The conventional wisdom among those in the mainstream media is that Stand Your Ground laws lead to violent encounters and are unnecessary. Many assume that Stand Your Ground is a new concept in the law- it most certainly is not. Even though laws specifically codifying the concept are new- the idea has been grounded in English common law and therefore American common law for centuries. Even progressive states such as California and Maine have some form of codified Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground laws were meant to restate and protect the right of common law self defense. The idea that we have the right to defend our most basic right- the right to our lives is not a new idea.
Prosecutors in many self defense cases were arguing that the accused could have retreated, or that if they did retreat that they could have retreated even further. Legislators wanted to give specific protection within the law for the right to defend yourself without the need to run from a lawfully occupied space. This does not mean that a person should not retreat- a reasonable person knows that if retreat is possible they should retreat. The intent was to protect a person from being second guessed in a sterile courtroom by aggressive prosecutors. There are still overwhelming incentives for a person to use great discretion and avoid violent self defense. Even if found not guilty the person who kills or maims in self defense risks severe civil penalties and social penalties. In many self defense schools and books the concept is: “if it is not worth dying for- it is not worth killing for.”
The Stand Your Ground laws also do not change any of the underlying requirements accepted for lawful self defense. We still have a duty to be innocent, reasonable and proportional in our defense of self. The law does not protect someone who instigates a confrontation, nor does it protect someone who did not have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury.
In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal the professional grievance industry has seized on Stand Your Ground and argued that the law is racially biased and hurts minorities- nothing could be further from the truth. John Lott has delved into the Tampa Bay Time database of Stand Your Ground defense cases and found several striking things. Blacks are 16.6% of the Florida population but they account for 31% of the Stand Your Ground defense cases. When black defendants are compared to white defendants they are acquitted 8 percent more frequently. Unfortunately more blacks are victims of violent crimes so it makes sense that they would use the defense more often.
Lott has also looked at states that have passed Stand Your Ground and similar Castle Doctrine laws and found that murder rates dropped by 9% and overall violent crime by 11% even after accounting for a range of other variables. Other researchers have disagreed with Lott’s conclusions and it is always hard to isolate one variable. If we look at Florida where the most controversy lies we can make some very clear assertions. Florida has made it easier to carry a gun and broadened the ability of justifiable self defense through Stand Your Ground. Violent crime has plummeted in Florida since 1992 from 1200 per 100,000 to 492 per 100,000. In fact the two greatest year over year percentage drops, 2010 and 2009 have been after Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005 and after the great recession began. Criminals in Florida are aware that many Floridians can now lawfully carry a gun and defend themselves and this does have an affect.
Most of us have no desire to be in a violent confrontation. You can never leave a violent encounter with more than what was brought in. The best you can hope for is to keep your health and life. Society is very hard on those who use violent force even when justifiable. The law has a duty to protect individual rights, above all those rights is the right to life. Stand Your Ground laws protect all of us from wrongful prosecution and punishment.
Most of us know Jackie Robinson, he was the first player to break Major League baseball’s color line in 1947. Few of us remember Branch Rickey, Rickey was the the GM for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As the story goes Rickey was eager to integrate the Dodgers and was considering Robinson.
Rickey was especially interested in making sure his eventual signee could withstand the inevitable racial abuse that would be directed at him. In a famous three-hour exchange on August 28, 1945, Rickey asked Robinson if he could face the racial animus without taking the bait and reacting angrily—a concern given Robinson’s prior arguments with law enforcement officials at PJC and in the military. Robinson was aghast: “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey replied that he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.”After obtaining a commitment from Robinson to “turn the other cheek” to racial antagonism, Rickey agreed to sign him to a contract for $600 a month, equal to $7,651 today.
Robinson lived up to his promise and let his play do the talking. He won a world series, a league MVP and was consistently one of the best players in the league. He excelled at all aspects and is given credit by some for innovating modern base stealing. He did not respond to angry fans and showed tremendous grace under outright hatred and abuse. We would all have forgiven Robinson if he’d lost his temper more often and fought back- the fact that he had the courage not to makes him a transcendent figure.
I think Robinson understood the racial climate of the times, segregation had been a way of life for so long and many saw no reason to change it. Among these people were extremists, truly hateful racists that were never going to be reached; but the bulk of the population were not so extreme and could be moved to change. By seeing athletes like Robinson and Joe Louis achieve excellence and greatness despite tremendous adversity from racial animus it elevated the moral cause for action to stop segregation and racial discrimination. Robinson went on to be a successful executive, the first executive VP of a major American corporation (Chock full o’Nuts), he also founded a bank and worked as a broadcaster.
Robinson knew how and when to fight- refusing to participate in an old timers game in 1969 to protest the lack of minorities in management and front office staffs.
Today it is frequently the advocates who shout the loudest that get the most attention. Part of this is our media saturated society- part of it is fundraising and rallying the base. Do these advocates reach the moderates whose minds they might change? I propose that they do not and only make issues more polarizing.
Gay marriage is one example, most people do not hate or fear gays. Conversely most gays just want to be tolerated and have equal protection under the law. Unfortunately many of the advocates that get the most attention are extremists. Gay groups that demand blanket acceptance and are downright hostile to religious people calling them ignorant or hateful. On the other sides fringe groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church or other hateful bigots get attention. Moderates are unlikely to change their minds and only become stronger in their views when they are called names and made to feel stupid, ignorant or hateful. You cannot fight hate with hate.
My friend- Adam, a gay man wrote a heartfelt letter to his mother explaining his feelings about her and his faiths and why he thought gays should be able to marry. He didn’t name call and he was respectful of her feelings while explaining his own. He gave her space to change her mind without pressure or ultimatums. He could have pointed out hypocrisies in her life or used stronger rhetoric that might have been more satisfying for a man who has faced quite a bit of adversity for his sexuality.
American’s opinions regarding gay marriage have evolved dramatically to the point where a slight majority now favors it in most polls conducted. Twenty years ago many gays were closeted and being gay was misunderstood by many Americans who didn’t even think they knew a homosexual. Over time gays have emerged, most of them seeking only tolerance in their communities. More Americans know and see gay couples and even families with children. They go to the same schools and in some case the same churches and temples. They live on the same streets and have similar lives. Moderates aren’t more accepting of gays because they saw a pride parade with militants french kissing in public or wearing provocative clothing. These kinds of displays only reinforce their position of being reluctant to tolerate legal gay marriage.
I encourage gay marriage advocates to be more like Jackie Robinson. Understand and empathize with the other side talk to them about their feelings and reasoning. Ignore the bigots and their traps. Provide solutions for the other sides problems. I think gay marriage laws would get more support if they all included protections for religious institutions. Take away the argument that churches might be sued for discrimination if they refuse to perform gay marriage ceremonies. In our free society private people and groups must be free to discriminate not without social consequences but without force of law. There will be churches and organizations that will embrace same sex marriage and gays can make them even stronger with their patronage and encourage more of them.
Another huge debate in our society is gun control. Traditional we have had gun rights and are losing in some places while gaining in others so it is a different issue than same sex marriage. However the same philosophy applies, advocates like myself for gun rights need to understand the other side and reach out to it. The best thing gun owners can do is practice their right with extreme caution and responsibility. Gun accidents are at an all time low but there are still more than 800 senseless accidental guns deaths a year. As gun owners we must self regulate, there is no reason ever for a negligent discharge. We must be responsible for our guns and control them ourselves keeping them 100% secure 24/7. This is the most powerful argument for keeping the government from taking our rights. Gun owners also need to seek training and keep their skills up, so if they have to use them some day they are ready and effective.
Gun owners can take a cue from the gay community’s openess. Moderate gun owners need to let their neighbors know that they have guns and support the right of self defense. Moderates who don’t own guns need to see that for every stereotypical conspiracy nut with an arsenal there are 100,000 responsible sensible gun owners who take their right and their responsibility very seriously. Every day more than 1 million Americans carry a gun with them. They are next to you on the freeway, at the grocery store, walking down the street. Their guns do not pose any threat to you and in fact enhance your security even though you may choose to be unarmed.
We need to dial back on the rhetoric. I once posted a satirical comment on my facebook page urging the unarmed to post gun free zone signs on their houses. After an hour and one angry comment I deleted the post. While I don’t back down from the point- it was needlessly argumentative and polarizing. Some gun rights advocates have started posting a phrase ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ which means “come and take it” it is what the Spartans are reported to have said to the Persians when asked to surrender. I understand the passion and the righteous anger behind this sentiment. This kind of rhetoric might rally a base but it will turn off moderates closing their minds to our reasoning and evidence.
I have never been one to shy away from debate, I love it and am not afraid of arguments- I don’t take arguments personally and am rarely personally offended. However most people don’t want to argue or debate issues they believe. The develop strong opinions and don’t want to be challenged; they avoid conflict. Nobody wants to be wrong. It is rare that a person changes their mind overnight, it takes years and usually personal experience resonating with logic and information. Those of us who are advocates must remember this and do our best to be a part of this process. We have to learn patience and humility. We need to be more like Jackie Robinson was if we want to be a part of the movement towards the truth we believe in.
Physicians swear to first do no harm. Doctors must carefully weigh their treatments and interventions into the body to be sure not to do more harm than good. They must weigh the pros and cons, they utilize science to make informed decisions and to guide their patients.
If only government understood this simple idea. We have an activists government, a government that sees problems everywhere and is eager to solve them with laws, regulations, prohibitions and interventions of force. It is of course our own fault, we expect our government to take care of us. Governments have always existed to prevent force from outside their borders and maintain an army and defense. In modern times governments have become expected to do many more things. The government is expected to shepherd the economy to make sure the citizens have jobs that pay the bills. Governments are expected to care for the elderly and provide fairness in all things. Drugs are bad- so government must outlaw them and put those who refuse to obey in jail.
When politicians see a problem they immediately start thinking of how to address it with the force of government. All too often we pass laws thought to address a problem that create more harm than good. No one would argue that the disabled should be discriminated against so we passed a law, the ADA. Then we all moved on feeling good about our great society. But the result of that law was that fewer disabled people got jobs as businesses were afraid of the costs of accommodating them or being sued if they didn’t work out. It didn’t matter if a particular disabled person was happy to work somewhere under the conditions, the government wouldn’t allow it making that person a liability- and taking away that choice. Prostitution is demeaning to women so we prohibit it almost everywhere. But the demand remains and so now women who become prostitutes, some willingly some not, are at the mercy of the lawless streets. The intention is to get rid of the behavior we abhor but the result is worse.Regulation of industry is similar. The process was described in comical fashion by Ronald Reagan: “If it moves tax it, if it continues regulate it, if it stops subsidize it!”
In my debates I am often asked to prove that a particular law or regulation is harmful; shouldn’t the burden be on the government- the only institution with the compulsion of law to prove that it isn’t? Shouldn’t we expect our lawmakers to first do no harm? Shouldn’t they examine all the costs and weigh these against the proposed benefits of what they propose? The problem with laws and rules are that they rarely go away once passed. Year after year they persist despite all the evidence of their failure or high cost to benefit ratio. Whole industries thrive on these laws and protect them with powerful lobbyist and lawyers.
We have an ever growing nanny state, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats in recent years has been the size and scope of the nanny state. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, a quasi Republican has gone after smoking, salt, and now soda in his city all in the name of protection. He has even tried to control the amount of pain killers doctors prescribe in the cities hospitals. We are more enamored today with safety and comfort than we are freedom. We expect to be protected and we have been all too willing to give up choice and freedom to do it. Let the citizens demand that their government first do no harm.
Yesterday my 7 year old son told me a bold face lie. He lied for expedience about a test at school- he didn’t want to study so he said it had already passed. After he was exposed and admitted to the lie, my wife and I tried to explain integrity. I talked about meaning what you say and being honest even when it is tough to do so. My wife and I talked about the importance of trust and gave examples. We all want our kids to be honest with us and do what is right. As a society however we have lost much of our collective integrity and moral clarity.
The recent former LAPD shooter is a good example. Despite killing multiple innocent people not even directly connected to his grievance the shooter has generated significant support from many. Even some very law abiding and decent people have sympathized with his plight and assumed that he was wronged. The shooter, now deceased, has had his firing re-opened by the LAPD. I do not pretend to know if he was wronged or not or what if any was true in his published manifesto- I find it completely irrelevant. Have we gotten so far from moral certainty and discernment that a man can kill four innocent people and be praised by some and partially excused by others? Most of us have been fired unfairly before; many of us- myself included; have had others in the workplace lie about us in order to gain an edge. As your mother probably told you- two wrongs don’t make a right. The second this man decided to take a life he should have lost all credibility- he should have been strongly and unequivocally condemned by all. His manifesto shouldn’t have been published widely in the media- he should have been seen as the criminal lowlife murderer he was. It can be natural to root for an underdog and many have had poor dealings with the LAPD or police in general. When I drove most of the day for work I racked up quite a few trivial or unfair traffic tickets. Most of the officers I dealt with were unhappy and discourteous- I felt I was often treated unfairly. The LAPD has had major corruption scandals and officers have even been convicted of murder- I have no illusions about the LAPD. Most big organizations will have some major flaws. None of this justifies murder- the LAPD shooter may have been wronged- but the second he shot that innocent young couple he earned his violent death. People generally hate unfairness and perhaps that is why so many rallied to his cause- assuming his accusations were true. I think there is something else at play- moral relativism and a lack of clarity.
Moral relativism is a cancer that eats at the moral fabric of our society. We now are encouraged not to judge anyones behavior and we tend to focus on all the excuses instead of the morally deficient behavior of a person. Class and race play a role as well. Stealing from a rich corporation by illegally downloading software or music is deemed ok. Of course the reality is that the rich and powerful are rarely hurt much by these thefts- it is the lowlier workers that suffer as revenues dry up- but this is again irrelevant- theft is wrong either way. Young minority gang members who terrorize their own communities are merely victims of racism and “the system”.
Let’s be clear, no one has the same experience in life- fairness doesn’t exist. Some people have many more breaks than others. Some of us have loving parents and financial security some of us have neither. We do need to try to understand root causes and we do need to try to help the less fortunate- including criminals and especially children who are more reachable. However we also need to make judgements and hold people accountable on a community and societal level. Young men who impregnate women and then run shouldn’t be called “baby daddies” and they shouldn’t be able to walk with their heads high anywhere. They should be condemned by their communities and shamed by society until they take responsibility. Society should forgive people their transgressions but not without conditions and atonement. We need to remove the excuses as well and stop allowing some to absolve themselves of responsibility by always playing the victim. Being a victim can paralyze a person as they blame everything on some external force beyond their own control. Real victims exist but the successful are rarely without adversity; they just learn to rise above it and take responsibility for their lives.
Christianity is the biggest influence to my morality as it is for many others but I have known many men of great integrity and moral clarity who are atheists. My father is deeply religious and has abundant integrity, he is honest to a fault and carefully considers all his decisions. He is very careful never to take advantage of anyone, even when he has been taken advantage of by many. His deep faith allows him to keep things in perspective and he believes he will be richly rewarded some day. On the other side is my favorite teacher, Mr. R. I remember Mr. R. being in tears apologizing to the class for what I thought was a relatively harmless comment he made that embarrassed a student. He cared so deeply that he had hurt this girl that he visibly wept; even though everyone knew he had no malice and was only trying to be funny. I also remember him being deeply hurt when he found out that several students had cheated on a test. Morality need not come from faith or religion- but there is a basic morality that everyone should uphold. It can be relatively easily defined in the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
As a child I remember several occasions where I thought I’d been treated unfairly and told my mother. My mother almost always sided with the adult or authority in question. When she did fight for me she did it without my knowledge or on rare occasions where she knew I was right. My mother reinforced personal responsibility and discipline and now I do that for my son. It is easier to make excuses for our children, to be on their side always- but this is a grave injustice to them. Our children need parents who act as parents not as friends.
We do no service to the immoral when we make excuses for them or try to justify their actions. We owe them accountability most of all. Our young men are especially vulnerable, they need strong and steady leadership- they need to be taught right and wrong. They need limits and boundaries- in the absence of these things they lash out and test the limits of their egos. For some this leads to a violent, criminal life. Let’s not take the easy or politically correct way out let us do our best to be moral leaders in our spheres of influence. Live by example first- but do not be afraid of speaking out and holding others accountable.
Police officers have a difficult and sometimes thankless job. They deal often with the worst among us and have a duty to engage bad people acting out violently. As a regular citizen with a gun- I do not seek out confrontation or criminals. I don’t have to respond to domestic violence calls or protect anyone other than myself and my family. This means I am much less likely to ever need to use my gun than a police officer. In fact even most cops never have to even fire their weapons at another human being.
Having said all of this I do worry that the wrong kind of people are drawn to police work. Some officers have authority complexes and short tempers. Police officers should be cool headed clear thinkers- and many are, but some operate on short triggers and don’t deal with stress very well.
There has been a lot of talk recently about CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons) permit holders and gun crime. Some in the media such as Mother Jones have made the inaccurate claim that CCW holders haven’t ever stopped mass shootings. The also warn about CCW permit holders accidentally will shoot innocent people. I was flabbergasted when some in the media used the story of Joe Zamudio to argue against CCW permit holders. Zamudio helped restrain the Gabby Giffords shooter and was armed that day.
“I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ “
Zamudio then realized the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter after a brief struggle and then helped restrain the real shooter. Zamudio made the right call and didn’t pull the trigger.
In fact I have had trouble finding any case of a public shooting where a CCW permit holder shot an innocent person- none. Even the cases where they stopped a shooting such as the principle in Alabama they have only had to brandish the weapon. Maybe a reader can point one out for me, and I fully acknowledge that it could happen. Nothing is perfectly safe and we have to balance public policy for the greater good.
I also recently came upon this story, from the mass shooting in Oregon back in December. Nick Meli, a CCW permit holder saw the shooting going on and had taken cover to assess the situation.
“As I was going down to pull, I saw someone in the back of the Charlotte move, and I knew if I fired and missed, I could hit them.”
Meli kept his eyes on the shooter and watched as he ended his own life. Meli, only 22 years old, assessed the situation and made the right call. He was ready for action but showed restraint because he could have made the situation worse by missing his target.
Now lets contrast that with the accidental shooting in Torrance early this week by the LAPD. A ex-cop is targeting LAPD officers and their families and has killed three people so far. The LAPD was on high alert and had stationed officers to protect specific targets identified as high value for the ex-cop. The suspect was known to have a dark grey Nissan Titan and had shot from this truck prior. At least 7 officiers where at the scene and prepared for possible combat. Around 5am a blue Toyota Tacoma entered the neighborhood. It was driven by a 47 and 71 year old daughter and mother delivering newspapers. The suspect is a 270lbs large black man. We do not know all the facts, it has been reported that the lights of the truck were off and that the truck accelerated away after the first shots were fired (which is reasonable of course) and was then fired on again by more officers. The lawyer for the women says that no audible warnings were given before the shooting began. Thankfully despite at least 46 shots one woman was wounded twice in the back and the other wounded from glass.
The LAPD has extensive training and resources like night vision and helicopters, (not reported what these cops had in this case) things the average CCW permit holder does not. In this case they also had the element of surprise and were ready to engage. These cops were on edge and it seems to have caused a major lapse in judgement. In my comfortable “armchair” I would ask why force was necessary before any id was made. Clearly the target was well protected and these ladies were not even close to engaging the actual target but merely in the vicinity. I would also question why it wasn’t obvious that this was a different truck driven by two older women. Clearly the officiers at the very least had flashlights.
I am not ready to convict these officers and I am certain they thought they were engaging the bad guy. More information will come out and the city ( taxpayers) will probably rightfully pay out a few million dollars to these poor women. The officers may lose their jobs.
CCW permit holders do have accidents and also do commit crimes but they are rare and according to some research on par with law enforcement. It is clear that with the power to carry a gun comes tremendous responsibility. It is also clear to me that being a police officer doesn’t necessarily make a person more qualified to carry that responsibility.
I hear and read over and over again that we have an economy based on infinite growth in a finite world. One common refrain goes something like this: “an economy based on infinite growth is unsustainable.” I have even been “assaulted” by this phrase while listening too and attending a concert by one of my favorite current bands: “Muse.”
The logic is of course partially correct; everything we know if finite. I believe in an infinite God but I cannot logically explain that belief- I accept it on faith. So it is easy to say something is finite on logic alone. Our economy is certainly based on energy and there is a fixed amount of energy- even the sun will stop burning someday. One of the most common applications of this logic applies to our use of fossil fuels. We use oil, coal and natural gas to provide most of our energy and there are fixed amounts of these natural resources. The question becomes how much of these resources do we have and what are the best way to distribute these resources.
Peak oil is one theory used to try to predict when we will reach a peak in oil production and when we will run out. M. King Hubbert, the author of the theory predicted in 1974 that we would reach this peak in production in 1995. This did not happen, from wikipedia:
M. King Hubbert initially predicted in 1974 that peak oil would occur in 1995 “if current trends continue.” However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, global oil consumption actually dropped (due to the shift to energy-efficient cars, the shift to electricity and natural gas for heating, and other factors), then rebounded to a lower level of growth in the mid 1980s. Thus oil production did not peak in 1995, and has climbed to more than double the rate initially projected.
History is littered with very smart people predicting all kinds of things that turned out to be completely wrong. The most basic reason for this is we can’t know what we don’t know. It was unthinkable in 1974 that oil consumption would drop in a few short years and then go to more stable growth. It was unforeseeable how good engineers would become at finding more of it and finding unconventional ways to get it. Some other very smart informed scientists and oil men believe we have only scratched the surface of oil production and that we won’t run out for perhaps hundreds of years. But these men, just like the men who claimed we are running out now; can’t know what they don’t know.
So where are we now? Oil production is still increasing but so is demand. We can now drill horizontally using new technology- and old technology in new ways such as the much maligned and misunderstood hydraulic fracturing. We can get oil from tar sands and shale rock. In fact it is now estimated that only 30% of oil reserves are the conventional oil we currently rely on heavily. We also have learned to make cars, homes and factories much more energy efficient. I drive a large car (VW Passat) that gets 40MPG easily, in 1974 an equivalent car may have gotten 15 at best.
Natural gas production has skyrocketed and is one of the few things keeping manufacturing in the United States from contracting. Natural gas can be used to power cars and is already used in many municipal car fleets and mass transit vehicles.
It is ironic that the use of natural gas in the United States is responsible for the majority of the reduction in CO2 emission since 2007. Coal emissions went down as it was replaced by natural gas which was made economically viable by the fracking that environmentalist love to hate. Windmills and solar panels that are so in favor and heavily subsidized by government had little overall effect.
Back to growth. Capitalism and globalism are good things, as we grow in the 1st world the third world grows with us. 20 years ago cell phones were expensive and bulky devices mostly used by wealthy businessmen. My Dad had one that was the size of a small briefcase and it could only be used for work emergencies. Fast forward to today and one of the fastest growing cell phone markets is third world Africa. Shanties are built with solar panels to charge cell phones in places that land line service never reached. A cell phone may allow a poor woman to get more work as she can now communicate quickly and easily and find opportunities to earn money. The wealthy businessman with a mobile in 1986 wasn’t thinking about the poor sub Saharan woman- but by buying and using the technology he made it cheaper and better and eventually almost everyone can afford to use it. Much of the anti capitalist rhetoric presents a false premise that markets are a zero sum game. Our “excessive” consumption leads to the deprivation of someone else is the theory. The reality is that our consumption and desire for a better life allows for more abundance everywhere. As our standard of living increases in real terms so does that of the extremely poor. Growth is good for all and capitalism is the engine of growth in the world. Free markets and simple rule of law lead to prosperity wherever they occur.
We will have to consider our sources of energy and continue to make everything more efficient and find better cleaner ways to power our world. We will also have to continue to consider other resources like food and water as the world gets more populated and people live longer we will need more of everything. Capitalism has proven to be the answer to these problems again and again. Markets allow people to make choices based on costs and ration their needs. A truly free market will continue to produce the most abundance of resources and it will not discount the future for the present either.
Some may say that we have enough things in the modern world and are overly consumeristic. I agree but growth isn’t the problem and neither is capitalism in general. Many people in the world are still living in extreme poverty and growth can and will lift them up also as it has lifted the modern world. Capitalism isn’t perfect and life can be unfair but it is still the best system with which to manage our scarse resources and plan a better more abundant and fair world.
At the dawn of man- it was the brute, the strong man who ruled over his clan. He may have developed some primitive form of respect but it was based on the fact that he was the strongest and able to defeat other men and hunt for food better than the rest. As civilization progressed we started to reason with each other with our words, we made agreements that were mutually beneficial and eventually learned to trade goods and services amongst ourselves. Most men and women wanted to be treated equitably and acted in kind. As societies learned and advanced the societies that valued reason gradually overtook those that favored brute force alone. This was still accomplished with force- societies that valued reason developed better weapons and defenses and lived and prospered longer. The societies with the better weapons and stronger armies became the dominant forces and spread their ideals through conquest. These societies became more peaceful over time as prosperity increased.
The Romans became the dominant western society through force, but with that force they brought peace and prosperity and the Greco-Roman ideals of governance. Roman society was brutal compared to today but less brutal than the barbarians they conquered. It has been written that it took one thousand years after the fall of the Roman empire for Europe to regain the standard of living it had at the time of the fall. In the scope of human history peace has always come through strength first.
Relatively speaking America today is a paradise of peace and prosperity because we provide ourselves- and much of the world, security from the brute, and tyranny. We spread our ideals of equality, freedom and democracy but it is the threat of force that allows for all of it.
All human interaction can be divided into reason and force. Most of us want to live in peace and wish to be treated fairly and will treat our fellow man with fairness in return. On a macro level our military and national defense keeps our country free, in our communities the task falls to the police and criminal justice system to keep us safe. When a rational man wants to take something and is willing to use force to do it, the threat of the police and the law keep them at bay. Police and law are not perfect and the rational criminal man knows this so he may act anyway. When irrational men such as the shooters in Aurora and Sandy Hook act the law does almost nothing to deter them as they do not care about punishment.
All of us understand this concept of the law on some level. Consider something as simple as crossing the street. The law states that the pedestrian has a right of way and can severely punish a driver for hitting someone. Do we therefore cross blindly- confident that the law keeps us safe? Of course not- we look out for ourselves and look both ways to make sure drivers are stopping for us. The same relationship is true for crimes of force. Brazen criminals have already made the choice to ignore the law, the law only restrains them by catching them and ultimately confining or executing them. The best the police can hope for most of the time is to catch a criminal after their crime and let the law punish them. It is very rare that the police stop a crime in progress.
Therefore most of the responsibility of safety falls to the individual. We must be prepared to defend ourselves and our families from the man who will use force. A criminal avoids the police because he knows the police are armed and ready to exert force. In the same manner if the criminal expects force from a citizen victim they will likely avoid confrontation. If the law prevents the potential victim from carrying a gun the criminal knows they are less likely to have one and is emboldened. If the law makes it hard to have a gun in the home the criminals knows this also. We see this in London where home invasion is up dramatically since the virtual gun ban. Criminals in the US rarely rob a home when someone is home but in England the reverse is true because the criminal has more upside sometimes when the homeowner is present and can be forced to comply.
The lawful man doesn’t carry a gun looking for conflict, he carries a gun to preserve his life and freedom and that of his loved ones. The gun itself doesn’t make the man evil it just mirrors the present values of the man or woman. The gun works to equalizes the equation of force allowing the just to live in peace. For the smaller and weaker the gun is even more important. A small woman of 120lbs can equal or surpass the force from a 250lbs man who wishes to harm her. Anytime we put limitations on gun rights we have to acknowledge that we are making the vulnerable weaker.
Will the law apply more to the criminal or more to the lawful? Clearly it is the criminal who flouts the law who benefits. Most new gun control laws tip the balance to the criminal. Laws that work against the criminal are good, laws that work against the lawful under the pretext of working against the criminal are bad.
In the final equation when all is measured and balanced guns are a force for good.
Conspiracy theories can be attractive because they help us make sense of senseless acts; but they are rarely the truth. Large conspiracies are just too tough to hide from the public. Recently I have seen some Newtown massacre conspiracies start to surface. I watched a bit of an online video cobbled together with news footage and content from a popular conspiracy webpage. I am not going to mention either because I don’t want to give them any more attention.
It is very easy to pull news clips and assemble information to make almost any case. I watched about 7 minutes of aforementioned video so I can’t comment on all of it. In the aftermath of events like Newtown everyone in the media is trying to present as much info as possible and that leads to some sloppy news gathering where lots of things are reported that aren’t true. For example: the naming the shooter as the brother and that the shooter was wearing body armor and his mother was a teacher at the school. I will mention one example from the video; the director asserts that the rifle reportedly used by the shooter was pulled from the trunk of the car and then shows video of a rifle being held over a trunk. We don’t see any context other than the assertion of the director. Could this be a police gun- sure. Could it be the gun used by the shooter, taken from the scene after processing and in the process of being unloaded and secured for transport- of course. The viewer doesn’t know and the director fills that void with an assertion. The director then shows the medical director reporting that most of the injuries were cased by the rifle. Conspiracy theories like this usually rest on creating confusion and showing gaps and problems in the official stories. They don’t have to build a logical case showing all the motives and addressing all the facts. They just pick and choose selectively finding “facts” that support their assertions. With the explosion of information in modern society it is easy to find “facts” some of which aren’t even somewhat true and other that are taken out of context or distorted.
In order to buy into a conspiracy at Newtown you’d have to have a tremendous amount of co-conspirators and they would all need to be quiet. Tremendous scrutiny is placed on these events and the news media loves uncovering deception or conspiracy of any kind. Consider Watergate or the Clinton- Monica Lewinsky affair, far fewer people were involved and the truth came out. It is also notable that the “news media” is bigger and more diverse than ever before and not controlled by a few powerful corporations that could be compromised. Some might argue that some “news” media is reporting the conspiracy- but that only bolsters my point. The fringe story doesn’t go beyond that step. Matt Drudge a fringe blogger at the time uncovered the Lewinsky affair but then the story spread quickly to all the media precisely because it had validity.
Conspiracy theories exist for 911, the JFK shooting, MLK shooting and virtually every major news event. I used to buy into at least a bit of the JFK shooting theories but after years of examining the full evidence and seeing re enactments I am convinced that Oswald acted alone and that the official story is true. Thankfully we have many others who make it their business to attack conspiracy theories such as Snopes and Popular Mechanics which addressed the 911 conspiracies.
Another common conspiracy theory is what I will call the Corporate conspiracy. Corporations are by their nature less open than government and they do tend to have more consolidated power at the top making conspiracies more possible. With the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism; typically seeds) debate in full swing a common conspiracy I hear is that Monsanto and the government both know that GMO food is dangerous but are in league together to continue promoting the products for money. In order to buy into this you have to believe that literally thousand of geneticists and scientists including medical doctors are all willing participants knowingly hurting people. You also have to believe that somehow Monsanto has enough money to maintain this influence over government which monitors and approves its’ products. Lets look at some numbers; Monsanto had 13.5 billion in revenue last year and a market cap (total value of all shares) of about 50 billion, according to opensecrets.org they spent 4.7 million in 2012 on lobbying which is about their average. Monsanto is a big powerful company with lots money to spend but when you compare it to the power of the federal government it seems trivial. Our government spends about 10.5 billion every day or 3,700 billion a year. I want to make clear that corruption does exist and it is likely that Monsanto does have some influence over some regulators. It is also clear though that there are strong interests opposing Monsanto and corporations in general. Many in government are naturally inclined to be anti corporate especially in regulatory positions.
It is also clear that you can believe that GMO food is bad without believing in any of these conspiracies. Conspiracy theories provide cover from a real debate on the science and evidence. It has been said when the facts are with you lean on the facts and when the facts are not bang on the table. Many times ideas and philosophies are emotionally driven and we are inclined to buy into conspiracies that support our ideas.
I am not asserting that all conspiracies are wrong. There are some very well documented conspiracies in history. Many of these come from totalitarian regimes and are well known and exposed quickly even in closed societies. There have also been corporations who have made big mistakes and tried to cover them up for a time it is logical to assume that some conspiracies have never been exposed. When a conspiracy is proposed I look at the merits and the evidence. The truth tends to come out in time and in modern society that time frame is shorter than ever before due to the speed that information moves.
Leaders do use tragedies for political purposes. Former White House chief of staff and current mayor of Chicago: Rahm Emmanuel is famous for saying: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The current administration is using Sandy Hook to advance an anti gun rights agenda. I don’t question their intentions, I think they mostly believe what they are doing is good for all just as those of us who favor more gun rights use Sandy Hook to call for our ideas of meaningful change.
I am not naive; the powerful must be watched and monitored closely. This particular administration has been deceptive and the 9-11 Libya attack and Fast and Furious debacle are examples of that.
Suggesting a Sandy Hook government conspiracy is illogical and just not feasible in our relatively open society.
Gabby Giffords has announced she and husband Mark Kelly are forming a new advocacy group: Americans for Responsible Solutions:
“Achieving reforms to reduce gun violence and prevent mass shootings will mean matching gun lobbyists in their reach and resources. Americans for Responsible Solutions, which we are launching today, will invite people from around the country to join a national conversation about gun violence prevention, will raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what’s right.”
I am pulling for Ms. Giffords, her recovery against the odds is an inspiration. I read her editorial and she doesn’t say anything specifically that she wants other than a conversation and to balance the NRA. She says that we haven’t done anything as a country and gives the impression that gun advocates don’t have solutions. This is simply wrong headed. Gun rights advocates do have solutions and we have taken meaningful action. Advocates have fought to allow for responsible citizen to carry guns in states like Arizona and Florida. Shall issue, right to carry states now outnumber no carry states by a wide margin. In Florida where more carry concealed weapons than anywhere else; violent crime and even gun specific crime is down.
Here is what congress should do: introduce new legislation that affirms the legal right of non felons who undergo simple training and are free of mental health issues to carry in all 50 states. These permit holders should be allowed to legally carry everywhere that government cannot assure armed protection such as courthouses or government buildings. In that same legislation they could reassert the federal background check system and strengthen it to include psychiatric holds for all transactions including the small number of private party gun show transfers. This is a thumbnail sketch and the details are very meaningful of course. The philosophy is simply that all law abiding Americans should be able to carry a gun concealed no matter what state they live in and that this right protects liberty and life for all. Many gun advocates would argue that we already have this right and to codify it federally sets the wrong precedent. I agree in theory but out of pragmatism I can accept federal oversight provided it is simple and clearly reaffirms the right to carry for self defense.
Ms. Giffords mentions her household has two guns locked up in a safe. I cannot help but wonder if she had one of those guns on her that day if something might have been different- perhaps not- but it is hard to argue that someone with a gun other than the killer might have made a real difference that day.
A couple months ago I was challenged by blogger/activist Chris Agnos at Sustainable Man; to read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. In exchange Chris is reading Applied Economics by Thomas Sowell. The hope is that each will learn something from looking at the antithesis of our own philosophies and beliefs. I have always tried to read and expose myself to ideas from all sides of an issue. Any valid argument seeks to address couter arguments and provide answers and alternatives.
I have finished reading the first part of the book. Eisenstein sets up the first part of the book to attack modern capitalism and society. This isn’t new ground by any means but Eisenstein is no crack pot and he does a good job at making a cogent argument without too much invective and empty rhetoric. Anybody seeking to change a system has to first demonstrate its’ failings and Eisenstein does that with a mix of logic, evidence and history. I am going to summarize a couple of his key points and address them in this article. I am not seeking to write a book here just address some key and common points.
“Today we associate money with the profane, and for good reason. If anything is sacred in this world, it is surely not money. Money seems to be the enemy of our better instincts, as is clear every time the thought “I can’t afford to” blocks an impulse toward kindness or generosity. Money seems to be the enemy of beauty, as the disparaging term “a sellout” demonstrates. Money seems to be the enemy of every worthy social and political reform, as corporate power steers legislation toward the aggrandizement of its own profits. Money seems to be destroying the earth, as we pillage the oceans, the forests, the soil, and every species to feed a greed that knows no end.”- Charles Eisenstein
First let me agree with Eisenstein, society largely does associate money and therefore greed with evil. This is a testament to 100 years of progressive thought in government and education. This association however is just plain wrong headed. Money is good and greed can also be good, especially for society. Adam Smith wrote about this over 200 years ago:
“By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.”
At the time (1776) most men worked in farming to feed their family and bartered some for other services. Women worked from dawn until dusk just maintaining a house and preparing food. There are parts of the world where this is still the case. Money allows us to engage in activities we are best suited for, I can create videos and take photographs and earn currencies which I exchange for food or technology that makes life easier. This exchange allowed innovators to create technology and to innovate new ways of farming, healthcare and countless other things that allow a relatively poor person in modern America to live longer and better than Louse XIV did not that long ago considering the scope of human history.
Han Rosling has studied the progress of human history and demonstrated how much better we live today than our agrarian barter societies did before. Indeed since 1970 world poverty as defined by living on less than a dollar a day has plummeted 80%. Why? Globalization aided by technology allows a subsistence farmer in India to get a job in a call center or a factory servicing a wealthier economy in the United States. As the economy of India grows it impacts even poorer areas in Bangladesh or Africa. That same farmer turned factory workers child may become an engineer and move up the ladder again. It is not benevolence that has created this new prosperity it is the desire to live better lives that creates wealth. In a capitalistic society we trade value for greater value. I spend $300 on an iPhone because I value that iPhone more than alternative items I can buy for the $300. The iPhone is $300 and not $3 million dollars because of a global capitalistic model that allows growth, efficiency and innovation. Money is the tool that allows this all to happen, we agree as a society to recognize currency as a store of value and that facilitates trade. Money also allows for cooperation in an amazing way. Think of all the things needed to create that iPhone, even a simple pencil is the sum product of thousands even millions of different people in different places cooperating to create a product. A miner digs for the graphite while being feed, clothed and transported by others. That graphite goes to a factory where another worker perhaps around the world uses it combining it with other raw and semi raw materials to create the pencil. That pencil is then transported, marketed and sold by other people. Can a local barter economy even create something as simple as a modern pencil?
Eisenstein seems to understand this- even while glamorizing communal barter and what he calls “gift” economies; but he argues that we are in a different stage now and uses the current recession to indict the whole system:
“Money is disappearing, and with it another property of spirit: the animating force of the human realm. At this writing, all over the world machines stand idle. Factories have ground to a halt; construction equipment sits derelict in the yard; parks and libraries are closing; and millions go homeless and hungry while housing units stand vacant and food rots in the warehouses. Yet all the human and material inputs to build the houses, distribute the food, and run the factories still exist. It is rather something immaterial, that animating spirit, which has fled. What has fled is money.”
Putting aside the obvious dramatic overstatements and exaggerations of the current or past recession, Eisenstein is attacking the very idea of growth in general. Environmentalist many times phrase this argument as a zero sum game in that we are taking from others or taking from the earth and that our prosperity equates to someone else’s poverty. This idea is completely counterfactual, it is precisely our prosperity and desire for a better life that allows for others to rise out of poverty. As the United States and Europe became richer so did South East Asia and Africa. Many look at the proportion of wealth to poverty, the gap which does tend to grow in absolute terms. This misses the point though and is to say we would rather our neighbor be even poorer as long as we are closer in means. Some have put it this way: Would you rather make $40,000 a year and know that your neighbor makes $1 million or make $10,000 a year knowing your neighbor only makes $40,000. In the second scenario the gap is smaller but you have 1/4 of the means. This argument for fairness is the common tool politicians and leaders use to gain power over men; they promise to make for a more fair society but the result is always less for all with usually the only winner being those connected to the government.
It is mathematically certain that all resources are finite, even the sun will stop reacting at some point. We cannot understand infinity even if we believe in an infinite god. Given this logic some argue that we are running out of resources and that resources cannot be owned and are collective and therefore must be collectively managed. No one can argue that resources are scarse, the question becomes how should these resources be managed? Capitalism has been the system that has worked better than all the rest.
For decades some have predicted that we are running out of certain resources and that costs for a given commodity will continue to rise. They have almost always been wrong, innovative self interested corporations and men continue to find more and more resources and different resources. Other innovators find new uses for resources and ways to use alternatives and less of a given resource. Right now in America manufacturing is starting to come back- in part because of a shale gas revolution that is making energy for factories cheaper. 120 years ago expensive whale oil threatened to empty the sea of whales and made it hard to light the night. Rockefeller discovered oil could be refined into kerosene and in the process saved more whales than Greenpeace ever will. Later Edison discovered how to create electric light and now even most of the poorest Americans have cheap and abundant light at night- something we don’t even really consider living without. I am not arguing that resources such as oil are limitless they clearly are not. However capitalism allows us to use them more efficiently and will someday reward those who replace unsustainable resources with more sustainable ones. The market will force people to ration when necessary and do so more orderly and efficiently than any team of bureaucrats could no matter how smart or well intentioned. No one knows when we will start to run out of natural resources or what new innovations will allow us to use less or alternatives. There is no reason however to believe that this century cannot be full of as much growth as the 20th century was and lead to a more peaceful and prosperous world provided of course reason prevails and we don’t kill the free market engine of growth.
For most of human history Kings and despots controlled all the wealth and almost all where poor. We then moved into democratic capitalism in America, Europe and then Asia and prosperity followed. In the early 20th century Socialists pointed to the obvious injustices and unfairness and successfully convinced nations to try socialistic and communistic governments. These systems lead to despotism and decay because they overlook human nature and motivation. We create and work to attain a better life for ourselves and our families. When we cannot profit from our work and industry we don’t work as hard we don’t take risks and progress stagnates. In a truly free market there are powerful incentives to use resources wisely and efficiently. Eisenstein is not arguing that Communism worked but he doesn’t accept this as the natural progression of his ideas. We have been fighting this battle for more than 100 years and I expect it will endure for at least 100 more. The ideology of from one according to her abilities to one according to her needs is very attractive, it sounds good and noble. Eisenstein attacks Ayn Rand specifically and those of us who believe in true capitalism by comparing us to selfish children and saying that we need to evolve our thinking to a more parental mindset. This is the kind of paternalistic thinking that leads to statism- the idea that an economy must be managed by benevolent high minded people. This is how freedom dies and it does not lead to prosperity it leads to poverty and decay for all.
Eisenstein has some of the problems of modern life correct, we do seek satisfaction in things too much. We are overly consumeristic, we waste our time and energy on things that don’t make us happier and we do live overly on debts that become our masters. This isn’t a byproduct of capitalism it is a byproduct of human nature and ignorance- dismantling capitalism won’t make us desire material things less it will only destroy the engine of prosperity for all. As a society we are more prosperous and therefore can afford to think more about the planet and our role in making it better for all people. We are more conscience of our impact in a multitude of ways and many of us do give of ourselves freely to help others at home and oceans away.
Money isn’t evil but man certainly can be. Capitalism rewards the good far more than the bad, it isn’t perfect but most of the problems blamed on capitalism are the result of less freedom and more management by disinterested benevolent men. We have history and philosophy and evidence that democratic capitalistic free societies work better than the alternatives. We must be careful not to throw out the good seeking an impossible perfection.
I will read the second part of Eisensteins book and comment on his ideas for change.