“As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your day.” — Neil Diamond
I have done this one before. All that is old is new again. The overwhelming theme that has occurred this week in the argument over gun control are those three words. Because I can. I have gotten into debates with multiple folks on social media and all of them have asserted the same things. The second amendment gives me the right to do it. Of course, whether that’s true or not is up for debate. I don’t have time for that debate in these spaces right now.
Because I can. That has become to conservative mantra in the United States. It has become the mantra of the MAGA crowd. Because I can. I can cheat on my taxes. I can commit fraud on the American public. I can grab the private parts of women. I can be selfish and refuse to wear a mask. I can be selfish and refuse to get a vaccine or follow basic safety protocols. Because I can.
As someone that spends most of their days around adolescents, I can attest to how important this stage is in moral development. You move from a stage of following rules because you have to to following rules because you want to. You move from a stage of really not fully internalizing why a rule is there to setting up your own schema for the rules you will follow regardless of whether there is someone to enforce them or not.
Because we can. Essentially, the difference between a fully functioning adult with moral autonomy and one that isn’t is the keen understanding between “can” and “should.” I’ve fought this my whole life. It’s a hard question to learn. That period of early adulthood is key. For the first time in your life you have autonomy from your parents. You CAN do things they would never allow you to do. Because we can. However, that is never the most important question. The most important question is whether we should.
I still remember vividly serving on the editorial board of my college newspaper. A student had been accused of sexual assault. He had not been charged. Journalistic ethics indicate you can report on it and publish his picture. So, the rest of the editorial board chose to do that. We have the right to do it. I didn’t think it was wise since we were a small campus and were the only source of news for the campus.
I lost that debate. They told me I wasn’t a journalism major and simply didn’t understand. We have the right to do it. Because we can. As it turned out, the charges were dropped. The student in question had an identical twin on campus. Both had to transfer to another university because of the fall out. The alleged victim recanted her story, so no one knows if an assault even occurred. Because we can.
All this happened because no one bothered to ask the important question: should we do this? Far too many people have made life more difficult, more painful, and more cruel because they’ve never bothered to ponder that question. Should we do this? Because I can has been the default position. Because I can has been the mantra that has driven this country into a ditch.
Naturally one could take this whole concept to its logical extreme, but any time a decision is made, the effects on those around us should be considered. Does my behavior present an inherent risk to those around me? Does my behavior make the world a better place or a worse place? Because I can is just simply not good enough. We need better. We deserve better.