The Fallacy of the “Left vs. Right” Illusion

The Fallacy of the “Left vs. Right” Illusion

I’m going to take a break in my discussions on firearms to discuss something that affects most arguments and debates: ignorant social and political labels.

How many times have you heard someone start off a post or response with words like “liberal,” “socialist,” “Democrat,” etc.? Often this is accompanied by some denigrating generalization about the group in question, such as “just like a liberal, always <insert-random-negative-behavior>.” Maybe they even go further, using words like “libtards” and “Dumbocraps,” as they enter the realm of schoolyard name-calling.

(Yes, I know it can happen the other way with “conservitards,” “Repugs,” etc… but, as studies have shown, the behavior tends to be more prevalent among certain populations.)

I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that people label others without any knowledge of who they are… or that people use these words without a clue about what they mean. This is the worst of fallacious and ignorant thinking – using generalizations to create a fictional “us vs. them” and then throwing that onto anyone who doesn’t agree to just dismiss them.

People who do this are idiots. Here’s why…

False Dichotomies, Bulverism, and Ad Hominems

That’s a lot of fancy words, but they boil down to one thing: you’re making a logical fallacy when you label someone to dismiss them. When you make a logical fallacy, people often reject you because your argument is bullshit. It’s even worse when you make three different fallacies in one behavior.

  • The world isn’t black-and-white, and neither are the people in it. Neither people nor issues fall neatly into “Left or Right.”
  • You can’t assume someone’s argument is wrong just because you believe their (supposed) profession, party, or philosophy is wrong.
  • You can’t dismiss someone’s argument by attacking them – you must prove their reasoning is faulty, regardless of their (supposed) personal traits or affiliation.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

If you’re going to use words, make sure you know what you’re saying. “Liberal versus Conservative” is bad enough (I’ll discuss the one-axis political spectrum in a moment), but often those using these words are ignorant of their definition.

Liberalism shouldn’t be a dirty word, although it’s not without fault. The philosophy has multiple meanings, including personal autonomy, intellectual and civil liberty, spiritual and moral freedom, and a self-regulating free market. The word has been co-opted and applied to numerous movements over the years (some accurately, some not so much) and refers to a variety of philosophies.

Now, you might say, “Well, modern American liberals are all…,” and yet you’d still be wrong. Why? As I mentioned, it has multiple meanings, and people are rarely all one thing. Someone might believe in personal autonomy but believe the free market should be partially regulated. Or maybe they believe in civil liberties, but that religious belief can only go so far. Not to mention, there’s the presumption that someone standing for something is automatically a “liberal” when they might merely share some of the same ideals.

“Well, what about generalizing conservatives?” You know what, you have a point. You shouldn’t peg people as one thing, especially given the variety of political and philosophical movements. Not all conservatives are the same, especially since many people who think they’re conservative aren’t

I will point out, however, that conservatism has a less broad definition: a philosophy of keeping things “the way they were.” The opposite of conservatism isn’t liberalism, it’s progressivism. While “progress for the sake of progress” is often a pitfall, so is maintaining the status quo just because “that’s how it’s always been.

A Huge Diversity of Political and Philosophical Beliefs

Of course, this brings up an important distinction: the political spectrum isn’t a single axis from Left to Right. You don’t find all Liberals, Socialists, Progressives on one side and all the Conservatives, Capitalists, and Traditionalists on the other. In fact, none of those groups are the same thing and the spectrum of runs not on one axis (Left-to-Right) but two or three.


For example, per Pace News Unlimited famous Political Compass, people often fall anywhere from Economic Left (Socialism) to Right (Capitalism) as well as Social Bottom (Libertarian) to Top (Authoritarian). Going even further, you’ll find that the ideologies often used as labels? Don’t even fall where you think they do.


Look at what lies dead-center, between the extremes of both axes: Liberalism. In fact, Progressives fall slightly more right on the Economic spectrum, alongside Conservatives and Libertarians Also noteworthy, that Conservatives stand for bigger government (despite what their constituents think) and Libertarians are the ones who want smaller government.

All those “Leftists” that are so often grouped together, labeled, and dismissed? They constitute over 75% of the spectrum, from Centrists to Socialists, Communists to Anarchists. Yet, people still want to generalize all those different people as “them”? They really believe in a simple world where everyone is “Left” or “Right”?

Even more amusing is where the politicians fall on this whole spectrum.


So many people talk about “Left versus Right,” “Liberal versus Conservative,” and the people they support? They fall far out of their own ideologies.

Hillary? She’s an Economic “right winger,” even more-so than actual conservatives. Clinton falls somewhere on the edge of ultra-capitalism and traditionalism. Yet, somehow “right wing” voters were convinced she’d take down the economy with her “liberal” ideals.

All of the GOP candidates? They’re even more authoritarian than their own base, with Trump and Jeb Bush outright fascists while Cruz and Rubio are skirting into fundamentalism. Yet, their constituents truly believed they’d bring about an end to big government and “drain the swamp.”

The only candidates standing close to what they claim? The independents and third-party. Sanders sits on the line of Social Democratism and Liberalism, a true Economic “Leftist” but moderate on government. Jill Stein is slightly more Libertarian and Socialist than he is, sitting in what’s known as “Left-Libertarianism.” Gary Johnson is what’s known as a “Libertarian Capitalist,” supporting an absolute free market even more extreme than your average Libertarian or Conservative.

The irony of this is, most of the people supporting these candidates, particularly the two major parties? Don’t even know what the Hell they’re supporting. They believe whatever the candidate, or their party, says, but their voting record is usually far from the mark. Then they apply that misinformation to anyone they meet, denigrating them for an illusion that they themselves fell for.

Even More Complex than Most Think

All of the above assumes that these political, philosophical, and social movements only fall on two axes. In reality, there are now theories about three (or even more) axes. The point is – nothing is as simple as you believe, and the second you start throwing around labels? The only “simple” thing is you.

So, the next time you see someone responding with “liberal,” “conservative,” “left,” “right,” etc. as an attack? Share this article. Maybe they won’t read it (which is often the mentality of those who sling these labels around). Hopefully, some do, though, and spreads the word.

Then we can get out of this “us versus them” mindset that is the real divisive behavior.

If you want to see where you fall on the political spectrum, try the two-axis Political Compass or the three-axis Vosem Chart. You might be surprised where you place or how you compare to those you’ve voted for in the past.

Firearm 102: Understand Gun Owners

The worst way to approach a subject is to generalize or demonize the opposition.

If you want to debate an issue, you need to be able to understand the perspective of the other side. I’m not saying you have to agree with them, but unless they’re spouting actual hate? Try to follow their logic and train-of-thought. At least pretend to walk a mile in their shoes, before you start making presumptions.

No Ad Hominems or Stereotypes

First, stop it with the childish name-calling or labels. Don’t call people who own firearms “gun nuts,” “ammosexuals,” etc. That does nothing for your argument and instead makes you look like as ignorant and closed-minded as the people you claim to be opposing.

Second, stop it with the idea that gun owners are all the same, they don’t care about people’s safety, etc. Again, that’s generalizing and stereotyping a broad swath of people, including 22% of registered Democrats and 37% of Independents, as well as 23% of self-proclaimed Liberals and 36% of Moderates. That’s a lot of people from different political and philosophical beliefs to be labeling and dismissing.

In fact, you might find you agree with the majority of them on any number of issues. Like that the majority of gun owners want better mental screening, background checks for private sales, and prohibiting those on federal watchlists from purchasing. Even topics that are less clear, like national registration databases and assault weapons, you may find that half the gun owners you talk to agree with you.

People have Valid Reasons to Own Firearms

Now that we’ve established that gun owners are not some easily-demonized right-wing movement let’s be clear: people can have logical reasons to have a firearm. In these debates, you often see people proclaim, “Why would anyone own a gun?! The only reason to own a firearm is to kill!” We’ll get back to those appeals to emotion in a later post, but the point is that many gun owners have a perfectly understandable reason for what they do.

Hunting – I would argue the most well-supported reason to own a firearm. Hunting is founded in tradition and basic human civilization, and still used today to a significant portion of the population. While some do it for sport, there are still plenty (even in a First World country) that do it for necessity. In fact, you’ll find even the strictest nations on the planet have exceptions to their firearm laws for hunters.

Sport –  The second most well-supported reason is those who participate in shooting sports. Given the activity is recognized enough to be a part of the Olympics, I would say this is a sound reason. Similar to hunting, you will also find exceptions in stricter countries for those involved in these sports.

Self-Defense – This is statistically the most common reason you’ll find in the United States, even if the logic behind it is questionable at times. Statistics show that violent crime is decreasing (even if it spikes or concentrates in specific areas), yet many people still believe that crime is on the rise and they need to defend themselves.

This fear might find its origins in the 21st century media, which bombards us with sensationalized images of violent crime and warnings of impending doom. Alternately, perhaps this is a continuation of our individualistic and independent culture – our fears, and right to lessen them, trump any reason.

Still, even with the statistics people still have a valid claim at self-defense. We don’t shut down DUI checkpoints merely because they only catch a handful of people. Why would we limit** people’s right to self-defense because just a few people successfully defend themselves each year? Not to mention, who are we to judge someone who might have been a victim of violence or invasion in the past.

(**PLEASE NOTE I’m not saying you can’t regulate firearms… I’m saying that self-defense is a valid reason, and people shouldn’t be limited from some form of ownership.)

Fun – I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of people who want to own firearms just because they can. Things that go boom or unleash destruction have fascinated humans for a long time. Even fireworks started off as weaponry, and we celebrate with them regularly.

So, there are probably plenty of people who want to own a gun because they enjoy it. They like filling targets with rounds or the feel of lethality in their hands. Some of those people might need to seek help; much more are probably releasing tension or just having fun.

Culture – This is probably related to fun, but there is a culture of masculinity intertwined with firearms, especially in America. Owning firearms is considered as much a part of being “a man” as working on cars or playing sports. Not to say women can’t do it, but this is overwhelmingly a male activity, from the various clubs and organizations I’ve encountered.

Therefore, some people may own guns out of sheer tradition. Something their father or grandfather gave them, and they expect to do the same for their children. I’m not saying it’s the best idea (as blindly following “how things are” is how we end up with the worst parts of conservatism and traditionalism), but this is an understandable motivation.

In America, in particular, gun’s were a regular part of the culture. Even my father and his brothers had a shooting club in their rural, small town primary school and would carry .22s with them. Despite times changing, rampant urbanization, the peak of crime at the end of the 20th century, etc… that culture remains. And even then, it might adapt – like the “gun culture” of the inner city is just a reflection of the one in the trailer park.

So, while I’m not saying this is the best reason, again… there’s a train of logic that makes sense how we ended up where we are.

Gun Owners are (Mostly) Rational, Educated People

The point of this whole diatribe is to point out that stereotyping your opponent, making presumptions about their character and motivations, and dismissing them does absolutely nothing to help. If you’re going to propose positive, reasonable legislation to prevent gun violence, you need to understand and involve those intertwined with the issue.

Start treating your opponents like people, and you might find more common ground than you think.

Firearms 101: Know your Terminology

If you’re going to debate or discuss something, you better understand what you’re talking about.

The Internet is a double-edged sword, providing the average person with a partial education filtered through mass and social media. This is dangerous, because now you have a bunch of people who know just enough they think they’re experts when they know precisely jack. The Internet is, in essence, the impetus and personification of Dunning-Kruger.

If you wanted to take the fight to the pharmaceutical companies, you better understand topics like medicine, biology, psychiatry, psychology, etc. If you want to make a convincing argument for educational policies, you better be informed on epistemology, child development, teaching techniques, and so on. So, if you want to start a nationwide discussion on firearms, from safety to regulations, you need to know what you’re saying and focusing on.

That means more than reading personal blogs, .org websites, Vox, Mother Jones, etc. I already warned that those sources provide only partial information (if not misinformation). You don’t argue with a doctor because you checked WebMD and you shouldn’t tell a history professor they’re wrong because some dude on the History Channel says differently.

Don’t target your vitriol against things that may or may not be real. Don’t ask for legislation banning something you don’t know what it is. Don’t use snarl words, appealing to the emotions and bias of your audience.

You’re only going to tick knowledgeable people off, even if they might agree with you on many other fronts. They’ll look at you like an idiot and tune you out, or even label and disregard you.

So, I’m going to go over some important terms to explain what they mean, especially in relation to the issues we’re facing. If you already know these? Fine, this isn’t for you. If you think you know these? Please listen, because you may not… especially if your information came from the aforementioned sources.


This is the biggest one I see mentioned. “People don’t need semi-automatics.” “Semi-automatics are meant only to mow mass numbers of people down.” “If only we’d had a ban on semi-automatic weapons.”

All of those statements show complete ignorance for what semi-automatic means and how it relates to the history of firearm technology.

Semi-automatic simply means the firearm reloads the chamber after you’ve fired a round. It is not a machine-gun; that would be an automatic (or fully-automatic) weapon. It only fires as fast as your finger can pull, but the weapon reloads itself meaning you don’t have to do anything else to fire the next round.

This is part of the natural progression of firearm technology. Early firearms required minutes to load powder, shot, light the fuse, etc. The 19th century introduced rounds pre-packaged into cartridges, meaning they just had to be loaded into the firearm. Chambering a new round initially was done manually, but eventually firearms could reload through the use of bolt-actions, lever-actions, pump-actions, etc.

That brings us to the semi-automatic, a firearm that evolved from these action mechanisms to chamber a new round without the operator’s help. Now shooters could focus on firing rather than reloading.

When did this deadly change in technology enter the scene?


The late-19th century was the first successful semi-automatic rifle. By the turn of the 20th century, the technology was perfected and grew popular on the civilian market.

I note that “civilian” part because semi-automatic firearms are not a military technology. They were designed for the general population, to allow ease of use in hunting and sport. In fact, semi-automatic technology wasn’t regularly used by the military until WWII.

Semi-automatic firearms are now the basic technology for most handguns and rifles, and have been for over a century. Guns used in self-defense, hunting, sport, etc. are often semi-automatic. That’s why there is no legislation targeting “semi-automatic” firearms in general… because that’s most guns.

Contrary to popular (mis)belief, semi-automatic firearms are not military weapons or machine-guns. When you say you want to ban “semi-automatic” weapons, you’re showing that either you want to ban the entirety of 100+ years of firearm technology… or that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Please, let’s leave “semi-automatic” out of the argument; instead focus on firearms in general or very specific ones.

Assault Weapons / Rifles

OK, you’re fine with semi-automatic handguns and hunting rifles, but not those military “assault weapons” or “assault rifles”, right?

Sorry, but you’re using a term that was basically misappropriated and oft-misused.

First, let’s clarify that “assault rifles” and “assault weapons” are not the same thing. An assault rifle is a fully-automatic weapon and what the military uses. Real M16s, AK-47s, etc. are all “assault rifles”, the standard weapon of service members, particularly soldiers. As such, they are already highly restricted under federal law and not easily acquired by the general public.

“Assault weapons” originally referred to other military gear, like grenade launchers. However, in the 1980’s they began to be used to refer to semi-automatic (see above) variants of “assault rifles”. Whether this was to demonize them (by anti-gun movements) or promote them (by pro-gun manufacturers) is irrelevant. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 only helped make “assault weapon” synonymous with their fully-automatic cousins in the eyes of the public.

Technically, they’re no more lethal than a hunting rifle. They fire at the same rate, they use the same action technology, and they usually fire rounds of a lower caliber than most hunting guns. None of the features that make them “assault weapons”, such as pistol grips, flash suppressors, barrel shrouds, etc. do a thing to make them more efficient at killing.

Ironically, “assault weapons” are not even the preferred weapon of mass shooters. Handguns outnumber all other firearms when it comes to these tragedies.

I will note, however, that I used to support ownership and I don’t. Why? They do have one thing that might contribute to added lethality, and that’s magazine size. Of course, you could always purchase a larger magazine for your hunting rifle, but the fact that “assault weapons” automatically come with 20+ round magazines is important.

Although, that doesn’t mean we jump to conclusions and start arbitrary bans like…

High Capacity Magazine

Ok, this is an area I will also be going into further detail on when I discuss “assault weapons” in general and why I changed my mind about them. Most people even agree there’s no reason to have 100-round, 50-round, or even 20-round magazines.

Yet, far too often I see people throw out arbitrary numbers. “Why do you need 15 bullets?” “If you can’t hit something in less than 10 rounds, you shouldn’t have a gun.”

Again, these statements are often made in complete ignorance of how firearms are used and what the norm is.

A pistol magazine is often 10- or 15-rounds, depending on the weapon’s size. Revolvers generally hold 5- to 7-rounds. Semi-automatic hunting and sporting rifles usually come with 5- or 10-round magazines. Pump-action shotguns can hold anywhere from 7- to 9-rounds, or more if they’re a smaller gauge.

These have been industry standards for decades, long before mass shootings were on the rise.

Why so many bullets? While hunters usually only get one (maybe two shots), the average person firing in self-defense will need more. In addition to not being able to aim in a high-stress situation (that’s Hollywood magic most of the time), single bullets don’t necessarily stop people.

So yes, a person with a firearm might indeed need 10 or more rounds to stop someone intent on harming them.

That’s why, I believe “high capacity” should apply to 20+ round magazines or similar devices. It’s not an arbitrary number – that is the point we move beyond the industry standard for firearm magazine size and to where even the most unskilled person should be able to hit a target in a high-stress situation.

Please, if you’re going to debate magazine size, make sure you’re not just throwing numbers that “sound good” out there.

A Prelude to the Firearm Debate

I really don’t have the time or energy to write this. I shouldn’t even have to, except for the fact that another person committed a heinous act of terrorism that destroyed hundreds of lives with firearms. An act that might (or might not) have been prevented with specific laws. An act that bombards my social media feed with articles, memes, and opinion posts by people in an already divided country.

So here I am, trying to be a voice of reason and education, drawn into this because of my status as a gun owner.

Oh, I know people will take that status and make assumptions about my character. Without reading further, they’ll presume what I’m going to say or defend, what my political affiliation is, what I believe in, etc. Without ever knowing me, I’ll be labeled and ignored.

And that’s part of the problem. That’s why we can’t get a unified front against gun violence.

For us to move forward, to force Congress to listen despite the lobbyists and corporate puppet masters lining their pockets… we need to be united. We can’t presume what other people say or believe just because they might be or do something we oppose. We need to listen and learn about an issue before shouting our opinions on blogs, in letters, and at public hearings.

So, let me be clear about something: I want gun control.

I fully believe there should be regulations in place to restrict who can get firearms, what types are allowed, etc. Then again, I also believe there should be stricter regulations on who can drive and be a parent. Either way, contrary to people’s presumptions, as a gun owner I am completely behind reasonable firearm legislation and even have valid suggestions.

But to get by Big Guns & Ammo, and the NRA, and the politicians in their pocket, you need to have a reasonable, educated, united front. You can’t just spout whatever you think, read in some article, or some random statistics. You have to know what you’re talking about and present your suggestions with critical thought.

So, consider this the prelude to several pieces I’ll write, in the hopes of helping people better understand the issue, the terminology, the history, and each other. Maybe then we can get some fucking reasonable laws in place that will help prevent the rising number of tragedies that have occurred in the 21st century.