Friday, June 13, 2014

Aristotle, Batman, and Zombie Deer

Now that we've handle the tough issues, like collars on superhero costumes, let's relax into something more 'real-world':

school shootings & gun control.

As I mentioned in a previous post some years ago, I'm from a 'gun family'.  Here, for example,  is one of my cousins. On the right.

He kills wild pigs.  I'm more of "Heroclix" kind of guy, myself.

We always had the odd 'self-defense anti-burglar' revolver in the house itself.   My father was a hunter--a hunting guide, in fact. so my father's office had plenty of hunting rifles. No AR-15s, though.  Really not sure why those would need to be in any civilian home.  Perhaps in case of a zombie deer attack, which is silly, because they only eat other deer.

Zombie deer are just nature's way of dealing with overpopulation.

Plus, I've got untold military connections, which means guns are definitely a thing in my life, so I"m no 'gun-hating liberal'.  But as the Greeks teach us, "Moderation in all things."  And having AR-15s in your house--well, I don't hesitate to deem that 'immoderate'. And our inability to be moderate in a debate where any attempt to adjust weapon regulations is equated with an assault on personal liberty has contributed, in part, to a lot of wrongful and accidental deaths.

The Greeks also teach us that there is more than one kind of "cause" of things. Aristotle, of course, was talking about not news events, but things that occur in nature (such as zombie deer, whose Final Cause is controlling the deer population).  Still, such a concept--that things have different types of causes--can you help you analyze most anything.

And that's the crux of much of the endless debate over school shootings and gun control. Gun control advocates focus on "the material cause" (the gun), situationalists focus on the 'formal cause' (the circumstances of home, school, gun access etc. that dictate the form of the shooting), personalists focus on the "efficient cause" (the shooter himself and why he 'went bad') and no one even tries to assess 'the final cause', because, after all, such attacks have no really point, other than lashing out.

You can slice the types of causes differently than Aristotle does, but the basic problem is that everyone focuses on the cause that suits them best and tends to discount the others.  To take the easy shot, here's an example: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" is to focus on the efficient cause: the shooter.

It denies that the material cause --the instrumentality of the gun--makes killing REALLY much easier.  That's why we use them, you know.  Yes, disturbed and distraught people can be dangerous, even deadly, without guns.  But it's so much easier when you have them.  There's a reason we don't send combatants into war armed only with a box of rubber bands or a Whitman's Sampler.  Can you kill someone with those? Yes.  But not so reliably.  With so many targets.  From a distance. Darned quickly.

As Batman put it, "We kill too often because we've made it easy... too easy... sparing ourselves the mess and the work."

You know things have gotten bad when I'm using Frank Miller to make my points.

There was a wonderful scene in the "Sub Diego" storyline where Aquaman seeks Batman's advice in how to police a city (in this case, one that was underwater).  Aquaman wanted to arm a police force but was stymied because conventional guns are , to put it mildly, not ideal for use underwater.  I will never forget the impact it made on me when Batman just stared and said, basically, "Your problem is... a city without guns. Imagine."

So, unapologetically, I favor more gun control. Because Batman would.  Just as I favor 12-year-old boys dressed in bright colors fighting gangsters and maniacs on rooftops.  But WHILE we are doing that, we also need to look at the other types of causes.

Such as the fact that the pathological disconnectedness of the suburbs (where the incidents invariably occur) fosters the isolated loner who becomes the 'efficient cause' of all these shootings.  That's why people live in Gotham City.  Sure, you may get killed by a psychotic clown one night;  but you don't have to worry that some kid is going to walk into a school with an effing machine gun and start shooting random victims. You know what the Joker would do if he came to our world? Laugh; then retire.  Because why the heck would he waste time trying to come up with anything more terrifying than that?

Still wears a suit to garden, though.  Man's got style, I'll give him that.

Or the fact that we turn a blind eye when people idolize military service as a glorious opportunity to empower our testosterone with weapons, rather than a solemn duty of trained professional into whose trust we place the nation's safety.  Real servicemembers respect their weapons, rather than use then to gain respect.  We've got bug-eyed weapon-crazy rage-monsters filling our exurb environs--and our military and police recruitment offices--and we just make jokes about it.

We wouldn't laugh if they looked like this.  Not for long, anyway. 

Or the fact that the bulk of the shooters are adolescent boys, whom their schoolmates know are disturbed and their families are oblivious to.

I blame the parents.

Or the fact that we collectively treat Mormonism as if it were normal, instead of the crazy cult that it is and always has been.

from "The Book of Morrison"

Or... well, you get the idea.

We should look at all these circumstantial factors,  yes.  But legislating against crazy is simply impossible.  So when the bulk of these crazy shooters are disaffected suburban boys living in homes stocked with lots of guns, not legislating against easy access to such efficient weapons of opportunity is simply crazy.


Andrew said...

Always happy when Aristotle makes an appearance on the Absorbascon. But as much as I admire the man, I lack the training to reason as he does. Me, I believe that institutions and structures are better explanatory tools than nebulous things like 'culture', so when you want to craft good policy, you make interjurisdictional comparisons and look at the relevant institutions in place. (Why, yes, I'm a civil servant - why do you ask?) Here in Canada, we have mass shootings, like the one in Moncton earlier this month, but we have relatively fewer ones and they are relatively less deadly, because shooters are forced to rely on bulky rifles rather than handguns. Handguns are strictly controlled, much as they are in Europe, and gun violence is comparatively rarer than it is in the US. Here's a case of correlation that I think is absolutely linked to causation. Banning access to handguns would reduce gun violence in the US. Or so it seems to me.

Murray said...

Well spoken, sir. Well reasoned.

Gun lovers chant obsessively that other things can easily be turned to weapons. However, a wrench, a rope, a candlestick, a knife and pipe all have other uses in the home. A gun has only the one design function and that is to put fatal holes in living creatures.

And, then, they go further trying to hide this salient fact. I just cringe when I hear gun lovers refer to their weapons as "recreational toys", like they bought a new pair of skis.

I have no big finish. It's a scary and depressing topic.

John said...

Well, my take is very different:

Deer are terrifying. They stare through you like cats, but have broadswords on their heads. And they fly. They try to hide it, but...

OK, more seriously, while I absolutely loathe guns for a lot of reasons and hope to never actually need to use one, I have trouble saying that maybe the government should decide who's allowed to own them and can no longer imagine a world where that information won't be studiously collected and used ineptly at some point.

And I wonder if that's not part of the issue, too. In the "collar" post, you mentioned that superheroes today need to essentially work under government control. But we live in a world where local police departments have militarized and the Federal government vacuums up any data it can find, leading to all sorts of abuses. We've been in two wars that only end because we're bored and didn't really have a plan, and banks have only gotten light slaps on the wrist for defrauding the country out of trillions of dollars. The Supreme Court is going on about how those trillions of dollars should go to swaying elections in favor of the powerful. Congressmen now lose their jobs for being willing to accomplish things. The list goes on for both sides of the aisle.

We've been making progress on social issues, at least, but even that's with the extreme foot-dragging of everybody with authority.

Which is all to say that a kid might feel powerless and, if already a bit of a creep as some clearly have been, might also feel the need to lash out, because nobody else is doing so in a peaceful manner. I've been hearing a lot of people talk about how the only way to get ahead is to be crooked, and I'm sure some kids learn that lesson the wrong way, especially when the majority of people who do talk openly about corruption are, to put it mildly, paranoid loons with conspiracies around every corner.

If we don't deal with the reasons, then if it's not guns, it'll be poison gas, home-made explosives, arson, or any number of other tools that make it far easier to dehumanize a victim because you don't even need to be there when they die. Guns are bad in that sense, but at least you're obliged to look at your victim when you pull the trigger.

I realize that's a narrow minority view, since gun ownership has been taken over by NRA idiots who will claim that gun ownership is about butchering animals or possibly being so offended by someone's actions that murder is an obvious response (that's what "an armed society is a polite society" means, as far as I can tell). I also realize that even suggesting that there's a deeper problem than guns brands me as irrational and "part of the problem." But hey, why not take the opportunity to vent?

Anyway, a first step might well be a Superman who drags the likes of a Bashar al-Assad or Kim Jong-Un to the steps of the Hague like he did with Hitler or a Batman who exposes and/or stops NSA surveillance rather than building his own spy satellites with contingency plans to kill Superman if he does confront world leaders about war crimes. Fictional characters no longer speak truth to power, they speak power to truth, which is only satisfying when you have power.

That said, Andrew has a very good point about handguns. No matter what an American's opinion is in defending Second Amendment rights, there is no good use of a pistol except concealment, portability, and "looking cool," none of which are legitimate needs for hunting, home defense, or even violent revolution.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for regulating gun ownership, in the ways that the NRA used to favor before they whored themselves out for gun manufacturers.

But the problem's in our culture too, and that is starting to change. While total number of guns in this country is about the same as always, of late they're concentrating into fewer and fewer hands: more people than ever have no use for guns, but gun owners tend to stockpile them. Is there a stigma to gun ownership these days? Is one developing?

Can we expedite the process of stigmatizing those with a gun fetish? How about a campaign of diptychs where panel 1 is a gun nut, and panel 2 is a woman making the "tiny" gesture with thumb and index finger.

And for those of you with guns who have your heads screwed on straight, how about a bumper sticker that says "I own a gun and will not side with the crackpots"?

SallyP said...

Wow, my sister just had a zombie deer...we think the coyotes got it.

There is nothing wrong with having a hunting rifle, or even a handgun I suppose. I shot a .22 once at a target and skeet, and actually had fun.

But leaving a house full of loaded weapons for my kids to stumble across? Seriously? Or swaggering around town carrying long rifles and going into stores and restaurants...just because I can?

Some of these guys are seriously disturbed. And the fact that the NRA has ceased to be a sportsmen's club and is now nothing but a lobbyist for the Gun Manufacturers is even crazier.

Sometimes I dream of a circle of NRA nuts polishing their guns, sitting in a circle...when a car backfires.

Nathan Hall said...

Personally, there have been many more situations in my life where I could've used a hammer than a gun. And, sometimes, when I see poor craftsmanship, I entertain fantasies of taking carpentry into my own hands. It's got me thinking that I should carry a hammer with me, everywhere I go, just in case something comes up that needs a good hammerin' from Hammer-Time Nate Hall.

But if I actually did carry a hammer everywhere, before long everything would look like a nail.

Bryan L said...

I have nothing salient to add, except that I love Nathan Hall.

Unknown said...

Two things we should always remember about the Constitution and the Second Amendment thereto.

1. The Constitution only guarantees gun ownership in a well-regulated militia. There's not a word in there about private gun ownership.

2. The Constitution is a living document, intended as a guideline to be used as conditions change and evolve. When it was written, the deadliest firearm known to man was a musket.

Anonymous said...

And one more thing about those militias: Article 1 Section 8 is clear that they are under Congress's control. I quote:


To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;


Anyone who thinks the Second Amendment is a self destruct switch on the Constitution is just plain wrong. To the contrary, militias there to SUPPRESS insurrections.

tad said...

I pretty much agree with you on everything, Scipio. Except Martian Manhunter's nipples, which I think need to be even more prominently featured. But since they didn't get mentioned in this post, I'll just let it go. This time.

Slaughter said...

I live a country (Brazil) where the government practically all but outlawed guns and I tell you: Its not worth it.

Ocasional spree shootings are better than having a entire country full of criminal scum that will always take a new opportunity to steal, rob, rape and kill. The entire country is pretty much overrun with crime, especially in the big cities (Rio, São Paulo, Belém, Manáus, Salvador, Recife, etc). The scum is getting bolder and crazier every year. They don't give a shit because out laws are bad and obsolete, the police has its hands held (especially since 1988), the worst sort of leftist in the world pretty much helps criminals to keep doing it again and again, criminals with rap sheets the size of phone books often get out on "good behavior" or fulfill a considerable part of their prison sentences semi-open, etc. The powerful don't care because they got bodyguards, armored cars and guns (THEY can, its hard for us)

Its like the Golden Age in HD - people dropping like flies. If brazilians had as many guns as americans do, there would be a lot more dead criminals and a lot more safety.

No, you guys stay with your guns and keep them. Its better for you. Trust me.