Category Archives: Culture

Reducing Gun Violence

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am a believer in the basic right of all human beings to own and carry firearms. I have as much right to be armed as I do to have my tongue and my opinions with me wherever I go. I may be justifiably asked to keep my mouth shut and other matters concealed, but no one has the right to require more than that.

That being said, I do recognize that we have a problem of gun violence in America. Every year, around 30,000 of us die by gunfire. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide, but regardless of the cause, the number is too high. So what do we do?

Some propose restrictions on ownership and carry, while wanting to ban some types of firearms altogether. This approach makes no sense, given the more than 300,000,000 guns in private hands in this country and our long and porous borders. But there are things that we can do:

1. Create a functioning and available mental healthcare system. This ideally would be a part of general healthcare reform for everyone. I don’t have much faith in Obamacare, given its lack of a public option and the weak and mealy-mouthed manner of its passage and implementation, but that’s a step in the right direction. More–specifically the public option–needs to be done. Note that I don’t mean involuntary commitments or the violations of privacy. What I’m suggesting here is healthcare available to all who need it.

2. Reduce poverty. In my previous article on Alexandria, I named an educational system as a necessary element of any working democracy. I add to this the idea that education, such as I discussed here is a way out of poverty. Other intelligently run programs would have the same effect. We can debate at length whether poverty causes crime, but certainly living in poverty puts a person at greater risk–both for being a victim and an offender of violent crime. (Being wealthy brings a whole different class of crimes to commit, but that’s not generally related to guns.)

3. End our foolish drug laws. Much of our violence is related to illegal drugs. Treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem, and that motivating factor goes away. Al Capone didn’t sell beer nuts, after all.

We often hear from the gun control freaks that Europe is a model for good gun laws. Most countries in Europe have strict gun control–the Czech Republic being a shining exception for the moment–and those countries have lower gun violence than America. The difference is not actually that great, especially compared to other parts of the world, but the fact remains that Europe has fewer acts of gun violence than we do. But let’s note that Europe also has the three items that I just proposed. Certainly, it’s in doubt whether the Europeans will be able to afford the first two much longer, but in many cases, the problematic countries have chosen the California approach to government–lots of goodies, paid for by borrowing. Effective work for the first two can be done without requiring deficit spending–provided we are willing to pay for it. The third item would in fact save us money, both in prison and court costs and in expendatures for public health.

My three solutions have the advantage of not infringing on the rights of those who did nothing wrong in the vain hope of restraining those who make a life of doing bad acts. My answers also would show benefits in a variety of areas unrelated to gun violence. They are measured responses to a problem that has been getting better over the last two decades.

Perhaps they lack the quality of breathless bloviating, but I see that as a feature, not a bug.

Hurry Up and Grow

The recent incident at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin raises once again the question of race. To me, few things are more tedious than this subject, but it remains one for heated argument, given America’s history.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s clarify two terms: race and culture.

Race: A sub-group within a species that shares a particular characteristic or set of characteristics not held by others in the same species.

Culture: The art, language, religion, philosophy, behavior, technology, and other achievements of a group of people.

We’ve been told by well-meaning agents of government, schools, and churches that racism–the belief that one racial group is superior to another–is wrong. I’m going to go further than that. Racism is stupid. Human beings are nearly identical, in terms of genetics, no matter who their ancestors were. We all ultimately come from the same stock, a group living in the Great Rift Valley in central Africa. The human genome project used the DNA of four or five humans to sequence what we all have. It is true to say that skin color, eye color, certain bone structures, and so forth are genetically determined. So is susceptibility to some diseases.

That being said, a basic scientific principle needs to be remembered here: There is more variation with a group than between groups. Who is taller, a man or a woman? Obviously, the question is nonsense. Any one reading this has known tall women and short men. One can say that on average, men tend to be taller, but there’s a huge area of overlap in heights. The same kind of thing applies to all manner of physical characteristics.

Consider especially one absurdity of the neo-Nazi killer in Wisconsin. Now the motives of that man will likely always be obscure to rational people, but we’re left to presume that he did what he did because the people attending the Sikh temple were not “white.” As Weer’d Beard points out, many Indians are the descendants of the original and genuine Aryans. I suppose that it comes down to this: Knucklehead didn’t like how they looked. Or perhaps it was their turbans.

Whatever the reason, it was crazy. Speaking rationally and scientifically, all races are equal. That statement is true, but it’s also trivial. I say that because arguing over a person’s genetic heritage is a waste of time. My ancestors come from various parts of northwestern Europe, and I like to joke that this is what gave me my intolerance for hot weather, but realistically, it’s meaningless. Yes, I get sunburns easier than people from the equatorial regions, but no matter how much I want to dodge responsibility, my urges to listen to Wagner and go on rampages is all mine and not the fault of my Norse ancestors.

So what does matter? Are there any valid measures for ranking groups of people?

To answer that, consider culture. What must a group of people do to be considered successful?

1. The basic requirement is that a group can secure its own needs–food, housing, health, and so forth.

2. Then the group has to pass on its way of doing things to the next generation.

Lots of groups achieve this much. Those that fail the first two don’t last long enough to be remembered.

3. Having succeeded in mere survival, the group must add some distinct and new thing to the totality of human achievement.

Yes, that one is vague. We can argue all day about whether a particular thing–statue, language, farm implement, etc.–is worthy, but I hope that my readers can see the general idea here.

Finally, there’s this last item:

4. The achievements of the group have lasting influence, not only within the group, but on other groups as well.

We can measure the relative worth of a culture according to this yardstick. This is not a call for one culture to dominate another. Groups of people have the right to choose whatever mode of living that they wish without having to seek the approval of others. What it is intended to do is to provide a measure that will encourage each group to do better.

Culture is affected by many things–geography and climate, history, and so forth–but the choices made by the persons in that culture also matter. But being human is fundamentally about rising above where we started. We are not forced to be merely the expression of our genes, and going on about one’s genetic heritage only holds all of us back. I don’t care who your parents were. I care what you do.