A college professor once assigned everyone an “opinion” paper with the following caveat.
“I want you to come up with a position you really feel strongly about,” he said. “And then I want you to write the paper from the opposing position.”
The assignment, frankly, was a naked challenge to a college freshman: We know you think you’re smarter than everybody else. Now take the position that you’re on the other side — the not-so-smart side — and figure that out, too.
If I could wish for anything in the year 2013, it would be for people who argue — about anything, whether sports or politics or pop culture — to at least consider their opposition, at least for a moment.
The national debate is bound to rage for the next few months about laws and the Constitution, at least as they pertain to guns. Interestingly, our professor — whose name I have now forgotten, although I think it might have been Ted something — discouraged us from topics that were politically inflammatory.
“Stay away from stuff like gun control and abortion and that kind of thing,” he said. “Everybody already has an opinion and you’re not going to change anyone’s mind.”
(Note: In case you’re curious, I took the coward’s way out and wrote about interleague play in Major League Baseball. Yes, I can feel your eyes judging me already.)
The debate we’re about to have is probably appropriate, in the same way that a debate over the First Amendment — the one that protects free speech and a free press — is appropriate. Sure, the founding documents allow us freedom of expression and the right to defend ourselves with weapons, but did the Fathers ever imagine we’d own high-powered rifles? Or “Natural Born Killers” and “Pulpfiction” on DVD?
What will inevitably happen, of course, is what is already happened: Some of the zealots on one side of the aisle or the other will take the argument too far. The debates over which Constitutional freedoms are guaranteed is a nuanced one. And as with all debates that are fraught with nuance, someone will inevitably crash through that nuance by doing something ridiculous.
“Get all the guns away from everybody!” someone will say.
“No, give everyone guns all the time!” will come the reply.
And so on. In the meantime, those of us with good sense to stay out of these types of debates — and real jobs that require most of our time and energy, so we have little left over for them — will increasingly look at the national discourse and wonder why it left us behind.
Actually, that’s not true. The debate left us behind a long time ago, and most of us just agreed to stop caring. Which is too bad.