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Monday, August 16, 2004

Battle Arms - Iron Blogger Libertarian - Opening Arguments

The ultimate goal of arms is for the individual to defend himself, his rights, and his property against other individuals through the credible threat of mortal force. This is a very complex topic so I'll expend some effort here to crisply articulate a small number of core points and avoid the statistical barrage that characterizes so many gun debates.

1. Violence is an intrinsic part of human nature

Perhaps the first and most important issue in this debate is on the origins of violence. No less a body than the UN has felt the need to take a stance on this crucial question -

The Seville Statement on Violence was drafted by an international committee of 20 scholars at the 6 th International Colloquium on Brain and Aggression held at the University of Seville, Spain, in May 1986, with support from the Spanish Commission for UNESCO. The Statement's purpose is to dispel the widespread belief that human beings are inevitably disposed to war as a result of innate, biologically determined aggressive traits.
One thing I'll credit the UN with - once you start with this premise, much of their philosophy becomes rather internally consistent. The problem, alas, is that this well-intentioned Statement is nevertheless fundamentally inconsistent with actual scientific research. I'll cite perhaps the preeminent brain researcher of our time - Steven Pinker-
The noble savage [myth] has been refuted by studies of hunter-gatherers and societies more generally that show how violence and warfare are a human universal...if you do the numbers and count the bodies, two deaths in a band of 50 people are much bigger than the September 11th casualties in a society our size.

Careful studies show that hunter-gatherers are dead serious about war. They make weapons as destructive as their ingenuity permits. And if they can get away with it, they massacre every man, woman, and child. In our own society, which is far more peaceful than the native groups, if you ask people whether they have ever fantasized about killing someone, anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent of the men and about 40 percent to 60 percent of women say that they have.

...There are also parts of the brain that seem associated with violence and outbursts. We know this partly because of accidents or operations through which certain portions of some people's brains were removed. Some sort of inhibitory brake was removed, and the individuals became more prone to violence.

And it's precisely that restraint - our ability to NOT act on these universal impulses which folks like Pinker cite as perhaps the crowning achievement of Civilized society. Our institutions, culture, and society writ large provide this brake. (In some macabrely humorous data, researchers have recently determined that humans are most violent immediately prior to this socialization - at the tender age of 2 yrs old. Luckily for us, their physical abilities aren't quite up to par with their intentions. ;-)

The prognosis - until human beings themselves can be reengineered, the propensity for mortal violence will continue to be a Tragic fact of life. Our times may be modern but our base nature dates back to the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation - a thoroughly violent time & place. No matter how successful our particular social tools have become, the continued existance of crime & war provides prima facie proof that they are far from perfect or universal throughout the world.

2. In some cases, violence can only be countered with reciprocal violence

Because the violence we eventually face targets the base of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - it can only be dealt with at a similar level - reciprocal mortal violence. Appeals towards the greater good from more cooperative behavior can go unheeded -

Game theory does show that cooperation is better than non-cooperation. However, this theory is based on the assumption that all parties will cooperate. Enter into the formula a non-cooperating entity and the players will lose something. It matters little if the entity is an evil non cooperating player or a predatory animal.
Perhaps even more than unheeded, appeals to intellect & reason may go unheard altogether as when dealing with the proverbial Moro tribesman or PCP-crazed felon -
...physiological factors may actually play a relatively minor role in achieving rapid incapacitation. Barring central nervous system hits, there is no physiological reason for an individual to be incapacitated by even a fatal wound, until blood loss is sufficient to drop blood pressure and/or the brain is deprived of oxygen.

...Strong will, survival instinct, or sheer emotion such as rage or hate can keep a grievously injured individual fighting, as is common on the battlefield and in the street. The effects of chemicals can be powerful stimuli preventing incapacitation. Adrenaline alone can be sufficient to keep a mortally wounded adversary functioning. Stimulants, anesthetics, pain killers, or tranquilizers can all prevent incapacitation by suppressing pain, awareness of the injury, or eliminating any concerns over the injury. Drugs such as cocaine, PCP, and heroin are disassociative in nature.

This risk of reciprocal violence provides the basis of our entire criminal justice system via the theory of deterrence.

3. Even disproportionate reciprocal violence has social value

There is tremendous social benefit from the aggressor worrying that his target may behave in a disproportionate manner. This point transforms the question from the defender asking "does a kid trying to steal a car deserve to get shot?", into the kid asking himself "is it worth risking getting shot to steal this car?" The troubling "mental transaction cost" burden of these heavy and unpleasant questions should be borne as much as possible by the transgressor rather than the victim. This follows the economically optimizing maxim that cost should be borne as close as possible to the activity in question.

Empirically, John Lott provides some of the concrete data about the power of deterrence in some of these circumstances -

For each additional year that a concealed handgun law is in effect the murder rate declines by 3 percent, rape by 2 percent, and robberies by over 2 percent.
The threat of mortal reciprocal violence, even in these (arguably) non-mortal crimes (rape & robbery) had a beneficial deterrent effect and reduced overall crime rate. Even though Captain Kirk's phasers had "kill" & "stun" settings, it was to his & his crews' benefit that he never told an tentacled enemy what it was set on before brandishing the weapon.

The first 3 points lay out the case for the inevitability of mortal violence& its use as a social tool - the next 2 points argue why they must be broadly vested.

4. Individuals can be / are trusted to use this violence appropriately

American society - and ultimately the entire classical liberal experiment - begins with the assumption that these types of decisions and this type of power ultimately reside within the individual and are very carefully pruned by the government. There are a million treatises by authors famous and infamous on this point but I'll point instead at a favorite essay by the blogosphere Right Wing poet laureate, Bill Whittle -

We trust the people. We fought wars and lost untold husbands and brothers and sons because of this single most basic belief: Trust the people. Trust them with freedom. Trust them to spend their own money. Trust them to do the right thing. Trust them to defend themselves. To the degree that government can help, great - but TRUST THE PEOPLE.

...Here is my dry-eyed, cold-hearted, sad conclusion: I believe that the freedom, convenience and economic viability provided by the automobile is worth the 40,000 lives we lose to automotive deaths each year --- a number made more horrible by the fact that perhaps 40% are related to drunk driving and therefore preventable.

By the same calculation, I accept that the freedoms entrusted to the people of the United States is worth the 11,000 lives we lose to gun violence each year.

When push comes to shove, and for the NET rather than ABSOLUTE better, we trust individuals with the power to apply mortal, reciprocal violence. We TRUST them with decisions about their own self defense in the face of such threats. We have a web of rules (which roughly boil down to "don't initiate violence") surrounding this power and luckily, human beings are able to rise to the occasion. For example, John Lott notes one particular case rather relevant to point #3 -
During state legislative hearings on concealed-handgun laws, possibly the most commonly raised concern involved fears that armed citizens would attack each other in the heat of the moment following car accidents. The evidence shows that such fears are unfounded. Despite millions of people licensed to carry concealed handguns and many states having these laws for decades, there has only been one case where a person with a permit used a gun after a traffic accident and even in that one case it was in self-defense.
5. Government can NOT be trusted with a monopoly on necessary violence

Now, there are a hundred macro-political reasons why this may be the case (historically, the Nazi's, Stalinists, Saddam's, etc. all started in one way or another with a true monopoly on instruments of violence). BUT, I'm going to open my case with a micro-social case near and dear to me - the government simply can't apply force in time -

he jumped up next to me, jabbed some blunt metal object into my ribs / armpit and said "Give me your money!"...it thrust home the message that YOU are your own last line of defense. While I was impressed with what was probably a 2-3 minute response time from SFPD, the essential plotline for the entire encounter was nevertheless determined in less than 10 seconds.
A government which could react within the 10 seconds to be relevant here would probably require every 5th man on the street be on its payroll as a Law Enforcement Officer - not a world I'd want to live in.
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