Back in the 1970s, we used to throw trash out the window of our cars. I’ll say that again. After we ate a cheeseburger (from Duchess) and fries (from McDonald’s across the street), for example, we would ball up the packaging in the bag, roll down the window, and throw the trash out of it. This used to happen. It was difficult at the time to conceive of this no longer being a part of the culture because most of us did not realize that it was. It was just something that happened. Until some great public service campaigns and advocacy efforts pointed out this was a disgusting, thoughtless, dangerous way to treat the world we share. Then we changed. We changed so much that it’s unfathomable that we used to throw garbage out the window of our cars. We really did.
In the 1980s, people laughed at the idea that anyone would collect their metal cans and glass bottles, clean them out, and put them in a special bin to be taken out on trash day. It was unfathomable, “What a waste of time! Who’s going to do that?” In fact, the early programs succeeded by placing a 5-cent charge on all canned and bottled items to incentivize their return to the store, cleaned once emptied, in exchange for the deposit. Those who chose to, returned their recyclables and got back their money. Those who didn’t gave others an opportunity to get the money. Now, we all do it for free as a matter of course. It was not widespread in the 1980s social culture to believe that people would adopt such a new mindset. Again, we changed.
I’ve been thinking about the gun latitude we’ve grown used to and the ways we take gun violence for granted. We are approaching a sense of normalcy around daily gun violence being the way things are now, which is transforming into an assumption that this is the way things have always been. Leading to the unconscious conclusion that this is the way things have to be. Over time, we’ve grown to believe that altering a time-honored practice is an affront simply because it would alter a time-honored practice. Rational gun control laws violate this heuristic.
But history shows that we can make changes in the conventions we’ve unconsciously adopted. We can adopt new ways. And things can become better for everyone. And within a decade or so we don’t even remember how unfathomable things used to be. Did I mention that we used to throw our garbage out the car window?