If all gun owners share collective guilt over the Sandy Hook shooting, do all Muslims share collective guilt over the Boston Marathon Bombing? If not, why not?
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, we’re hearing the usual refrain, about how unimaginable it is that someone would do something like this. How could someone possibly murder innocents? Nothing like that has ever happened before! It’s completely outside of all human experience!
The Onion even ran a little supposedly satirical piece about This what world like now
Saying that being completely shocked by an urban bombing is now a thing of the past, officials confirmed that it’s no longer outside the realm of possibility for a mother, son, daughter, or husband to leave home in the morning and not return at night.
The problem with their attempt at humor, and all the shock and surprise at this most recent outrage, is that this isn’t how the world is now. It is how the world has always been. We’ve always lived in a world where sudden death could strike at any time, from accident, natural disaster, or deliberate violence. Just ask the dinosaurs, or the people of Pompeii, or the woman who had her young child ripped from her arms by a tornado, or any of the people in any of the countries around the world who have lived with the threat of violence for years or generations. On the same day as the Boston bombing 25 people were killed by a bomb in a cafe in Baghdad. Americans have been insulated from this fact of reality, because we’ve been fortunate over the last century in natural disasters, and we simply don’t care how many people get blown up in far-away countries, but reality it is.
Our splendid isolation is cracking, though. The modern, global, economy is so interconnected, and our own society so polarized and fragmented, that we are no longer out of violence’s reach. Much like the Romans as their empire declined and the legions could no longer entirely keep the barbarians out, forcing them to build walls around cities that hadn’t been threatened in two centuries, we need to realize that we live in the same world as everyone else, and are subject to the same threats. We aren’t that special.
We can no longer tell ourselves that something is ‘unthinkable’ when it has happened several times before. That is no longer innocence; it is delusional.
Not only is this delusion embarrassing, but it also costs lives. It makes us a softer, easier target. Look at the Boston bombing. The bombers left stuffed-full backpacks in the middle of a crowd and walked away. Try that in some city in, say, Israel and you won’t make it five steps away before being tackled or shot. (That’s part of why terrorists started using suicide bombers.) But in the United States, most people are completely unaware that there is any possibility of bad people wanting to hurt them. This disbelief makes the terrorist’s job ludicrously easy.
Here’s a tip: If you are at a major public event and someone walks up next to you, sets a backpack or suitcase down on the ground, and walks away, that bag is not filled with cupcakes and rainbows. Get out of there and alert the authorities immediately, in that order.
I’m not encouraging paranoia, or living in fear. Quite the opposite; I’ve often said that the best way to fight terror is to simply not be terrorized. In order to not be terrorized, though, you must be mentally and emotionally prepared.
The world is as it has always been, and people are pretty much as they have always been. Neither is likely to change in the near future, so it is up to us to learn how to live in the world we have. That doesn’t mean being fatalistic or accepting of random violence–we can and should do our best to prevent such acts, and a tragedy is still a tragedy–but it is time to stop denying that such things can happen. Preventing, surviving, and living with the aftermath of such events requires it.
Many years ago, Col. Cooper invented the Cooper Color Code, to define a person’s state of mental preparedness to react to violence. (In his system, he’s talking about reacting with violence, but for our purpose that doesn’t have to be the case. Fleeing the scene can be a perfectly valid response.) The four stages range from completely unprepared to ‘lethal mode.’ Most Americans are in Condition White most of, if not all of, the time.
White: Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
How often have we heard some survivor of a violent event say that their first thought was, “This can’t be happening!” That state of denial is the very definition of Condition White. It is what leaves people in a state of shock when they are forced into Condition Red: Violent things are happening.
Here is a summary of the rest of Cooper’s color codes:
Yellow: Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself”. You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
Orange: Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert.
Red: Condition Red is fight.
I think that we would be much safer, and healthier, if more Americans spent more time in Condition Yellow instead of White. Not paranoid, not constantly on edge, but simply aware that something bad might someday happen, and that they may be called on to act.
This is really not that much of a mental leap. Most adult Americans spend a good part of their day in Condition Yellow already, in a different context; when driving. Consider:
When you are driving, if you are at all good at it (and we have too many people who aren’t, but that’s another topic), you spend your time behind the wheel in Condition Yellow. Relaxed, but observant, aware of your own vehicle, road conditions, and the cars around you. When another car drifts too close, you notice and escalate to Condition Orange. A possible danger has caught your attention and you respond, probably by slowing down or changing lanes, but at least watching that car more closely. When the car lurches into your lane, you’re ready, in Condition Red now, taking emergency action. You brake or swerve out of the way.
Compare that to someone driving in Condition White, oblivious to the cars around them. They become aware of the threat only when the other car enters their lane, and by then it is probably too late for them to take evasive action. Crash.
On the road of life, we are a nation of bad drivers, constantly surprised and traumatized by completely predictable events. It’s time to grow up and pay attention to the world around us.
I never lived in Boston, but I did grow up in Massachusetts. I haven’t been back in years, and probably never will, but Massachusetts will always be a part of me. I remember the trees and hills, and the long, dark winters that seemed to go on forever, but which could hold a spark of beauty in their bleakness. (Cold morning, walking to school after a fresh snowfall, shortcut through the woods and stopping, abruptly aware of the total silence of the world, the stark study in black and white that surrounded me; gray blanket of sky, pure white snow covering the ground and the top of every branch, the uncovered bark of every tree black with moisture.) I remember staying up late on a school night to watch Carlton Fisk hit one over The Wall and off the foul pole that now bears his name. I remember cold April mornings, all the kids walking to school with warm coats on, but then scampering home in the sunny afternoon, coats tied around our waists and flapping behind.
There are things I have to say about the Boston Marathon bombing, and our reaction to it, but not now. Not yet.
For Khaldun, the symptom of society’s decline is people’s incapacity to act for themselves. When people (presumably distracted by luxury to the point of complete apathy) fail to take concern for the affairs of their tribe (or city, state, or civilization), it is only a matter of time before the very civilization that fostered their luxurious prosperity implodes on itself.
Our civilization is not eternal. Nothing is.
Back in the days of my youth, I was a libertarian, and Libertarian. I believed in as little government as possible, leaving everyone free to run their lives as they wished. (I also, somewhat paradoxically, believed in the ruthless crushing of any threats to the government.) Free, anarchistic, and easy. And ruthless.
To put it in its simplest terms, through my teens and into my twenties I was an anarchistic fascist. (Though even then I favored demand-side economics. I remember when I was 16 and my parents describing candidate Reagan’s ideas for ‘Trickle Down” economics, and telling them, “But it doesn’t work that way.”) I believed in a small, but strong, central government that didn’t actually do very much, but which could be very aggressive in enforcing its laws internally and its will internationally. Sort of like a strong pre-modern monarchy. Personal liberty was fine–a requirement, in fact–for the people worthy of it, but most of the mass of people, I thought, were unworthy of it. Too stupid, too uneducated, too irresponsible. I, of course, was one of the worthy ones. What an elitist bastard I was. (I think this may be a phase many young men go through; certainly many have thought the same way I did.)
The Reagan Administration knocked some holes in the youthful certainty of my convictions. The entry of the religious right onto the political stage, and the ‘War on Drugs,’ gave me concerns about civil liberties, but mostly pushed me in the direction of wanting a smaller government. Thus began my Libertarian years.
I was pretty strongly on-board with the whole Libertarian agenda; the smallest and weakest government possible. Deliver the mail, defend the borders, and leave everything else alone. And maybe not even bother with delivering the mail.
During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate Nancy Lord appeared on the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson asked her about Ross Perot, who was making his first Presidential run at the time. Lord said something like, “Oh, well you know, he’s the sort of person who would make the trains run on time.” And laughed at her own joke, while Carson and the entire studio audience (and almost everyone watching at home, I’m sure) sat in silent bafflement.
She was comparing Perot to Mussolini, you see, calling him a Fascist, but no one got the joke. In retrospect, years later, I would see that moment as summing up everything that is wrong with the Libertarian Party.
At the time, though, it was just an amusing incident that made me feel superior to the unwashed masses because I got the joke.
As the ’90s went on, I grew dissillusioned with the Libertarian Party’s inability to speak to any meaningful number of voters, and general irrelevance, and began to split my support, voting Democratic in some races and Republican in others. Gun control played a large part in my putting my negligible weight behind Bush the Younger for Governor and then President in 2000.
That was a tactical shift, though, not a philosophical one. I still identified as a libertarian, just not a Capital-L Libertarian. My ideal was still a small, weak government, with little or no power internally, but great power internationally. My method amounted to opposition to whichever party was in power at the moment (on the theory that the party out of power couldn’t do me any harm, and the party in power wouldn’t do me any good).
Then the Bush Administration showed me what that really meant.
With control of both the White House and Congress, the Republicans went wild. They passed the law enforcement industry’s Christmas wish list in the guise of an anti-terrorism law package, started a couple of wars, and gave the corporations a free hand in the economy.
The predictable result was a total disaster. The financial industry looted the US economy, then when the country’s economic destruction threatened them, they asked the taxpayers to cover their bets. The Bush Administration obliged. It was a defining moment in the evolution of my political philosophy. I realized that all the things I’d worried about the government doing–taking our freedoms, spying on us, taking our money–corporations could do as well. And they were.
(Current debates over free speech point this up. The US Government is bound by the Constitution to not restrict our free speech. Corporations are under no such obligation, and Internet companies regularly censor what appears on their sites or services.)
That realization changed my view of government. It went from a threatening necessary evil that should be kept as powerless as possible to being the only possible counterweight to the immense power of huge corporations.
Hundreds of years ago, the typical sort of power struggle that you would see in many countries was between the central government and the powerful noble families. Most of the people–the tiny middle class and the huge mass of poor people–were just pawns, or less, in this game. In the early and middle Byzantine Empire, for example, power was divided between the central government (run by an entrenched bureaucracy), the Church (supported by moral authority and urban mobs), and the rural nobility (supported by the wealth of their vast estates and the army, for which they provided the leadership).
In the modern United States, we only have two bases of power: The State, and the corporations, particularly the banks. The people, the voters who we like to pretend are in charge, line up behind one or the other of these two and do not really form a power base of their own. Our two political parties are aligned on this structure; a corporate party, that seeks to weaken the government; and a government party that seeks to weaken the corporations.
(Yes, this is an oversimplification; there are many nuances I’m glossing over. But I believe the generalization is broadly accurate.)
Put this way, it is clear to me why I do not strongly support either political party, but swing back and forth between them. Neither party is for me, so why would I be for them? I believe in the greatest liberty for the greatest number of people, but neither political party cares about such a thing. They only want to strengthen their power base.
Thus the evolution of my view on the role of government. I still distrust its power, but a central government does perform functions that no other social institution is capable of. Most importantly, in many different ways, it is the only counterweight to the corporations that would otherwise strip-mine both the economy and the environment, leaving everyone but the executive class poor and sick while they remain safe and comfortable in their gated and walled enclaves.
The key is balance between the power bases. If either one becomes too strong, things go badly for the common people. There are more examples of government excesses in recent history, but private enterprise has had its time in the sun as well, from the Roman publicani to the British East India Company and other colonial entrepreneurs, to the corrupt America of the Gilded Age.
Ideally I would like to see the people have some say in how the country is run, but that’s not how our system was set up. This country was founded as an oligarchy, and an oligarchy it has remained. And that is why today, in these United States, a philosophy of encouraging the most liberty possible, for the largest number of people possible, requires a strong central government. Not too strong, but strong enough to stay locked in its struggle with the great corporations, a struggle that we must hope never ends in victory for one side or the other. Because the one that falls will, in falling, crush the people beneath it.
German gun control laws in the pre-WWII period respected the rights of sportsmen and hunters, but took strong action to control and confiscate any weapons that might have a military use. Special permits and authorization were required to buy and firearms and ammunition, and only those with a ‘legitimate sporting purpose’ were allowed. Police, and members of the government, of course, were exempted.
The purpose and goal of the law at hand are to get firearms that have done so much damage from the hands of unauthorized persons and to do away with the instability and ambiguity of the law that previously existed in this area. The difficult task was to find the appropriate limits between this necessity of the state on the one hand and the important interests of the weapons industry that was employing a large number of workers and had been heavily damaged through the peace treaty, the interests of the legal sporting industry, and the personal freedom of the individual.
We all know how that ended up. It’s a good thing nothing like that could ever happen here.
Bruce Krafft runs the numbers and busts a few myths. A whole lot of interesting studies and statistics to bust all the myths about more guns equaling more crime, and the US having a higher rate of violent crime than any civilized country.
K&M do a further drill-down on demographic, historical and geographic which is far too detailed for me to go into here but their conclusions are unsurprising (at least to us “gun nuts”): There is absolutely no positive correlation between firearm availability and violent crime, murder and suicide.
In a sense, this is good information to disseminate. As many people as possible being armed with the actual facts is a good thing.
In another sense, though, it doesn’t matter. The people pushing for more ‘gun control’ legislation know perfectly well that those laws won’t actually reduce crime, or save lives. What it’s really all about is unilateral civilian disarmament.
Here’s something else to think about, while you contemplate government action intended to disarm the civilian non-police population irrespective of any impact such disarmament would have on crime. There are now almost 800,000 police in the US, a number that seems to be exceeded only by Russia, India, and China. These police are increasingly armed with military weapons, up to and including armored vehicles.
(Notice that we don’t even talk about police as ‘civilians’ anymore? There’s an unspoken agreement that our police are a paramilitary force, not quite part of either the population at large or the official armed forces.)
As a paramilitary force, our police would be the third largest in the world. As an army, it would be the sixth largest, between North Korea and Israel.
But we are supposed to believe that this massive police force, with its assault rifles and body armor, its drones and its light armored vehicles is hopelessly outgunned because some citizen can carry 11 bullets in his pistol.
Security guards assault someone for taking pictures of railroad tracks.
This goes on all the time. Police and security guards pretend that there is a law against public photography and harass or arrest photographers. Isn’t security a wonderful thing? As long as we don’t ask who it is that’s being secured from what.
Army veteran Nathan Haddad has been arrested in upstate New York for having some 30-round magazines. The charge is ‘criminal possession of a weapon’ which I find very interesting, considering that there was no actual weapon involved. (A magazine without a gun is no more dangerous than a picture of a gun.)
What is the benefit to society of turning thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of previously law-abiding and productive citizens into criminals? I’m reminded of when marijuana was outlawed, turning a bunch of innocent potheads who weren’t hurting anyone into instant felons. How has that worked out?
Bruce Schneier is beating the risk analysis drum again this time with some help from Famous Author Jared Diamond
Consider: If you’re a New Guinean living in the forest, and if you adopt the bad habit of sleeping under dead trees whose odds of falling on you that particular night are only 1 in 1,000, you’ll be dead within a few years. In fact, my wife was nearly killed by a falling tree last year, and I’ve survived numerous nearly fatal situations in New Guinea.
I now think of New Guineans’ hypervigilant attitude toward repeated low risks as “constructive paranoia”: a seeming paranoia that actually makes good sense. Now that I’ve adopted that attitude, it exasperates many of my American and European friends. But three of them who practice constructive paranoia themselves — a pilot of small planes, a river-raft guide and a London bobby who patrols the streets unarmed — learned the attitude, as I did, by witnessing the deaths of careless people.
Traditional New Guineans have to think clearly about dangers because they have no doctors, police officers or 911 dispatchers to bail them out. In contrast, Americans’ thinking about dangers is confused. We obsess about the wrong things, and we fail to watch for real dangers.
While it’s universally true that humans exaggerate rare and spectacular risks and downplay mundane and common risks, we in developed countries do it more. The reason, I think, is how fears propagate. If someone in New Guinea gets eaten by a tiger — do they even have tigers in New Guinea? — then those who know the victim or hear about it learn to fear tiger attacks. If it happens in the U.S., it’s the lead story on every news program, and the entire country fears tigers. Technology magnifies rare risks. Think of plane crashes versus car crashes. Think of school shooters versus home accidents. Think of 9/11 versus everything else.
My own example is that someone is much, much more likely to be killed in a traffic accident on the way too or from school than murdered at school–about 1,000 times more likely. But the thousands of kids killed in traffic accidents every year don’t get huge amounts of nationwide media attention. Our instinct is to evaluate risk based on what we see, not on the underlying data.
That’s why we have brains; to dig into the real data, get the facts, and make intelligent decisions based on facts and rational analysis, not fear and panic.