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28 January 2013

Two-dimensional Power and the Gun Debate

After the shooting at Sandy Hook, Ezra Klein wrote:
When we first collected much of this data [about guns and mass shootings in the United States], it was after the Aurora, Colo. shootings, and the air was thick with calls to avoid "politicizing" the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for "don't talk about reforming our gun control laws."

Let's be clear: That is a form of politicization. When political actors construct a political argument that threatens political consequences if other political actors pursue a certain political outcome, that is, almost by definition, a politicization of the issue. It's just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws.
Lisa Wade at Sociological Images succinctly paraphrased Klein, writing:
…silencing a discussion is just another form of politicization.
The debate-about-whether-to-have-the-debate has been a relatively successful discursive tool for those who are pro-gun. Every high-profile occasion of violence involving guns is met with calls for a moratorium on political conversation. This tactic has much in common with the two-dimensional view of power. Clawson, Neustadtl, and Weller in Dollars and Votes outline three increasingly complicated views of power. They are:
  • common conception - the ability to make someone do something against his/her will
  • two-dimensional view - the non-articulation of a problem so that its omission is not recognized as a wielding of power
  • field theory - the altering of social space by powerful agents so as actors are forced to orient toward the agents
Clawson et al. use pollution as an example for the two-dimensional view. In the 1960s and 1970s, before the modern environmental movement had brought it to the fore, pollution was simply not on anyone's radar as an issue. The ability of industry to keep a conversation from happening was itself a use a power, one all the more powerful because of its invisibility.

When individuals insist "Now is not the time," or "We should help people mourn instead of being divisive," they are--even if unwittingly--doing two-dimensional power, indefinitely delaying the debate and re-articulating the problem to make it about timing instead of the substantive issue, effectively cloaking the very use of power.

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