My reaction to that has always been, in a syllable, "huh?" To me, it seems like a futile and counterproductive gesture.
Literally throwing your empty gun at an enemy is a bad idea for a couple of reasons: First, it announces that you're no longer armed. So if he wants to, your opponent can now walk up and shoot you without risk or fear. Yes, someone could use the throw as a ruse to draw someone in close for an ambush, but let's focus on scenarios with honest combatants for now.
Second, throwing the gun away narrows your future options. How awful would it be if you threw away your gun only to realize moments later that you still had a couple of rounds jingling around in your pocket that you'd forgotten about? That would suck a lot worse than that moment when you realize just as you're locking your car door, that you left the keys on the seat, right?
But even worse, what if your opponent were out of ammo too, but he happens to have a few extra rounds in his pocket that don't fit his gun but do fit yours? Or, what if he's completely out, but now he has two clubs (his empty gun and yours) while you have none! Doh!
Those scenarios might have made for funny bits in a movie like "Blazing Saddles," but they wouldn't be so funny if they happened to you in real life.
The only potential benefit I can see from throwing away the gun is that an empty gun can also be interpreted as a white flag... if you throw it towards an ethical adversary. If you're battling the Predator, then throwing away your empty gun might (literally) save your hide - but even if that's the case, you'd have been much safer had you never pulled it in the first place.
Since this blog is (mostly) about libertarian thought (bad or otherwise), why am I talking about a movie cliché? The reason I'm talking about this cliché is because engaging in ad hominem argument is a lot like throwing away your gun.
How so? Think about it this way: when you resort to ad hominem, what you're really telling your opponent is that you're out of intellectual ammo - that you have no fact-based or logic-based arguments left in your magazine. Like a thrown empty gun, ad hominem is harmless to an opponent who recognizes it for what it truly is, so resorting to it is a desperate move because if your opponent is smart, he's probably going to club you with it.
And if you lead off with a thrown gun, then what you're telling your opponent is that maybe you never had any logic-based arguments to begin with - that you walk around all day displaying an empty gun. That's not smart. Better to leave it at home if you don't have the capability to use it.
Yesterday, an anonymous person left a comment on the second post of this blog ("Coming Soon from Bad Quaker Dot Org") that was essentially just a bunch of dressed up ad hominem.
Joining a long line of others before him (a line, by the way, which also includes me - before I realized how self-defeating it is), he came out of the gate throwing his gun. The smartest part of the post was the author's decision to leave his or her name off of it. I hope they don't take the outcome personally, because I don't take pleasure in "shooting" the unarmed - intellectually speaking, of course (as well as literally - I don't get pleasure from shooting or otherwise hurting any living creature).
But leading with ad hominem was just the first mistake this poster made. The second problem I had with the post was the hero-worship for libertarian thinkers that was also on display. The sneering accusations that maybe I hadn't read or understood my Spooner or my von Mises, so "obviously" there's no value to what I say.
I'm going to dub that sort of thing "Libertarian Fundamentalism" from now on, just to make it easier to point it out when it happens again (as I'm sure it will).
What's wrong with that approach? A couple of things I can think of: First, I must have missed the chapter in "Socialism" where von Mises talks about the nuances of telling people to "shut up" in order to promote a point of view. Maybe I was sick that day, or maybe that was Spooner, but if so, I still can't find the citation. :)
So, in other words, this poster was wrong in trying to appeal to "authoritative" sources to defend behavior that they don't actually condone. And that's lame.
Secondly, hero-worship has no place in the mind of a free thinker. The freedom movement isn't a Madrasa. Memorizing and repeating other people's ideas shouldn't be the goal. Understanding them and applying them, or understanding them and criticizing them should be a goal, but an even better goal would be to try to figure out more effective ways of popularizing those ideas and making them accessible to people who aren't willing or capable of consuming and digesting several thousand pages of dense philosophical and economic thought.
I realize this may be a touchy subject (but touchy subjects seem to be my "thing," so...) if the "Pantheon" of great (classical) liberal thinkers is so awesome and accessible, then why did the Libertarian presidential candidate get just 1% of the vote in the last election? Not enough ad hominem "debate?" I don't think so.
That's a rounding error, folks. That ain't good. If that's the result of the best efforts of the liberty movement from the beginning of time until now... then we need to think about how to do better by doing something different.
Some author once wrote that there are no such things as contradictions, and if you think you've found one, then you should examine your premises because you are going to discover that at least one of them is wrong. I can't remember her name, because I'm a bad libertarian, but I think it started with an 'A.' Andrea? McNally? Rand? Rand McNally? That's probably it, because I'm pretty sure it had something to do with an "atlas." ;-)
It seems to me like a pretty big contradiction that a philosophy of personal freedom could be SO unpopular that it only gets 1% of the vote. So I think that if we're going to walk our talk, then it's well past time for us to start examining our premises like Andrea Rand McNally advised us to do.
A couple of people who are in my libertarian "pantheon" are Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Want to know why? Here's a hint: it's not because either of them have PhD's in economics.
I'll give you one example of why I find their contribution to be so valuable, and if you're a fan of "South Park," then you can probably think of many others:
One popular topic among freedom loving folks is the idea that putting on a funny hat, or a suit, or swearing an oath, or wearing a badge, doesn't give one human any more rights than other humans who decided not to dress up like Halloween that day.
In certain cases, civil servants might need some special privileges in order to effectively do their jobs (like selectively and cautiously ignoring some traffic laws to get to the scene of an accident or put out a fire as expeditiously as possible), but they don't have any more rights than anyone else does.
This is a familiar argument, right? But how many people really want to listen to someone drone on about that topic over and over? Or worse, get quizzed on their recollection of the source materials?
But, there's another way. A really effective way that can (and has) embedded the seed of that idea into the minds of 10's of millions (if not 100's of millions) of people all over the world, most of whom probably think "Walden" has something to do with the phrase, "Good night, John-boy."
I probably don't even need to tell you what it is at this point, so I'll just post the image:
|Respect... my... authori-tah!|
If people want to keep throwing empty guns at me, that's fine. I'll either ignore them or occasionally pick one up to give that poster a friendly metaphorical tap on the head to try to wake them up to what they're doing.
But instead of spending time on that, why don't we instead focus on finding better ways to communicate our ideas - and stop throwing guns at each other altogether? It may not be easy, but I think it's worth trying... m'Kay?