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An Essay on Gun-Control

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Both sides of the gun debate are motivated in part by fear. The side against gun-control is afraid for their safety if they give up their guns, while the side for gun-control is afraid for their safety if guns continue to be so easily accessible to everyone. I think it’s important to note that fear is the common root of most people’s views on both sides.

Survey of Core Arguments Against Gun-Control

The arguments on the side against gun-control appear to be split between 1) those who feel guns can protect them from the government, and 2) those who simply don’t want their rights taken from them.

1) While I respect the spirit of this argument because the U.S. government is a terrifying group of corrupt assholes, guns cannot protect any of us from them. Its military power is incomprehensible if unleashed in full, and because of technology they don’t even need any soldiers to act as the gun-fodder anymore. Revolution against the government will not be effective through (fire)arms. Just imagine if a highly polarized political group (tea party or PETA, perhaps) tried to use guns to intimidate the government for their cause. It would destory their cause completely overnight. This simply cannot work or be effective today. It would have when the extent of military technology was muskets and cannons, but that’s not the case anymore.

2) As for the “rights” side, there is a further division between those who a) support it as a right because they enjoy using and owning them as a hobby, and b) those who view them as a right for ensuring personal safety.

2a) Regarding the former it’s absurdly self-centered to continue to push for the right to do something for fun if it means thousands of people will be killed from such easy access to that thing. If guitars were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths from people misusing them, I wouldn’t mind registering and going through extensive tests, training, and background checks before owning and using one–despite the fact that it’s my primary artistic medium and one of my greatest passions. Human life matters more than a hobby.

2b) Regarding the latter, I would say this is the only argument with any real weight or grey-area to it. Every bit of data I’ve seen has been against the validity of this, but more research is required to verify that this is the case (unfortunately, although most people support this, the GOP-controlled congress has blocked such research). Though this is tough, because people care more about *feeling* safe than actually being so, so the data won’t matter for the majority of such individuals. If the average gun-owner feels safer with a gun, they won’t care if data is very clearly saying that they are less safe because of that freedom. We are, as a whole, an emotion-driven species far more than a reason-driven one. This isn’t bad at an individual level and peoples’ fears need to be heard and taken into account. The more gun violence there is, the more people feel they need guns to protect themselves. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of guns. These fears shouldn’t be ignored or discounted or ridiculed (and i admit, out of anger and frustration i’ve done my fair share of this).

The Root Cause

An oft-stated notion on the anti-gun-control side is that the root cause of the “gun problem” is that we are a morally bankrupt people, for whatever reason (Which is also often, perplexingly, used to say why gun-control measures won’t work. I say perplexingly because it assumes we are worse morally than any other industrialized nation on no basis whatsoever, and also ignores the data we have on individual states that vary in their gun-control that shows a clear direct causal relationship between gun-control and lower rates of gun-deaths).

This notion of moral bankrupcy I don’t disagree with necessarily. The ultimate cause of all immoral action is the immorality and ignorance of the individual. But addressing the issue of the morality of a whole society is so overwhelmingly complex, I think it makes the most sense to take away the proximate cause of so many deaths until the ultimate cause can be addressed to a significant degree. Much like how a parent will take away toys that children are using to fight with each other until they can learn to be nice to one another, except that NOT taking the toys away first results in one or both of them being killed.

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”

Unfortunately, this idea of societal moral fiber, which I think should be a matter of more serious discussion, is typically preceded by the fallacious statement propagated by the NRA that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The fallaciousness here must be understood. Other, legitimate and valid arguments do exist for the ownership of guns around personal safety and personal liberties. This argument is not one of them. It actually is fallacious enough that it kind of fits a bunch of fallacies all at the same time.

It’s largely a strawman fallacy, which is when a weaker argument is refuted that isn’t actually the argument of the opposition, despite often looking like it. No person supporting gun-control believes guns have agency, so they aren’t arguing that guns are the sole cause of death when someone dies from one. The pro-gun-control side is giving the simple argument that “people with guns kill more people than do people without guns.” It’s also kind of a false dilemma, which is a fallacy where the opposing argument, now strawmanned, is taken to be one of only two solutions, when in reality there are shades of gray.

The slogan could also be said to beg the question or to equivocate, but the biggest issue of what it does is mistake the relevance of proximate causation. There are ultimate, intermediate, and proximate causes, where the ultimate is the initial cause, which in a situation with an agent begins with the intention of that agent. The proximate cause is the cause which is closest to, or the final, immediate event responsible for an observed result (intermediate causes are all those between the two). In the case of guns, a shooter’s intention is the ultimate cause and the gun is the proximate cause. But this tells us absolutely nothing about whether the proximate cause in question should be regulated, de-regulated or otherwise. It doesn’t really say anything at all to support the position of de-regulation. If you replace the word “guns” in the statement with “nukes” or “cars” you see how nothing is really being said. Nukes and cars are both proximate causes of death, but obviously cars should be legal and nukes should not. Simply stating that there was a cause that led to the proximate cause says nothing about the value, significance, or societal worth of the proximate cause in question.

Conclusion

Addressing that inescapable slogan was a bit of an aside to the original intent of this essay, but I felt it had to be addressed. In sum, I believe the value of human life far outweighs any pleasure or hobby-related value of guns and that the government’s corruption is an inadequate basis for fighting measures of gun-control because at this point guns are of no use towards that aim. There is a moral crisis going on in the country right now, but I believe this is likely a symptom of larger issues, and it must be discussed deeply and thoroughly, but this addresses only the ultimate cause instead of the proximate cause of gun-deaths, and it will take so much longer to solve, while in the meantime, thousands of innocents will continue to die without reason. In light of these points and the absurd rate of gun deaths in this country–from daily mass-shootings to suicides–I support strong gun-control measures.

However on the basis of the small degree of uncertainty surrounding the validity of personal safety, and moreso because of the sense of security they can provide, I am open to legal gun ownership, and not an outright ban to all firearms. Abating fear for one’s life is an important function, and should not be ignored, diminished, or dismissed. It’s sad that such fear is as widespread as it is, but we (supporters of gun-control) cannot simply tell people who are frightened for their lives that their fear means nothing. It might be misguided fear, but it’s worth discussing the fears openly and with understanding: This is the ONLY way to remove the fear, and thus remove the highest justification for the ownership of firearms (as I see it).

Solution

As a final point, I would say that the specific gun-control measures I support are those proposed by Bernie Sanders. If any of the points I suggest here are to be challenged it’s this list of proposed measures of gun-control which still allow for personal ownership and use under the majority of circumstances. Those against gun-control often erroneously view the situation as black and white (the false dilemma fallacy), between no guns for anyone and the status quo today. But there exists a grey area which deserves our consideration, especially if it means saving human lives.

1) Significantly expand and improve background checks
2) Renew the assault weapons ban
3) Make gun trafficking a federal crime
4) Close the “gun show” loophole or Brady bill (which allows for sale by private sellers, thereby circumventing background checks, record of sale, or even identification)
5) Close loopholes that allow domestic abusers and stalkers (and other criminals, including individuals on the no-fly list) to obtain guns
6) End the sale of high capacity magazines

It’s not a perfect list, to be sure, but it’s the best-sounding, clearest, and most specific set of steps I’ve heard at this point in the discussion. What do you think?

Imagining the Wealth of the Plutocrats (Happy Valentine’s Day!)

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I got to thinking about wealthy people and how to go about comprehending the large volumes of wealth possessed by the richest people in the world. There are graphics and charts and simple facts like the fact that the bottom 41 percent of Americans have less wealth than just the Walton family alone. But i wanted to make it even more personal in a way. We can all imagine how incredible making a million dollars would be, even over the course of decades. Sit and really imagine what you would do if on your taxes next year you had seven figures as your total amount…

Now imagine that you make that every week. A million dollars a week exactly. Every week. Even the weeks you’re doing nothing. Now let’s say that happens for you from the age of 16 all the way until 66. A typical time-frame of working ages to begin and retire. A million dollars a week, every week, for 50 straight years. That’s 2.6 billion dollars. Is there a job in the world that you could imagine being justifiably paid that kind of money for? It would maybe be justified for Superman, but even then just barely. You cannot possibly EARN that kind of money. You just can’t. And then now please consider that there are roughly about 700 people who surpass this amount of money. Seven-hundred. 700 individuals who make more money than anyone could even justify making in terms of “earnings”.

But let’s take it further.

Instead of a million a week, let’s make it $1,000,000 each and every day no matter what. Let’s then go from the working period beginning at age 16 and start from the moment you are brought into this world. And let’s assume you do not spend a dime of that. And then let’s assume that you luck out with genetics and live for 100 years, dying on your 100th birthday just so we can keep the math nice and even. Now, assuming you spent none of that money, that amounts to $36.5 billion. And still, there are real people in this world who possess MORE money than this. 13 of them. 13 people who have more wealth than you would if you made a million dollars a day for no reason from the moment you leave your mother’s vagina until your death after living for 100 years, and NEVER SPENT A DIME OF IT. That’s more money than more than half of the world’s countries can say they have.

More than half of the world’s countries.

I don’t care what your reasoning, you have to be mental to think that these people have EARNED that kind of money. You cannot EARN wealth to that degree. Nothing short of saving the planet from complete destruction single-handedly deserves the term “earned” in the context of this kind of wealth. And because they didn’t really earn it, they don’t have the right to all of it. Defending such disgusting greed is morally reprehensible and absurd.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

i am a human

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I am a human.
i do and say human things.
i sometimes like other humans,
though often i loathe them as well,
and no matter what i am committed
to the seemingly programmed aim
of benefiting my fellow humans.

But being a human can be tough sometimes
with all the silly systems and structures
put in place by some humans
to make life unnecessarily difficult
for other humans. i believe this
is because humans fear thinking,
which inevitably comes without something to distract our silly little ape minds.

It’s important to remember what we are,
to not take ourselves too seriously,
and to not forget that we basically
just shouldn’t harm each other or the planet.
All other silly ape desires you have are fine to pursue,
but they are just that.

Humans are dumb.
You are dumb.
I am dumb.

Let’s just play nice and have fun and
not stop other people from having fun.
If you think the other clothed apes are having fun wrong,
all you can do is show them how you
are having way more fun doing whatever you’re doing.
Telling them they’re having fun wrong
and arguing against them will change
nothing except making both you and them have less fun.

Have your fun, and
if you have enough of it,
others will join.
Because we’re just silly, fun-crazed apes after all.

Discussing Politics and Economics With Right Intention

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I don’t like politics or economics. I don’t like them, because they engender such powerful emotions and conflict. The matters they involve are the most direct in affecting the overall condition of life itself for a society. I love religion, because people can be content with dialoguing in a kindly manner and the assumption that in the end “we’ll see who was right” but until that time, religion is just a purely personal thing. Politics and economics affect society at large and the smallest decisions at that level have enormous consequences for the suffering of a society. Nothing is clear cut, and you can’t be content with “we’ll see who was right in the end,” because doing so means potentially unraveling the fabric of society or causing immense suffering and pain for future generations. In some cases it can mean saving countless lives and livelihoods. I recognize that as a spiritual person, my highest goal is the reformation of global society into a place of happiness, well-being, wisdom, and freedom. This is the goal of science as well. But one must remember that politics and economics (in theory) have this very same intent. The problem being of course that no one really knows for sure what the best way of doing things is, and you can’t just be content with differing views. Another’s view could mean you lose your job, your most cherished freedom, or your life. So what can we do?
I have great respect for those who can dedicate themselves to the most contentious of subjects and fight for their opinion of the most effective policy to benefit their society. This is a noble aim (not to say that all such devoted individuals are devoted to this aim in particular. Many are of course power-hungry, status-craving, sociopaths, but i do hold respect for those who aren’t). We all can’t have perfect knowledge of the infinitely complex political and economic systems. We will all have our views on the best specific policy, and we are all likely to fight passionately over our particular chosen views. In the end, we won’t really know what the best policy is. One socio-economic system may work perfectly in one society, but be chaos in another.
What we can be sure of, is that we all (excluding the sociopaths) have the best interest of society in mind. We should remember that when discussing such contentious issues with others. Religion has the benefit of sacredness, which usually commands respect from people, making dialogue much easier. Even debates between the most conservative of religious fundamentalists rarely results in emotional outbursts at one another, and this is because of the embrace of the sacredness. I think it’s important that we transmute this force of sanctity to all contentious subjects, as it allows for the most constructive of dialogues and helps all sides to remember what the primary aim actually is: The benefit of society.
Sure many people hold views that are purely going to affect their own lives for the better, but this isn’t always the case. And even for such individuals, they have convinced themselves with full certainty of the positions they hold and why those policies are the best for all in society. We don’t have the right to deny them of this, just as we don’t have the right to deny a religious view. The intent is still in the right place, even if it took some serious cognitive dissonance to get there.
Now i’m not saying to just be complacent with others’ views if you really think they are harming society. Please do not think this. Fight for your all-important social or economic or political cause (i sure will). Again, i simply ask that people always remember that the final aim is the benefit of the whole of society. If this truly becomes the motivation for all individuals who discuss these subjects i hate so much, then i believe most problems would fix themselves and the society in question would reach the most effective equilibrium. So please, fight on for your view, but remember that your end goal is a compassionate one, and argue under the assumption that the person you’re attempting to dissuade or disprove or debate with is operating under the very same principle of compassion. It’s the best we can do until such time as we enter a utopian world of unity and understanding, or we die as a species.