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Memo to conservatives: LEARN THE EMPATHY LESSON.

I am not going to shit all over Caleb Keeter, the country musician who changed his tune on gun control after feeling helpless and terrified during the Las Vegas shooting despite having his own gun at hand. After all, with a name like Caleb Keeter, country musician was literally the only job available to him after Dukes of Hazzard got cancelled.

I’m glad he changed his mind. And I agree that welcoming the formerly wrong is a kinder, more effective approach than openly wondering why it took them so fucking long. Less viscerally satisfying, and less honest, but yes, more effective. But.

As with Mark Kirk and how tough it is to recover from a stroke, and as with the various anti-gay crusaders who came around once their children came out, I think the phenomenon of hardcore right wing crusaders coming around on one single isolated issue after that one single isolated issue affects them does deserve closer, more derisive scrutiny.

Empathy and compassion are learned behaviors.They’re like algebra. Or a foreign language. And like those things, if you’re in an environment where you can get by without knowing Algebra, or speaking Spanish, or having empathy and compassion for others, you’ll forget about them. Use it or lose it, as they say.

And if there’s one single unifying theme behind the conservative attempt to create an alternate intellectual ecosystem since the early 80s, it’s that they were creating an environment where you don’t need empathy and compassion to survive. I don’t know if it was intentional, or a coincidence of their close ties to industries where sociopathy provides competitive advantage, like the military, finance, and big industry, but it’s definitely been intentional since the rise of talk radio.

And so, as a product of that environment, Caleb Keeter couldn’t imagine a situation where people might be scared of guns, where a good guy with a gun was of no use against a bad guy with a gun, or where the totem of power he carried around suddenly lost its magic powers. Until it happened. Not to someone else, but to him.

Again, it’s great that he was able to channel this personal trauma into an opportunity for growth on the gun issue, but does his newfound opposition to death from above extend to the innocent victims of drone strikes? Mark Kirk thinks it’s tough for stroke victims because he had a stroke. Does he also think it’s tough for poor people with diabetes? Does the conservative’s compassion for their gay son extend to someone else’s trans daughter? The answer, most of the time, is no. And that’s the real problem. These experiences change a position, but don’t change the worldview that supported the old, wrong position. So, credit where credit is due, but only as much credit as credit is due.