Right Thinking From The Left Coast
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. - Mario Andretti

Response to a Campus Columnist
by Lee

Tonight I came across a column in the Oregon State Barometer by a young woman named Emily Wheeland.  According to the byline she is a regular columnist in the paper.  On this particular week she penned a column titled
More Michael Moore, please!
Being the Michael Moore fan that I am I was intrigued to read a student’s opinion.  What follows is my response to Ms. Wheelands column.

Two weekends ago, I journeyed to Portland to see one of my greatest role models on the big screen.

The fact that Moore is one of Ms. Wheeland’s “greatest role models” sets the tone for the rest of the column.

My hero isn’t an actor. He doesn’t look like most of the people in Hollywood. In fact, because of his big belly, hairy beard and messy clothing, he might not even be let into Hollywood.

Please!  There are two things that get you celebrity status in Hollywood.  The first is being attractive, and the second is being left wing.  (Note the conspicuous absence of “talent” from that list.) Moore definitely isn’t attractive, but his rampant left-wingedness makes him the toast of the Hollywood glitterati.  He’s not going to get cast as the romatic lead, but don’t for a second think that Moore isn’t strictly A-list.

Who is this mysterious being, you ask? None other than the noted filmmaker, writer, director, producer and social and political commentator Michael Moore.

“Noted” by people who already agree with his opinions.

A man from meager beginnings, Moore grew up in Flint, Mich. but moved away to become an author of several books, have his own television show and make documentaries—all of which, I would argue, say as much about our society, as does any history, political science or philosophy book out there.

This is one of the saddest things in this entire column.  Wheeland is a college student, and therefore is in an environment when she can ostensibly be exposed to the greatest writing, thought, opinion, and information culminated from the history of mankind.  Yet she feels it necessary to place Moore’s ramblings on a level where they “say as much about our society, as does any history, political science or philosophy book out there.” This is absolutely pathetic, and as much of a commentary on the truly sad state of our institutes of higher learning as it is the willfulness of Wheeland to place on hold any and all critical thinking skills she may posess.

On a related note, I think you might find this Moore quote interesting.  “My audience is made up of working stiffs, of people who come from the working class, and it is rare that you hear our voice in the media. We don’t own newspapers, we don’t have TV shows."  A strange comment from a man who is the author of several books, has produced at least two TV shows, and made a number of films.  For additional examples of Moore’s populist doublespeak you can read this article by Australian journalist Tim Blair.

Moore’s latest cinema extravaganza, “Bowling for Columbine,” is a movie about guns, war, death and destruction. All of this sounds rather depressing and it is, but more importantly, the movie is educational.

I would agree, if you are looking for an example of “How to lie and distort the truth to make a point that doesn’t actually exist, all the while appearing to say something while saying nothing at all.” (More on this later.)

The premise is violence in the United States and the film poses the question of why we commit so many acts of violence against each other, as well as against other nations.

The problem lies in that Moore’s film is not a documentary, where a question is posed and then all possible evidence is presented before a conclusion is drawn.  Moore’s film is a polemic, where a question is posed, an answer is formulated, then only evidence which supports the answer is presented to the viewer.

Moore’s conclusion seems to be that we live in a constant state of fear which causes us to be easily suspicious, violent and reactionary towards one another.

“Seems to be” is the appropriate phrase here, because Moore provides nothing but anecdotal evidence of his assertions.

Moore has a point here. A few nights ago I heard acclaimed eco-feminist Vandana Shiva speak,

Must… stifle… laugh…

and one thing she said is that any nation which operates out of fear and insecurity (i.e. the U.S.), is an unhealthy country.

While I agree with this sentiment on its face, I doubt that I would still do so once I heard it in the context of the point the “eco-feminist” (!) was making.

While I agree that part of the reason we have so much violence, particularly gun violence, is because we are constantly fearful of everyone and everything around us, I believe part of the equation is missing from Moore’s movie.

As do I, but we just think different parts are missing.

While Moore’s interviews with National Rifle Association head honcho Charlton Heston, militia men, gun lovers and the like, are as captivating as they are frightening,

Moore didn’t actually interview any gun lovers, at least not the kind that represent the vast majority of lawful gun owners in this country.  He interviewed militia members, criminals, and Terry Nichols, which he subtly presented as traditional gun owners.  If Wheeland had performed any critical thinking on the film she might have noticed that fact.

one thing which never seems to be mentioned during the discussion of violence, is who is committing such senseless acts.

Ah, here we go.  BLAME IT ON THE PENIS!

Studies have shown time and time again that most of the people participating in gun violence in the U.S. are men. Before you jump on the “you ball-busting feminazi!” bandwagon, please hear me out.

Okay, I can do that.

I believe neither men nor women are born inherently better than one another or, for that matter, any more violent in nature. However, our society constantly puts pressure upon men to be powerful, to not cry or show emotion, and to constantly prove they are tougher than the next guy. Masculinity places men in a hierarchy and creates a pecking order. If men do show emotion, they are called sissies and are bumped south on the masculinity totem pole.

Perhaps no insult is greater to many men than one against their masculinity.

So, Ms. Wheeland, since “studies have shown” that men commit most of the gun violence in this country you—and undoubtedly your “eco-feminist”—therefore conclude that there must be something about male culture at the root.  Okay, for the sake of discussion let’s assume that that is true.  Due to the astonishingly high rates of crime in America’s black communities, are you willing to apply that same rationale and declare that there is something about black culture that breeds violence?  Somehow, given your leftward sensibilities, I doubt that in this case the shoe would fit on the other foot.

In “Bowling for Columbine” Moore gives us the number of deaths which occurred in one year in many industrialized countries. Many, including Canada (which, according to the film, has many more gun owners than the United States), has so few deaths from guns, that you could count them on two or three hands.

Well, that’s not exactly true.  According to the Canadian Department of Justice 22% of all Canadian households own a firearm, compared to nearly 49% for the United States.  Of those Canadians who own a firearm, the vast majority (95.1%) own a long gun—a shotgun or rifle.  Only 12% of gun owners owned a handgun, which is the preferred weapon of criminals due to its concealability.  Canadians are also more likely to own a firearm based upon where they live.  People living in small towns are more likely to own a long gun (33.6%) versus those living in a large city (1.2%). 

Since the majority of America’s gun violence takes place in our large cities by criminals with handguns, comparing rates of gun homicide with a country where most gun owners own long guns and live in rural areas does not make a lot of sense.

Let us, however, explore Canadian handgun statistics for a second.  A recent column in Canada’s National Post newspaper gives a number of statistics regarding handgun deaths there, despite Canada’s draconian handgun registration scheme.

Since the registry opened its doors (or at least its database) four years ago this week, overall firearms homicides are up more than 13%. If the rate had instead declined 13%, you can bet the Liberals would have been broadcasting their “success” far and wide. We believe they should be held to account for their “failure” just as vigorously.

Not only does Canada have substantially fewer handguns than the United States, but they have a gun registration system in place.  And yet firearms homicides are up by 13% over the past four years.  Is this a succcess of Canada’s gun control laws?  You be the judge.  Michael Moore, however, conveniently leaves facts such as these out of his film.

The United States, on the other hand, had over 11,000 deaths from gun violence! Imagine if 11,000 people died in the same place at the same time, we would think this number of casualties shockingly catastrophic, yet because they are isolated incidents, we don’t think much of it.

Again, here Moore twists and distorts the truth to fit his agenda, when even a cursory evaluation of the facts will provide substantial refutation.

According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control the leading causes of death in America for the year 2000 were as follows:

Heart Disease:  710,760
Cancer:  553,091
Stroke:  167,661
Chronic lower respiratory diseases:  122,009
Accidents:  97,900
Diabetes:  69,301
Influenza and pneumonia:  65,313
Alzheimer’s Disease:  49,558
Kidney diseases:  37,251
Septicemia:  31,224
Suicide: 29,350
Liver disease:  26,552
Hypertension/renal disease:  18,073
Homicide (all causes):  16,765 [Emphasis added]
Pneumonitis:  16,636
All other combined:  391,904

This means that you are ten times more likely to die of a stroke than you are of being murdered (by any method), yet you don’t see Moore making films about the epidemic of strokes.  (Which is ironic, given Moore’s obesity.  Perhaps his next film should be called Angioplasty for Columbine.)

Out of all suicides, homicides, and accidents the total number of deaths involving a gunshot is 28,663.  The circumstances of these deaths break down as follows:

1. Suicide: 16,596 (53%)
2. Homicide: 10,806 (38%)
3. Accident: 774 (2.7%)
4. Police: 258 (0.9%)
5. Unknown: 229 (0.8%)

So, now we get down to Moore’s number of 10,806.  However, we need to look at what constitutes a “homicide” in this context.  If one drug dealer shoots another drug dealer, that’s a gun homicide.  If one LA gang has a shootout with another LA gang and four gang members get killed, that’s four homicides. By presenting this statistic as the number of little old ladies who are getting mowed down by gun-wielding criminals Moore significantly reduces his credibility.  To be sure, gang members and criminals are still people, therefore their use in that statistic is justified in the broader sense.  But to hold average gun owners accountable for the actions of gun-wielding professional criminals is hardly an intellectually honest argument.

Moore also does not solve for the substantially higher population of the US when comparing statistics with Canada, Japan, England, and other nations.  When you look at the 10,806 gun homicides in the US as a percentage of the total US population, it comes out to 0.0036%.  That’s right, 36/1000 of a percent.

If I told you that every year 36/1000 of a percent of the population of this country was to die of, say, alcohol poisoning, would you feel it such a pressing matter that a Michael Moore film should be made about it?  Probably not.  But, coincidentally, the number of deaths by alcohol (excluding alcohol-related accidents) was 19,358—0.0062% of the population.  That means that you are almost twice as likely to die of alcohol poisoning than you are of a gunshot wound.

I bet you didn’t know that, did you?

In truth, only a miniscule percentage of men are violent.

Well, it’s nice of you to acknowledge that fact, especially since you then go on to try to draw exactly the opposite conclusion.

But in many ways, violent men can be seen as examples of the outcome of the social construction of masculinity.

The social construction of masculinity?  Wow, you really are in college, aren’t you?  Let me give you a little taste of what the real world is like:  everything you are now learning is bullshit.

They are taught that “manly men,” masculine men, are tough, powerful and often violent.

Which is unfortunately the case.  But you make the standard logical flaw of most left-wingers in assuming that all violence is the same.  Violence for a cause, such as liberating concentration camp victims, is not the same as violence for personal gain, such as robbing a liquor store.  Very few boys are taught that violence for personal gain is a good thing, which is why—as you admit above—only a miniscule percentage of men are violent.

From the time boys are toddlers, we give them toy guns, show them movies about gun-slingin’ cowboys, let them watch television shows where men fight, wrestle, shoot and kill one another on a regular basis and give them grossly violent video games wherein the more people you kill, the more successful you are.

And from the beginning of time little boys have been entertained by simulating violence in this manner.  Only someone who refers to masculinity as a social construct could fail to recognize this simple fact.  Take a look at two puppies playing sometime.  They are simulating fighting.  The same goes for lion cubs and deer and just about any other species.  Play fighting is the norm for just about all vertebrate mammals, and humans are no exception.  If only a “miniscule percentage” of boys exposed to violence will grow up to be violent men, how can you then make a case for causality between the two?

Have you taken a class on statistics yet?  If not, you might want to before you graduate.

Such images of violence teach boys that in order to be considered real men, strong men, they must be aggressive.

And you base this on what?  As a former little boy who played every type of violent activity you can think of let me point out to you that there was always a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” The bad guy exhibited the characteristics you describe, but he was always beaten in the end by the good guy.  If anything play violence reenforces in little boys the concept of violence in furtherance of a cause, which I describe above.

One way some men show their value as a man, their masculinity, is to act out violently toward others, particularly other men who may threaten their position on the totem pole of masculinity.

And what does this prove?  You hint at causality but provide nothing but your own speculation in support.  (Which, coincidentally, is the hallmark of Moore’s style.  No wonder he is one of your “greatest role models.")

Rather than blaming the media and government for creating widespread fear in its citizens or blaming all men for the violent acts of a few,

As, ironically, you have just attempted to do…

shouldn’t we be asking ourselves if there is a problem with a society when any one group of people are the majority of people committing violent acts towards others?

Surely if gays or Muslims committed the majority of gun violence in this country, it would be noted. So why do we not pay attention to the fact that the perpetrators of gun violence in the U.S., more often that not, tend to be men?

And, as I mentioned earlier, statistically speaking they also tend to be black men.  The reason this fact is not noted is because it is suppressed by the media in the name of political correctness, which you will no doubt continue to do once you are employed as a professional journalist.  If you wish to blame mascilinity as a whole for masculine violence, are you also prepared to blame black masculinity for perpetrating a disproportionate amount of that violence?

What this seems to say is not that men are naturally any more violent, but that there’s something wrong with our culture, as it socializes men to believe that to be normal means to have power over and be violent toward others.

If society socializes men to be more violent towards others in the manner you describe here, why does it produce—in your words—only “a miniscule percentage of men” who become violent?  Again, you need to show causality.

In my own unofficial estimate, 99 percent of the people who committed violent acts toward other’s in “Bowling for Columbine” were men.

Gee, you don’t think that was intentional, do you?  Moore only showed idiot rednecks and militia members as representative of gun owners, too, and I assure you that was on purpose.  And, conversely, Moore focused on a school shooting in which rich white kids died.  He didn’t focus on the impact of gun violence on a single black family, even though they suffer the most from it, statistically speaking.

If I am making a movie about black society, and I only show crackheads, pimps, and death row convicts, what would the logical inference be from the film?

And while I agree with Moore that we live in a fear-filled society which influences our treatment of others—and with Shiva saying that this isn’t positive—I have this sneaking suspicion that if we didn’t place such an enormous emphasis on men to always act tough and be in competition with one another for status and power, the number of men acting out violently towards others, particularly with guns, would diminish.

Again, if you wish to make this assertion you need to show causality.  Moore shows no causality in his film, only a series of events which he implies are related, and leaves it for the compliant viewer to fill in the gaping holes in his logic.

I am assuming that, as a regular colunist for your school paper, you are a journalism major.  I sincerely hope that you manage to apply a higher level of critical thinking to your future writing than you did here.  The opinion journalist is first and foremost a critic.  Draw whatever conclusions you feel are appropriate, but do so honestly.

Posted by Lee on 11/30/02 at 09:10 PM (Discuss this in the forums)

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