite the fact that I have an outlined view on the topic myself.
For me, this podcast was meaningful and important because of how involved I am in the sphere of politics. Though I have always acknowledged the multiple standings on an issue, I feel like this podcast gave me the opportunity to really discuss with others how they saw the other side. I think we can always pride ourselves on taking the other side into account, but we will all have different interpretations of it because that is not the side of the political spectrum we identify with. This podcast quickly became a platform for students to discuss more than just a divisive issue- which was incredibly important- it also gave us the chance to discuss how this divisiveness in politics has contributed to a lack of acknowledgement of the opposing side. I’ve always been quite comfortable with debating and speaking politically, so this podcast didn’t really force me out of my comfort zone in regards to that, but it did force me to think more deeply about the policies of the other side in a more positive light than I typically do. Again, I think something damaging a lot of politically involved individuals do is pride themselves on their acceptance of the other side, but we still fall short in terms of this. This gave me the chance to think deeply about the issue of political division. I have very strong stances on almost every political issue, especially that of gun control, so I think it presented a challenge, certainly for me, and I can’t speak for Laura, but possibly even her since we’re both pretty opinionated, to step back and look at both sides instead of asserting one point pretty strongly. I think this podcast was a good way to breed healthy discourse , as it was formatted more casually, and it also touched upon acknowledging those with different views than you may have.