The Myth of the Morally Neutral Tool

The Myth of the Morally Neutral Tool August 25, 2014

One of the favorite myths of gun culture is the myth of the Morally Neutral Tool.  As the legend goes, “A gun is just a tool, it’s what you choose to do with it that matters”.

But as the police in Ferguson, MO recently demonstrated, the notion that our tools do not exert enormous pressure on us to *use* them is false.

The truth is, our technology deeply affects us and presents us with both opportunities and temptations.  Give a teenager a 2014 hot sports car and the car will whisper, beg, wheedle and demand that he drive fast and take chances. They will also put pressure on thieves to steal more of them, which is why insurance companies, who do not feel the need to pretend that all technology is “neutral” charge more to insure them.

Give a police force military tanks and weaponry and assault gear and they will become acclimated to the idea that their job is warfare on a subject population, not “protect and serve”. That is exactly what we saw in Ferguson and with other cops whose shiny new jackboots, tanks and massive weaponry has encouraged them to behave like a jackbooted occupying army and not like protectors of the peace.

Conversely, give a crowd of paranoids an arsenal, fill their heads with propaganda about Black Helicopters and FEMA concentrations camps and our patriotic duty to make war on the New World Order and the technology of mass slaughter will make his hands itch with the strong temptation to view themselves as called by God to fight off the imaginary Nazi Regime that is just about to take their land and arrest their family. That is exactly what we saw at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada. Put the two together and you have a formula for disaster. Only the grace of God has averted even worse disasters.

Technology, like those other works of our hands called “idols”, is not neutral.  It shapes the way we think and act every bit as much as our choices shape what is done with it.

When we aren’t talking about the technology called a “gun” and turn our attention to the technology called “The Pill”, this becomes obvious. The Pill put *enormous* pressure on our civilization to use it and we have easily succumbed to that pressure. When you design technology that is almost impossible to find a just use for (like a hydrogen bomb) or spy equipment *designed* to do things to citizens that the state should not be doing, you are designing something that is a powerful form of temptation, not something that is morally neutral.  Give a nation an atomic bomb and you gravely tempt that nation to commit mass murder.

All of which is to say that, once again, I believe that one of the pernicious effects of gun culture has been to promulgate and repeat various mantras and fallacies that are simply false to the facts of human experience. I reject the thesis that the works of our hands are morally neutral.  Very often they are idols. And very often those idols are both physically and spiritually deadly.

Browse Our Archives