A few months ago, a high school friend launched a post on Facebook that seemed to rekindle an entire debate. At least it did in our little corner of the world. The debate revealed a lot about character and brought forth the three worst words in the English language. I used to think those three words were “some assembly required.” I was wrong.
In order to set this up I need to reset the debate itself. My friend was feeling raw following the death of George Floyd. I can’t say as I can blame her. The debate started over whether what happened to him was simply murder or an example of oppression. Those on the left agreed it was. Those on the right argued that the government shutting down the economy was oppression. That by itself was bad enough. Then, the discussion turned to protesting. The fact that the president was okay with gun toting nuts storming the capital in Michigan, but not okay with people protesting the death of Floyd came up. Another high school friend defended the protesters in Michigan. We tried to reason with him that bringing a gun to a protest is dangerous and unnecessary. He said we do it because we can. There it is. That’s the conservative movement boiled down to a nice bumpersticker.
Fast-forward to the past few days and the same thing reared its ugly head. A few Twitter folks were trying to defend Kyle Rittenhouse. See, he was only defending himself when he shot three people. When you point out the salient point that a teenager shouldn’t be at a protest with a high powered rifle that doesn’t register. When you question the wisdom of anyone bringing a gun to a volatile situation it doesn’t register. The fact that he had a high powered gun apparently had nothing to do with why the situation got out of hand in the first place. Why shouldn’t he have brought a gun? It’s his right.
Let’s ignore the obvious for a moment. It wasn’t his right. He was underage. There’s a reason why we don’t allow underage teens to have high powered guns. We just witnessed it this week. Still, let’s ignore that. Let’s assume he did have the right. It still doesn’t mean that doing it is the wisest course of action. Because we can isn’t good enough. Because we can doesn’t bring those two people back to life. Because we can isn’t a legal excuse for ending the life of two people. Because we can doesn’t explain taking a third person’s arm. One of the victims was shot in the back. That’s hardly self-defense.
Look at the backdrop of most of the struggles in our society in the past year and you can see “because we can” at the root of it. Lockdowns and social distancing? The hell with that. I have the right to go anywhere I want. I can walk into a store without a mask. I can print up bogus laminated cards that say I have a religious exception to wearing a mask or a health exception to wearing a mask. I have the right to get a haircut or go to a bar. I have the right to go to sporting events or church. I have the right to go to my favorite restaurant. Because we can.
Because we can ignores two very important points. First, because we can ignores the question of whether we should. It ignores the question of whether we should bring big guns to an active protest. It ignores whether we should neglect to social distance at a political event. It ignores whether we should go out in public without a mask. It ignores the fact that there are obviously consequences to all of our actions.
That of course brings us to the second point. Because we can ignores that there are natural consequences to all of our actions. This is where the buzzword “cancel culture” comes from. See, I say what I want because I can. How dare I suffer any consequences for it? How dare you deny me the right to say my offensive piece to a captive audience. That’s not how free speech is supposed to work.
Except, that’s exactly how free speech is supposed to work. I have the right to say what I want without Congress passing a law against it. The first amendment doesn’t protect from others’ reaction to my speech. The first amendment doesn’t protect me from how my employers might react to my speech. The first amendment doesn’t mean that universities or other public groups can’t cancel my appearances or fail to give me a megaphone to broadcast my speech. That’s literally not how any of this works.
So, you can decry your “cancel culture”, your “virtue signaling”, and even your “toxic positivity.” I’ll decry “because we can.” Past generations seem to understand the balance between doing what we could and practicing restraint because it wasn’t wise to do everything we felt like doing. We could all carry big guns everywhere we go. It also means we would have more shootings. We can say every damn thing that enters into our empty heads. It also means we would suffer more consequences. We could throw all safety protocols to the wind. It also means we would likely get ourselves and our families sick. Because we can isn’t good enough. Because we can won’t bring those two victims back. Because we can won’t keep Rittenhouse out of prison. It’s time to give because we can a rest.