OSD 110: What smart people are supposed to think

It’s flipping in real time.

A friend sent us a copy of his New York Times morning newsletter from Thursday last week. We’ve screenshotted the main part of it in full below:



Yes, all the facts in the NYT newsletter about guns are wrong. But that’s the least interesting thing about it.

After all, this is the internet. Everything’s wrong all the time! That’s the whole fun of it! Being upset that someone on the internet is wrong is like being sad that there are waves in the ocean. The whole point is that it’s turbulent, and sometimes the waves crash into each other and make cool shapes. The sane thing is to do some boogie boarding and build a little sandcastle and wear sunscreen and have a Coke and just hang out for a little bit, and don’t get worked up about the shape of some particular wave.

What is interesting about the NYT newsletter is the meta-game that it’s playing. We’ve talked many times how cultural disagreements are a tussle about what is normalized vs. what is stigmatized (e.g. in OSD 80, OSD 99, and OSD 107).

What’s really going on in the NYT newsletter has almost nothing to do with content itself. The “facts” literally don’t matter, as you may have observed if you’ve ever noticed how useless facts are at changing people’s opinions on this stuff. So the newsletter could have said pretty much anything. The point isn’t to communicate information, the point is to draw a box and label it, “This is what smart people believe.” Once they’ve made that box, it doesn’t matter much what goes into it. If people want to be seen as smart, they’ll sign up for whatever’s in the box.

Our Twitter bio is “Making people proud to care about gun rights.” That’s because we’re accelerating a trend: people are starting to poke at what they’ve been told thoughtful people are supposed to think about guns. They’re learning that the only clear outcome of the history and empirical reality of gun control is that it increases police power; that gun rights have been getting steadily more popular for 30 years; that silencers are pretty great; that racial minorities outpaced any other group in the 2020 gun buying surge; and that the statistical dogmas we’ve grown up with are, well, wrong.

Decades ago, when three TV stations and a handful of newspapers decided what good people are supposed to believe, it was a lot easier to prevent reality from interfering. Today, people have the tools to figure out for themselves what they’re supposed to believe. The only way that’ll stop is if you get shamed out of sharing your own beliefs, or provoked into doing so in an inflammatory way.

The meta-game the NYT’s newsletter is playing is to make it embarrassing for you to come out of the safe, particularly in the aftermath of a mass shooting when emotions are high. But if you come out anyway, and stay friendly and confident while you do it, the meta-game crumbles.


This week’s links

X-ray guns

Cool wall art

Resources for talking about mass shootings

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals strikes down the bump stock ban

The case still has a ways to go before reaching a final disposition, but this latest ruling rejected the ATF’s assertion that it could reinterpret the legal definition of “machine gun” to encompass bump stocks. At the link above, we analyze the implications of that for the ATF’s longstanding reliance on courts’ deferential treatment of its administrative rule-making.

Abené Clayton and Lois Beckett: “Everything about America’s gun debate is wrong — here’s why”

This piece is decidedly not coming from a pro-gun-rights perspective, but we’d endorse nearly all of the points it makes. And notably, many of the points it makes (e.g. the contagion effect of mass shootings, or the way that gun control empowers police relative to powerless communities) were popularized by gun rights folks. It’s a sign of progress that these ideas are starting to get into the mainstream.


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