Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys – Tom Rossi

As I’ve listened to the debates about many issues in our country, most especially the “stand your ground” laws that have proliferated like mad and become so controversial after George Zimmerman chased down and shot Trayvon Martin, one thing has become increasingly clear: in the conservative mind (as in old westerns and their modern counterparts) there are good guys, and there are bad guys.

This appears to be the idea behind many Republican “principles,” the idea that people are either good or bad with little in between. And along with that comes the equally ridiculous idea that other “good” people will instantly be able to tell who is who in a conflict.

Let’s paint a scenario: You’re in a bar in Repubofantasyville, minding our own business (as “good” people always do), drinking American beer, and packing heat. All of a sudden, there is some shouting in the next room. You walk in with gun drawn, like any responsible person would do, and you find two guys in the process of drawing their own guns. It’s clear that each intends to shoot the other. So who do you shoot?

In Repubofantasyville, the good guy will, of course, be wearing a white hat, while the bad guy wears a black hat. Shoot the black hat, justice has been served, end of story. But what if it isn’t so obvious? The idea behind “stand your ground” is that, with everybody armed to the teeth, no one will try to commit a crime because of the fear of being shot.

But this particular sub-fantasy ignores passion. Sometimes, cooler heads don’t prevail and a fight breaks out. It two guys get into an argument and each knows the other has a gun, won’t each be more likely to pull their gun? It would be illogical to wait for a clearly wrong, hot-headed and mentally deficient opponent to draw his gun first. So each knows he has to be first. And if one sees the other going for his gun, the logical thing to do is to pull the trigger – first.

And there you are, having walked in on this situation and intending to prevent the bad guy from shooting the good guy. So who do you shoot?

It’s all too easy to construct scenarios where “stand your ground” laws would be (and are now) misused, abused, and just difficult to interpret – as in the Trayvon Martin shooting. But this entire idea that people are either good or bad is without merit.

If there ever have been purely good people on this planet, they have been few and far between. Almost everybody has acted (or at least thought) selfishly at some point, putting his or her own needs or wants ahead of someone else’s. Speeding in a car, jaywalking, cheating just a little bit on taxes, telling little white lies… these are all imperfections. And the same goes for the other side of this fantasy. There have been very few, percentage-wise people who could be called purely bad.

Most people are somewhere in between. Most people live decent lives but not perfect. And there is no line to cross over from good to bad, there’s only a gradient. This is human nature. We are complex beings and our social interactions are complex, as well. Policies based on simplistic interpretations of reality are doomed to fail.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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