…and what’s underneath is about what you’d expect. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I can’t.
James, for those just stumbling upon this site, is the other party in a longstanding exchange of posts and comments here, at his site Scot Goes Pop, and in comment threads here, there and afar. James is a Scot, apparently carries dual citizenship (as he claims to have the ability to vote in U.S. federal elections), is a proud left-winger, vocal supporter of gun- and knife-controls, and a bigot.
Wait, what? A bigot I say? Surely I’m mistaken?
No, I don’t think so. I think James hates America and all things American, at least anything leaning politically to the right of, say, Jane Fonda. And he really hates gun owners.
Let me elucidate.
In the nearly 5,000 word essay I posted last Saturday, This I Believe, I responded belatedly to a months-old exchange between James and myself. I painstakingly selected excerpts from his old posts and from comments across the web to illustrate the differences between my beliefs and his, one of which was this one:
…people will construct the most astonishingly complex defensive arguments just to avoid having to let go of their familiar certainties, whether those certainties be that cruelty to animals can always be justified because life wouldn’t be so easy without it, or that wealth inequality is justified by differential intelligence, or that there was no immorality in the mass slaughter of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (because it was the US that dropped the bombs, and the US doesn’t do genocide). The more well-rehearsed these complex arguments become (and the defence of the Hiroshima atrocity is a good example of one that has become extraordinarily well-drilled)
When called on the genocide claim in the comments to this post, he didn’t back off, he doubled-down:
The atomic bombings were war crimes because they had no other purpose than to obliterate civilian areas and slaughter the innocent people who lived there. Hiroshima had no military value – it was specifically selected because it had been relatively untouched by conventional bombings, and the US wanted a proper test of how much destruction the blast could cause. Genocide with the side-benefit of scientific testing – now what regime does that remind you of?
“Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”
I’m struggling to see how the waging of nuclear warfare on the civilian population of Japan did not constitute the systematic destruction “in part” of the Japanese national group. Nice try at hair-splitting on the genotype/religion point, though.
So Americans are, in his mind, guilty of genocide. Check. Moving on.
There was also a discussion of poverty and America’s black population in a post at his place that I excerpted:
Carnaby : With the conclusion that we ought to increase the restrictions on legally owned firearms. Well, given that logic, how do we solve the following problem here in the USA: you’re (anyone) far, far more likely to be shot in the US by a black person than a white person. Furthermore, you are far, far more likely to be shot by a black person using an “illegal” gun than anyone using a “legal” gun. Your solution, James?
A massive policy effort to raise the educational and living standards for black people up to the national average, and then the differential will disappear over time. Unless you’re about to tell me that black people are somehow innately more prone to violence. Of course, rational gun control laws would reduce the problem in itself, without the slightest need for racial discrimination in its implementation.
My response to this concerned the massive failure of that “massive policy effort”:
Like gun bans, it’s blindingly obvious to James that poverty is the driving force behind crime, everywhere. He might want to talk to Richard Cohen about that. We’ve had a decades-long “massive policy effort” the intent of which was to “raise the educational and living standards for black people up to the national average.” Like gun control, it has failed utterly at its stated goals. The actual outcome has been a larger population living in poverty than we started with, and a poverty rate that’s just about flat. Among that population are more broken homes, more fatherless children and a homicide rate six times greater than that of the rest of the American population.
And James, bigoted James, was true to form:
Moving on, this is Kevin’s response to my suggestion that a massive policy effort to raise the educational and living standards of black people would wipe out the differential in the rates of gun crime between ethnic groups –
(He quotes my reply here)
And what is the inference here about what is so wrong with the philosophy? It can only be that he feels black people are innately more prone to violence than white people. No wonder he doesn’t feel like fronting up to that.
Really, James? It can only be that I “feel” that? You can’t possibly imagine any other reason for what I wrote?
Then you’re the bigot. I’ve addressed this question before, in several places. The fact is that in this country young urban black males (many of them not old enough to be called “men”) kill and are killed at a rate six times greater than the rest of the population. Facts aren’t racist, they’re just facts. James asserts that it’s because they live in poverty. He further asserts that I “feel” it’s because they’re “innately more prone to violence.” Here’s an answer to that charge I wrote a long time ago:
Is the incredibly disproportionate level of violent crime in the young urban black male community due to the fact they’re black? Don’t be ridiculous. Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean don’t exhibit the same behavior. (Which is why I don’t use the appellation “African-American.”) Throughout history it has been the poor who have been the primary criminal predators and who have provided the primary pool of victims, regardless of skin tone. If you’re well off, you don’t have to steal, for example. Nor do you feel it necessary to “drown your sorrows” in intoxicants in order to escape the crappy life you live for a few minutes or hours or days.
There’s obviously more to it than just general poverty, though, because the level is so high. I would point to the exceedingly high percentage of fatherless children (due, I believe, to some really idiotic welfare policies), a welfare system that punishes attempts to escape it (I’m sorry, but you make $20 a month too much for us to subsidize your day-care! You’ll have to bear the entire $400/month burden of that yourself!), and a drug policy that makes trafficking in drugs so tremendously lucrative that – in that environment – it appears to be the best (and often only) way out.
Our national history of oppressing blacks, combined with a well-meaning but incredibly flawed social policy, plus a drug policy well-intentioned but completely disconnected from reality have all combined to create the level of violence that the numbers show.
Who is to blame? My finger points at us, because the people we voted into office chose to do what felt good, rather than taking a hard, objective look at what the policies they voted for would actually result in. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis put it very well: “Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.”
Edited to add: If you want further evidence of this, look what our government policies have done for the American Indian populations.
Again and again and again, however much it irritates James, I point to CULTURE as the primary factor in violent crime. Our welfare state has destroyed the black family. Even our President has commented on this:
Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children. We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.
How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a classroom? How many are sitting in prison when they should be working, or at least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?
Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.
But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one.
Obviously the President and I disagree on a number of topics, but on the question of fatherhood, not at all. A decades-long massive welfare program and its result? “(M)ore than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children.” You don’t see that in Asian immigrant families. You see much, much less of it in Hispanic families. Is it because black people are somehow innately more prone to illegitimacy? I refer you back to “(I)t’s most important that all potential victims be as dangerous as they can”, and this excerpt from the post Social Harmony at Grimm’s Hall:
Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.
The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective). This is to ask: what is the difference between a street gang and the Marine Corps, or a thug and a policeman? In every case, we see that the good youths are guided and disciplined by old men. This is half the answer to the problem.
They don’t get that guidance. It’s not an innate characteristic of young black men, it’s their culture. Heather Mac Donald points out:
Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned presciently in 1965 about the disaster of black family breakdown when the black illegitimacy rate stood at what would today be regarded as a paradisal 23 percent. In response, liberal elites turned Moynihan into a pariah and shut off all discussion of the topic for the next four decades—during which time the national black illegitimacy rate exploded to 71 percent. Nicholas Lemann broke the taboo in 1986, writing in The Atlantic that illegitimacy is “today by far the greatest contributor to the perpetuation of the misery of ghetto life. . . It is the aspect of life in the ghettos over which the people there have the most control, and it will be the last and hardest thing to change.” Unfortunately, Lemann, too, was ignored, and few today echo his argument.
(Read that last link.)
Not that I “feel” that this in any way will have any effect on James’ “feelings” on the topic, but I thought I might as well get my side out in the open. Again.
Now, on to the question of statistics and studies.
Having harangued me for so long to engage with him on the statistical front, what do you imagine his reaction was to being presented with powerful evidence from the US and the rest of the world that gun legality increases both the gun homicide and general homicide rates? A vague mumble about how the funding of the studies calls their findings into question.
This in response to my assertion that I believe that statistics can disprove one philosophy, but not the other. James pointed to three studies performed by the Harvard School of Public Health as incontrovertible statistical evidence for his side. I objected:
You’ll note that in the majority of those studies, a primary author is Dr. David Hemenway. I’ve had some discussion with the good Doctor you might find interesting. Or not.
I see your Harvard School of Public Health Studies and raise you one National Academies of Science study of the efficacy of gun control. I’ve mentioned it to you previously. One of the problems with such academic studies, James, is that they generally find whatever it is that the funding party is paying to find. This is true of both sides, by the way – something else I’ve pointed out to you. Sometimes, as I have also noted to you, the studies come back completely inconclusive, as was the case for the National Academies study, the previous Carter administration study that produced Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America, and Colin Greenwood’s study of gun control in England and Wales, which you dismissed.
Here’s the difference that James can’t seem to get his mind around: He quotes studies. I quote data, and I tell you where to get the data for yourself. You see, I’ve been studying this subject for about fifteen years now, and the one thing I’ve discovered is the one thing that both the National Academies of Science and the authors of Under the Gun discovered – gun control studies prove nothing. Their data is, at best inconclusive, worse, often contradictory, and at absolute worst, sometimes obviously falsified. And both sides are responsible. Again I will quote from the conclusion to Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America, the publication resulting from a meta-study of all gun-control related studies up to that time, commissioned by the Carter Administration:
The progressive’s indictment of American firearms policy is well known and is one that both the senior authors of this study once shared. This indictment includes the following particulars: (1) Guns are involved in an astonishing number of crimes in this country. (2) In other countries with stricter firearms laws and fewer guns in private hands, gun crime is rare. (3) Most of the firearms involved in crime are cheap Saturday Night Specials, for which no legitimate use or need exists. (4) Many families acquire such a gun because they feel the need to protect themselves; eventually they end up shooting one another. (5) If there were fewer guns around, there would obviously be less crime. (6) Most of the public also believes this and has favored stricter gun control laws for as long as anyone has asked the question. (7) Only the gun lobby prevents us from embarking on the road to a safer and more civilized society.
The more deeply we have explored the empirical implications of this indictment, the less plausible it has become. We wonder, first, given the number of firearms presently available in the United States, whether the time to “do something” about them has not long since passed. If we take the highest plausible value for the total number of gun incidents in any given year – 1,000,000 – and the lowest plausible value for the total number of firearms now in private hands – 100,000,000 – we see rather quickly that the guns now owned exceed the annual incident count by a factor of at least 100. This means that the existing stock is adequate to supply all conceivable criminal purposes for at least the entire next century, even if the worldwide manufacture of new guns were halted today and if each presently owned firearm were used criminally once and only once. Short of an outright house-to-house search and seizure mission, just how are we going to achieve some significant reduction in the number of firearms available? (pp. 319-20)
One could, of course, take things to the logically extreme case: an immediate and strictly enforced ban on both the ownership and manufacture of all firearms of every sort. Let us even assume perfect compliance with this law — that we actually rounded up and disposed of all 120 million guns now in circulation [Remember, this was 1982. – Ed.] that every legitimate manufacturing establishment was permanently shut down, and that all sources of imported firearms were permanently closed off. [Like the UK has! *snort* – Ed.], what we would then have is the firearms equivalent of Prohibition, with (one strongly suspects) much the same consequences. A black market in guns, run by organized crime (much to their profit, no doubt), would spring up to service the now-illegal demand. It is, after all, not much more difficult to manufacture a serviceable firearm in one’s basement than to brew up a batch of home-made gin. Afghanistani tribesmen, using wood fires and metal-working equipment that is much inferior to what can be ordered through a Sears catalog, hand-craft rifles that fire the Russian AK-47 cartridge. Do we anticipate a lesser ability from American do-it-yourselfers or the Mafia? (p. 321)
Even if we were somehow able to remove all firearms from civilian possession, it is not at all clear that a substantial reduction in interpersonal violence would follow. Certainly, the violence that results from hard-core and predatory criminality would not abate very much. Even the most ardent proponents of stricter gun laws no longer expect such laws to solve the hard-core crime problem, or even to make much of a dent in it. There is also reason to doubt whether the “soft-core” violence, the so-called crimes of passion, would decline by very much. Stated simply, these crimes occur because some people have come to hate others, and they will continue to occur in one form or another as long as hatred persists. It is possible, to be sure, that many of these incidents would involve different consequences if no firearms were available, but it is also possible that the consequences would be exactly the same. The existing empirical literature provides no firm basis for choosing one of these possibilities over the other. Restating the point, if we could solve the problem of interpersonal hatred, it may not matter very much what we did about guns, and unless we solve the problem of interpersonal hatred, it may not matter much what we do about guns. There are simply too many other objects that can serve the purpose of inflicting harm on another human being. (pp. 321-22)
(My emphasis in bold. Italics in original.) So I restrict myself to sourced raw data. James just points to “studies” that support his worldview. Here’s a clue, James: studies are not statistics.
Oh, and the Academies of Science report? Same result:
Should regulations restrict who may possess firearms? Should there be restrictions on the number or types of guns that can be purchased? Should safety locks be required? Answers to these questions involve issues that go beyond research on firearm violence.
These policy questions cannot be informed by current studies. Available data are too weak to support strong conclusions.
(My emphasis) Another twenty years of “studies,” still no “strong conclusions.” The recommendation? More studies needed. Quelle surprise!
I’m not going to delve into James’ complete (and completely predictable) misapprehension of the “right to one’s own life” that he insists confers rights to “food, shelter and decent health care.” One überpost at a time. Instead, I will conclude this essay with a discussion of our divergent views on the topic of the utility of an armed populace, in particular his characterization of my position as:
the arrant nonsense of the idea that privately owned guns are protecting you against your own government.
Tell me, Kevin, do you have the right to own weapons of mass destruction? No. Who decides that? The government? Are they probably right?
He expands on this here:
Perhaps that’s because you haven’t met very many people who…see through the utterly laughable argument that one purpose of gun legality is to the protect the citizenry against a government armed to the teeth with WMDs.
That’s because James does not understand the difference between warfare and despotism. Governments (and terrorists) use WMDs on other populations, not on their own soil. No, as the Geekwitha.45 so eloquently put it (as usual):
I reject the premise that potential abuse justifies suppression, but if I were to accept it for the sake of argument, then an honest examination of history and consideration of potential outcome would force me to prioritize its application towards the disarming of Nation/States, who have both a greater potential for mayhem, and a far worse historical track record than the individual. A cunning individual, with careful planning, preparation and luck might kill dozens or hundreds, but to get the body count really rolling to kilo and mega death levels requires the sustained, concentrated efforts of a Nation/State.
To quote Vladimir Lenin:
One man with a gun can control 100 without one.
Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.
James does not understand that governments tend not to bomb or gas their own population centers. Oh, Saddam did it, but he only gassed Kurds, not, say, downtown Tikrit. No, to control a population, it is only necessary to cow them, and as James has himself admitted, having a gun pointed at you when you are unarmed renders one “powerless,” which is what despotic governments want.
In James’ latest post, he says:
What else can the citizenry do when faced with a tyrannical regime armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction? Just as well they’ll have their trusty handguns.
“I believe the gun isn’t necessarily civilization, but it is most definitely responsible for the existence of modern democracy.”
Now, given that there are any number of modern democracies with strict gun laws, and many with a US-style free-for-all, Kevin might as well be asserting that heat, cuckoo clocks or the Spanish language are a necessary precondition for democracy. Of course, what he means is that UK democracy is bound to eventually falter…
There he goes reading my mind again. Had he read Those Without Swords Can Still Die Upon Them, he would have understood that I believe the gun was necessary for the rise of modern democratic government. Do I believe that UK democracy is bound to eventually falter because the populace is disarmed? No. If it does falter it will be from the same cause Solzhenitsyn railed against – “We didn’t love freedom enough.”
I have to ask, though, how much democracy does the UK have now that a lot of the laws there come not from the British Parliament, but from the EU? However, my point remains: If the government does some day show up, armed with submachineguns to round up whoever it determines is an “enemy of the people” that week, won’t James find himself “powerless?” Or will he, instead, grab an axe, a hammer, or a poker and wait behind a door for the dreaded midnight knock? Where will his freedom from fear be then?
And, finally, I’ll deliver a tit-for-tat. James stated in one of his comments:
(B)y allowing people to own and carry handguns, society is massively increasing the risk that everyone faces.
That sounds remarkably like:
Arms in the hands of Jews are a danger to public safety.
Of course, coming from a bigot, this is not a surprise. How’s it feel, James?