Young Angry Smart Men of Various Shades
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Steve Jones

Is this stuff meant to be taken seriously? A couple of guys yelling ridiculous stuff at a webcam? Wow - now I know that you have to simplify political messages to get a point across, but I find myself instinctively hating what both these characters are saying.

I'm fascinated and rather appalled by the notion that setting levels of treatment of prisoners above those of terrorists is apparently a reasonable indication of the levels of western civilisation.

Politics and power is an infinitely more complex thing than these two clowns can manage. If I want libertarian humour, then I'll stick with PJ O'Rourke, who does it a good deal better.

Now none of this is to deny that there are contradictions and wishful thinking in liberal thinking. There is, for instance, this paradox of dealing with much conservative Moslem immigration over which there are obvious problems of reconciling what seem to me to be contradictory world views.

But equally the position over Palestine is vastly more complex than this simplistic crap. Whatever people will say, there was a huge injustice to the people forced out of their homelands in 1948 yet never allowed to return. The festering slum that is Gaza (where many of these people went) is made worse by the huge population growth. But none of this sort of simplistic stuff comes one millimetre closer to a solution, and the longer it lasts, the more that it will fester.

It is a hugely complex problem - largely because it brings into conflict two contradictory aims. One an understandable point about a Jewish homeland, especially given the 19th & 20th century evils perpetrated in much of Europe (brought their horrendous peak by the Nazis, but far from confined to it). The other is the forced dispossession of many Palestines in the period following the second world war. Now history has generally forgotten the many peoples and races to which this has happened across the eons. No doubt at any point in industry there were groups who lost out - but this one is happening now, and it will remain a sore on geo-politics for the foreseeable future. Simplistic points about Hamas get nowhere - they are a symptom, not the cause. There is some validity to the claim that the Palestinians were made to pay for many of the sins of Europeans. The rules over what is considered fair and right is often set by the winners, and then only in retrospect. The rapid settlement of Australia, Northern America and South America by European settlers was done at great cost to the indigenous populations. That isn't going to happen again - we are in a new position, and we had better work out how to deal with it.

But back to these videos - if the idea of freedom is the right to wave around semi-automatic weapons and that is somehow to be celebrated, then count me out. A properly civilised society looks for its freedoms through a fair and equitable legal system and a political system answerable to people. Not by a bunch of paranoid lunatics playing half-assed soldiers with lethal pop-guns running around the woods. If they want to see where that ultimately leads, well the evidence is not an armed populace ready to defend themselves against an oppressive government. It's Somalia, or Northern Pakistan, or the drug gangs of LA, or Mexico, or Columbia. Only organised civilisations have the military and organisational power to keep modern societies going.History rather tells us that once the basic machinery of government fails, chaos tends to rule.

And for the record, I'm not a Michael Moore fan - I rather dislike unbalanced polemic stuff, whether from the left or right (whatever that means). It probably means that I'm hopelessly naive and ineffectual but these sort of ranters I can do without (especially the second guy).



Thanks for taking the time to chime in so thoughtfully.

Now – by "huge injustice to the people forced out of their homelands in 1948 yet never allowed to return" you mean the 850,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, many of whom had been there for millennia, immediately after the founding of Israel – right? No? Hmm. Why does one never hear about their right of return, or that injustice...? Heigh ho.

As for private gun ownership – I'm afraid your comments simply reinforce my already extremely entrenched view that, on this one, between Europe and the U.S., it's really just going to have to be a tomayto/tomahto kind of a deal. You're a million miles from seeing it our way; and most of us are never, ever going to see it your way. Though, do bear in mind that there are almost certainly more people in the U.S. who see it your way (call it 75 million) than there are total people in the UK. Let a thousand flowers bloom. (Not entirely incidentally, my best friend only yesterday bought a Beretta 92FS and an AR-15 – while the buying is still good in Obamanopolis.)

I like P.J. O'Rourke, too. He's a very smart (and funny) cookie. And you're certainly correct that he's a more serious commentator than these guys. He writes books, for starters (just about all of which I'd recommend, especially Parliament of Whores for the libertarian case for small government, Eat the Rich for the ethical case for capitalism and free trade, and Peace Kills for the moral case for war).


Steve Jones

Thanks for the reply - and my point was about how these things are more complex than the shock video jocks. Of course I wasn't referring to the Jews ejected from Arab lands, but then you knew that all along. Ethnic cleansing wasn't invented in Yugoslavia - it goes back through eons. And no I don't have a nice pat answer to all this, save that an argument that a video that went down to mockery and demonisation of the opposing side won't help much.

On the gun thing I think there is a far more supportable case to be made about the relationship of private gun ownership to that on levels of violence in society. I know that the statistic gets thrown around in the US that Switzerland has a high rate of guns being held privately (due to the way that the Swiss run their military) and an incredibly low gun murder rate, but that's a myth that it is low in absolute terms. In fact Switzerland has a firearms homicide rate better than three times that of England/Wales and, if you include suicides, something like 15 times worse. Finland, which has fairly liberal gun laws, is as bad, but a much higher proportion are homicides.

However, whatever country you go to in the West, the most likely person to be killed by any gun you own is you - mostly by suicide, but not infrequently by accident. Of course the argument goes that the suicides are just displacements - people would carry out the same acts, but by some other means. Not quite so sure myself - firstly it looks like suicide rates are higher in comparable countries with greater private gun ownership. Secondly, of all the spur-of-the-moment suicide techniques commonly available to hand in the average household, a gun, if around, is very likely to be the most effective. Coming back from a hole in the head isn't quite so likely as that from an aspirin overdose. Also death rates among under 16 years olds from guns aren;'t exactly trivial, and neither are domestic homicides (woman and children are particularly at threat from domestic gun related homicides).

Of course the line about there being about as many people in the US sympathetic to my view being about the same number as there are in total in the UK is wholly irrelevant. Why on earth stop at the boundaries of the UK? Can I include at least a reasonable part of the EU's population into my side of the argument? Perhaps I could include Canada? No doubt you could then respond with parts of Mexico (some areas of which are very keen on private gun ownership, although sadly these often appear to be local drug barons equipped with freely available arms smuggled across the US/Mexican border financed from the American drug market).

I would certainly concur with the idea that the primary difference in viewpoint of this is a local cultural matter, but I would also claim that this doesn't mean that this is a mere incidental difference on a comparable basis as pronunciation. I think it is more a matter of faith and dogma. Of course the allies in Iraq and Afghanistan have both discovered some of the consequences to (legitimate) governments of a widely armed populace. No doubt a Pashtun warlord would see great value in the second amendment.

But ultimately I don't care too much - there is an ocean between the US and the UK (in a literal sense, less so in a cultural one). It's not likely that the US is going to collapse into the sort of failed state of warlords that we see along the Afghan/Pakistan border, so it is hardly an imminent threat. The two points when that was most likely to occur - the wild west and the prohibition era gangsters were firmly dealt with by central government. The US has a robust and independent legal system. I think the Mexican government have a few problems where there own, more fragile, social and economic system runs up against the drug trade and weapons. But none of this means that I think there is a great deal of merit in the right to bear arms argument about the freedom of the people - that amendment was put into the American constitution in very different circumstances, and for very different purposes. More about the ability to raise local militia for defense. The past is a very different country, but it has a habit of trapping us in a mindset.

Now I know the all-powerful tyrannical government is a constant theme in (some parts) of US culture. However, it seems to me that the people so worried are often not looking at the right way of preventing it, to which the answer probably isn't down the muzzle of an Uzi. If you want to see what I mean, go to YouTube, do a search for Martial Law and watch a sample of the few thousand, mostly paranoid, videos produced by people who I can quite safely say I don't want to be living next door to me, especially realising that they are probably armed...

I rather think the populist engagement in politics brought about by the operation of Barack Obama's political team is a better way of defending people's freedom.

On a bit of lighter relief, may I commend to you this site. Medieval indulgences for the computer age without the capital expense of founding you own monastery. I'm hoping they are in it for good old-fashioned capitalist reasons, but I suspect they won't get to the same comfortable level of riches achieved by the Catholic church in their own old-tech version :-



Thanks for that. I could argue with many of your gun control points (though some are quite valid), and raise a bunch of my own; but, like you, I don't really think there's much point. The U.S. is in little danger of UK-style gun control, just as the UK is in no danger of U.S.-style gun rights. I will have this argument hammer-and-tongs in the U.S. as necessary (and, I might add, I will invariably win), but there's little point in arguing it with you. It's mostly a values difference, and I'm almost certainly never going to change your views - and in cases where I think you're actually mistaken on the facts, very little hangs on it.

The one thing I might take a moment to address is your impression of gun owners as – how did you put it? – "a bunch of paranoid lunatics playing half-assed soldiers with lethal pop-guns running around the woods". I might bring it to your attention that gun owners in the U.S. are actually doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs; that the vast majority of them are staunch law-and-order types who take the responsibility of gun ownership with the utmost gravity; that the average U.S. gun owner is, statistically, educated to a higher level and has a more prestigious job than the average non-gun-owner; and that, when I was doing some fairly acute moral agonising in the run-up to buying my first gun, the couple who helped me work through it were a woman who runs an engineering test lab and her husband, a government science writer in the field of fusion physics. But, in fact, your silly stereotypes amuse me; and I enjoy using them to shock people here by waxing nostalgic for my handguns out loud and in public.

Viva la difference.



Oh, okay, one canard I can't let pass: You wrote that "the most likely person to be killed by any gun you own is you". Why on Earth do you think someone needs to be killed by a gun? (For it to be useful, or in any case? And who wants to kill anybody?) In the vast majority of instances in the U.S., a privately-held gun is used to thwart a crime without a shot being fired. By some estimates, privately-held firearms are used to thwart crimes 1.5 million times a year in the U.S. And very rarely does anybody get shot. As well, in incidents of attempted violent crime, of all possible responses, resisting by brandishing a firearm results in the lowest rates of injury.

The point is, your statistic is worse than meaningless – it is profoundly misleading.

I could go on and on in this vein, but I really will let it go here.

Steve Jones

Canard is a strong word as it has at least the strong implications of a deliberately misleading falsehood. To make one thing clear - I didn't say that a privately held gun was likely to kill you. What I said was that a privately held gun was more likely to kill the owner (mostly through suicide) than anybody else (through homicide - whether the latter is legally justifiable or not). That's a simple deduction from the statistic that most gun-related deaths in virtually all western countries are used in suicides.

If you prefer, as the gun lobby puts it, guns don't kill people kill people, then I'll rephrase it by saying that more people kill themselves with a gun than kill other people with guns. I suppose I'm slightly lax in assuming that most suicides are by the owner of the gun (or you'll maybe allow me a family member of the gun owner), but I think that's a very reasonable conclusion given that the ratio of gun-related suicides to homicides approaches 2:1 in the US and is much, much higher in most other countries. Also I suppose there may be very high rates of police or members of armed services killing themselves with state-issue firearms, but I somehow doubt that would sway the stats.

To put some numbers on it, the suicide rate by guns in the US in 2001 was a 5.92 per 100,000 or about 17,000, rather more than half the total.

As for guns preventing crimes "by some estimates", then I'd be interested to know the methodology. Is it an estimate which includes potential criminals being deterred by privately owned guns, or just crimes actually prevented? In the case of homicides, then if guns are really reducing the rates in the US overall, then I'm trying to imagine what they would be without privately held guns. The US homicide rate is pretty well the worst, by some distance, of any comparable western country. Even if this does deter crimes, does it also encourage gun-carrying by criminals in some form of arms race?

I suppose I ought to essentially ask, on balance, do you feel (and would you in fact be) more or less safe in London if the populace was armed to that of a typical US city. Of course the answer to that is it depends on what sort of neighbourhood, what sort of social group you are in. My feeling is that from your socio-economic group, it probably wouldn't make much difference. If you were caught up in gangland culture in Brixton or in Compton it would be very different.

As far as the guys running round the woods are concerned, then that remark was aimed (as I thought it was clear from the context) at what I would consider some of the more paranoid militia types who seem attracted to conspiracy theories and who seem to have a particular love affair with semi-automatic weapons. A photo site I used had a lively debate where some guy posted the pictures of his family out for a fun day blasting away with semi-automatics in the woods. Something of a culture shock for many.

As you say, it's a useless debate, but my background is in maths and science and I have a great suspicion of any stats being used in social studies, some maybe I could be convinced. But what I have seen to date (and read a lot around this) is some extremely unsafe and selective use of stats in this area.I do rather pride myself in accuracy and interpretation of stats - and I'm not a social scientist.

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