A World, Transformed: Love In The Early Internet

Twenty-four years ago, I dialed up to CompuServe via a modem to talk about Star Wars. I had no idea my future wife was posting there.

Even if I’d been looking for love – which I wasn’t – the Internet back then was small and furtive. There were no selfies, because that was a technological accomplishment: you had to have a physical camera, then get your snapshots developed at the PhotoHut, and then a scanner to scan it in, and an FTP program to upload it to a site you owned. There were no videos. There were only crude, blocky emojis cobbled together from stray bits of punctuation.

There was only text.

Sane people didn’t fall in love through text.

So love never occurred to us.

My future wife, however, was (and remains) both a phenomenal debater and writer, so instead we argued ferociously (and platonically) for four years about every topic that came our way. She smacked me down whenever I made a terrible point, I took her to task for her weak opinions, we went toe-to-toe with each other in enthusiastic polemics and then engaged in one-upmanship pun wars that went on for weeks.

You couldn’t do better as a staging ground for unrecognized sapiosexual attractions, really.

But what strikes me as amazing is how inconvenient and lonely our discussions were back then… and it wasn’t so long ago.

We had to dial up via phone, and back then that meant landlines, and I was not so rich that I could afford two lines. So I’d clog up the phone in our apartment, and pay hourly connection fees to Compuserve, downloading threads and hoarding replies to save money, all for this bizarre textual connection.

A connection that literally nobody I talked to valued.

The Internet was viewed as a place made for weirdos those days. People barely understood computers, as this was in a day when “Word Processing” was a skill that genuinely added value to a resume. Telling strangers you had a social life online led to people asking what “online” meant.

And those who did know thought you did it only if you had no real-life friends – which was accurate for me, as I was in a lonely place after a move because I had taken a new job in a new city and was too socially anxious to ask anyone to hang out with me. I had my girlfriend, who’d moved out with me, but we weren’t the kind of couple who did well just hanging out with each other 24/7 for literally years at a time.

Having friends on the Internet was a dirty secret. If I talked about them like they were real people, folks would ask if I’d met them, what I really knew about these people, why were they so sad and lifeless that they’d have to talk to losers like me online.

The strands that connected the real world to the Internet were so tenuous in those days. People did cool things on the Internet, but there was no YouTube or easy way to pass around photos, so a big “viral” post maybe got to about 500 people before it guttered out. The idea of meeting someone you knew online was such a big deal that we held entire threads devoted to each crossing, encouraging both people to post their (usually positive) opinions of each other so the rest of us could imagine what our online buddies might be like if we ever shared a beer.

There were no cheap laptops, no cell phones that could connect, no workable wi-fi. Every time I talked to them I had to return home, to my place with the wired connection and the desktop computer, and boot up my specialty program.

And when my wife and I realized that, in fact, we were now both single and in love with each other, it was a forbidden love. Only losers used electronic dating services. (Watch “Harold and Maude” for an example of how it was viewed back in the 70s, and it was no better come the 90s.) The only time online love was discussed was on Geraldo’s show about how they were all secret murderers.

Telling people “We met online” back then usually caused a frozen, polite smile and a step backwards as they fumbled for something nice to say. It just… wasn’t done. Not by normal people, anyway.

But I loved my wife long before I ever saw her face.

(Though we did exchange photos, snapshots sent through the mail, before I flew to Alaska to meet with her. We weren’t crazy crazy.)

And the reason I bring all this up today is because the final CompuServe forums are closing down this December. I didn’t even know they were still running. I thought about finding the first post where I ever contradicted Gini (or she lambasted me), but those archives are gone.

But for us, it’s the end of an era.

And I think about how the world I knew only twenty-someodd years ago has been obliterated. If you’re twenty-three now, you probably have no real emotional concept of how playing videogames legitimately used to be something you could be mocked for doing in high school – and now they outsell movies. Electronic dating is now rapidly outstripping “We met at work” as a connection. Hashtags cause politicians to tremble.

The Internet has melded with the real world in ways that I never would have predicted back when I listened to my modem make that scratchy electronic throat-clearing noise so I could download the latest text-threads about the Death Star Trench Run.

And the Internet is, of course, full of horrors and revelations. It can’t not be; it’s full of humans, and we’re all mixed bags of kindness and cruelty. There’s unexpected ramifications – I didn’t think that a deep love of videogames would lead to Gamergate would lead to revitalized right-wing movements, but, well, here we are.

But never forget: there’s also love.

There’s also connection.

There’s also hope, and answers to loneliness.

I think of me, accidentally finding my wife in text. I think of friends (and lovers) who I’ve met in emails or texts or what-have-you, genuine friends who’ve supported me through some pretty dark places even though we may never have physically met.

And I think of all those people who didn’t understand why they felt so out of place until they stumbled across someone else who was trans, or asexual, or kinky, or gay – connections they might have never made were they restricted to physical meetups in a smaller town. I think of the endless generosity of people on the net, all those GoFundMes promoted by friends forged on the Internet and often donated to by strangers with compassion in their hearts.

The Internet is about kinships, and making those connections are easier than ever.

I met my wife online, back before Twitter or Facebook or even ICQ was a thing. And I think of how someone right now is meeting the love of their life online. Maybe they don’t know it. We didn’t.

I wish them a future as weird and wonderful as what we got.

Goodnight, CompuServe.

Good morning, new kinships. In whatever grand and glorious form you choose to take.

Working Out Makes Me Hate My Face: Unexpected Ramifications

Here’s a weird side effect of my personal training:

They’ve been working on my posture a lot, because pre-training I had the posture of a question mark. I didn’t use my core body strength for anything, I stood wrong, I slouched.

And I’m not gonna say that’s fixed, but I definitely stand straighter. But now there’s another problem:

I am so fat.

Which is not to say that I’m any heavier – I’ve probably lost five pounds, not a lot in the scheme of things – but now that I pull my head back properly, I have this double-chin and wattles that I cannot fucking stand. I look like a bullfrog with a five o’clock shadow.

I’d never thought my workouts would make me feel worse about myself, but the weird thing is that slouching my head forward stretched out my face and hid the double chin.

Now every time I look at my correctly-postured face, it has a bib of fat around it.

I know, I know. Hopefully I’ll keep working out and eating better and that’ll go away. But when I started with a personal trainer I didn’t know it would leave me with nowhere to hide.

This Saturday, I’m In Pittsburgh. This Sunday, You Should Be At Rebecca’s Gift.

So I’m currently sick as a dog – which is ironic, as I wrote a (yet-to-be-published) essay in which the central feature is “Ferrett usually doesn’t catch colds.”  But I guess the bug has to infiltrate my immune system occasionally, and so I’ve been too dazed to do much more than Tweet and make silly status updates.

That said, another reminder that I’ll be giving my talk “Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory” at The Body Shop at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 4th! Tickets are available to the general public through EventBrite – and I’ll be going out for brief drinks afterwards before I head back to the Land of Cleve.  (If you’re on FetLife, you can RSVP here.)

And it’s so worth going back to Cleveland – because on Sunday, the Rebecca’s Gift Boardwalk is taking place at 2:00 pm at Fairmount Temple.  Rebecca, if you’ll recall, is my goddaughter who died on her sixth birthday of brain cancer – she’s so special I have her tattooed on my arm – and in her memory, the Rebecca’s Gift foundation helps families recover from the loss of a child.

Because here’s the ugly truth: parents get lots of support when a child falls ill.  But if the child dies, they’re often left isolated at a time when grief can tear their families apart. Rebecca’s Gift is designed to let them heal – and it’s a hard charity to sell, as the pitch is “This will save families when medicine couldn’t save their child,” but it is a necessary one.

So the boardwalk has all sorts of kids’ activities – ones Rebecca would have loved – and raffles and silent auctions for grownups.  If you’re in town, you should go.   And if you’re not in town, and you feel motivated to donate, they’re registered as a 501-c non-profit organization and they would very much appreciate your donation.

 

Hear Me Speak In Pittsburgh On November 4th! Or Hear Me Online Right Now!

Hello, Pittsburgh residents! I’ll be giving my talk “Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory” at The Body Shop at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 4th! Tickets are available to the general public through EventBrite – I’m $7.12, less than the cost of a showing of Thor: Ragnarok – and I’ll be hanging out for a bit afterwards, if you’ve ever felt a yen to yak with me.

This is a rare speaking appearance where I’m not at a con and it’s open to anyone who wants to see me, so take advantage of it!

(For the record, Jealousy Is Not A Crime is one of the first presentations I ever crafted, and is still one of my best. It’s well worth your shekels.)

Anyway. If you’re on FetLife, you can RSVP here. Every person there will be met with not only a fine talk but my immense gratitude as I will, as usual, be terrified of facing an empty room.

And if you’d like to hear me talk about my writing, my old friends at the Unreliable Narrator podcast interviewed me. In case you don’t know, Unreliable Narrator is run by old friends of mine from my Viable Paradise workshop class, so it’s kind of like hearing me talk at a family reunion, making this one of my favorite podcast appearances to date. I wound up doing a rather deep dive into my process as a writer and what helped unlock my potential – so if you’re looking to get your novel published, click it and listen!

Three Follow-Ups From Yesterday’s Post About Consent Violations

1)  Some people have stated that their local conventions are not at all concerned about what happens if one attendee sexually assaults another in their private room. “We can’t tell what happened once someone gets someone else alone,” they say.  “So it’s not our business.”
Here’s my take:
If you’re a convention whose reaction to “A person who paid to attend our convention is using our con as a staging ground to find people to sexually assault in private” is “Well, that’s too complex to bother with,” then please tell me immediately so I can never attend your convention ever.
You’re free to abrogate responsibility, of course.  But of the forty-plus conventions I’ve attended, I’m reasonably certain all of them would be sufficiently concerned by such a thing to act (and I know this for a fact about most of them).  And if you’re at a convention where the organizers are only concerned about sexual assault insofar as it inconveniences them, as far as I’m concerned your convention is trash.
(Which is not to say that they may successfully be able to prevent such things, or even accurately ascertain what happened.  But if their reaction to being told of nefarious activity is to fling their hands up and shrug “Whatcha gonna do?” I would run, run, run.)
2) One of the saddest reactions to yesterday’s post was that people could not assume, even in a fictional example, that a convention would have firm evidence of an abuser’s violations.  People repeatedly said, “Well, maybe you could follow the violator around, collecting evidence,” as if there was no way a con would ever catch someone outright.
Hint: they do.
And sometimes, they don’t do anything because the violator is their friend.
And here I quote some wise words from Lucy Snyder, a helluva scary fiction writer and a generally smart cookie:
“When we got our first report that Chainmail Guy had creeped on an attendee at Context, I and our programming head started quietly talking to women who had attended the convention. And we very, very quickly started getting reports from other women. He had been creeping on dozens of women for a long time but had (until then) flown under the radar because the women figured it would be easier to just avoid him than to report him and risk the uncomfortable hassles of not being believed.

“So I’d say that’s a major step you’re missing in your essay: don’t assume this is a one-time incident. Start asking around. You don’t have to name the first victim who came to your attention; just say something like, ‘We’ve had a report that this individual has assaulted someone at the event; do you know of anyone else who might have had a problem with him?’ Chances are very, very high that if you’ve got one report of an assault, you will quickly find other reports. Chances are very high he’s been a problem for a long time, but (like most predators) he’s been deliberately choosing women who he can bully into silence or who otherwise won’t come forward out of fear of not being believed. That is typical, deliberate behavior by most sexual predators.

“It is really, really important to get predators away from people and stop enabling them. It doesn’t matter what kind of “shit sandwich” you feel like you have to eat in the process. Context’s FANACO board wasn’t willing to deal with the harassment situation and the whole convention collapsed. I miss the con, but I don’t for a moment regret my and Steven M Saus aggressively pursuing the matter, because the culture has to change.”

If you liked that, Lucy has a Patreon.  Feel free to sign up for other smart posts and good poetry.
3) Some people took my “Sometimes there are no good outcomes” as “Ferrett, you’re telling people to give up!”  And here’s my brutal take:
 I think if the only way you can be motivated to do good is to be invested in INEVITABLE PERFECT OUTCOMES WITH NO BADNESS EVAR, then probably “quitting” is literally the best thing you can do for your community.

Because when that day comes when you get to choose between “Your con gets some bad PR but you know you did the right thing” and “You do the thing that gets you good PR but you do wrong by the victim,” you’re gonna have a serious risk of becoming that person who risks minimizing the downsides to the victims so you can fool yourself into thinking this is the nicey-nice outcome where EVERYONE WINS YAY.

More realistic people, I feel, will take the hit and recognize you’ve prioritized as best you can.

So yeah. If you hear “There’s no perfect solution” and use that as an excuse to walk away, maybe that’s better.  Because in my experience, when people who need a good outcome encounter the Kobayashi Maru, they start mentally massaging the facts to make it so that the choice that’ll hurt the victim isn’t really that bad, they’ll be fine, because there’s always a solution that rewards everyone and it’ll probably work out for this already-damaged person, right?

Wrong.

Sometimes, you do the right thing in the dark. Nobody’ll know you did right but you, and others may even be mad at you. Do it anyway.

The Smoke Trail: Something To Consider About Consent Violations And Running Cons

So here’s something most people don’t think about when it comes to consent violations: the smoke trail.
But if you’ve run a convention for long enough? Oh, you’ve thought about it because you’ve tried not to ignite it.
Because here’s a not-uncommon scenario for kink conventions: someone well known in the community – let’s call ‘em “Famous Dave” – sexually assaults someone at your convention.
The victim is traumatized enough, and has requested not to be named – so your goal is to not cause a gossip shitstorm that shoves this person into the spotlight as everyone starts debating what Famous Dave did and whether he really meant to do it and besides, wasn’t the victim out to get him anyway?  Keeping their details obscured is good because if someone’s been sexually assaulted, the last thing they need is all of Famous Dave’s fans dragging their name through the mud and making them relive this stuff.
Your goal: to take some sort of action without revealing the victim.
Well, you’ve got options, and none of them are good if the victim doesn’t want to come forward:
1) Ban Famous Dave And Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Unfortunately, if you give him details, there’s a really good chance Famous Dave can figure out who reported this violation – because there’s only so many people he’s played with at that con.  It’s not too hard for him to flip back through his playlist and home in on his accuser.
And that risks serious backlash.  Famous Dave might write an essay naming his accuser, often in the guise of begging forgiveness, but all that really does is make the victim look shitty if they don’t charge forward into social media to tell their side of the story.  Famous Dave might pester his victim repeatedly, pressuring them into forgiveness at a time when the victim may not even be ready to talk about it.  Or Famous Dave might rally his buddies to get a smear campaign, proactively (and sometimes unconsciously) raising the troops to go after some victim’s reputation before Dave’s gets torpedoed.
You can expose the victim to further harassment and shame merely by the act of banning a famous predator.  Because all of those things have happened.
That’s the smoke trail; you think you’ve solved the problem, but you’ve created a backlash that hurts the victim.
2)  Ban Famous Dave And Don’t Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Well, as noted, it’s often not too hard for Famous Dave to figure out what he did wrong if that wrong was done at the convention.  So you risk igniting the smoke trail again.
But what if Famous Dave legitimately doesn’t know what he did?  Because that, too, has happened, particularly to famous kink rock stars – sure, they did this sexy thing to nine other women without checking and it went down like gangbusters, but that tenth woman was distinctly not into it.  If he takes to social media to claim he did nothing wrong, then to certain people your con looks like you’re tetchy dictators who ban for no good reason and hey why are you being so mean to Famous Dave what about his constitutional rights what about due process?
Which is good for the victim, but negative PR for your con.  Because while there are people who very much support black-box bannings, in the absence of facts a lot of people assume the con is just power-mad because hey, I met Dave and he was awesome.
And in either case, if you don’t say what went wrong, then the gossip train goes nuts.  People hear that Famous Dave got banned, and all sorts of crazy rumors fly because anyone who’s played with him (or her) is now a potential target, because man, communities can be fierce when it comes to wanting to know what’s happening.
Sometimes people who never accused Famous Dave of anything get marked as the accuser, and have to defend themselves from some onslaught, particularly if Famous Dave decides they did it.  Shitty?  Absolutely.  But it’s also happened.
(Though sometimes a flurry of gossip turns up additional victims who are willing to come forward, which is one of your best-case scenarios – though obviously you have no way of guaranteeing that.  Though I should note that another weird “best-case” scenario where you get to have both the victim remain concealed and avoid swamping the con in drama is when you black-box-ban Dave, and he knows precisely what he did, and he doesn’t want the PR happening either so he goes quiet.  But then you have the unwanted side effect of a predator being quiet so he can go about abuse at other cons, which, you know, not that ideal from a “global effects” perspective.)
3)  Don’t Ban Famous Dave Because The Victim Doesn’t Want To Be A Target For Famous Abuse.
Well… you protect that victim from further trauma.  But not further victims from Famous Dave.
And the problem is that, yes, the victim doesn’t feel like going toe-to-toe with someone who has fifty rabid fans who’ll defend his every move because “Famous Dave did CPR on my sick puppy once and therefore Famous Dave would never do anything wrong.”  But that’s a real concern, if you’re trying to help someone heal.  It can get super-stressful if you’re trying to return to normality and everyone’s clutching your shoulder like you’re made of fine crystal and going, “Oh my God, are you all right?”
And sometimes you see conventions not revealing details, and the victim gets furious because they’re not perceiving the convention as being on their side, because if the con was on their side they’d have been more forward with the horrible thing that happened.  Why are they being so slow to respond?
And the answer is often that it’s not the con’s place to decide what level of exposure a victim of a consent violation should have.  They’re slow to react because, frankly, they’ve seen other scenarios where some idiot at a con gave one too many details that allowed an abuser – or a community – to put a name to the victim when they really did not want to have their name put up for debate, which made it infinitely worse for them.
And sometimes it’s not even someone famous.  Sometimes Dave is just someone well-liked in the community.  He isn’t dragging fifty fans, but he has got friends who are gonna start poking around because we like Dave, why did these organizers do this mean thing to him?   And then you’ll have asshole victim-blamers who demand that every victim step forward to be a punching bag for any organization that needs them, because we all know that the crime of “being sexually assaulted” should carry a mandatory sentence of “being forced to perform psychologically-damaging community service.”
The smoke trail is real.  Violations that happen at conventions are complex.  There are other, narrower, reactions that can be taken, of course, but not all of them might apply to this particular incident.
And if you’re in charge when the victim wants privacy, shielding them and being open about your process and managing good PR for your con often becomes a balancing act even the best can’t manage.
It’s not fair.  It’s not good.  It’s not right.
But sometimes there are no good solutions, and all you can do is choose the particular flavor of shit sandwich you’re going to choke down that day.
And that’s all.

The Cartoonishly Implacable Criminal That Gun Owners Fear

A few weeks ago, I admitted my ignorance of guns and how that affects my ability to create workable gun legislation. So I asked gun owners for their input.

I’d say about 70% of the pro-gun feedback that explained why laws were useless when it came to stopping criminals from getting guns could be summarized by this actual quote:

“You cannot stop someone from doing EVIL that is the truth.”

Well, except no. That’s not the truth.

When I was a teenager, some schmuck in Chicago opened random bottles of Tylenol and laced the capsules with cyanide, killing seven people. This was a horrible crime.

Manufacturers made tamper-proof packaging that makes it harder to get into pill bottles and poison them. It’s not impossible. I mean, if you wanted to poison a bunch of people, you could probably devise a way to reseal bottles in a way that folks wouldn’t notice – a dab of clear nail polish would probably do it.

But honestly, the fact is, it’d be a large pain in the butt to pull off, and that guy probably poisoned capsules because it was easy to do. Make it a little harder, and they don’t do that.

Yet by the standards of a lot of gun owners, who kept repeating “If a criminal wants a gun, he’s gonna get one,” the reality would be that the Tylenol poisoner and all his copycat friends – because there are almost always copycat murders – would circumvent any barrier, so why bother changing the packaging?

But no. The actual truth is that while there are absolutely criminals who will not stop at anything until they have committed their dastardly crime, a large portion of criminals – perhaps the majority – respond, quite sanely, to making crimes more difficult.

You put cameras and beeper labels in stores and there’s less shoplifting because they’re more likely to get caught. You have locks on your doors and people are less likely to break in when they know they’ll have to kick in a door. Do stringent background checks at your school, and it’s less likely a child molester will try for a job there. If there’s too many cops on the street, lots of muggers will stay home that day.

Make it difficult for long enough, lots of criminals decide not to bother.

That’s literally how it works.

Yet the pro-gun people seem to genuinely believe that all criminals are this implacable Terminator, having woken up with a deep and implacable bloodlust that says “I AM GOING TO ROB A LIQUOR STORE AND MURDER THE PROPRIETOR, AND NOTHING WILL STOP ME UNTIL I FIND A WAY TO DO SO.”

I mean, there doubtlessly are a few devoted villains like that out there – guys who would find a way to murder Pop down at the Brown Bag with a toothbrush. But most guys robbing liquor stores are doing it because they think it’s something that’s reasonably easy to pull off.

If that store has cameras, they’re not going to do it until they think they can get around the cameras. (Admittedly: a balaclava will generally do it.) If that store is in a place that’s got a lot of bystanders, they’re not going to rob it unless there’s a way to thin those bystanders. (Admittedly: Waiting until night is a good strategy.) If that store is next to the police station, they’re probably not going to rob it ever.

And hell, gun owners know this because one of their most frequent arguments is “That store owner should have a shotgun to scare robbers away.”

In other words, “You can stop someone from doing evil.” Make it inconvenient enough to pull off a given crime, and the lazier criminals won’t bother. I mean, yes, people still try to rob banks – but not as many as try to rob liquor stores, because even dim criminals know that you’re not likely to get away with much when there’s a vault and cameras and trained FBI teams dedicated tracking you down.

And maybe all that does is kick the problem over to tomorrow, but let’s look at the most implacable criminals of all: terrorists. They’ve been looking to get an atomic bomb to destroy American cities for years now. That’s hard because it’s a severely technological issue and the materials are scarce.

Are you honestly willing to look me in the eye and say we shouldn’t even make the attempt to block terrorists from getting nuclear weapons because “You cannot stop someone from doing EVIL that is the truth”?

No. The truth is that every day we stop someone from doing a crime, that’s another day we’ve bought that maybe something else stops them. Maybe that bomb-seeking terrorist drops dead of cancer, one of the rare cases I’m pro-cancer. Maybe he recants his hatred of America. Maybe he’s been promising his terrorist buddies that he’s gonna get a nuclear bomb tomorrow, I swear, it’s totally happening dudes, and he loses financial support because people now think he’s full of shit.

And – this is crazy – maybe if we prevent him from getting a nuclear bomb for long enough, he’ll figure it’s a waste of time and try to get some other form of bomb that’s less damaging. I mean, I don’t want a truck explosion in Times Square, but that outcome’s way better than a nuke.

Because here’s the other truth: even in the few cases where someone is waking up in the morning with a murderous intent that no amount of deterrents will stop them, you can mitigate the damage they’ll do. Maybe she’s desperate to kill as many people as possible, but there’s going to be a difference in her lethality if she can get her hands on a tank instead of a shotgun. Or a nuke versus an IED.

Yet you wouldn’t find a gun owner saying, “Well, we shouldn’t even make the attempt to try to stop terrorists from getting fissionable material, that’s stupid.” Why?

Because “stopping terrorists from getting nukes” isn’t going to inconvenience them. Whereas more laws on guns will inconvenience them. And you may note that in most cases they’re locking up their business at night rather than putting out a sign that says “WE DON’T LOCK UP OUR SAFE HERE” because in the end, they do actually believe that you can stop someone from doing evil, even if you only stop them for one day, because “stopping someone for one day” is still worthwhile.

And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that some significant percentage of murders are caused because a gun made it super-easy for someone to make a stupid mistake. Which happens all the time. Flip through the news and you’ll find a family argument that turned lethal because tempers rose and someone had a gadget at hand that’s designed entirely to end lives easily. A lot of those people, if you watch the interviews afterwards, seem stunned and regretful, because sure, they were angry, but if they had to strangle Uncle Phil instead of shooting him, they might have changed their minds.

Which is not to say that I believe we should get rid of guns entirely. (Some liberals do; I don’t.) I made a major error when I asked pro-gun folks, “So what gun laws can we pass to lower gun deaths?” – because honestly, restricting that solution to “Gun laws only” is needlessly restrictive. If people want to discuss alternative solutions like “better mental health care” or “less news PR for mass shooters” or, well, anything, I’m open to it.

And there’s an honest debate to be had about the balance between effective laws and inconvenience to law-abiding citizens. I’m for decriminalizing marijuana because I think it’s a comparatively harmless drug that winds up getting a lot of otherwise-innocent people arrested. (Even if I personally dislike pot myself.) If you want to argue that passing laws would inconvenience law-abiding gun owners and not lower the crime rate all that much, well, that’s a legit debate to have.

(Even if I think of what my friend Sean said when he told me, “This is now so far gone we have no hope of cleaning this up for us. We may have to look at reducing gun deaths as a task that will take a generation to solve, some national battle like reducing smallpox. And honestly, America is terrible at that.” The more I ponder that, the more I come to believe that yeah, it might take decades to stem the flow even if we all agreed on a solution.)

But that is now my litmus test: does this person I am discussing gun laws with acknowledge that yes, we not only can we stop someone from doing evil by making committing a crime more inconvenient, but we do it all the time?

There are dedicated criminals, sure. But most of them are not operating off of some preordained notion of “I WILL DO THIS SPECIFIC EVIL,” but rather “What can I get away with today?”

And for some of them, “What they can get away with” is predicated on having easy access to a weapon designed to make murdering people as simple as possible. Maybe guns are so widely available in America that we no longer have a reasonable hope left of stopping that person from getting a gun any more.

But when you argue that there’s no sense in trying every criminal in the world wakes up with this Snidely Whiplash, salmon-spawning motivation to “DO EVIL TODAY” and there’s no hope of blocking his dastardly plan to get himself a weapon because every criminal will find a knife if they can’t get a gun and they’ll smother you with a pillow if they can’t get a knife, then I know there’s no common ground we can find.

Because we can stop evil. Because the true horror is that evil is, all too frequently, a matter of convenience.

Ignoring that means you’re ignoring reality – and alas, I can’t listen to your advice on gun laws then. Sorry.