Thursday, July 26, 2012

The right to bear arms - an American legacy

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Over the years I have posted a number of articles on gun ownership - probably the best one was in June 2008. Hard to believe I wrote it in a single sitting in about 15 minutes. I am neither a liberal, nor a Conservative, and I dare say I do not fit conveniently into most people's political categorisations. My views most closely reflect an intellectual libertarian perspective. I tend to view most libertarians as anti-intellectual or economic rationalists lacking philosophical roots.

I will not redress what I wrote in that article; but will indeed update the article with an addendum which addresses the issues peculiar to this latest incident with James Holmes. I want to address some of the issues I saw on CNN with Michael Moore, who actually displayed sounder thinking than usual. Mention was made of an article by Max Fisher in The Atlantic, so I want to repudiate some of its arguments since I lived in Japan, and being from Australia, I want to make mention of that country as well.

It is indeed interesting (or paradoxical) that the US's framing of the Japanese Constitution in the wake of WWII was so different from that for the United States. In effect, both constitutions strike one as a 'reaction' to contemporary times, and not as a preamble to a coherent philosophical framework, as you might expect from a Constitution. More concerning than the pretext in which they were prepared is the nature of their content. Each constitution would strike one as 'very concrete'. The problem with concrete laws is that they derive from some flow of ideas; a line of argument, but in the case of a constitution, a Supreme Court judge is supposed to add an interpretation of the Founders ideas, as opposed to applying fundamental principles of  philosophy to practical circumstances. In this sense, constitutional law is highly twisted, and grossly in error. This is not how you frame a constitution, and the fact that the USA and Japanese constitutions are so divergent in their underlying values is a testament to that anti-intellectual rationalisation or contradiction. 

Fisher highlights the Japanese obsession with novelties such as 'guns', but Japan is just as crazed about a great many things. When Japan was hosting the World Cup soccer they were enthralled by 'soccer fever'; now I dare say they have forgotten how to get to the stadium. They have very fickle tastes which is the culmination of very superficial, materialistic values. So why would they display the American penchant for guns? Well, they will never grasp intellectually the significance of guns to Americans, and nor will many Americans I dare say. They mean different things to different people, and to differing degrees, but let's consider the main reasons:
1. Personal empowerment: A gun is a source of empowerment. Its a lot more concrete and tangible than an idea, or a political system which is supposed to protect, but which most Americans realise is inclined to violate you, and breach your deepest values. These are intellectual arguments. The problem is that many Americans don't have the intellectual skills to articulate those arguments, and to be sure they don't exactly convey the most coherent understanding, so a gun speaks louder than words. But there is no ambiguity about the power wielded by a gun. It would be nice to think that the American Rifle Association and affiliated organisations could actually articulate that argument on behalf of Americans, but I guess there are too many interest groups happy to keep Americans scared and anti-intellectual, rather than thinking about the deeper values which should underpin their Constitution and specifically gun ownership.
2. Self-defence: The US constitution means to Americans something important; the problem is that Americans don't get the deeper values inherent in their politics; and that is why their dogmatic deferment to the essentially arbitrary, context-dropping provisions of the Constitution are a source of moral confusion, rather than a source of guidance. Personally, without even thinking, I would not be given credence to a constitution which pre-dates the founder of psychology, Sigmund Freud; today mostly discredited. So, in this intellectual vacuum, Americans seize upon the Constitution as a source of wisdom, taking 'bite size' chunks they can understand, and drop all context or justification for that assertion, which served as a justification for a very specific problem hundreds of years ago. I would argue that there is probably a tendency to personalise that state-independence rationalisation as an arbitrary personal 'right to bear arms'. The problem is not our notion of rights; but ultimately how they are defined. Objective principle vs reactionary fears.
3. Allegiance: The ownership is a concrete issue upon which patriotic Americans can agree. If they reflected on the ideas underpinning their political allegiances, they would find a great deal of moral apprehension and confusion. There is no debate about concrete issues like guns. A gun speaks loudly for the unthinking. The faster the rounds, the higher the gauge, the louder a gun speaks....and they all pretty well have the same implications. It conveys what it means to the other gun owners 'Don't mess with me'. 

Fisher's article highlights in fact that Japanese people can be equally fascinated by guns; if only they were not oppressed, as they are in Japan. This is what some liberals would have us do. Outlaw everything which they find distasteful. This is the flipside of anti-intellectual American politics. We are really between a rock and a hard place, because we are given the anti-intellectualism of the Conservatives vs the anti-intellectualism of the liberals....and yes, America, like other Western democracies has been getting the same 'reactionary' thinking since the formation of the US Constitution. You will get the same on gun control at some point; just not prior to an election, and it will come from Democrats. 
No; Americans should not look to oppressed or repressed Japanese people for political guidance. They are deeply unhappy with their lot in life. I've had to perk up a few depressed Japanese people over the years. Its a very sick society. I might add that American could have learned something from the Japanese financial crisis, and recognise that Japan has an atrocious suicide rate. They don't shoot themselves; they jump in front of trains until they started fining their families. Now they just repress their happiness or live abroad. Or die shamelessly in their community. So the fact that Japan is a more peaceful place is telling. 

Kopel-Griffiths in this article suggests that gun control allowed Robert Mugabe and Adolf Hitler to perpetrate their heinous acts against their people. Well, that is true, but if one's country is destined to reach that point, is it not better to immigrate than buy a gun? As so many Germans did. I might add that both of these leaders came to power in democracies - Mugabe's party with a 71% majority, Hitler with just 38%, which from memory he raised to 43%. Irrespective, it is the dumbing down effective of democracy which leads to dictatorship - the practicality of guns is well-understood, but only pertinent after the population have spurned the application of their minds. If you think you are in a free country today, that is the rhetoric you have accepted. Read my other articles on democracy. 

In conclusion, the US needs to drop the US constitution, develop a new political system to replace its dysfunctional system in favour of a meritocracy with reason as the standard of value. How do you convince Americans to do that? You don't. You convince New Zealanders to do it. There are only 4mil idiots in that country, and after they have realised the benefits of a sound framework for political discourse, then the world notes the practical consequences of rationality, and they follow suit. Only then will you see anti-intellectual Americans embrace change. An idea is just way to nebulous for most voters at this time.

More specifically; there is really nothing the American government can do to prevent the use or misuse of guns. It would however be sensible to outlaw automatic and semi-automatic weapons. There really is no reason for people to hold such weapons. That ship has sailed as well I suspect, given that everyone probably has one buried under the house in case of war. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The fundamental problem is not a gun crisis; its an intellectual crisis. The fact that everyone focuses on 'guns' and not intellectual ideas is a testament to that. Deal with political reform, and you will help a great many Americans feel a little less disempowered or angry with their political system. Deal with the education system and you will also stop a great many personal killings as well. Yes, massacres are not personal; they are political. People loath the system. Change it! Protest about political reform - not inanimate guns. 

ConvinceMe.Net - Anyone up for a debate?