Here is why I’m fucking off of Twitter, probably for good. I want to make abundantly clear: These are entirely personal reasons.
Shortly after the Pulse nightclub massacre, I wrote out a post about my feelings on gun violence and gun ownership, because my social media feeds got swallowed up in the same pro-gun/anti-gun debate that (uselessly) follows every mass murder in America. I cannot now find it, because Facebook exists to make memories disappear, but what it came down to was this:
I grew up in a place where a lot of very well-meaning people legally owned and carried guns. The vast majority of them used them only for hunting, or sharpshooting, or target practice, and kept them responsibly and safely, and always had their concealed-carry documentation on them in case of trouble. Most of them would never cause trouble. They wanted to be ready to protect themselves or others when trouble came – really and genuinely. I know that the image of the gun-toting maniac redneck screeching about his Second Amendment rights is not all-encompassing. I know that those people exist, but also that the cultural norm of gun-owning in the state I grew up in only looks like that in weird, classism-charged political cartoons.
What scared me about people with guns, I explained on Facebook, was the decision-making process required to get as far as keeping a gun in your glove compartment, or your purse, or your concealed holster. It unnerved me, walking around and knowing that many of the people around me – kind, good people – had looked into themselves and understood that there were circumstances under which they would feel able and justified in pointing their concealed weapons at another person and pulling the trigger. They had done the mental work and taken the time to decide, affirmatively: Yes, under these specific circumstances, I could end another human life.
I know there are very few murderers in the world – really cold-blooded, remorseless murderers who want to see other people die. They exist, but the people around me who own and carry guns are not those people. They are not secretly hoping they get the chance to shoot someone someday, most of them. It’s not that simple. Their relationship to the question is itself something I don’t fully comprehend, having grown up outside of it.
And, I explained on Facebook: I can’t find my way inside that worldview. My understanding of the issue is necessarily incomplete, because I can’t empathize with that. I cannot put myself in the shoes of someone who has that understanding of themselves and their limits when it comes to violence, because my own personal limits, due to my own upbringing and experiences and temperament, are “no one” and “never.” It’s not even a moral judgment, it’s just a statement of fact: I don’t understand it and I don’t know how to.
The deaths in the news about which we are the most angry these days, the ones that have left me feeling sick and despairing, the dead black men and women and children whose vigils I’ve attended – it always gets emphasized, it seems, that the person who did it wasn’t a murderer. That he was a guy doing his job, which included making the necessary judgment of whether his own life was sufficiently in danger to justify killing another person. (It’s why we keep refusing to indict them.)
But it’s an accepted fact, in the modern liberal worldview, that one doesn’t have to be a cold-blooded murderer to end a life. One only has to have the implicit, unconscious understanding that that life is worth less than other lives. You don’t have to want to kill someone, we say, in order to be more likely to pull the trigger when it’s their face in front of yours. Something in you, way deep down, just has to have accepted already that it’s less bad than normal if they get hurt.
I think that’s probably true. I think it’s probably human nature, especially once we’ve begun slotting people into a calculus of who does and doesn’t deserve to get hurt, to take over that process on some kind of unconscious level. On an instinctual level where things feel right, this feels right to me.
With all of that in mind, here is my current relationship to the violent rhetoric immediately surrounding me:
When the conservative gun-owners in my community explain to me that they are not murderers, but people with a cultural investment in gun ownership and a desire to defend themselves only under certain extreme circumstances, I believe them.
Despite believing them, I am afraid of them, because I have never understood the attraction of owning a lethal weapon with the understanding that you may someday use it on another human being.
The idea that good people in my community, who own guns, have largely, as individuals, already determined the circumstances under which they could kill someone else scares the shit out of me.
The rhetoric of my chosen political movement has, for years, included the idea that some people harm other people because, unconsciously, they see them as less human and more deserving of harm.
Because I am a person who belongs to a group more likely to fall under the “less bad than normal if they get hurt” category, having people around me with guns who believe themselves capable of physical violence against others scares me, regardless of their intentions.
For a few months now, I have been watching what feels like every single goddamn person I know fiercely, aggressively, publicly announce the circumstances under which they could inflict physical violence on other people.
The people I know are scaring me.
The Internet, Twitter, this Nazi-punching social media fad, is causing me to think of people I love and care for and respect as violent people, because I created an echo chamber of people on my own side – knowingly, I did this – and now every voice in the chamber feels like it’s saying one thing, over and over again, endlessly, that sounds like everything everyone on my Facebook feed with a gun has been telling me for years. I wouldn’t just haul off and shoot a guy, but of course I’d shoot at somebody breaking into my house. I’m not a violent person, in fact I’d call myself a pacifist, but if I saw a Nazi I’d be more than ready to run up and punch him in the face.
I know that isn’t what people mean when they say and retweet and re-proclaim that they are ready to inflict physical violence on hypothetical other people. I know that as clearly as I know your average gun-owning conservative would never in a thousand years shoot me in the face, as clearly as I know it really is the hypothetical nighttime prowler he’s so worried about. But being ready to say this thing that scares me, loudly and constantly, has come to define every online social circle I have right now, and—so, fuck it. I’m not going to stay in the places that make me think the people around me are violent people. I know they’re not. I know this. So I’m going to stop bathing myself every day in the waters of The Wellspring Of Declarations That One Is Ready To Inflict Physical Harm On Other Human Beings, and go do something else.
I know the history of violent protest on the Left as well as I know the history of nonviolent protest. I’ve sought out and listened to the arguments for and against in the Nazi-Punching Discourse. I came to this conclusion based on my understanding of myself and what I am and am not able to engage with; based on what I know about how social media works, and especially the weird emotional places Twitter can take me if I’m not careful about using it.
I have this hope that this specific rhetoric will belong only to these online spaces, to this historical moment. That we’ll abandon this meme soon. We may or may not! Things don’t stop being things because I don’t like them. But either way: I’m stepping back.
Hit me up elsewhere, guys! I love you all lots.