What’s Wrong with G. K. Chesterton

In 1910, G. K. Chesterton published a book in the form of a rambling more or less connected series of essays, which he titled What’s Wrong with the World.  A hundred years later, it serves as an interesting example of much which is right and appealing in Chesterton’s work – and also much which is odd, not to say (to modern ears) appalling: thus the title of this piece.  That the attempted humor of my title is perhaps too obvious for good taste is merely a nod to Chesterton’s contention within this very volume that an obvious joke simply means one which is understood, and that an obvious joke should therefore be regarded as a good one.  I am not sure I agree in all cases.

Regarded as a logical argument, What’s Wrong with the World is a failure.  Chesterton’s central axioms are sound enough (if as unpopular now or more as they were with the Edwardian intelligentsia), but he displays here in startling degree his great weakness: that of treating his personal tastes, desires, and prejudices as truths and sound premises.  He claims at one point, “I do not know the East; nor do I like what I know,” – a raw emotional rejection I rather doubt Chesterton would have let slide in the other side of any of his debates.  It is clear enough that to Chesterton “the East” stands as a label attached generally to most if not all of the world outside of European – or, what he would likely contend was more important, Christian – culture.  That he could thus readily conflate in his own thinking such varied societies as the Ottomans, India (with its kaleidoscope of cultures), and Japan is perhaps no more than a sign of his times: that he would put this kind of thinking down on paper as an argument is, while honest enough, problematic in a moral sense.  It certainly causes his own thesis no end of trouble.  It also, however it may have sounded to his contemporaries, is a rather startling and uncomfortable contention to all but the most rabidly nationalistic modern ears, even those who have not themselves any particular affection for any of those societies.

This is particularly unfortunate in that examination of – for example – Indian society would in any case have largely strengthened his point.  Chesterton proposes, against the more rabid Socialists and Eugenicists – not to mention other varieties of social planners – that the basis of society is the family; that the family should be free; and that free families on the whole want to be left alone, if not from social demands, at least by the force of the State.  He maintains that any measures taken to stave off actual physical need which reduce the independence of the family should be regarded as emergency measures – in modern political parlance, we might dub them a least of evils.  So far, sound enough: but laying down a universal principle while dismissing quite a deal of evidence about what the universe might think of it is unsound.  The family – whatever its cultural habits – really is as universal as he thinks it is.  Men and women – regardless of their geographical location on the globe – really have, on the whole, preferred to live in decent independence from any overbearing State as long as this remains at all possible.  Instead of piling up this evidence, his distaste for other cultures leaves his book open to a superficial reading in which he composed nothing more than one more militant complaint about new ideas, one more appeal to the good old days.

More problematic still to modern ears is the tone which he takes when discussing the role of women in the family – and by extension, society.  He talks rather as though the traditional approach had been carefully thought out and planned.  His figures seem to imply not so much a practical consensus in behavior as an intentional construction of society along certain lines.  His greatest logical failure is his appeal that most women would actually agree with his social positions – an argument to authority which collapses if the authority changes its mind.  But his tendency to present the “traditional” scheme of the family as answering difficulties after considerable thought and planning is really rather odd.  It seems to militate against history: not that philosophers have not defended normal family life in such terms, but there have been as many philosophers, from Plato on, who have if trying to plan a society come up with different schemes.  The philosophers and planners, it might be argued, have tended towards the egalitarianism Chesterton detests.

If, however, we set aside this rhetorical foible, his argument is strong enough, granting his axioms.  He makes what is very possibly the strongest practical argument in favor of women (or at least wives) behaving mainly as homemakers.  He states in the strongest terms the goodness and necessity of the work: he makes even an argument that, at least in terms of character and psychology the demands of an intimate motherhood are anything but limiting.  If this part of the argument is repellent to modern ears, it is merely because Chesterton flips modern assumptions on their head: he is inclined to see the fact that men commonly must work away from the house a defect in society.  If men are forced into limited work, at least women are kept safe and sane.  The home is a safe harbor.  For children to be expected to live mainly outside the home – especially the young children currently (Chesterton would think, and I am at least emotionally inclined to agree) victimized by the current fad for preschools and such – is yet more a travesty.

Those defending traditional common sense are often accused of protecting entrenched interests.  Chesterton, at least, is free from this charge: he sees the moneyed and influential classes embracing new heresies and social programs as a method of tightening control.  He even discusses at length the problem of social planners who take emergency measures – and then under political pressure, forget the original emergency and argue for their stopgap plans as innate goods.  Moreover, Chesterton has a clear idea of an ideal practiced and transforming society (although his ideas – not discussed in this volume – for achieving final results are in my opinion unreliable).  That it is an old idea is rather a point in its favor than otherwise to the Roman Catholic apologist.  “[The purpose] of all these pages, is this: the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. … If other things are against it, other things must go down.  If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down.  With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.  Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property, because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.”

The Problem With Gerrymandering

Here is a reasonably neat map of Maryland, and its counties:

Maryland is fairly infamous for being one of the more gerrymandered states – that is, its congressional districts are drawn to attempt to preserve party seats.  In Maryland, that tends to mean artificial protections for Democrats; in other states it can be Republicans – maybe more often, in fact.  What does gerrymandering mean in practice?

Most of us, faced with the problems of assigning representatives, would want to make fairly neat divisions.  In particular I prefer to keep subdivisions (counties or cities) in place where possible.  So I took a couple swings at district drawing.  Maryland has 8 congressional districts at the moment.  Here’s the first attempt to determine them, keeping entire counties together, and joining generally similar areas together as much as possible:

This would probably work fine, but it’s a rough sketch.  Some of the districts end up with significantly different populations – Montgomery County as its own district has around a million residents, basically doubling the southern light brown and eastern dark purple districts even though each has several counties.

Attempting to balance populations, after a couple hours work, produced this:

For the sake of convenient comparisons, where I split up counties, I used straight lines.  Obviously that’s unlikely to happen exactly in reality – even if you did use straight lines, mine are probably not in exactly the right places – but it gives a general idea.  I’m not entirely happy about dragging a “Western Shore” district up through several counties and around Baltimore on both sides, but for a couple hours fiddling it’s not too bad.  I’d expect any reasonable plan for Maryland to look more or less like this.

What are Maryland’s actual congressional districts?

Oh.

 

Review: Everything and More

In 2003, David Foster Wallace wrote an account of how mathematicians have dealt with aspects of infinity throughout history for W. W. Norton & Co.’s series “Great Discoveries”.  At some point I got a copy as a present, and have now read it.  In 300 pages – and I doubt it was supposed to run that long, as Wallace refers to the work repeatedly as a “booklet”, he traces the history of the problem of calculating infinite and infinitesimal quantities, or calculating with them – in short, how math has dealt with the enormously huge and the incredibly tiny – from the Greek philosopher-mathematicians to the 19th century German mathematician-philosophers, with a quick nod towards 20th century math which has (in Wallace’s account) mostly succeeded in demonstrating the 19th century solutions have their own problems and forced mathematicians to figure out how to deal with that.

Wallace’s style is engaging from one sentence to the next, but the overall structure of the book ends up a bit muddled, as he attempts to present at times incredibly complicated concepts in an understandable framework.  For the most part – though as a mathematician (low-grade) I may not be the best person to judge – he succeeds, though I judge the “optional” technical explanations periodically inserted would have been better maintained as integral parts of the book.  The final effect is much like the legendary Japanese garden technique where a great deal of care goes into presenting a final appearance of perfect naturalness: but this by its own rules prevents other qualities of line or symmetry.

Everything and More was a good reminder for me of the puzzles and paradoxes that attract me to some of the more theoretical parts of math, though I would hardly say I understand it all.  At one point, Wallace describes Leibniz – he of the calculus – as a “lawyer/diplomat/courtier/philosopher for whom math was sort of an offshoot hobby”, footnoting this description, “Surely we all hate people like this,” but I suspect Wallace himself of similar gifts, given how easily he, acknowledged mainly as a writer, converses of complicated mathematical topics.  It is also evident from Wallace’s fulsome praise for the man that he had at least one great teacher, a Dr. Goris.

If you have any interest in mathematics – especially its quirks and paradoxes – and are prepared for a reading experience complete with concept-induced headaches, I’d recommend this one.

Election Status: August 1 – Presidency

I may update my opinions as the election draws nearer, especially if debates reveal anything useful.  I will also be writing a section at some point containing thoughts on Congressional and local races, together with some analysis of Maryland races once I do some research.  For now, the Presidency:

At the moment, there are four candidates who could be elected to the the office of President of the United States under normal circumstances: Hilary Clinton (Democratic), Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), or Donald Trump (Republican).  Due to vagaries of the system, these people are recognized more by their party’s ballot access than direct possibility of voting for them: as a result, Stein’s candidacy would take a strange coalition to succeed; additionally, Johnson and the Libertarian party are, as of this date, lacking access in several states – most importantly New York and Ohio.  I do not know whether with three months to go this can or will still be changed – and if so, in which states.

In addition, numerous small parties or independent candidates have some ballot access but not enough to secure the Presidency under normal circumstances.  There are, it seems to me, a great many problems with how elections are structured – but as the system currently tends to benefit the two largest parties, I have small hope of seeing the changes I might hope to be made.  In fact I will not even spend time on Stein’s candidacy: I do not believe she is at all likely to win or even poll particularly well.  Additionally, I have very little agreement with the Green party’s positions.

This leaves three candidates: Clinton, Johnson, and Trump.  If I were to guess, I would guess that Trump is likely to win the race.  In the first place, his candidacy for the Republican party seemed to show some support – judging by open primary states – from normally Democratic voters, suggesting a cross-party appeal.  In the second place, he reflects far too closely what I see day to day – especially on the internet – as the typical American political discourse: insults, angry sound-bites, sexual irresponsibility, vulgarity, and distrust of anyone not in one’s own personal “group”.  I see these habits in people claiming all sorts of different ideological positions.  I suspect his tone therefore resonates strongly with those who more or less agree with his positions (such as they are), and I doubt those opposed to him will be able to mount effective criticism when they tend to indulge in the very kind of nonsense they want to criticize him for.

When I say I think Trump will win, I do not mean that he ought to win, except perhaps in a “get what we deserve” sense.  His presence is angry, immature, and destabilizing.  His policies are not always consistence and as plans incoherent.  Apart from his ability to seize attention, he has very little to recommend him in office.  There are, I think, only two reasons to vote for Trump.  One is that he does seem to care about a certain kind of often-ignored citizen – the relatively poorly off working class, especially if white.  Reintroducing their concerns into political decision-making can hardly be a bad thing: except I still do not see Trump as the person to address those concerns competently.

The other reason would be if the alternatives are worse.  When comparing Trump with Clinton, I am honestly not sure who is more dangerous to the state of the republic.  Trump is a public disgrace: Clinton appears to be competent, but her stated goals are to push us further down an immoral and unConstitutional track, and I very much doubt her political integrity.  By this I mean that – much like President Obama, or perhaps more accurately Senator Reid – she is prepared to use any method, however questionable, which she can get away with to implement policies which she believes will work.  I do not much like being told what to do on quite a number of matters Clinton thinks are public business, and moreover I do not like what she seems likely to try to tell me to do.  I am not sure it is much of a defense to say she “means well”, though I believe that somewhat nebulous phrase does apply: I do not think she is interested (only) in personal aggrandizement as Trump is.

I am not content with the concept of voting for “the lesser of two evils”.  Even considered as “the most possible good”, there seem to be cases where it is hard to find any meaningful distinctions.  If in fact there were no moral distinctions to be made, and both options are bad, a moral person is justified – I am tempted to say required – to choose neither, even if this means abstaining.  Of Clinton and Trump, Clinton is more likely to be a responsible President, but Trump is less likely to impede whatever good policy comes from Congress.  How to choose?

In the event, I currently find Johnson preferable to either.  His basic legal principles and record are superior.  He has not to my knowledge either been involved in any scandal or made an idiot of himself nationally.  I do however have reservations, because on two key points he seems entirely in tune with today’s dangerous tendencies.  He has indicated, in the first place, that he is comfortable using executive orders to achieve good policy – to what extent I am not sure as no interviewer (to my knowledge) has questioned him seriously about this.  He also is unwilling to face down the Supreme Court, especially on abortion: he sounds on the subject just like any other Court supremacist.  (He is, however, far more likely than Clinton – who would pick a probably radical progressive – or Trump – who would likely pick a crony – to make solid appointments to the courts.)

If the election were tomorrow, I would as of now vote for Johnson.  I do not want to make this an endorsement, because the drawbacks of his positions are nearly as big as the advantages.  At the same time, I see – especially in comparison – virtually nothing but drawbacks to either of the other candidates.

What Comes Naturally

I often find myself uncertain where to begin when addressing social and political issues, not only when I lack complete confidence in my own opinion but even – perhaps especially – when I do not.  There are two chief reasons for this.  The first is that in places my opinions and ideals have diverged from those I was instructed in: some differences are barely more than semantic quibbles, while others are issues on which I have drawn different conclusions either from the same apparent starting point or by accepting at least a tentative validity of different premises.  But the one that chiefly concerns me here are the strangest cases, where my position remains unchanged, but I would justify my conclusion quite differently from many who might “agree” with me.  This chiefly affects the extent to which I believe various social norms should be enforced – areas in which I differ both from my past self (as far as I remember those opinions) and from many conservative activists and commentators.  In most cases, I remain still less with many or most progressives I have encountered.

A while back I discussed the three principles underlying my social and political opinions.  Here I am going to discuss how and why to apply them.  The essential principle of social (which is to say, informal) and especially political (which is to say, formal) rule-making and standard-setting for a society is that the rules ought to match those things which actually are the case.  I mean this in two main senses.  In the first place, rules and laws ought to reinforce the way human societies naturally work.  To follow this, rules and laws ought not to be imposed impractically – a law (but even a social habit) should not typically be enacted the enforcement of which would impose coercion upon a large portion of a society.  It is crucial to remember – or rediscover – that the formal mechanisms of government are only a part of the way a society orders its habits.  The mockery of society under which it becomes the entire mechanism of ordering humanity we generally call fascism.

In contrast, I see in the United State today both progressives and conservatives pressing for laws which reflect neither natural human society nor positions held near-unanimously by society.  Progressives tend to champion policies which reflect a sometimes outrageously unrealistic egalitarian ideal, while conservatives go on attempting to maintain the status quo as an “American” dream or a “Christian” society.  Few on either side pay attention to what was for millennia the standards of appeal (however variously interpreted at times): observation of reality, both in its philosophical or logical form as the “natural law” and also as what would develop into scientific principles.  We might put this in the form of two questions.  How in fact do societies best function?  On this count progressives ignore all evidence: they seem particularly uninterested in the historical facet of the question, the problem of which societies following what policies have been the most free, content, safe, etc.  How in fact does our society function?  To this question many conservatives appear not to care about the answer: some are rhetorically resistant to admitting any validity to even the existence of changes.

Let me take an example case – which I will here sketch briefly, not in detail – the question of a homosexual relationship being formalized as a “marriage”.  The progressive egalitarian ignores all history, the reasons societies have restricted and formalized marriages, and even the facts of human reproduction in pursuit of a loony refusal to distinguish socially between the human sexes even where reality demands distinctions.  On the other hand, many conservatives insist on binding a growing dissent on the subject to a conception of marriage their fellow-citizens do not believe in.  Further, many arguments they made have been ridiculous: I have in mind particularly the ludicrous objection that, “If gays can marry, then we’ll have to legalize polygamy too”.  This reveals the speaker as not even dedicated to a coherent Christian faith: polygamy is in the Bible arguably discouraged even in the Old Testament and pretty clearly banned for Christians but always treated as legitimate marriage.  It merely exposes his own prejudices – and these two clearly have little bearing on reproductive facts, as polygamy is treated as somehow beyond, more unnatural, than homosexuality in the context of marriage.

Moreover, neither side tends to have any idea of how to resolve the question other than the use of governmental legal coercion.  The progressives demand such “marriages” be legalized, while the conservatives demand they be banned.  The conservative is perhaps willing to compromise, either by calling them “civil unions” or by passing laws allowing him to stand aside.  The progressive decries any restrictions as – well, dressed up in a number of ugly names, but oppression, all the while generally even refusing to allow any room for dissent.

I believe reality – deliberately saying nothing invoking my Christian faith – indicates marriage as a social form is necessary for men and women and necessarily restricted only to the heterosexual union: in both cases, because of the resulting children and on their account.  But when I look at society today, I see a range of opinions so wide that putting government coercion behind any particular viewpoint is practically guaranteed to be the wrong answer.  I am not well-informed on the history of government regulation of marriage.  At the present time, however, the government can do nothing useful about it – one way or the other – without extensive use of force.  I would argue, then, that this is an issue from which governments should (at least for the time) withdraw, enforcing nothing and leaving the issue to be resolved socially.  Of all states, as far as I know only Alabama has actually tried to make this change, and the bill is stuck in the legislature.The current model is on any question for one side to carry the issue by fiat of legislative or judicial numbers, and then append just enough “protections”, exceptions, and exemptions to placate the loudest voices on the “other side” and, incidentally, irritate virtually everyone.  The kind of reasoning I have outlined above, where we step back and admit that a social question has multiple sides represented forcefully within society, and then consider how to best address issues peacefully, should be applied more widely.  I will add a final general note: when libertarians (and various other parties) make appeals for “deregulation”, this is I believe what is normally in mind – situations where governments have (with what we can at least assume are good intentions) put the weight of government force behind rules that are not in fact useful or widely agreed with.  In other words, if we start looking for ways to solve social problems without coercion and with cultural coexistence, I expect that as a side-benefit we would in fact achieve a great deal in disassembling vexatious governmental machinery.

Charity in Politics

Apart from his science fiction itself, author Arthur C. Clarke is probably best known for a description of one of the common rules of the genre, which he called Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.  In science fiction, sufficiently technologically primitive cultures can be expected to attribute technology they do not understand to supernatural forces.

A parody, normally known as Grey’s Law, but which I have also seen cited as the Third Law of Social Dynamics (after the Laws of Thermodynamics), or Dilbert’s Third Law (after the comic strip), states, “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”  Ignorance, bad luck, or even outright stupidity are not morally equivalent to intentional harm – but the effects can at times look similar.

An observer of politics in almost any age might have coined the following variant: “Any sufficiently disputed policy will be attributed to malice,” – or on a personal level, “Any sufficiently unpopular politician will be described as evil.”  The current American election-year shenanigans, as well as recent policy decisions, have given us more than enough of this kind of rhetoric and I will not bother giving examples here.

This kind of political discourse has four main drawbacks.  In the first place, it is in the vast majority of cases not true.  In the second place, because it is largely not true, it contributes to political distrust especially between opposing parties which generally are all attempting to find the best policies for society and merely disagree what those are.  In the third place, vilification of political projects and especially persons distracts from any serious discussion about policies.  When these attacks are commonplace, serious criticisms are themselves often shouted down or ignored because any challenge is assumed to be this sort of nonsense.  Finally, when politicians or political regimes do deserve outright condemnation, that condemnation can be hard to tell apart from the rest of the shouting – and people may be slow to believe that there is anything more serious than one more silly problem to deal with.

Variations on this childish level of discussion are probably infinite, but I make here five claims:

  1.  Your political opponent is not intentionally doing the wrong thing.
  2. The policy you oppose is not designed to harm society.
  3. Someone who disagrees with your opinions and beliefs does not hate you.
  4. Someone who disapproves of your personal behavior or political tactics does not hate you.
  5. Someone who understands your identity or place in society differently than you do does not hate you and is not trying to belittle or dehumanize you.

The first two treat society generally; the last three deal with more personal issues.  I recognize that exceptions exist: there are evil persons in the world, and a much larger number who individually or by social encouragement have bad, even wicked, habits.  But I urge you not to jump to the accusation of ill-will immediately.  Perhaps more importantly, please apply these standards to media as well.  Does a piece you may otherwise find convincing, or which awakes your sympathy, violate one or more of these rules?  Then it is probably not really a positive contribution to our social problems.  (At the very least, a piece making such accusations should back its claims up carefully and convincingly: it should present evidence, and not skate by on the assumption the reader or viewer will “already know” the target is a bad person.)  I ask all persons who try to act in good faith to consciously limit their exposure to such material, and especially – given the reach of social media – to do our best to avoid sharing such pieces.

Murder in Orlando: Reflections, Reactions

I. Inadequate

I hesitate to say anything about this awful action and so many violent deaths.  What can I add to what others have said?  I deeply regret that such a terrifying incident occurred; I am sorry for the loss and pray for the peace of families who lost their loved ones in the shooting.  I am deeply unsettled by the consequences, all too easy to predict, for our social interactions and political discourse.  And yet I have no sort of similar experience to draw on to really understand what the victims and their friends and family went through.  I have already seen many express public resentment for sympathy from those like myself who disagree fundamentally with the “queer” lifestyle, or who support private weapons rights on legal or moral grounds: they suspect hypocrisy or self-serving manipulation of public image.  And when emotions run so understandably high in a time of tragedy; when the oh-so-human reaction is to tend to doubt anyone who has not fully supported you; all I can do is say the grief and prayers are genuine, as is my understanding of why you find that hard to believe.

II. Inappropriate

A few persons took this event as an excuse to say the victims had it coming; among these were several Christian persons of public note, who should have known better.  I will not indulge in the silly posturing of apologizing for them, though I regret such actions – such statements at such a time do not edify believer or unbeliever; they reflect poorly on the mercy extended by Christ; and they serve to further sour social and political relations in a country where so many are or claim to be Christian.

Before the news was widely released, I was at church, where by great good coincidence (or providence) the sermon was on Luke’s account of Jesus’ interaction with a Pharisee Simon and an unnamed female “sinner”, whom many suppose to have been a prostitute.  As those raised on Bible stories likely remember, the woman is commended for her faith, the Pharisee chastised for poor manners.

Others have remarked on one particular reaction of Christ’s to tragedy, warning his listeners – disciples and the curious alike – “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the other who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13)  Public tragedy is no time to condemn particular sins of others – though perhaps pastors of the flock may remind their particular charges and those they seek to convert of the coming judgment prefigured in untimely death, as Christ does here – but this is a time to look to our own consciences.

(And after all, who knows why each person there that night was there?  Commitment to the “queer” community, a friend’s invitation, curiosity, ignorance, ministry… surely not something we can parse from a distance.)

III. Division

One of the accompanying tragedies of these deaths is that, in our oh-so-sensitive culture, only “correct” statements of any emotion are accepted.  It has become unacceptable to many to see a mass murder of this nature as an offense against all of us: we must consider it, it seems, only as an attack on the particular community targeted – which means not only admitting that such persons were targeted, but expressing support for them, and recognizing their claims as legitimate.  No one, apparently, not prepared to do all those things is welcome.  I am not making this up; other people also lament this short-sighted approach.

IV. Debate

I quote here Martin Luther, from a 1535 sermon, speaking on the difficulty of restraining emotionally-driven reactions to heated topics (Luther was referring to the various treatment of the Lord’s Supper, but his point stands in relation to other issues):

“…[I]t is well to remind our people, so that, when [we] see such things [i.e. incorrect practices, here w.r.t. the Supper], they may not be offended, but may be able to say: That it is not right…”

Note the clear distinction made between (emotionally) taking offense and (rationally) disagreeing.  Luther is hardly a paragon of the distinction himself, being at times quite abusive in his rhetoric (whether one believes this excused in some part by the debating culture of the day or not), but failure to follow one’s own advice does not mean the advice is wrong.

V. The Paradox of Gun Control

Other than refusal to admit the legitimacy of “queer” self-identity, the other complaint raised immediately against various politicians and public figures is that they do not support gun control.  We have here a sort of social problem.  It is clear enough that the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to own weapons.  In fact the controls already enacted and considered more or less legitimate may on some readings be too stringent; as may be.  However, one could argue with some evident reason that as a society we do not currently possess the restraint required, the self-responsibility, to be each of us entrusted with modern firearms.  And here lies the paradox: to act on that conviction correctly would require a constitutional change; yet to achieve that constitutional change for the reason given would almost be evidence that the responsibility was in fact present.  To be clear, I do not expect such a movement would succeed, between those convinced of the necessity of weapons for self-defense and those simply uncaring.  I simply note that such a movement could only succeed for good reasons in a society where it would probably be unnecessary.  And thus societies slip into tyranny: when what popular pressure sees as “necessary” can only be accomplished incorrectly, abuse of power seems to a mob the lesser of evils.  But it is hard to say that such a society – which we may be – does not deserve it.

VI. The Problem of Gun Control

It is not entirely clear than gun control measures, even if enacted, would have prevented this or similar massacres.  Other targets of terrorism-driven attacks – such as France – are hardly enclaves of lenient firearms laws.  Similarly, the majority of these shootings in the US occur in areas where firearms are nominally restricted.  It is likely true – or I suspect it is true, at least – that effective gun control measures would reduce the incidence of large-scale shootings, although from what I know it would probably not significantly affect the number individual murders.  However, I am not sure whether nominal nationwide restriction of firearms access would in fact be effective.

I remain unconvinced that most advocates for national gun control have entirely thought through the process.  If I were defining such a law, I would require, I think, (a) that all firearms and owners be registered; (b) that all firearms be stored in a public place, such as a police station or firing range, to be released for use only by a police officer or licensed official of some kind; (c) that purchase (or perhaps release of ammunition stored similarly to weapons) be limited to a certain amount per designated time period.  (This is not freedom – certainly not in the American context, perhaps not at all – and I do not in fact support such measures, but this, or something like it, would be my goal if I did.)  The measure would have to pass Congress, where it would be highly contentious due to differing cultural standards regarding firearms in different areas of the country.  It would have to be signed by a President, who depending on his party – and the state of election politics – might or might not be willing to do so, possibly depending on how partisan the congressional vote had been.  And it would have to survive a series of legal challenges, which it might or might not do, depending on the law’s wording, the cases’ wording, and the judges sitting at the time.

Finally, it would have to be put into effect.  And this I cannot figure out how to accomplish with even the remotest chance of simultaneously maintaining both civil liberties and peace.  Anyone known to have previously purchased a weapon legally becomes a “suspect”: many, I am certain, would resist, Supreme Court decision on the law or no, a search thorough enough to be effective.  Many would likely resist even in the more authoritative case of a Constitutional amendment: where they would probably be clearly in the wrong.  As for a “mere” law, contentiously passed, recent history should warn us of the difficulties.