Truth,” Albert Einstein once said, “is what stands the test of experience.” Recently, the website BuzzFeed decided to give five fervent anti-gun liberals an experience they would never forget: shooting guns.
The resulting video is amazing in more ways than one. No one, you’ll be pleased to learn, was shot, despite the best efforts of one participant, who, after her first shotgun blast, enthusiastically swung her weapon directly at her Los Angeles Gun Club instructor, face beaming — and finger firmly on trigger.
Despite their vast distrust of guns, each left-leaning participant was, well, pretty much thrilled. “It’s like that feeling you get when you’re about to go on a roller coaster,” one gun rookie named Daysha told the camera.
“I felt kind of badass,” a new shooter named Abe reported. Two of the gun-shy liberals, despite one feeling “conflicted about it all,” admitted they would “probably come back and do it again.”
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Did the experience change minds? Probably not, but it was a start. “If all guns were in this controlled environment at the L.A. Gun Club, that would be fine,” Abe reported, “but that is not the real world.”
One wonders what would happen, however, if Abe were magically transported to a dove hunt on a beautiful day in Texas, or a clay pigeon range in a mountain-rimmed area of Montana, or, more to the point, a situation in which he needed a gun for personal defense. No one would expect him to transform into a gun nut overnight — and, to be sure, guns don’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea — but his perspective of the “real world” would certainly change, along with his view of certain policy prescriptions.
This is the mighty, life-altering power of experience, and it’s something you can’t read, watch, or tweet. It has to be tangible and real — and whether it’s a skydive, the birth of a child or time spent in a war zone, it will change who you are.
This week, Huffington Post writer Ryan Reilly, reporting on the riots in Ferguson, Mo., was widely mocked for confusing bright orange earplugs for “rubber bullets.” The earplugs in question are widely used: for firearm use, for sleeping in thin-walled hotel rooms, for time at the NASCAR track, for loud construction work. Or, if you’re like me, they’re used for writing columns when your children are calmly debating, in decibel levels rivaling a Van Halen concert, whether a North American sasquatch would defeat a T-Rex in a fight.
Just as experience shapes how you see the world, a lack of experience — such as, say, not knowing what an earplug is — clearly clouds your perceptions. Even worse, however, is that a lack of experience can also make you a bit of a wimp.
Last week, Maclean’s published a fascinating article, “The End of Neighbours,” highlighting the growing isolation in communities. “Half of Americans,” writer Brian Bethune reports, “admit they don’t know the names” of their neighbors.
Unfortunately, growing social isolation doesn’t seem to engender a highly confident, Emerson-style self-reliance among citizens. Instead, fractured communities, faced with a sizable, mysterious void, enable government to grow, step in and pick up the pieces — all while encouraging individuals to sit back, relax and let “the system” take care of them. As even semi-competent parents know, if you regularly do something for your children, they will never learn to do it themselves.
Broad, creeping, community-replacing government comes in many forms — bizarrely militarized local police forces and increasingly federalized public education come immediately to mind — and it doesn’t just limit experience. It offers a detailed prescription for wimpiness, packaged in a form that means more than a simple lack of competence, strength or self-reliance. Government-inspired wimpiness slowly walls people off and blinds people to the way the “real world” really works. Strangely, many Americans confuse this with sophistication. In a rough-and-tumble world, it’s the last thing we need.
Heather Wilhelm is a columnist for Real Clear Politics. Reach her at heatherwilhelm.com.