Thursday, March 14, 2013

Granny git yer gun: an anti-civ thought experiment

The specter of public mass shootings by heavily armed psychopaths is not going to be reduced by stricter gun laws. If the goal is to reduce the fear and misery of living in the kind of society in which school kids and moviegoers and random drum majorettes and babies getting a diaper change in the backseat and [insert media example du jour here] can be shot dead at any moment, then a better option might be to arm everyone, without exception, from the moment they are old enough to pull a trigger.

[Disclaimer: Although I own guns, I am not now, and never have been, a member of the NRA (Neurotic Redneck Association? Nut-less Republican Ass-wipes?)] 

A thought experiment:

Suppose that, starting at the stroke of midnight tonight, all laws making murder with a gun a crime were eliminated forever. Anyone could kill anyone else for any reason without fear of legal repercussion. And further, suppose that instead of regulating people’s access to firearms, we made it so that everyone everywhere had the option of packing a loaded weapon at all times.

It would be chaos, of course, a total bloody mess. Paranoia and fear would be the order of the day. And there would very quickly be a whole lot of dead people. 

Here’s the "thought" part of the thought experiment:


What is it about the nature of our society that it would immediately disintegrate into total chaos (or, at least, everyone has been led to believe that this would happen) if not for the active presence of an enormous corpus of laws and policies and regulations—and heavily armed systems of enforcement sanctioned to administer overwhelming violence to potential violators?

The Bushmen of the Kalahari don’t have any official courts of law. Nor do they have any law enforcement officers. Nor do they have anything that really corresponds to the idea of a law. Instead, they have traditional "expectations" with respect to how people should treat each other.

One group in particular also has a lot of poison arrows. In fact, just about everyone has them. And if someone wants to commit murder, it is extremely easy to do and the chances of getting caught are close to zero. And even if you are caught, you have little more than potential social disapprobation—and maybe a vengeful widow—to worry about. Despite this, community life is generally peaceful and highly congenial.  Although murder happens now and then, it is exceedingly rare.

There are, of course, numerous differences between civilization and an authentic human lifestyle that might account for this. But they all converge on the simple fact that in a hunter-gatherer band each person has direct access to the resources—physical, technological, and social resources—necessary for full involvement in community life. Individual people have very little in the way of power to restrict, direct, regulate, or otherwise control access for anyone else. 

Civilization, by definition, is a collection of systems of mediation in which an individual’s access to resources to satisfy his or her own needs is systematically regulated and controlled by other people, a tiny minority of whom are granted immensely greater access. If everyone were given equal access, and the power to dispatch anyone who tried to obstruct that access, civilization (and especially the tiny minority who now enjoy disproportionate access) would evaporate overnight. 
The end of civilization would mean the end of weapons manufacturing plants and, with time, the end of anything more powerful than poison arrows. But more than this, it would mean a return to modes of living based on direct-access, and with them, a loss of much of the need for weapons in the first place.  

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