Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Guns Again

It's not my topic, but because numbers and logic do tend to be my topics, gun control comes up again.

When John Lott came out with More Guns, Less Crime, he claimed exactly that. More citizens having access to guns would reduce crime, not increase it.  I never read it myself, but I recall from a review that even if true, the result was not large. Even before Volokh Conspiracy produced a great study for me to bookmark, I had been saying that the difference is cultural, not legislative. Northern New England has had the lowest homicide rates since colonial times. (See David Hackett Fischer) The Canadian Maritimes have the lowest rate in Canada. Those are somewhat but not greatly higher than the northern European countries with their very strict gun-access laws which America keeps getting compared to.

Also, the violent crime rate went down in those countries and they passed the gun laws later. That is a not uncommon pattern for many things that societies limit.  They only go to strictness when there is a very strong consensus.

I might add in genetic at this point - these days I believe just about everything is genetic - but leave that off for the time being. Violent crime varies enormously by neighborhood, by city, by state, and by country.

Statistically, there is so little mass killing that we can't measure it and draw conclusions from it all that well.  Too volatile.  Single incidents skew the data very quickly. Because even sports call-in shows gravitate to news items as big as the Las Vegas shootings, I heard a caller again bring up the idea that mass killing is a white male problem. So we have forgotten Nashville and Edmonton already.  That was quick.  The narrative dominates even the news of a day or two ago.

Conservatives get very quick to accuse that liberals hold this gun-control idea right at hand, ready to pounce whenever there is a new incident. The desire for power, for cultural control, is believed to be the dark motive underneath. I'm sure there are some for whom this is true, and they likely go into government and journalism, so we see more of them.  But I know people personally for whom the opposite is true.  They side culturally with the gun owners - usually this is family - but believe this law or that one would really help, and think fewer guns overall would also just help, somehow.

I think something else is in play that explains more. I think liberals are looking at what would persuade them, and then using that to persuade conservatives.  A very strong currency among liberals is that you should care. This is straight out of all that Jonathan Haidt Moral Matrix stuff. In their own behavior, the have identified - I think correctly - that they are sometimes convinced of the rightness of an action but do nothing about it because they just don't care enough. Then something happens to activate them, and they care more, and they start doing something.

This is also true for conservatives, but I think less so.  Much less.

Trying to get other people to care can take many forms. The liberals who get on the news and irritate conservatives so much are largely those who take the hectoring approach. It can be a really punitive superego approach about what bad people you must be, because you don't care, not like us good people. You didn't take the subtle social hints that this is the opinion and the behavior that the good people have, so we have to turn up the heat. It becomes a classic example of that repeating-the-same-action-but-expecting-a-different-result we saw throughout the last presidential election.  you just don't get it, a powerful phrase with much meaning.

Yet I don't think they all - in fact I know they don't all, because I can starting listing counterexamples and go on for quite a while - find that approach necessary.  By disposition, they would rather appeal to you to care more. They tell heartwarming stories, they show pictures of sad people.  Yes, these can be used manipulatively, but I think more often they are simply reading their own hearts and trying it on yours.  This poor homeless man did/said something wonderful, so we shouldn't be so quick to reject them and look down on them. That woman you are judging comes from a life of misery you don't know. That is all innocent enough, but things can go wrong very quickly.

First, the stories aren't always true, and this really frosts me. Parables are fine when it's know to be a parable, but when it's presented as something that happened it's like illegal voting. Fiction is fine, but there is an agreement between author and reader that this is what I believe is how human beings do act in these situations. Without that, it turns into those miserably didactic Sunday School stories where the good little girl gave all of her toys to the poor and her friends were all so impressed that they came to church with her next Sunday and learned to love Jesus.

I know, I know, people mean well.  They want you to be nice to waitresses, or remember to listen to old people, or whatever. But I don't know if they actually do mean well. These are often politically charged, and carry a secret accusation against all the people who don't believe this is happening every day! When this happens, there is this stream of FB congratulation to the person for being such a good and kind person who really cares.  Just for posting. It's almost as if...nah.

Second, even if true, they are chosen anecdotes, and they may pretend to represent a larger percentage of the populace than they really do.  NPR does this all the time. When they want to talk about the economy of Thailand, they recite a few numbers and then go straight to the guy who own a bicycle repair shop on a streetcorner.  Maybe he's representative, maybe not.  Who can tell? He represents what NPR thinks is true, anyway. (I don't think they do this consciously.  It is as natural as breathing for them.  Which I think is more worrisome.) The same what a good person you are for posting this comes into play here as well.  It's like junior high or something.

Eh.  I'm tired and my brain is broken.  I'm going to do something more enjoyable.


Grim said...

Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote a book called The Honor Code, aimed at persuading left-leaners that honor provides just that one useful function: it makes people care enough to act on the things they've decided are right. Honor makes them care enough to act. It struck me as a strange argument when I first encountered it, though he argues it well. My guess is that is evidence for your proposition.

I experience honor differently; for me, it often defines what is right. It's never that I wouldn't care except that people might think less of me for not doing the honorable thing. It's that the thing is right, often, just because it is what honor indicates.

Kevin said...

My solution to a case of the "Likes" for statements that flow only from emotion with no real thought or analysis is to start in with the Socratic method. Ask targeted questions either to get people to think or demonstrate that they'd prefer not to think. The really neat thing about this is you can do it without being nasty. That's what makes it so different from and so superior to common trolling, where the goal is to be nasty and to be right. By asking the right questions, you don't even have to disclose your personal opinion. As a "friend", the Facebook poster has posted an opinion and, by implication, invited discussion. Ask a question. And then another question. And so on and so on, until the nugget of the issue is revealed or they give up. How can anyone be offended? Asking respectful questions respectfully seems to me to be the essence of good education.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Kev - yes, one of my other relatives tried to do that with me, though he didn't quite get the tone right so I could tell he was actually saying "but you can't possibly have anything to back this up, which I am about to illustrate by embarrassing you with pointed questions." Still even the attempt was greatly appreciated, as it allowed a discussion to go forward.

The Socratic method is good, of course. I just never remember. Still a geometry student at heart, launching right into the proof.

Kevin said...

I was not good at math. So, I asked myself what I could be? A lawyer!

RichardJohnson said...

Trying to get other people to care can take many forms. The liberals who get on the news and irritate conservatives so much are largely those who take the hectoring approach.

With apologies to a book about learning in kindergarten, I refer to high school- perhaps because I didn't attend kindergarten. All I really need to know,I learned in high school, example 1: The Folk Song Army.

All seriousness aside :), as one who changed from a progressive of the left into an evil right-winger, I am surprised at how many precursors of this change arose during my high school years. But not my opinion at the time of the song, as in high school I didn't like Tom Lehrer making fun of me and mine.

When this happens, there is this stream of FB congratulation to the person for being such a good and kind person who really cares.
Which supports my decision to not do FB- though when visiting my brother, I did find looking at our hometown FB to be interesting. For the most part, politics didn't show up in it.

Regarding gun control: if you do a correlation of all the countries of Europe- not just western Europe- with regard to gun possession and murder rate, you find a slightly negative correlation of ~-0.3 between murder rate and gun possession.

Unknown said...

Somewhere this week I saw a mention of an effect that colonies peopled by the mother country have a higher incidence of people diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, more creative people and more risk-taking people. This hints at more people who might be violent. Those who choose to adventure and leave family and homeland end up having children who are more risk-taking and violent than the children of those who stayed behind.

This lines up with your genetic argument without bringing race or ethnic-origin into play. I've pointed out a few times in a few places that NYC always has had more firearm fatalities than London, before either had firearm restrictions, after the strict Sullivan laws prohibited arms to normal people in NYC a century ago, and now that London has more restrictive laws than NYC.

I've discovered that the "care" issue is a very good way to make people very cold to you. I stick my foot in it much more in relation to refugee and undocumented migrant issues, by unthinkingly blurting out stuff like "of course you would oppose such restrictions, you work in an industry where you can only pay so little and treat your employees so badly because they have no recourse to government authority for fear of ICE" or "you were blatantly fear-mongering on facebook about "new policies" that didn't exist, don't you feel guilty about the people who have died from exposure in attempts to flee to Canada that resulted from such fear-mongering?" I'm actually pretty aerated about the thousands of people who had sure-thing "temporary protected status" in the USA who are now batting about 0.49 in being allowed to stay in Canada vs being repatriated to their country of origin. Scaring them into fleeing the USA has not done them any service, and the scaring was done by people who should have known better.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Richard Johnson & Unknown - I see the European split as at least partly cultural. The Hajnal Line captures a good deal in one map that Pinker spent a whole book on in Better Angels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajnal_line

And as Unknown points out the violence rate went down in London (and all of Western Europe before the gun laws. The idea that immigrants might be more excitable, more risk-taking, and more dangerous is likely as well. However, people who just want peace and to be left along, not getting into wars and violence (think the Amish, or the Puritans and Quakers), also figure prominently in American development and I don't know which is a stronger factor.

Jonathan said...

It's culture and not just in the more subtle USA vs. Britain, or less subtle New England vs. New Orleans sense. US murder rates don't look so bad in comparison to Brazil or South Africa. It's also possible that some countries are cooking their crime stats more than we do.

It's not just culture, or an emphasis on caring vs. analysis. It's also, for me, the possibility, when I respond to someone in a social situation who is repeating what I see as lefty talking points, that the person I am trying to engage is not seriously interested in the topic but mainly trying to be sociable by repeating what seems to be the prevailing opinion in the group. To disagree in such a situation is to be a spoilsport, antisocial. The person you are responding to is likely to change the subject or end the conversation. The Socratic Method doesn't help. Group members whose views are in the minority learn to avoid discussing politics and to avoid responding when other people bring up political topics. I suspect a similar dynamic exists for leftists in areas where most people are politically conservative, but I'm guessing that on average conservatives are more tolerant of lefty dissenters than vice versa.

Unknown said...

Jonathan - when I lived in the UK, the homicide stats didn't count a homicide until it had been adjudicated as such. OK when comparing UK apples to UK apples, but vastly misleading when trying to compare to other countries.

It also was inconvenient when I started looking into claims that the post-Dunblaine ban on handguns had some effect on firearms deaths vs violent crime generally, and was trying to see trend-lines in graphs. Of the 697 UK homicides recorded for 2016, 96 are for deaths that occurred in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster but were re-visited with a new inquest in 2016. There was a medical doctor who, it was discovered, had been offing his patients for no-particular reason, several hundred over 27 years of practice -- he got away with it so long because he was the one signing their death certificates. All of the homicides that they chose to prosecute landed in the year 2000 homicide rate upon his convicion.

Donna B. said...

The most emotionally horrific deaths by gunfire are those of very young children -- infant to 8 years old if I must define ages. These are almost always accidents caused by the parents leaving guns out where the kids can find them OR drive-by shootings that claim unintended victims.

When the news tells me of a such a shooting, I emotionally want to ban everything that can fire a bullet. Then another part of my brain kicks in and asks if that would actually solve any problems.

Y'all have no idea how much I wish a ban of any or all firearms would work. But it's a wish -- one less likely to come true than my wishing I'd win the Powerball jackpot.

Texan99 said...

As C.S. Lewis said (in Screwtape, I think?), the more often you feel without acting, the less able you will be able to act and, in the long run, to feel. Caring is essential but it's not enough; caring without acting is even likely to be harmful. Acting without some understanding of what will work is likely to be harmful as well. The biggest divide I see between liberals and conservatives is the presence of absence of a hard-eyed insistence on doing what works once we've agreed on the desired outcome.

Well, that, and a difference in emphasis on the twin goals of freedom and security, or autonomy and intimacy.