Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who Is The Hobbesian?

In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, anti-gun advocates came out quickly and loudly arguing that new gun control measures were necessary. Gun rights organizations such as the NRA wisely kept their mouths shut for a while, having learned (correctly) that no one wants to hear from them in the wake of a mass shooting, but given the plentiful and often strident anti-gun rhetorical coursing through the media and social media, pro-gun advocates started answering back and provided their own solution: If some trained and armed person had been present, the attack could have been stopped.

This seems to be one of the basic divisions of thinking that inevitably comes up in the gun control debate. Gun control advocates argue that killing could be avoided if the availability of guns were reduced. Gun advocates argue that violence can be reduced by making sure that there is someone nearby to respond to violence (and that the knowledge that there are likely armed citizens or off duty law enforcement around will deter crimes.)

Occasionally this "more guns" argument even comes from somewhat surprising quarters. Left-leaning writer Jeffrey Goldberg writing at The Atlantic this month argued that since the US has so many guns in circulation (and a sufficient cultural attachment to them) that it would never be possible to make the US gun free, it would be better to make sure that there are significantly more well trained citizens with concealed carry licenses.

Alan Jacobs over at The American Conservative states a common objection to the "more guns could prevent violence" point of view:
But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)
It seems to me that in many ways this reaction underlines a divide in how people think about society and order -- one that generally falls along the left/right axis, though since Jacobs is writing for TAC I would assume that in some sense he calls himself a "conservative".

Jacobs says that the "more guns" approach to dealing with crime implies a “war of every man against every man”. In keeping with this view, he instead advocates reducing the availability of guns in order to make sure that however much every man way want to make war against every other man, he can't do so as lethally.

However, it seems to me that the "more guns" solution does not in fact assume a Hobbesian reality, it assumes that the vast majority of people do support and wish to enforce an orderly society, and thus that members of that society can and should be allowed to have the power to protect society against those who seek to disrupt with it violence.

Jacobs believes that guns should be restricted precisely because he believes in a Hobbesian war of all against all. The "more guns" suggestion, on the other hand, seems to imply a basic social solidarity -- that most people are and desire to be law abiding. The more Hobbesian view holds that the tools of force should, as much as possible, be restricted only to those who represent state authority -- an authority which externally imposes order on a society which would otherwise be violently anarchic. The "more guns" partisans believe that an orderly society is fairly natural, and that members of it simply need to be given the tools to enforce that order against a small minority who would disrupt that order.

Or course, if the disagreement on guns boils down, among other things, to a fundamental disagreement about human nature, it's obvious that agreement and resolution would be very difficult.

ADDENDUM: Since the recent surge in discussion of gun control has touched off by the mass murder at Newtown, it's probably worth stating as a side note that although in general I'm sympathetic to allowing more citizens to get concealed carry permits (given some appropriate level of background check and proficiency) it seems to me that those suggesting that this is the clear solution to schools shootings are probably over-reaching. Schools shootings are incredibly rare (statistically, an average US school will be hit with a mass shooting every 12,000 years) and I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to form a lot of school policies around such an unusual event. Plus, I suspect that not many school teachers are the sort who want to carry weapons.


GeekLady said...

I have to wonder if Jacobs has ever actually experienced a situation where he would want a gun for self or home defense. Describing gun ownership for defense as moving from having neighbors to potential enemies is... well, it's nuts.

A couple years ago now, we received confirmation of the general suspicion that we had a drug dealer on our street. Unfortunately, the confirmation was in the form of him threatening to kill our kids*, and his ensuing arrest, attempt to bribe the arresting officer, and search of his premises. This is a scary experience, and the result was the acquisition of our shotgun. A home invasion is no longer purely abstract for us, and the local sheriff department's response time does not promote much confidence.

* In justice, it must be said that he was entirely provoked by another lady on our street who, having had too much to drink, went and stood on his lawn to hurl invectives at him at 10:30 at night. If he'd just called the police about the crazy drunk lady on his lawn, none of this would have happened. Instead he started threatening back indiscriminately, and it all went downhill from that. (We slept through the whole business, but heard all about it the next day. I wasn't sure which transgression was more disturbing, the threat, or the fact that one of our neighbors was that stupid.)

It's also worth noting that the resultant 6 months the guy spent in jail seems to have scared him entirely straight. There's no evidence that he's dealing anymore, he's taking care of his lawn, and he's too scared to even look at anyone else who lives on the street. So I'm willing to extend him a certain amount of cautious benefit of the doubt. But I still feel better, knowing we aren't defenseless in the face of a home invasion.

On arming teachers: My husband and I were discussing this just last night, mostly in reference to a proposed Texas law that would allow concealed carry in schools/churches/college campuses/etc. He teaches at a Title 1 school with some significant security - the kids have to go through metal detectors and get their bags checked - but his verdict is that there is almost no one he teaches with, including himself, that he would feel safer knowing that they had a concealed weapon on their person. And he's generally for guns and concealed carry.

Literacy-chic said...

Interestingly, I happen to have an unstable uncle-by-marriage who not only pulled a gun on my other uncle, but who wound up in jail for shooting the husband of the (estranged?) woman with whom he was having an affair, presumably in self-defense. So while on some level I uphold gun rights, I have a deep and abiding suspicion of people, their personal judgment, and ability to respond appropriately in emergency situations. Increased training in gun use and safety does not provide in any way for the mental stability of the individual carrying the weapon. My uncle had not been diagnosed with anything formally, though there were definitely some rampant obsessive tendencies running through his family. He purchased his extensive gun collection legally (mostly, anyway--and as far as I know) and his daughter, a near-hermit, continues to develop his collection. I admit that that makes me go 'eep.' They are not the norm, perhaps, but you can see perhaps, why I am divided. I would want someone with a concealed weapons permit to have a thorough psychological examination. Although, I suppose failing one of those might be a trigger...

Kate said...

Personally, I'm sort of inclined to be suspicious of gun enthusiasts for the reason the author mentions in passing - the assumption that the person writing or speaking against gun control could never be capable of misusing or being careless with a gun. I don't think that means I have a Hobbesian view of humanity. It just means I tend to be suspicious anytime someone seems in denial of their own capacity for error or sin, or even panic or mental illness.

Kelly @ In the Sheepfold said...

"The person . . . has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons widely and well."

To me this is a critical part of the issue. To this I would add the person must have absolute trust in his ability to keep them out of the hands of someone who can't use them wisely or well.

Last spring my hometown had three fatalities involving weapons and children because individuals were too irresponsible to keep them loaded weapons secured.

In this recent tragedy, a mother with a mentally ill son kept an arsenal in her house. I have an unstable friend who called me threatening suicide. The first question I asked was, "Do you have a gun in the house?" My brother-in-law had confiscated it.

I read an analysis of the Connecticut situation. A psychiatrist commented that accessibility is a huge issue for sociopaths. These awful events take planning and energy and sometimes, this particular doctor pointed out, the potential perpetrator will run out of steam if accessing the weapons is too difficult.

Clearly this doesn't alter the fact that the individual remains desperately ill.

I don't think having more guns makes enemies out of our neighbors. But many of us would be better off without lethal force at the ready.

entropy said...

These awful events take planning and energy and sometimes, this particular doctor pointed out, the potential perpetrator will run out of steam if accessing the weapons is too difficult.

The key word here is "sometimes."

Restricting guns only means that that disturbed individual will use something else to hurt people: a car, a bomb, a knife (China school attack with a knife:

Mightn't someone think twice about robbing or attacking if there was a good chance that some of those people were equipped to fight back? This is an old argument in the gun control debate but it's worth repeating, restricting guns only keeps them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

This, what Darwin said, makes perfect sense to me and I have a hard time understanding how it doesn't to everyone:
The "more guns" partisans believe that an orderly society is fairly natural, and that members of it simply need to be given the tools to enforce that order against a small minority who would disrupt that order.

The people I know that have and carry guns are level-headed and responsible and they have a clear understanding of the power of the weapon. These people also do not put up with nonsense regarding guns. They are extremely safety conscious and require everyone around them to be also. That kind of solemn responsibility might be a good thing to inject into more of society.