Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Understanding Motives

When people who have displayed rationality before seem unable to get over some basic points, I am fascinated why that might be.  In the case of mass shootings, I am especially curious because the belief that some sort of gun control was just obviously needed was one I once held.  In my slow migration out of liberalism and into the wilderness, it was one of the last beliefs to drop off. I have a sense what my thinking was - or more properly, what my motive for holding a belief without thinking was - but I don't trust retrospective analysis of even my own motives that much.  We are too easily self-serving.  Even when we have some accuracy, we decorate the tree with convenient ornaments we like now. 

I think I believed that the advanced and intelligent cultures had long since demonstrated that restricting gun access was necessary, and the objections to this were from people who held onto old ideas pig-headedly, clinging to their guns and religion, as Obama later said. I didn't have any numbers, except perhaps a vague idea that Western Europeans had less violent crime and also restricted gun access, plus a smug certainty that my sort of people didn't own any guns and didn't commit any violent acts, so therefore being like us was the ticket. I was sure there were numbers behind all that somewhere. 

Or so I tell myself now. And thus I project those beliefs onto people who think some sort of gun control will help now. 

It began to be undermined by odd things. Reading David Hackett Fischer's comprehensive and well-researched Albion's Seed I came across the stray fact that New England had had the lowest homicide rate since colonial times. He was tying that to culture, noting that East Anglia had had the lowest violent crime rates in England in that time as well. (As near as I can tell, it still does, or is close.) I wasn't thinking about guns at all, but the idea "We have lots of guns up here, but somehow we don't shoot people very much" stuck with me. Then in a discussion of Sherlock Holmes and firearms among the Victorians, of all things, I learned that Western Europe's violent crime rate had gone down before there was any change in the laws. Gun control was a follow-on, not a cause. Then came John Lott, and even though people who wanted to lecture me with fingers in my face kept treating his methodology dismissively, it at least established for me that what I had long believed was just obvious and every smart person knew it, was at minimum not a slam dunk after all. Perhaps most humorously (though in a grim situation) was a very liberal psychiatrist commenting about a patient who had just been driving 100mph while in a manic state in order to save his girlfriend who he was sure was being kidnapped in Maine. "Sometimes it's not the guns, is it? I think maybe we should have driver's license control instead." Unexpected. When your mind is halfway changed things start to cascade, as helpful bits keep attaching themselves to the new structure. The Hajnal Line, that interesting discovery showing a different culture related to feudalism, age at marriage, and reduction in clannishness resulted in increasing rights for women, less internal violence (though warfare remained high, perhaps even higher), and greater internal cooperation. And ultimately, I began looking suspiciously at the statistics of the gun controllers, learning that they were often deceptive - Look over here! Shiny! Shiny!

Well, we did that imitation of research of believing what our cultural outlets and the people in our crowd told you, without paying even minimal attention to manipulations of data and important items left out. We likely also nodded to descriptions if this guy had a harder time getting a gun...if he couldn't just go in and buy...if we ran a better screening on everyone purchasing...if we only allowed certain people to sell/buy/trade/make firearms...Yes, we make pictures in your heads, little stories really, like the "human interest" anecdotes used by news sources to sell you their POV. NPR is perhaps the worst ("Kukrit, who runs a bicycle repair shop in Bangkok, wonders what the new trade agreement will mean for him getting parts…"), but they are not the only. News outlets know we prefer stories to facts, and they would rather tell stories. 

Yet I confess I no longer know what the thoughts and motives are of people who believe that some new laws are going to have an effect.  It is too far away and long ago now.  I know that some conservative sites I have gone to are just sure that some want to disarm us so that they can rule us more easily.  They do have the examples of this happening in other countries to back them up.  But I haven't much encountered that myself. 


I do know some ways in which their reasoning is bad.  I suppose that will have to do at present.

There are people who are opposed to firearm restrictions largely from a rights-and-freedoms perspective who ask questions which gun restrictionists usually just ignore, about what the cultural costs for the safety you think we will get are. On what terms do you want to live your life? What is the value of mere survival versus thriving, or independence? I am not especially one of those myself. I will admit those questions farther down the line, once we have determined what level of safety you hope to trade off for. If you want to stereotype gun rights people as those who only care about "muh freedoms," you can go and argue with them about it. You might find, by the way, that their challenges to you are far stronger than you expected. 

But don't bother me about it, or not until far down the road, because I value the number of people who are upright at the end of the day very, very highly. I think it is where the discussion starts. I demonstrated this over the last couple of years in discussing covid.  I like to start from the numbers of two experimental groups and see how many are still standing a year later under method A and method B, and have the discussion proceed from the agreement of which side starts with the advantage. And here's the thing. The people who believe we must change our gun laws somehow are sure, just sure, that under their proposals, there will be more schoolchildren upright afterward.

And there is zero evidence that this is true. People have stories they tell themselves, pictures and scenarios they play out in their heads of if this guy had a harder time getting a gun...if he couldn't just go in and buy...if we ran a better screening on everyone purchasing...if we only allowed certain people to sell/buy/trade/make firearms...IT'S JUST OBVIOUS THESE THINGS WOULDN'T HAPPEN, or would at least happen less. Yet no.  None of those are true. 

It's the belief in the obviousness that is troublesome, i think.

This is usually followed by the idea that well, if we did things like this, we would be less of a gun-loving, gun-worshiping culture, and gradually but importantly become a better people and live in a safer place.  This is also absolutely untrue. New Englanders own lots of guns - Howard Dean used to joke to other Democrats that he came from Vermont, "where even liberals own 2-3 guns." And we have had the lowest rates of violent crime since colonial times. Culture is so much more important as to make the laws irrelevant. We have discussed this here dozens of times and I will only point you to the Hajnal Line or HBDChick's discussions of forbidding cousin marriage and the effects of feudalism in the Middle Ages how we went down this long road.  Enter them in my search bar if it's not quite clear to you.  I had no original thoughts, I just quoted and linked to good people. If this is new to you - I am thinking it might be to clever young Gaznir - you may be in for a treat of new concepts.

Aggie had a great comment under my "Expectations" post. It was in the context of the continuous-improvement work they needed to do in drilling, and in that industry it had gone well, because people wanted safety, not to find others to blame.  Yes. When there is a society-wide problem, the first thing that is required to improve matters is honesty and good faith in communication, usually the last things to become apparent - and even then, in deficit. The biggest task in creating a proactive safety culture is gaining acceptance that this is the priority at the outset. Once people buy in, the culture of continuous improvement takes wing. Ironically, to work safely one has to first feel safe in being able to communicate their observations and ideas without fear of criticism. Shame is a very powerful emotion.

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