Not About Gun Laws

The debate about changing gun laws goes on, and there is a great deal to be said and this isn’t the place to do it.  Comments about changing gun laws are liable to deletion.  I want to talk about something else.  I’m taking as a premise the following: the US has a problem with mass shootings, and, whatever your position on the 2nd Amendment, its value, and its interpretation, you ought to agree that it isn’t the only problem.  This is a place to talk about what else can be done.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Universal health care combined with improvements to mental health treatment*.

2) Stop treating war as a normal condition, and an entirely reasonable way to secure profit, which is like broadcasting a message from the top levels of society that human life has no value. Of course, this will require an immediate end to war in the Mideast, and war crimes trials for those responsible.

3) End police militarization, murder, and terrorism, which also send the message that, to official society, individual human lives mean nothing. Disarming the police is a good start.

4) End poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, major contributors to stress, desperation, mental breakdown.

5) Better education. While learning is far from a complete cure for bigotry and xenophobia—the cause of many mass killings—ignorance certainly provides a good breeding ground for those conditions.

ETA: 6) A comment by David Hajicek reminds me that eliminating capital punishment should also be on the list for much the same reasons as 2) and 3) above.


*In case it isn’t obvious to you, it is possible to object to stigmatizing people with mental health issues and still believe that there is a crisis in the US in terms of inability of the society to properly diagnose and care for people, and that people who randomly shoot down strangers are suffering from some form of emotional or neurological or psychological problem.

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118 thoughts on “Not About Gun Laws”

  1. A “solution” which scares me is to control the media. If we don’t know about mass killings, we don’t think about them, and such things remain unthinkable. This makes for dystopian SF, but is an example of the cure being (arguably) worse than the disease.

  2. Here is a complicated consideration: In federal employment there is a question about banning the box, and in this case they mean one about psychological counseling, because it turns out the question screws up everything under the sun, including lying on job applications or choosing to not seek help. Now, please don’t take me wrongly; I actually am fretting about a potential obstacle to progress, not prescribing a reason to keep standing still. If people perceive, rightly or wrongly per dimensions and nature of notion perceived, potential loss in acknowledging the need to deal with certain living realities, the human instinct is to remain silent, as such. What do we do if people’s perception of mental health is subordinate to … er … ah … other factors … sufficiently to disrupt voluntary mental health treatment access?

    For my own part, I don’t have a good answer. Yeah, sorry ’bout that. It’s not one of those questions.

  3. I especially agree that education is a vital tool in prying us out from under our rocks in our respective corners. Universal health care, especially when it includes mental as well as physical health as equal and valid courses of treatment, must be covered. And neither psychiatric care nor something like chemotherapy should be allowed to bar someone from employment. I don’t find a point in your plan I don’t agree with. The chances of getting to this point in my lifetime do not seem rosy.

  4. skzb, you are right to bring this up. It is not a simple thing to solve. It took many years to make things this bad.

    As you note, the basic problem is that killing is the “official” way of solving many social problems. Also, most constructive ways of solving problems either aren’t used or don’t seem to work any more. Some people feel helpless and the “government” seems it could care less about the welfare of most people. In that context, killing people may seem like a rational approach to solving individual problems or a last ditch attempt to say that “I have relevance, I am not a nothing.”

    This will only get worse, with an administration hell bent on telling ordinary people that they have negative value (they should just disappear) and they are not listened to. Plus the false manliness of a president that treats killings and war as a sign of personal power. This will only get worse.

  5. “A “solution” which scares me is to control the media.”

    How about arrange to have more media owners. Instead of, say, seven, let’s have hundreds of owners.

    Break up the TBTF media oligopolies.

    It’s bad for the government to control the media. But if the media has too much control over itself, that’s bad too.

  6. I agree with all of those points.

    I would add ending hunger into point 4 although if poverty is ended, one could argue that hunger would end also.

    Removing profit as the major driving motive for corporations would aid in getting to all of those goals.

  7. All of those are nice things . . .

    Unfortunately, I don’t share optimism for comprehensive solutions to anything. Our current political process is a reflection of the majority of society . . . we seek the easy answers without understanding consequences. We want the quick fix that lets us imagine we actually did something. Most of all, no compromise, no matter the ultimate cost.

    We will eventually pull a Wile E. Coyote . . . we’ll look down as the mist clear and see nothing but empty air beneat our feet, and won’t that be fun. I mean it was fun watching it; not sure how much fun it will be experiencing it.

  8. Hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the terrible side effects of their psychoactive drugs. It’s horrifying how many of these mass shooters were on some sort of brain juice or other.

    Of course, fixing the other issues that you mention should mean fewer people needing psychiatric drugs in the first place.

  9. “Our current political process is a reflection of the majority of society ”

    I’m trying to find a polite way to express how strongly I disagree with this, and I can’t, so I’ll leave the strength of my disagreement understated. Official public opinion is one of the things that influences the majority, but the reverse is not true. Official public opinion is determined, not by the people, but by a tiny privileged strata controlling the media and the political organs.

    However, official public opinion is not the *only* thing that influences the thinking of the masses: their own experiences also play a significant role. This is why hatred of the police is so much broader and deeper than it was just a few years ago. This is why a candidate, Clinton, who promised the status quo was not able to defeat, in the electoral college, a candidate so deeply hated as Trump.

    You’re looking at a moving picture as if it were a snapshot. Outrage, anger, disgust, are all growing. Sometimes, in the absence of a determined leadership to give it expression, it can take unexpected forms: directionless violence, votes for fascistic demagogues, attempts to substitute personal heroism for mass action. But the opposition is growing, and you can see it if you look.

    This is relevant to the original post because all of the things I mention are things that we, as a society, need, and that society at present is unable to give. When that happens, it means a showdown is coming. It’s just like a book: the story happens where Need meets Can’t. The question of building a determined leadership, at that point, becomes decisive. Cynicism and dismissal of human struggle for improvement are the last thing we need.

  10. Feel free to lose whatever politenes you force upon yourself; I’m a big boy.

    But, it sounds as if you’re saying that we are both — as a populus — dupes to *gasp* lies politicians and the media tells us and then pissed off that we can’t do anything about it. But, in fact, we can. We especially can at the local level and state level, and by extension, we should be able to do so at the national level.

    It’s just that we — the royal we, the people on the streets who go about their daily lives — don’t. There is no other way to say it. You could claim brain control, but I think it’s much simpler. People are not thinking as a collective entity looking out for each other. And why should they? The US has a history of winner takes all (there no ties in our most cherished sports) of bending the rules to our advantage, and even applauding when one “gets away with it.”

    Then, when they do think beyond themselves, they never seem to go beyond their own tribalism. How many special interest do we have, all claiming they need first dibs on rights, on aid, on this or that break?

    From something as simple as HOA, to city councils, to school boards, to state boards, the public is singularly uninterested. I’ve been there, I’ve sent out mailers, I’ve talked to people, I’ve asked for involvement . . . nada. Niente. One or two people show up and when asked if they would like to actually do something, nope.

    I have my own theory . . . want to hear it?

    Everyone expects two things:
    1) a simple answer to complex questions.
    2) for someone else to do the hard work.

    That’s because they are oh so busy tweeting about this or that thing that bothers them by sharing photos that simplify complex issues down to a meme.

    I’ll stand by my assertion. We reap what we sow. We sow the facile answer, the win at all cost, hatred for them who would dare disagree with us, and above all, to never, ever compromise. It is, aftrer all, a sign of weakness.

    Let me step off my soap box and let someone else on there.

  11. By the way, that’s a chicken and egg question . . . is the government giving easy and useless answers (lies) to control the masses or do the masses expect the government to give them easy and usless answers because the alternative is hard work and personal sacrifice?

  12. I do think that the instinct to say support “mental health” is a dangerous one given the current mental health system that is designed to enrich drug companies and the pushers (who call themselves psychiatrists) they employ. There is very little evidence that, except for a few things like schizophrenia, anything other than extensive psychotherapy with well trained psychologists and considerable time commitment on everybody’s part consistently does more good than harm to the population as a whole. While yes, correlation does not equal causation, so the fact that there has been a dramatic increase in mass shootings coincident with the massive increase in the sales of psychiatric medications does not necessarily mean much. But when you add in the fact is that many common psychiatric medications have been shown to cause delusions of grandeur, suicidal ideation, obsessive behavior, etc. to a few people out of every 1000, you can pretty much guarantee that if you prescribe this substance to tens of millions (especially with an almost complete lack of medical oversight, which is the norm not the exception), you can expect some one in a million to have much more extreme reaction than the clinical studies based on thousands of participants will show. And it only takes one in a million to sustain the mass murder spree that has been happening.

    When it comes to psychopharmacology, most people would do much better listening to the advice of the Toyes than that of their local psychiatrist, and it would be much safer for themselves and society. This is the opinion of a working scientist with a penchant for reading pubmed articles and Cochrane reviews to avoid doing my real work and who finds being around high people just annoying. But I have also had to physically hold down somebody trying to stab themselves with broken pottery, who was also obsessed with making ridiculous and complicated grandiose plans, and was then was further traumatized by two weeks of debasement and overmedication by a “10 best in the country” psychiatric facility the PTSD from which she still hasn’t fully recovered from 7 years later. All because she was having a psychotic episode induced by the combination of meds subscribed by a psychiatrist who hadn’t physically seen her in the previous 6 months and all she actually needed was to be off of them for a week. If that was a 3 sigma side effect, then imagine what somebody having a 5 sigma effect might do.

    And yes, easy access to guns makes everything worse. A politically possible solution with the population (but not with the gun and pharmaceutical industries) would be to have anybody being prescribed psychiatric medication who is a registered gun owner have their guns held by local law enforcement and their gun licenses suspended as long as they are being treated with medication (this would not apply to psychotherapy in order to not discourage people seeking help). The psychiatric industry in conjunction with the courts already has the power to take away all of your constitutional rights anyway (another thing I have observed happen to another of my friends) so there is already legal precedent for this.

  13. A fairly high number of thousands of Americans each year commit suicide.

    Of those, about half pick the most effective and reliable commonly available method.

    Of those, perhaps one in a hundred make use of the capability of their means of self-termination to kill others too, thinking themselves beyond the reach of punishment. It’s arguably an amazing testament to the basic goodness of humankind that so few do. Like if 99 out of a hundred dropped wallets were handed in without hope of reward or recognition.

    If suicide is a crime you do with a weapon marketed on the basis of its ability to kill other people, sometimes those other people are going to die too.

    If you rule out making guns less accessible to the potentially suicidal, you could only change that dynamic by providing a superior alternative. Say some kind of painlessly lethal drug; hopefully one unsuitable for slipping into the water supply.

  14. disperser, “the masses” are plenty familiar with hard work and personal sacrifice. If they simplify, it is because they’ve been denied the education and the leisure for complexity. Let’s not simplify the consequences of someone’s socio-economic circumstances. Or deny their capacity for change. One can be cautious without being cynical.

    I hope it’s not insensitive to comment on something related to point 3: demilitarisation of the police. As with previous mass shootings, Aussie gun laws are being held up as a positive example to Americans. Perhaps less well know is the fact that the Australian government will soon be arming its police force with semi automatic, military weapons. Why would a civilian service need these against an unarmed public? The Lindt Café siege was one man, previously known to be mentally disturbed. That’s it. So why the AR-15s?

    In summary: yes, REGARDLESS of a country’s gun laws, disarming and demilitarising the police seems like a rational suggestion

  15. These are good suggestions. I’ll add my own. Forgive my utopian ramblings.

    Make workplaces more democratic. I think that if workers had political control over their own labor and owned the means of production in common with their fellow workers then there wouldn’t be so much social alienation. Modern-day work for billions of people is a never-ending cycle of drudgery. For many jobs, you don’t need a full, THINKING, FEELING, human being, all you need is an automaton who can push buttons or do some other menial task. This has to change. For better or worse, workers define themselves by what they do and who they do it with. Democratize and socialize labor for the masses and I think that we will see healthier individuals who are less likely to engage in indiscriminate acts of violence. Just a hunch.

  16. I agree with all these points, but I think it’s worth noting a few things.

    1) These are all ends in themselves, which may or may not help the issue at hand.
    2) Women suffer from similar rates of mental illness, AFAIK, and they considerably more rarely go on rampages. Even the so-called ‘extremists’.
    3) Canada (where I live) still suffers from a lot of these problems. While we have a single-payer healthcare system, we don’t have coverage for mental health stuff.
    4) Statistically, people officially classified as mentally ill are less likely to commit acts of violence. Now, while we could say that anyone willing to commit a huge atrocity is mentally ill by definition, it may not be the sort of thing that gets picked up by normal sort of health care screening.

    I think the strongest points in your list are 2 and 5. Far from being the position of someone mentally ill, victims living in the nations that the west has invaded are behaving completely rationally—they’ve been invaded! Of course they’re working to expel the invaders, even going so far as to come to where we are on occasion to try to get us to leave.

    Further to my point 2, I think that perhaps a strong lens to look at this through is one of toxic masculinity. Time and time again when we look at the profiles of these criminals, we find that they’ve got some form of woman hate or abuse on their list of deeds. If women felt safer and more confident reporting this sort of abuse, perhaps we could weed these people out sooner. Not everyone that abuses women is going to be a mass murderer, but they should be dealt with anyway, and the side effect *might* be fewer shootings.

    It’s kind of hard to get past the fact that other countries that suffer the same woes as you’ve enumerated—Canada, Australia, all of the UK—don’t have the same troubles. We watch the same violence-glorifying TV and movies, fight the same wars, elect similar tone-deaf right-wing jerks masquerading as compassionate liberals. In my mind it’s possible that you could enact reform to tackle every single one of your points and still have the same problems.

  17. “A politically possible solution with the population […] would be to have anybody being prescribed psychiatric medication who is a registered gun owner have their guns held by local law enforcement and their gun licenses suspended as long as they are being treated with medication.”

    This is an excellent way of making sure that gun owners don’t seek psychiatric help. Yeah, I know. That’s what makes this a harder problem than it seems at on late night stand-up shows.

  18. Which is why you take their guns only if they are seeking medication that might trigger violent behavior which could hurt others, and not if they seek psychological help where they must interact with a human being on a regular basis who is paying attention to what they say and do. If they are using medication to suppress delusional episodes, or if they are seeking help for severe acute depression (which is the only kind where there is any evidence that drugs might really make much of a difference above a placebo) then they really shouldn’t have guns around until it is safe for them to be off of their meds. Otherwise, they probably should be looking for a psychologist rather than for a psychiatrist.

  19. And you really think someone in need of psychological help is going to be able to make that distinction before seeking help?

  20. This has a few more points that I made on my Dreamwidth rant a few years ago, but I pretty much agree with all of yours. There might be a few devils in the details, but agreed.

  21. To MSER: ” have anybody being prescribed psychiatric medication who is a registered gun owner have their guns held by local law enforcement and their gun licenses suspended as long as they are being treated with medication ”

    One: There’s plenty of people out there who are taking psych meds, that are not a problem. For example, someone taking Welbutrin for ADHD. Two: Most US states don’t register guns. It’s only places like Massachusetts, California, NY / NY, and so forth that have that nonsense. Likewise, most state don’t have licenses to own guns. Go to the gun store, fill out a 4473, pass the background check, and out you go with the gun. Finally, having law enforcement hold their guns is unacceptable, because they have a bad habit of not returning guns.


    People still argue this case and experts still disagree as to the extent his tumor played a role or whether his personal history of familial violence affected his actions.

    The same arguments are made about drug use and the varied effects on different individuals. Underlying it all is the wide spectrum of human emotions, drives, and mental (physical and cognitive) development. We often look for specific answers (as we are with this current shooter) as if that will give us insight on how to keep someone else from killing someone.

    Hell, we can’t even explain why someone likes broccoli while others don’t. Imagining the motivations and causes for someone acting well outside what passes for the norm of human behavior seems a fool’s quest frought with nothing more than opportunistic opinions driven by personal biases.

    Then again, I could be wrong . . . and that’s the point. We come up with stories that seek to satisfy the “why” but those are just that; stories.

  23. I”m not really clear on the connections being drawn to hunger or poverty.

    Stephen Paddock appears to have been materially successful, with a portfolio of real estate property and ample leisure activity. Woo Bum-Kon was employed and apparently solidly middle-class. Cho Seung-Hui, Adam Lanza, Martin Bryant, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold, and Omar Mateen were all, as far as I know, similarly middle or upper-middle. Thomas Hamilton had been through a small business failure, but was in no way hungry or destitute. Anders Breivik was well to do and well employed in a high standard of living country. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel is the possible exception, but that’s an arguable case.

  24. 1) If we have individual liberty, then we must expect individuals to abuse their liberty. If we do not have individual liberty, then the state will abuse its authority (to a greater degree than where individuals have liberty).
    2) skzb assumes poverty and lack of education cause violent crime. Anyone familiar with studies finding such a causal link?

  25. Anne of Green Gerbils and henryseward: Yes to both of these comments.

    A.C.: Because I was listing factors that have had an effect on several of the mass shootings, not just this one. When there are traffic fatalities in a particular spot on a particular highway we look at exit and entrance ramps, curves, speed, visibility, &c &c. The argument that in one particular accident the individual was driving below the speed limit doesn’t mean we stop considering that as a possible factor.

  26. skzb: “Because I was listing factors that have had an effect on several of the mass shootings, not just this one.”

    Well, that’s why I went through the list I did; that’s most of the notable first-world mass homicides for some time now. Which did you have in mind?

  27. 2 “…war crimes trials for those responsible”
    That’s a pretty damn broad class of people, if we include yellow journalists, arms dealers, politicians, halliburton execs, &c. Or did you simply mean heads of government and military leaders?

    Also, I would say that the message of war is not “life has no value” so much as “those people are the problem” and making them go away solves problems. An all too familiar refrain. One sounds like extreme statism (e.g. WW2 Japan) and the other sounds like racism, colonialism, nationalism.

    Or were you specifically limiting your remark to war for profit? Because anything whose ultimate value is profit is automatically is at war with … well, humanity as a human concern. Big Pharma and the current mess of our health care show this pretty clearly.

  28. Steve you make excellent points. But it ain’t gonna happen. Our (a term I use advisedly being an ex-pat) legislators represent their true constituents pretty well. Trouble is that their true constituents are the money men who fund their elections. That is why all but three members of a certain party voted to repeal a law that 80% of their voters (I avoid calling them constituents) support.

    Something I read on FB just today made me realize that poverty might just be self-perpetuating institution because of epigenetic factors. Certain conditions cause changes, not in the genes but in which genes get expressed that can permanently change how people react. If this is so (and there is no real evidence, but it could be so) then it is even more important that poverty be wiped out.

  29. @anne
    It sounds to me as if you’re setting up the “masses” as victims of circumstances outside of themselves. I’ll respectfully disagree. I also didn’t deny their capacity for change. In fact, I call on their capacity for change. But, I’m saying is that it’s difficult to overcome the inertia (occasionally augmented by personal interests) as regardless of what people say, the way they act is self-evident. That is, the easy way, even if promised by someone who is demonstrably a liar, is the preferred course to take.

    In addition, the oft-proposed solutions sound — again, to me — as not dissimilar in substance and form from the claiim of various religious organizations, to wit, if only people followed in XYZ (enter religious or political ideology), everything would be alright.

    That is demonstrably wrong because people who follow XYZ are subject to the same problems as people who don’t. We can debate how those problems manifest themselves, but we kid ourselves when we point to adherence of any particular XYZ as wiping away what are inherent human faults.

    By the way, I count myself as one of the masses. I’m well aware of my own faults and tendencies and can see the manifestation of same on a larger scale and with much broader more damaging consequences.

  30. @ henryseward
    That’s an interesting view , BUT . . . some are currently speaking of providing a “living wage” (free money) as freeing up people to pursue other creative interests. This, of course, is not from altruism but because we’re heading toward a state of affairs where jobs will be phased out at a pace we’ve never seen before.

    Where would those people get their self-worth from? From your argument, they would lose their self-worth because someone giving you money to live on is the ultimate divorcing from self-identification based on what one does.

    I bring that up because there are whole generations of people who see nothing wrong with being cogs in a larger machine and find fulfillment in outside activities. While job satisfaction is certainly desirable, that means different things to different people. Some people are fine doing repetitive boring work as they can listen to books, music, podcasts, etc. Many workers have an inherent interest in what their company does only insomuch that they don’t want to lose their jobs. Beyond that, they simply don’t care.

    It’s worth to perhaps speak to whatever worker one imagines as needing to find meaning in what they do and actually ask them what they want. I can, of course, speak only from my experience in a variety of industries . . . the vast majority of workers just want to do their job. Outside interests is where they express themselves as human beings.

    In that regard, immigrants of today are not any different than immigrants from any of the previous decades going back centuries . . . they are not looking for fulfillment or purpose. They are looking for a job so they can perhaps have a chance to formulate and execute goals outside of said job.

    And lest one thinks the so-called white collar workers are much different, I’ll again challenge that notion. Not to say you can’t find workers who hold varied views about what they want from their jobs. I’m merely speaking from my own experiences with both large corporation and small businesses, and only in general terms.

    Lastly, that is a very tenuos link between happy workers and reduction in violence. It completely removes human interactions and other influences as affecting whatever we call happiness.

    Wouldn’t that, in fact, make people exactly what we don’t want? Cogs in a large machinery as their sole reason and purpose for existing.

  31. MSER, A high percentage of Americans are on narcotic pain killers and psychoactive drugs (anti-depressants). About 1/3 and 1/6 respectively. That’s roughly half the population. To be sure, some of this may be an attempt to cure the depression that nearly everybody feels about the shitty state of this country and the future. But telling half the population that you are taking their guns away (guns may be their only source of personal power), would cause even more of a mess.

    A better solution would be to get rid of the general shittiness of the country so people have hope, not fear.

  32. shooting loads of strangers doesn’t require mental illness at all. it’s relatively routine human behavior, as shown in warfare. there is no mental disorder with which that kind of violence is associated. (recent shooters have not borne out the old idea that temporal-lobe tumors were a factor.)

  33. But killing loads of people, even in wartime, *does* require what, in my opinion, is mental illness. One change in US military training after Vietnam was a change in conditioning, because so few soldiers previous to that never fired, and many would only shoot in self-defense, or in extreme cases. The psychological conditioning that now takes place that permits “killing lots of people” is one of the things that has led to such extreme psychological distress in all conflicts from the First Gulf War on.

  34. A.C.: That’s weird. When I first your comment, it was truncated, so only the one was mentioned, but it’s all there now. Anyway, to answer your question, it isn’t strictly poverty, a great deal of it has to do with failure—that is, with the weight given to expectations, to disappointments about success. Here’s a link:

    Poverty, of course, accounts less for mass shootings than for the more typical homicides. I doubt I need to prove the correlation between poverty and homicide. And, as you probably know, murders by the police have been of overwhelmingly poor and working class people. If you want to point out that I am shifting the conversation somewhat, going from mass shootings to all shootings, I’ll have to concede the point.

  35. I want to be a little more precise about my mental health remarks. I am not talking about screening for gun ownership. I’m saying that a decent, comprehensive, universal health care system, that includes helping those in emotional distress, would, as a side-effect, provide timely assistance to some of the poor, tormented people who end up breaking down and committing acts of violence, on whatever scale.

  36. @skzb but the majority of mass shooters of civilians are not ex-military, and have not had such conditioning (or disorder, if you prefer) imposed upon them. and “skzb’s opinion” is not actually a big influence on what is diagnosable, let alone treatable, by neurological or mental-health practitioners.

  37. @skzb you presume that acts of violence are committed by the “poor, tormented”, and not the “desirous of harming or exploiting others”. i am not buying it. even you don’t buy it when the harm is economic rather than physical, do you?

  38. “but the majority of mass shooters of civilians are not ex-military, and have not had such conditioning (or disorder, if you prefer) imposed upon them. ” Nor did I say they were or had. I bring that up to dispute your point that “shooting loads of strangers doesn’t require mental illness at all. it’s relatively routine human behavior, as shown in warfare”.

    I believe that *many* acts of violence are committed by the poor, tormented. And that thus better mental health services will alleviate this. I’m astonished that you disagree.

  39. Two different views, neither well supported.

    I see the pegging of human behavior to pet theories going counter to actual experiences.

    I know people who experienced severe economic hardship that are honest to a fault and I know people who swim in deep economic advantage who are anything but honest.

    On these very comments we see the competing arguments that well-off folks are unscrupulous assholes who will rob you blind and that poor folks will rob you blind because they are poor and lacking opportunities. Basically, everyone but people on this comment thread are criminals of either opportunity or circumstance. Lucky us.

    Pick a theory, any theory, and I bet one could make it work. Some say everyone should be forced to serve in the military, no exceptions. A great melting pot that puts people of different backgrounds into situations where they have to rely on each other. I can point to other countries with compulsury military service who have less violence than we have. Why not give it a try?

    There are arguments that tie the availability of abortions as the reason for the decline in crime twenty years later and there are those who decry the move away from religion as the cause for crimes. I love the argument that a violent upbringing predisposes one for violence (I have some experience in this both in my immediate family and my extended family that counters that big time but the pushback is that it’s the exception). Underlying it all it the idea that we can quantify — and hence address/solve — the ills of society.

    What I see, and no, I’m not an expert, is that every easy answer gives rise to unintended consequences precisely because we’ve missed something obvious . . . the fact that generalizations based on individual cases fails with every set of new individual cases.

    We also tend to aim for sweeping changes instead of incremental improvements, then we are suprised when new problems arise. “I deem THIS will solve all problems!” then, some time later “Wait, why isn’t working? Oh, I know . . . THIS is the REAL answer!”

    Understand, I’m not saying it’s hopeless. By en large humans have a much better life than they did 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 years ago. Hard fought improvements arrived at throught countless tweaks with the occasional kick in the pants. But we seem to now have no patience for anything other than immediate solutions even when we don’t understand the problems.

    I, for one, blame broccoli. Nasty stuff that kids are forced to eat. No wonder they grow up losing all manner of empathy.

  40. disperser, Yup, broccoli is as good an answer as some. Except I kind of like broccoli. We are like the 7 blind men trying to describe an elephant: Each part can be accurate, but it still doesn’t add up to the whole answer.

    I would think that the kind of person who would want to kill a whole bunch of people is fundamentally different than a run of the mill sociopath / psychopath. They seem to think of themselves as a hero in their own mind with some important mission that requires killing lots of people. But it takes a lot of disconnect with society to justify killing innocent people, to think that other people have no value. In this case, the killer seems to be connected somewhat to society, making it much harder to understand his thinking and motives.

    Maybe as one poster noted, one person in a million just randomly goes insane and commits massive violence?

  41. @DH . . . my concern is the same with this as it is with many other things.

    We should be saying something like:
    “We don’t know why. Maybe someday we will know, but that day is not today. Today we grieve and do the best we can about things we know.”

    What I bet we’ll hear is this:
    “We don’t know why, but we must do something. Anything. It doesn’t matter what as long as we do something. Who knows, perhaps this will be the one time where action driven by ignorance will not make things worse.”

  42. disperser: “We don’t know why, but we must do something. Anything. It doesn’t matter what as long as we do something.” That is what will happen, politicians have to do something.

    It looks like they are going to outlaw sales of the “bump fire” stock, so automatic type fire won’t happen. That may do some very slight good. But this is the first time I have heard of somebody using that to kill people. But there will probably more copycats in the future, unfortunately.

  43. That’s a sensible thing and I imagine there’s little argument that will be heard against it especially since automatic weapons are already outlawed for civilian ownership (some collectors excluded).

    The device was approved by the ATF during the Obama years, but there’s not much politcal stuff about the decision (although, I’m sure many a words will be spewed forth). They will outlaw them and it won’t mean anything because I’m sure something else will come along that will seem like nothing until its something.

    Besides, if you’re not worried about accuracy, you can shoot pretty fast without any device:

    Here’s a comparison head to head:

    You can actually bump fire without the bump stock (this guy also shot another video with a 30rnds magazine):

    Basically, he duplicates what the bump stock does, namely, use the recoil of the gun to pull the trigger. Here’s the thing . . . you can do that with a semi-auto pistol as well.

    I occasionally get into discussions about revolvers being slower and hence safer:

    Not saying everyone can do this, but it goes to people often not understanding what can be done.

  44. First and foremost, people need to start thinking about populations as a whole rather than just individuals and anecdotes (although anecdotes are what usually get people started into looking at trends in populations). More than 40 people are murdered every day in the US, so even the deadliest mass shooting in history is just a small statistical blip. However, there has been a massive increase in the usage of psychiatric drugs and painkillers in the US since the late 90s, which is mostly about these drugs being addictive rather than being effective over the long term (and please don’t anybody start getting into stupid semantics about what “addiction” means, if you can have serious withdrawal symptoms including seizures that could kill you if you try to stop using a drug suddenly, you are addicted to it for all practical purposes). There has been a very significant increase in mass shootings, suicides, and overdoses during this same period. There is abundant evidence that there can be serious psychological side effects leading to behaviors similar to those of mass shooters. So if you feed this crap to 1/3 of the population, an increase in mass shootings is just something you should expect in a gun heavy society like the US. If you are ok with that price, fine. Just say it. If not, then address the issue instead of avoiding it.

    1/4 of the country still smokes and many people are ok with it, despite the fact that tobacco kills far more people than wars do. Abuse of alcohol is also still common, and especially when combined with guns, cars, heavy machinery, is also far more deadly than a few hundred mass shooters a year. However, these drugs are not pushed as “medicine”, although along with plenty of illegal drugs, some of which like marijuana are far less dangerous and often more effective then the prescription variety, are used to self medicate. While opioids have grabbed the headlines as the number one killers, deaths from psychiatric meds have also skyrocketed and are in now the thousands every year. Again, I am talking about the massive epidemic of overmedication, not about the much much smaller percentage of outlying cases where such medications are effective and necessary. And if your psychological problems are severe enough such that you are willing to do uncontrolled experiments with your brain chemistry to address them, which is exactly what you are doing if you are taking any of these drugs since there is no way for doctors to monitor what they are doing to your brain, then maybe you should be forced acknowledge that you shouldn’t have unmonitored access to machines whose sole purpose is to kill others while doing these experiments.

    I am putting forward what I consider the most plausible, and most defensible, hypothesis for the increasing number of mass shootings in the US. It is another symptom of people looking for quick, easy fixes to complex problems offered by some smiling guy in a business suit or a lab coat, rather than doing the very hard work of trying to address problems at their root.

    Which, ultimately. is what SKZB was saying here.

  45. @skzb i don’t argue that many murderous acts are committed by the “poor, tormented”. in particular, i agree with this about gun suicides. people who kill others, though, seem more to suffer more from cultural support of guns, hatred, and grandiosity. this is not pathologized in our society, and medicine cannot fix it.

  46. I would like to limit avoidable deaths as much as possible. In the US, a large number of people die in car accidents, from guns, from various diseases, … (unfortunately, the … is not a short list).

    This post is about gun deaths, so I’ll focus on that for a moment but a similar analysis can be made of each category (with differing solutions). In the US, there are about 33,000 deaths from guns every year. About 60% of those are suicides. The suicides could pretty much all be avoided by working on one or more of the points skzb listed. Most of the remaining 40% are homicides involving 3 or fewer victims (mostly 1)–about 1% involve 4 or more victims.
    Much of this 40%, again seems very amenable to being reduced greatly by the categories above. Well balanced, happy, people who don’t lack the necessities of life don’t generally kill other people. Upon examination of a murder committed by someone who seems to be well balanced, happy and not lacking in necessities, you will generally find they did not actually fit into one of those categories.

  47. Just as comment… I agree with all these points, but I think one factor missing here is domestic violence. A very high percentage of mass shooters have had allegations of domestic violence. I would advocate for a mandatory psychological evaluation for anyone accused of domestic violence in addition to the above. Hopefully with universal healthcare, individuals accused of domestic violence would be able to get the help expressing their aggression in healthy, safe ways.

  48. OK, as long as we can’t talk about changing gun ownership laws in this country…

    Shall I assume we aren’t jumping right to a socialist revolution? While staying inside a capitalist architecture, I’ve long thought that a powerful long-term solution to almost all the issues we’re suffering with would be to simply double the base salary for public school teachers. It would take about a generation to have sweeping effects, but I think it would change almost every aspect of our society for the better.

    Market forces, right? Create sufficient demand for teaching positions by increasing compensation and you will increase competition for the jobs, and greater personal investment in retaining them. A generation of children taught by highly qualified, highly motivated teachers might have very different attitudes about their society, and would certainly have an improved ability to make informed choices. Imagine a generation made up of individuals each of whom had a chance to reach whatever potential they were given at birth. It seems more than worth the budgetary commitment. Imagine the wave of innovation that might come out of a generation excited by learning and creative thought!

    Combine that with a basic living wage and we could probably make something like a humane capitalism. Of course, that is exactly why the incumbent power brokers seem so dedicated to destroying both public education and safety nets of any kind. Humane capitalism is not nearly as profitable for those at the top.

  49. @larswyrdson: Agreed that increasing the quality of instruction would be a net gain for society. However, there are so many other distortions in the public school employment process (principally regulatory capture by the teacher’s unions; AFT and SEIU are routinely among the nation’s largest political donors) that a unilateral salary increase would have negligible effect on outcome quality.

    It is probably better to think of public education in the same mental model as public incarceration, both in terms of objective and outcome.

  50. @disperser
    I think you are wrong that workers are comfortable being “cogs”. Workers work primarily for the reasons you note; they need a job to make money. But if you work long enough and begin to understand your actual role, then alienation often follows. This is but one factor in indiscriminate violence, but I think it’s a well-established one. The term “going postal” didn’t spring from the ether, after all.

  51. A.C. I’m guessing your public schools are very different from the ones I have experienced. Almost every teacher I know is a dedicated educator, not a prison guard. The few that don’t have a passion for helping children grow wouldn’t last long if there were real competition for their jobs.

    Fostering hatred of unions and of public education are two favorite tools of the plutocracy. As long as workers are convinced that all unions are corrupt rackets eating their wages and giving nothing in return, there is no way for the working class to organize. And as long as all public schools are seen as hopelessly inefficient and overrun with incompetent teachers, why wouldn’t voters agree to funnel all the money that should be going to public education into charter schools run by soulless corporations or religious zealots?

  52. @henryseward
    I don’t follow the logic behind the understanding one’s role leads to alienation.

    I can repeat what I saw in workers: a job is just a job. Like everything else, there are good days and there are bad days and a bad boss can make the job hell and a good bass can make it tolerable. But what the company does and the involvement in the decision-making or other aspecs of the business is not — per my experience — a huge factor if it is a factor at all.

    I can tell you what is a factor — again, in my opinion. Being appreciated. That is somewhat tied to wages, and maybe to bonuses and some intangibles. Mind you, not even the size of the bonus, just the recognition (although, yes, all things being equal, people would rather have a big bonus over a small one). Another thing that matters is fairness with respect to ones treatment or pay versus that of another person.

    Companies often stress the family aspect of a company, and in many way it’s exactly that. It’s a poor analogy but kids don’t get a say in what the parents decide even as parents (good parents) take the kids into account in their decisions. What matters to kids is how they are treated.

    Again, it’s a poor analogy, but in very broad terms, I think it fits. What I see as a problem in most companies but especially larger ones is that the interpersonal connection between owners and workers has been replaced by layers of managers. Owners have little idea of what workers do and the conditions they work in. Often, they are not even in the same countries. Loyalty in small companies (both ways) is something real and something you don’t see in larger companies. Small companies are much more like families and generally better places to work (unless, of course, the boss is a jerk).

    I also think these days bosses tend to be greedier and less caring of workers. I’m for having bosses that mingle with employees . . . there is a limit to the empathy and caring one can muster for people they never see. There’s a limit to how invested people are in their job if they see no evidence that they are appreciated. But that is different from having workers “involved” in the company. A subtle difference, but an important one.

  53. @disperser
    It’s not about the specific role, it’s about being economically coerced into laboring for the profit of someone else. This causes alienation, and at the same time, working becomes a big part of the worker’s identity. To be sure, most workers haven’t put the pieces together, but if you work long enough you begin to understand that you’re a cog to whatever company you work for. And I think the numbers bear this out.

    Gallup measures engagement among the US workforce. They have found that roughly 70 percent of US workers are “disengaged”, meaning they just show up, do what needs to be done, and go home. And 30 percent are “actively disengaged.” These are workers who are constant complainers, who actively undermine the goal of the company and the work of their fellow toilers. The rub is that human beings are social, laboring creatures. Our life-essence is wrapped up in work (and always has been) to achieve our means of subsistence. Improper organization of labor is wont to produce sketchy behavior for some workers, up to and including “going postal.” Hence my contention that a more democratic work place might alleviate some of these burdens.

  54. @skzb if that kind of conditioning made the relevant difference, we would expect to see an overrepresentation of veterans among mass shooters. we do not.

  55. @henryseward
    I don’t understand what a more “democratic workplace” means.

    I also think we’re almost talking about the same thing in different ways with the main difference that somehow you tie violent tendencies to this democatization that either you’ve not explained or I fail to comprehend.

    The interesting thing about events like these is how people tend to generalize about large groups based on what is a clear outliar in behavior.

    As for workers, I’m not sure what you do, but rather than rely on studies, talk to workers. If you don’t work, get some friends who do. Ask them their opinions, ask them about their concerns, ask them if they would feel better about democratizing the workplace (after you explain it to them).

    If you are referring to unionization, know that is no guarantee for anything and union officials and be and often are demonstrably as corrupt as owners when it comes to serving their members. The interesting thing is that you reference “going postal” as a sign that we need to democratize (again, I presume unionize) but postal workers do have unions. As do auto workers, where a lot of my experience with all levels of workers comes in, and where there also have been incidents of people going off the rails.

    Here’s another theory:

    The Columbine shooters were kids in high school. Are we to democratize highschools as well?

    The Vegas shooter is resisting (the asshole) any easy characterization, but why let that be an obstable to pushing one’s pet theory?

    I’m sticking with broccoli until someone can rule it out as a motive.

  56. I don’t think that necessarily follows. In fact, it clearly doesn’t, because (if you follow the link I gave, and several others if you care to look for them) you can see that that kind of conditioning clearly *does* make a difference, both in the willingness of more soldiers to kill, and, closely related, in the extreme aftereffects suffered by veterans, significantly more even than Vietnam.

    There is no reason for this willingness to kill to automatically translate to becoming a mass shooter, especially because, horrific as they are, and certainly there have been far too many, the number of mass shooters is still too low to be statistically meaningful.

    Taking a human life is not, in fact, easy. It requires extreme circumstances, or mental or emotional imbalance, or the sort of conditioning that, in my opinion, becomes mental or emotional imbalance. Few people ever kill anyone.

  57. Zero accountability for criminal behavior by police (and members of the military) is usually “justified” by claiming that punishing wrong-doers would cause “irreparable harm” to the organizations. The opposite is true. Irreparable harm is caused by condoning criminal violence, not just to the people who get murdered or abused, and their families, but to the organizations and the country. Once it is obvious that members have functional impunity, the organizations attract more and more psychopaths who know they will be protected, while ordinary, formerly decent human beings turn into monsters by association.

    Lois McMaster Bujold said it better in Shards of Honor.

  58. Oh, and how about access to birth control? More than one parent has been driven to criminal behavior by desperation or exhaustion.

  59. @henryseward
    What we do know about this guy is that he was a gambler. No workplace. No evil corporation using him for their nefarious and dehumanizing purposes.

    If I’m reading what little information is out there correctly, the shooter made $5M in 2015 in gambling winnings (sounds like he was a pro).

    I have a difficult time drawing a line between this shooting and other shootings (the Columbine shooting, the Sandyhook shooting to name a couple of the big ones) and disenfranchised workers.

    Add the club shooting and now we draw in religion and/or anti-gay motives . . . maybe. There too we have conflicting information.

    But that I know of, no one has tied any of these shootings to disenfranchised workers.

    Or are we talking that there are only certain shooting and/or acts of violence (bombings, for instance) that relate to the struggle of American workers to find meaning and purpose and a sense of identity in the workplace?

    If we refer to this disenfranchisement as a general malaise that is the spring from which all these violent acts follow, then the relationship gets even more distant and tenuous.

    Again, respectfully, I can appreciate the attempt to find answers based on general problems one may see in our society, but you still have to then tie them in to the specific cases, and certainly in this case, I don’t see it.

  60. Larswyrdson, “Humane capitalism is not nearly as profitable for those at the top.” That is something nearly every business owner believes. I question that “wisdom.” There are businesses making good profits by treating their employees fairly.

    All I can figure is that many business owners hate their employees and use this meme as the rationalization to screw them over. After all, all their buddies at the golf club are doing the same thing. But that is the downward spiral we live in today.

    Too many people feel helpless and hopeless. Some will act out. That may not apply to the LV shooter. Time will tell. It is curious that the shooter left a note, but we don’t get to know what it said.

  61. disperser, Mythbusters ran a test to see which mode (semi-auto or automatic) could get the most hits on a target in a given time. Semi-auto won. Of course, having a huge bunch of people crowded together could easily change that answer. Also, the long range could be a problem for someone not trained as a sniper.

  62. disperser, some of us are talking in generalizations. Such as somebody who feels hopeless and angry is more likely to kill themselves and maybe take others with them. We know little about the LV shooter and may never. So insisting on a clear logical path to tie this specific shooter to specific reasons is not going to happen here.

    I generally liked my jobs, perhaps because I knew my work was difficult and appreciated. But still, I was aware that I was selling my life an hour at a time. If I didn’t get some emotional reward for working a job, I would soon find a different job. But way too many people don’t have that option, or don’t think they have that option. Does that apply here? Probably not. He may have some personal gripe with the casinos (blackballed?) or whatever. Again, we may never know.

    Still, it takes some “crazy” to kill a bunch of people, regardless of the motive.

  63. @dh
    I wasn’t saying it’s a desirable way to shoot. I’m pretty sure deliberate aimed fire at that range would have resulted in a higher body count given the time interval involved. You don’t even have to be all that good at shooting. If he knew the range beforehand (likely) he would have zeroed the rifle at 400 yrds.

    I was remarking that people are going to focus on the bump stock and feel all happy about outlawing something you can easily make with a piece a wood and a dowl. For that matter, you just need a belt loop or to be able to handle the recoil (videos abound on many different ways to accomplish the feat without the bump stock).

    Look for renewed calls to ban semiautos. But, just for fun, look up the rate of accurate fire with a bolt action rifle for someone who practices and knows their weapon. Something like 20 hits a minute on a 24″ target at 300 yards is doable. Cut that in half for less experienced shooters. Still deadly.

  64. @dh
    OK, let’s talk generalizations.

    Point me to somewhere else in the world where a different system is in play. Somewhere where people are not “selling their lives an hour at a time.”

    While I wait, I’ll point out that management — that universally evil entity — is also made up of people and are also selling their lives. As people, they also suffer the same problems as anyone else.

    For that matter, owners are not immune either, many of which are slaves to their companies. That includes self-employed individuals, probably more so than regular workers.

    Unless someone inherits, wins, or is given a shitload of money, in the current system we have, one has to earn money. A few are lucky and find dream jobs in exactly what they want to do. Also, if everyone is doing the fulfilling jobs, who does the other jobs?

    Finally, speaking of generalizations, I can guarantee that no matter what you do or what system you put in place, some will like it, some won’t care, and some will hate it. In fact, some will hate working no matter what is done.

    And, you discount one other thing. What I thought I wanted in my twenties was not the same as what I wanted in my thrities, and that was not the same as what I wanted in my forties and so on . . .

    Now, at sixty+, I can tell you exactly what I would have liked to do . . . but if I could talk to my twenty-year-old self, he would tell me I’m nuts and to get lost.

    That was exactly what happened in colledge when my English professor tried to convince me to switch majors from engineering to English. I thought he was crazy . . . except that now, forty years later, I wish I would have listened to him.

    I’ll repeat. Few workers know what they want. In fact, few people know what they want. The reason is that humans typically have a vision of what they “want” that is seldom based on the realities associated with it and is seldom based on a complete set of information.

    And the reality we discount most often is that humanity is just barely a cooperative society and then only when it’s self-serving. It’s a wonder we’ve accomplished as much as we did.

  65. disperser, yeah, those generalizations have some basis, it’s called “life”. But it’s not clear how any of that applies to people killing people. Are you just being sarcastic?

    Don’t confuse lack of job motivation or displeasure with a job as the same thing as hopelessness and anger. Or for that matter, why any of this might by itself be a cause for mass murder. It takes something else, though bad situations can help fuel what is happening.

    The craziness going on in our politics does not help. People are stressed out by all the bad politics going on. Stressed out people may react way out of proportion to something. But not enough by itself.

    Some mass killers have a gripe against “the system”, seeing the government as oppressive or abusive. Again not enough by itself.

    The point is that stressed out and isolated people are more likely to do mass killings. Particularly if they have a political motive or they feel they deserve better. “more likely” is the key. This does not enable us to find and stop someone who might become a mass killer, because so much of the country would fit that criteria.

    I liked the link you supplied. Makes a lot of sense.

  66. Disperser:Pretty much anyone at any time in any entrenched system would say that system is just too powerful and its the way things are always going to be. And, that was true right up until things completely changed.

    Many people are indeed really good at holding whole sets of contradictory beliefs without ever noticing the contradictions. Pick the direction that you think things should go. Do what you can to move that way.

  67. @DH

    OK, I’m beginning to see diminishing returns to this discussion. I never said that “life” leads to killing people. In fact, I’m arguing against it. I specifically say these are outliars who we can’t ever understand because the majority of us will not agree that there’s any reasonable excuse for killing a bunch of strangers.

    I just went back and read the thread. As far as I understood — and now understand it upon re-reading it — what was said above at least on the surface linked disadisfaction with working conditions as a contributor to people’s propensity for violence. It was also said this is manifrested more in people who are poor and disenfranchised both in society and (again) the workplace.

    Those are not my words, and perhaps I misunderstood them, in which case, my counterpoints are moot as that is what I argued against.

    If we both agree that socio-economic conditions are not in themselves responsible — nor the driving factor — for somemone deciding to massacre someone, then we are in complete agreement.

    In which case, I’m not sure why the argument about job satisfaction and the evils of corporations even came up.

    I will grant you (and anyone) that a given shooter is acting well outside the norm.

    Hence why I’ll not give a blanket agreement to “. . . stressed out and isolated people are more likely to do mass killings . . .” precisely because we don’t know. It makes sense, but we don’t know that for a fact. It just feels right, but as we well know, something what feels right should be subject to even more scrutiny precisely because we can fool ourselves.

    Some killers do belong to groups, albeit groups who may themselves harbor those traits, but even then, not everyone in the group goes out and commits murder.

    My main point of contention in any of these disscussions is the claiming of agency for an individual’s actions by pointing to this or that condition when, in fact, we have no idea what drove this man, or other men before him, to kill people.

    I see that as dangerous and with no more merit than some minister claiming that if only the man would have followed Jesus he would not have done that. The reason is that I don’t want someone looking at me with suspicion because I don’t follow Jesus or run afoul of whatever made-up theory someone comes up with.

    I see the professing of a guess as if it were common and accepted knowledge as dangerous for the long term.

  68. One more thing to thing to throw into the mix: race. I am aware of only one black person doing a mass shooting. He was targeting police. I don’t see it in the link. But it appears that 95% of the shooters were white male. But blacks have plenty of reason to feel screwed over by “the system.” Yet they are not statistically represented as mass killers.

  69. @Steve Alter
    Never claimed things will stay that way. In fact, they can’t. The whole of human history is marked by near cataclysmic events that completely changed the landscape of human society. In fact, looking at political and social history we can certainly draw some parallels to other times in history.

    Still, history is not a predictor of how and what might happen; it just tells you pressure is mounting and eventually something breaks. It could be we head toward a Utopia (no such thing) or a Dystopia (which will drive another breaking point).

    I’ll be selfish here and say I hope that waits about 20-30 years because I certainly don’t want to live through it.

    As for my plans, I’ll quote my “About” page:
    “I am not blind to the problems of the world, the suffering of literally billions, and to the gathering darkness. I give to charity, I help others, I keep up with world events, and cast my small voice hither and fro to join other voices in opposition of bad stuff, and in support of good stuff.

    But, make no mistake: my personal commitment has shifted to my own self and to my wife. I don’t know how much longer we have. Either or both of our lives could literally end tomorrow, and I aim to live what time I have left in a manner that will not cause me to have regrets later on, and to leave the small portion of the world I can influence better off for me having been here. Or at least no worse off.”

    And with this, I think I’ve gotten too involved in this discussion. It has occupied far too much of my time in — apparently — a futile attempt to argue something that wasn’t a disagreement to begin with.

    Thank you for your time, fellow travelers. I enjoyed the exchanges.

  70. @David Hacijek. ” But it appears that 95% of the shooters were white male. But blacks have plenty of reason to feel screwed over by “the system.” Yet they are not statistically represented as mass killers.”

    Hmm, interesting thought, and potentially more data to test my hypothesis that it is the meds causing an increase in the number of outliers… let me Google a moment about Black American rates and attitudes towards psychopharmacy… ah, look at that, another thing that is a well known fact among researchers:

  71. @disperser “My main point of contention in any of these disscussions is the claiming of agency for an individual’s actions by pointing to this or that condition when, in fact, we have no idea what drove this man, or other men before him, to kill people.”

    Which is why it usually only really useful to look at trends, and not very useful to focus too much on any individual case. No self-respecting climate scientist will claim that Hurricane Maria was a result of climate change. What they will say is that the increase in the frequency of powerful hurricanes like Maria over the last decade is most likely a result of climate change.

  72. @disperser
    The fault is mine. I have not adequately explained what I mean by the democratization of the workplace, and how that might stem the tide of indiscriminate violence. In truth, I don’t think I’m capable of doing so without writing a book, but I’ll add a few points here which might help you understand.

    1) As social animals, human beings have to work together to survive. Under capitalism, our labor is alienated from us because we don’t own the tools by which we produce goods and the goods we produce don’t belong to us. And so, in essence, this can lead to alienation because our work isn’t ours, it’s bought and sold on the market like any other commodity. The trouble is work is who we are. This is not just a individualist assessment, but also a social and historical one. Take a look at any city in the world and what you will see is the history of work. And fwiw, I didn’t draw these conclusions based solely on intellectual pursuits (this is work, by the way), but from working for over twenty years in “blue-collar” drudgery.

    2)To democratize the workplace means that working people would own and control the means of production, or the tools and resources needed to produce material life for the world’s population. I think this would put an end to alienation because working people could then be involved in the labor of their choice with their full self. And of course, these circumstances would provide a more socially harmonious and healthy working environment. As to how this will play out in actual workplaces – I haven’t the foggiest idea. If I offered detailed explanations then I’d be wandering off into utopian fancy, that’s fun to do, but it’s not very useful in political discussions. Last, this isn’t a cure-all.

  73. @henryseward

    I wasn’t going to answer but this hits a couple of beat that to me seem contradictory.

    In a broad sense, point 1 contradicts point 2.

    Point 2 describes capitalism . . . someone going out and starting a company so that they can control all aspect of production to their liking.

    If point 2 is meant to be workers owning a company, you’re still not going to guarantee universal agreement as to how the company should be run, and you will still need people “elected” to run the company, meaning, they aren’t involved in actually doing the production work; they would be defacto managers and they will be chaged with executing the consensus of the group which I can guarantee will not be unanimous.

    There are other points I would love to debate, but this isn’t the place.

    Lastly, you admit you have no idea how this would be accomplished . . . and I know why that’s the case. It doesn’t take into account human nature or even the reality of the workplace. Well, your admission that we don’t know how to reach that goal kind of does.

    Again, in any production system, you have a wide range of jobs that need to be done and per force not all jobs will be free of drudgery. If it’s implied that workers could choose jobs they want, how many would choose the drudgery-laden jobs? Also, different jobs require different skills and level of responsibility. Someone “wanting” something and being capable of “doing” what they want is by no means assured.

    I think with this we’ve gone far afield from the original discussion and perhaps that was the point; to look for underlying causes. But, here we are, two reasonably bright individuals far from even agreeing about what we see, let alone coming up with answers for it.

    Welcome to the world of no easy answers. What will likely happen — what has happened in human history — is equivalent to a swinging pendulum that can’t ever come to a point of rest because there are mechanisms inputting pressure to keep it overswinging one way or the other.

    . . . wow, is that a good analogy or what? I wonder if I’m the first to ever use it?

    Anyway, again, nice exchanging ideas. I don’t think I’ve convinced anyone, but to be fair, I’ve also not moved from my views. What I can say is that I’ll keep thinking about this, and perhaps some of my views will shift as they have during the last forty years. Changing one’s mind is not a flaw; it’s what a reasonable person does as new information or new viewpoints come into play.

  74. “Hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the terrible side effects of their psychoactive drugs. It’s horrifying how many of these mass shooters were on some sort of brain juice or other.”

    A whole lot of people are on those things. 20% to 25% of the students in my kids’ high school are on prescribed brain medications, because they have trouble adapting to the pressures of high school.

    For all I know, the percentage of mass shooters on prescribed psychoactives may not be any higher than the percentage of the general population.

  75. “Which is why you take their guns only if they are seeking medication that might trigger violent behavior which could hurt others,”

    That has an easy solution.

    Before their prescriber prescribes the medication, tell them about it.

    “This drug I’m giving you will be good for you, but SOMETIMES it makes people go into violent rages, so we’ll have to take away your guns just while you’re still on it. This will be very good for you, you don’t have any objection, do you?”

    The problem will take care of itself.

  76. I just got done with a three-day hospital stay (not for me). I saw a lot of hopeless looking, unhealthy, overweight, and mopey people. I also saw that the hospital was employing hundreds of people of varying skills from surgeons down to facilities maintenence engineers. One small branch of a vast and sprawling medical pharmaceutical complex. My sense was that hospitals have taken over the old role of the church and the priesthood–keeping people cowed, ignorant, dependent and hopeless. And all designed not to improve lives and achieve healthy outcomes, but rather to catch people in an endless cycle of meds, appointments, and procedures all leading to one goal–profit. I realized the fruitlessness of incremental reform–the current power structure will never allow single-payer or other forms of free universal health care. They have too good of a racket going.

  77. JT, If you read the documentation that comes with anti-depressants and other psycho-active drugs; it says that this drug may cause suicidal thoughts and stopping taking this drug may cause suicidal thoughts. CYA for the pharm companies, but it shows that these drugs are a problem.

  78. Workplace Democracy is used to varying degrees in a number of organizations. Entrenched anti democratic forces resist it in general as it would upset their methodical looting of the companies they are supposed to be running.

  79. @David Hacijek. ” But it appears that 95% of the shooters were white male.”

    This is a (very) popular Fake News item. In fact, it’s so popular I’m having trouble laying my hands on the (recent, academic) counter-source just at the moment, but IIRC roughly 70% of “mass shooting” shooters are white male, closely tracking the population.

    (A non-academic source here: and some source data here:

  80. Facts aren’t all true, but they are usually a good place to start.

    70% of Mass Shooters are White:
    What to do about gun violence:
    Gun Deaths in America:

    If you want to reduce gun deaths, the single most effective course of action is suicide prevention (particularly among veterans). If you want to reduce gun violence, you need to curtail urban drug trade/gang violence, particularly in Chicago/Baltimore. If you want to reduce mass shootings, you have to take away the ability to shoot en mass, or accurately predict who will shoot people – neither of which of possible.

    It’s fun to blame big pharma, it appeals to our sense of virtue to plead for more indoctrination, and it feels productive to use a tragedy to advance a political agenda. None of them address or help with the current, latest example of aberrant behavior

    The suggestions given in Steve’s piece have little connection to stopping mass shootings, despite their absolute value. Most of the other solutions/suggestions offered here are beyond Orwellian. There are many concrete steps you can take to lower the numbers, but teasing out the root causes is much more difficult.

    That the US has a seemingly unique problem with this type of a tragedy should be our best clue as to why (aside from weapon availability) – what is truly different about US culture/beliefs that lets these little seeds of evil take root and flourish?

    Personally I believe (belief – that which you ascribe to without substantive objective evidence) that the difference lies in the nexus of: Valuing individual rights over collective rights, push for achievement that leads many to feel like a failure, a culture that values fame/notoriety over contribution, and teaching everyone that they can and should make a difference.

    How does a culture develop differences that lead to behaviors like this when so many other similar cultures with similar history and values do not? If the motivators are not unique to this culture, then in what ways do they manifest in other cultures?

  81. Completely offtopic @SKZB:

    1. Could we get a Vallista speculation/HYPE thread? Just a week left until the book releases.

    2. Are Morrolan and Aliera aware that they are Lavodes in all but name?

  82. I see the biggest problem in our society is apathy.

    I do not believe it is an unreasonable assumption to state the vast majority of people consider what happen in Las Vegas to be a tragedy.
    Some will argue for new or tougher laws.
    Some will want to do research on relevant subjects.
    Some will reference other similar tragedies and look for parallels.
    Some will be quick to point a finger at what they believe to be the cause.
    Some will be quick to point a finger to who they feel can be blamed.
    Some will want to suggest a what they feel could be a solution.
    Some will do a combination of these things.
    All will agree it was a tragedy and something must be done.

    Most will do nothing but agree something must be done.

    Most will believe the tragedy doesn’t affect them directly.
    Most will simply say something must be done then go back to their own daily lives like it didn’t happen. In a week or a month some will start to say “Do you remember…” as people start to forget.

    While I believe the vast majority of people care I do not believe the majority of people care ENOUGH to do something about any of it. It is far too easy to wait until someone else does something even if that something is nothing much at all.

    Decisions are made by those who show up.
    The question isn’t; “If someone asked you to show up would you?”
    The question is “Would you go and ask them to show up?”

  83. The assumption seems to be that there are specific things that can be done to prevent mass shootings and everybody wants somebody else to do it. So far, we don’t seem to have any good answers. Lots of anger and fear with no place to go. Assuming that there is a good thing to do, nobody wants to pay for it. That is where we are at.

    Things like the LV shootings are a 5 or 6 sigma deviation from the norm. Trying to eliminate those variations from the norm is a real bitch, especially if nobody wants to pay for it or put their time into it.

    So, we are pretty much stuck with the present situation.

  84. David, that way of thinking is the “perfect is the enemy of better” trap that the NRA is always pushing. There are a great number of good ideas in this thread (and a few not so good ones ;). None of them will cure Americans of a desire to murder, but almost any of them, if implemented, might reduce the death toll by at least a little.

    The trouble isn’t apathy, it is the opposite: over-investment in the idea of an unassailable right to arm yourself, or in unregulated crony capitalism, or fear that a small compromise will lead rapidly to total capitulation. That leads to this toxic standoff, where nothing can be done, because “your law to limit civilian purchases of armor piercing ammunition wouldn’t have stopped Stephen Paddock, so it isn’t worth passing”.

    If it was up to me… but it isn’t, this is a putative democracy. There are a great many ways we could make it a more humane place to live, and I think any movement in that direction would probably help with the mass murder problem as an added bonus.

  85. I did a speech long, long ago, before I even really formed an opinion on gun control. It was assigned as a point/counterpoint between two students. I gathered a large amount of statistics, far more than most would, to see what patterns could be gleaned and the biggest standouts were population density and income disparity. Updated it about 3-4 years ago and nothing had really changed. This goes back, in my opinion, to education. Provide everyone the same opportunity to receive an education, helping them to pay for it according to their current means, and eventually it will correct many of the social problems we see today.

  86. Every statistic I’ve seen about effects of gun control on shootings and on crime etc has been fundamentally flawed.

    What looks more established is that increases in crime statistics tends to cause gun control in some areas, and harsher punishment for crimes in others. Neither response has much effect on crime. The causation is the other direction.

  87. These discussions are always incredibly weird, because they’re always from an American perspective that barely considers the rest of the world.

    What I wish Americans understood better:
    – America is the only country where guns are a problem to this degree. No other country even comes close.
    – The things that are socially normal in America – from owning a machine gun to giving guns to children – are considered *totally deranged* by pretty much every other country on Earth.
    – On top of that, the entire socio-economic structure of America is *fundamentally cruel*. Like, the healthcare system? The way people are just left to die? The way basic procedures that even the poor can afford in other countries are expensive enough to ruin a person’s life? THAT’S NOT NORMAL. Even compared to post-austerity Greece, where half the hospitals barely function, America appears like a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare.
    – The degree to which American society is militarized (culturally, but also in the degree of power and influence and sheer manpower that the military has) makes it look a whole lot like North Korea. Again, this is not normal! It’s actually deeply disturbing.

    Absolutely nobody except Americans is surprised that a country built on such profound economic tensions, given a pile of weapons that other countries don’t even have when they’re in the middle of a civil war, would turn to slaughter. And it doesn’t matter what this or that individual has experienced, whether a shooter was rich or poor. This kind of social context affects everyone, and can easily produce broken individuals.

    (It’s also no coincidence that the more Europe embraces US-style economics, the more we start to see similar explosions of violence.)

  88. Jonas- It all seems pretty deranged to me too, and I was born here. The human power to rationalize indefensible habits of thought is breathtaking.

    Welcome to American Exceptionalism. Since we are already the greatest country on earth, by any and every measure, then attempting to improve any aspect of our society shows a treasonous lack of faith.

  89. Jonas:
    You said: “– America is the only country where guns are a problem to this degree. No other country even comes close.”
    You were wrong:

    You said: ” The things that are socially normal in America – from owning a machine gun to giving guns to children – are considered *totally deranged* by pretty much every other country on Earth.”
    You were wrong: Private legal ownership of “machine guns” is rare and expensive in U.S. Moreover, there has not been a single incident where a “machine gun” legally owned by a civilian was used in a homicide since 1992. Moreover, Switzerland has common ownership of semi-automatic, magazine fed rifles. This isn’t even talking about all the countries with children warriors.

    -Your pal, Kukuforguns

  90. And yet…had we accomplished all of those societal challenges, we would not have stopped the Columbine shooting or the San Bernardino attack. Jonas nailed it, it’s still about guns.

  91. Really all those points in the OP amount to “don’t be stupid and malicious” for me.

    Also, subject to post deletion for being off topic I know, but are you not even going to mention the release of the new book?

  92. Jonas’ post confused me at first, until I realized that he was ignoring the existence of Africa, Central and South America, and a big chunk of Asia.

  93. Jonas–

    There are a very large number of U.S. citizens who share the European view: that all these guns everywhere is insanity.

    But the leaders cultivate the atmosphere of fear and violence, as it is part and parcel to indoctrinating the population to accept constant war against nebulously defined enemies as a more or less constant state.

  94. Kukuforguns: you are picking nits. Look at your own sources. In your list of countries that have a higher rate of firearm death than the US, who do we see? Honduras, Venzuela, El Salvador, Swaziland? No offense to the good people of any of those nations, but is that the company you think we should be keeping? We aren’t in the middle of a violent revolution, that I am aware of, and our crime rates are at historic lows. What “first world” nation do you see any where near us on that list? Oh, yes, Switzerland, at about 1/3 of our rate.

    Your machine gun quibble is a total straw dog, I’m afraid. Jonas said that private ownership of machine guns seemed crazy to him. Your reply was that it was less common than he thought, and far less dangerous too. Oh. Maybe he thought that even one private citizen owning a machine gun is crazy? I do.

    As for your list of countries militarizing their children… well, again, what company do you think we should be keeping? What are your hopes for the US?

  95. Lars:
    You call it picking nits. Hogwash. Jonas’ statements were false – you admit that. If he or you wants to have a discussion about the United States’ laws regarding gun ownership, you should start by being accurate. If accuracy is not essential to the discussion, then what’s the point of having the conversation? I live in the real world, not in a fantasyland where I can conjure reality out of desire.

    You state that I made a strawman argument regarding private ownership of “machine guns.” Again, hogwash. Jonas stated that owning “machine guns” is socially normal in the United States. As I pointed out, it is not normal. It is abnormal. How many people do you know who lawfully own a “machine gun”? Hell, you probably know more transgender people (I know I do). And yet you are defending his claim that private ownership is socially normal? Good grief Charlie Brown.

  96. Sorry, that was petty.

    Look at Jonas’ post again. He lists many aspects of the US culture and social system that seems illogical and inhumane to him. As in the OP, all of them could contribute to the ridiculous death toll we face year by year, week by week, and day by day. One of the factors he pointed to was the prevalence of a subculture that holds gun ownership a right that should not be constrained, a right as important as any other in our constitution. That was the only part of his post you took exception to, thereby proving his point even as you “exposed” his exaggerations.

    And yes, I include suicide by gun along with accidental death, not just criminal homicide and certainly not just mass shootings. Dead is dead. Heck, I’ll include injuries too, No one likes being shot even if they don’t die, right? Ask the 19 children shot every day, the ones that can still answer, whether they matter.

    So, yes, let’s get decent health care, and let’s tell our politicians we don’t want to be the world’s policemen, and let’s stop feeding all of this Nation’s vast wealth to a tiny handful of undeserving pigs while leaving so many to starve, but, while we are at it, let’s ask ourselves, “What is it that guns give us that is worth dying for?”

  97. Lars:
    I was responding to Jonas, who clearly was discussing gun laws in the U.S. Maybe he was the one who didn’t read the OP?

  98. kukuforguns- No, he clearly did not discuss gun laws. He talked about societal attitudes toward gun ownership and use… along with many others things.

  99. Lars:
    I did not criticize other portions of Jonas’ post because the points he made were based more on opinion and less on (mis)statements of fact. He did not identify which medical procedures a pauper can afford in Greece but which would bankrupt a person in the U.S. I could have asked him to clarify, but otherwise I cannot legitimately criticize his statement since it is largely a statement of opinion. With respect to his comment on the size of the armed forced of these United States, I have very mixed emotions/beliefs. On the one hand, Europe has enjoyed a half-century of unusual peace precisely because of the size of our military forces. I want to call him a hypocrite. On the other hand, our political class sometimes uses military force inappropriately — which is made more likely because of the size/capability of that military force. I want to agree that we give our military too large a role. Given my conflicted response to his statement, I did not feel it was appropriate to respond.

  100. kukuforguns- maybe you should look into those other points as well. If you could argue for universal health care as vehemently as you advocate for firearms, you might just find me applauding your posts more often… ;-)

  101. I’m not looking for your applause. I did not notice your applause when I previously vehemently advocated for free speech. I believe we have very different ideas about what rights are and the role of the state. Rights define what we the people can do, not what the state needs to do for the people. You believe there should be universal health care. Do you contend that health care is unique? How about housing? Should the state provide housing to everyone? Food? Transportation? Employment? Entertainment? The farther down the path the state interjects itself into each of these fields, the more vehement my opposition will become. Why the hell should the state condition my receipt of food stamps (SNAP) on a drug test? I bet that we both agree that this type of condition on benefits is inappropriate. Where we differ (on this issue) is how we prevent that type of abuse. Government wants to control. The more control we the people give to the state, the more control the state wants to exert. I am not stating that government is wholly evil. There is a balance (and IMO, the perfect balance is mythical). You can be on the side of the teeter totter that virtuously advocates for a beneficent state. I’ll be on the other side of the teeter totter, vehemently advocating for a state with limited powers.

    The turbulence we’re seeing here in these United States right now is an attempt to find a new balance point for the teeter totter. The “left” is seeing the “right’s” attempts to shift back some gains the “left” won. I hope the new balance point will be determined peacefully. There are people on both our respective sides (btw, I reject a simplistic left/right model) who do not share that desire.

  102. kuku… “Why the hell should the state condition my receipt of food stamps (SNAP) on a drug test? I bet that we both agree that this type of condition on benefits is inappropriate. Where we differ (on this issue) is how we prevent that type of abuse. ”

    Let me guess, you would prevent the abuse of intrusion by the State by ending Food Stamps for everyone?

    Yes, I think all basic needs should be met through collective effort. Call it a state if you want, I’ll call it a community. It does seem unlikely that either of us will ever earn the other’s applause, but I’ll hold out hope that every mind can be opened to see that its own self interest cannot be separated from, nor should not be set before, the interests of its fellows.

    I’m not holding my breath, though.

  103. Lars:
    I’m pretty sure that all sides of the current culture war loathe the smug, self-righteousness of the other side.

    “I’ll hold out hope that every mind can be opened to see that its own self interest cannot be separated from, nor should not be set before, the interests of its fellows.”

    I actively participate in my community by volunteering with a variety of different groups and in a variety of different ways. I donate both goods and money to causes I support. I actively participate in local government where I have (among other things) helped my local community become better prepared to respond to emergencies. Contrary to my profile name, my volunteerism/donations in support of the 2d Amendment is a barely there kind of thing.

    Reasonable people disagree on the best way to improve the community. Some people advocate that the community can be improved by forcibly taking value from some and then redistributing that value. Other people encourage members of the community to voluntarily help other members. I am uncomfortable with the first as it is incompatible with individual liberty and creates the potential for corruption, and you (likely) believe that the second is inadequate.

    It is simply incorrect to assume that one person does not understand the value of community simply because that person does not hold the same beliefs you do. If my irritation with your assumptions was not previously apparent, this sentence should shed some light on the matter.

    Regarding the SNAP program, you may have missed my comment that my opposition to various forms of redistribution increases with the extent of the intrusion. You also seem to assume that if I oppose SNAP it therefore follows that I (and others who oppose intrusive government) would do nothing to help feed people who cannot feed themselves. Do some research as to how many meals food banks distribute to people who need assistance (and, yes, I have both volunteered and donated to local food banks). In any event, while I think the SNAP program would be run more efficiently by private organizations, SNAP is not a program that I actively oppose given its relatively modest (and decreasing) scope.

  104. Regarding universal healthcare: As a purely utilitarian measure it’s a no brainer – people going to GPs more often results in less ER visits for non emergencies, reducing wait times and costs for everyone (since those who are too poor to pay the hospitals pass the check to those who can anyways), a healthier, saner population produces more, and a healthier, saner population is a smarter population, creating a positive feedback. Like using tax money for the interstate system – ideally it creates more than it costs.

    On the other foot, seeing first hand how this country ran the VA, how wait times in implementations abroad – such as the UK’s NHS – seem to be worsening due to lack of staff, and how much of a bureaucratic nightmare of a half-measure the ACA is… I’m skeptical.

    I agree with the whats of your other points, including ending capital punishment, though am likewise skeptical regarding hows on a few.

    P.S. I know this is off-topic, but to larswyrdson: Including suicide numbers in gun deaths while not mentioning number of guns per capita or defensive gun use at all doesn’t seem to me an honest way of evaluating statistics.

    I’d also not flippantly shrug off the fact that the most recent usage of a legally owned automatic weapon in a homicide occurred more than two decades ago if I was trying to say that private, legal ownership of automatics is a threat to society. The number of legal autos is in six figures… the number of homicides committed with them since the the NFA in 1934 can be counted on one’s fingers.

    “What is it that guns give us that is worth dying for?” Some might say equality: A means for a 95 pound woman who can barely lift a lawnchair to effectively be on equal terms with just about anyone intent on doing her harm. There are other answers.

  105. “Why the hell should the state condition my receipt of food stamps (SNAP) on a drug test?”

    Because the people who run the state (or their voters, or somebody) see it as a moral issue.

    You have an obligation to work hard and well for the benefit of society. If you instead seek your own pleasure in ways that interfere with your work, that is immoral. So workers who do that should be punished severely enough that they don’t imagine that on the whole it will be pleasurable.

    The state accepts an obligation to take care of some people who can’t take care of themselves, at least minimally. This has several benefits. The people who get minimal care don’t act up for fear it will be taken away. They might someday be good for something. For example, if we have another war that requires us to draft a whole lot of good workers, we can design jobs around these people and get some production out of them. Etc. But we have to be careful that getting benefits doesn’t seem like a reward. If it’s too good, people will be tempted to try to qualify for it. So they get a lot of social disapproval, and *minimal* benefits, and they have to keep jumping through hoops to keep the minimal benefits, and so on. And if they look like they are enjoying themselves too much, for example with drugs, then they get thrown out and lose all the benefits. It isn’t that we want drug addicts to be homeless and die quick. It’s that we want them to give up their immorality and accept minimal benefits to stay alive on. If they refuse to give up their immoral pleasures then what happens to them is on their own heads.

    It seems cruel and capricious unless you share the underlying assumptions.

  106. People on food stamps don’t fritter away their money and stamps on drugs — that’s a reactionary myth. People who bring it up are generally looking desperately for a red herring to throw a discussion away from actual topics.
    The actual topic at hand is what can we do to make Americans less prone to shooting people (themselves or others).
    The original post proposes a number of things that would lead to a more stable/less stressful society in general. People in Societies that aren’t breaking apart generally engage in less killing of each other.

  107. Jonah, I think you give the GOP too much credit for thinking. They may use the moral issue you describe to convince others to make welfare morally conditional. But the bottom line is they are looking for any excuse to stop supplying welfare at all, under any conditions.

    You say they don’t want people to die. I disagree. They may have even said to themselves and others that they don’t want the desperate to die for lack of help. But They do want them to die, or to somehow miraculously disappear. They just don’t want to be held responsible for those deaths. I don’t think the GOP types feel that the desperate people have any potential future worth.

  108. “What is it that guns give us that is worth dying for?”

    The USA started out a special way, different from europe.

    Europe was pretty much full. If you wanted a farm you had to buy it, you had to pay more than the other people who wanted it. A whole lot of people got stuck in cities where they died. People didn’t eat well in cities, they had poor sanitation and diseases spread rapidly, violence, etc. But they more or less had permission to be there….

    But in the USA, if you had some minimal equipment you could go search through some empty land and find good farmland for free — a place with a good spring — and build your own farm. Some places you had to get rid of a lot of trees before you’d have much of a farm, but that was do-able. A vast, empty land full of opportunity. Free land, and all you had to do was take it.

    In a european city, you couldn’t really be free. If you had a bad government you could hope that someday there would be a better one, but it didn’t make sense for people to just do whatever-the-hell they wanted to. Too many people, who had to be too organized.

    But in the USA, a whole lot of people had no use for government, except to occasionally send out the army to clear out more natives from more land so there would still be plenty of empty free land.

    When the government moved in, it was trouble for the people who were already there. Lawyers would come and claim title to their farms, and they could do nothing about it except move out and make new farms somewhere else. (And occasionally shoot the lawyers, which did them no good except to feel better.)

    A lot of Americans got a sense of independence which was not possible in europe. The sense that you can take care of your own self without anybody else’s help. (Except for native tribes, and forest fires, and encroaching government.) People died of things that they could be cured of by a good doctor. But they did it in freedom.

    The frontier finally completely disappeared. Officially that was 1890. A little more than one long lifetime ago. My grandfather lived in the mountains, and he could live pretty much anywhere he could get land. He had to have an axe. A few other things were of course extremely useful. But it didn’t take much. If he could get a wagon out to a road, then he could sell his whiskey. But most of the land already belonged to somebody. He moved closer to his children’s school and sold his farm for $500 just a few years before WPA build a bridge that made it worth $5000.

    So anyway — freedom. After awhile there were a lot of people renting farms. There was no more free land, and nobody would sell at a price they could afford. There were big men who rode their horses to collect their rent, sometimes agreeing to put it off until harvest. Landlords were important people, and also they were polite. Riding a horse along a mountain road, a man could be shot in the back with a long gun and if the shot missed, he’d never see who did it.

    Big strong men might bully everybody they ran into outside cities, because they could. Until the 1870’s a lot of Americans could not afford or acquire large-bore revolvers. A gun with one shot was not real useful if it missed or didn’t fully disable an opponent, so men who thought they might get into fights tended to carry large knives. See “arkansas toothpick” and “bowie knife”. In a knife fight with somebody bigger, stronger, and faster than you, you could expect to die. He might settle for a fist fight and if he liked you, he probably would not gouge out your eyes.

    Reliable revolvers meant that duels could be done only with guns. If you didn’t have a reputation, somebody who wanted to pick on you couldn’t tell by looking at you how good you would be at shooting. A big man was only a bigger target. So we got a mythology of equality. And it’s actually pretty recent. Maybe 20 years before the end of the frontier.

    In cities dueling turned into a complicated ritual. It became illegal right away, but since it was consensual murder, often the laws were not enforced. A doctor, lawyer, merchant etc could expect to lose a lot of business if he refused a duel — it proved he was a coward that no one should do business with. Farther from the law, things were more fluid. James Bowie became a celebrity for surviving a “duel” against 3 opponents who had guns. He literally brought a knife to a gunfight and won.

    We got some vendettas. See Hatfields and Mccoys. Not a whole lot of vendettas, a handful got famous. If a someone from a rival family kills your daddy then of course you get vengeance. But if your daddy dies in a barfight, it’s just fate or something.

    Whatever the reality, it turned into a rich, complex mythology. You have to be ready to defend your honor or else admit you’re a coward. And in the slave days, every man was responsible for defending his family etc if there was a slave revolt. There were occasional small slave revolts where the slaves killed every white person they found, including women and children. With slow communication, every white man had to be ready to defend society on a moment’s notice. That didn’t stop after the war. And of course the Yankee government could turn tyrannical and only the citizens could overthrow it.

    All this looks insane if you don’t share it. But if you are part of it, everybody else looks craven.

    Sorry this is so long, but at this point I don’t have time to shorten it.

  109. I’m not sure if I agree in your assessment that many of the shooters are poor. I am a teacher. In schools, it is almost always in white suburban schools with wealth where the shooting happens. Poor kids shoot each other in the streets over street issues mostly to do with money, although in gang areas it is different. Most shooters are white men.

    As to mental illness, what you said is not stigmatizing at all. We need better care for our most vulnerable. If they get the help they need, without judgement, fewer will become shooters! Mental illness is a physiological problem in the brain. When I had breast cancer, everyone had sympathy (empathy? I can’t decide…) and were very supportive. Since then I have developed profound depression and people just tell me things like make it a good day or think happy thoughts. As if I can change the way chemicals are being produced or not in my brain.Luckily, many, perhaps even most, mental illnesses can be treated with medication and other therapeutic strategies.

    Having said all of that, I still hate guns! =]

  110. I’m new here. Just found the site and read the posts. I didn’t follow any links except the one to the TEDtalk about the importance of “play” to the development of young mammals.

    I think our society teaches violence as the solution to problems. The movies with the hero who is peaceful until threatened by a bully who is violent. The solution? The hero must use violence to stop the bully. He doesn’t try to seek mutual accommodation. That would make the story too long for good box office. Also too boring.

    I support the second amendment. Having said that, I think it is futile to oppose government policy with any weapons available to the public at large. I don’t know of anyone who owns a drone with hellfire missiles. So the concept of being able to overthrow a tyrannical government is not valid.

    I like to think I am a positive person, but I have dark thoughts about our future when considering the rise of robotics replacing manual labor. Fast food, retail stores, warehouse work, even public transportation will become automated. This is inevitable. What jobs will average people have then? In my darkest moments I think the powers that be understand this and are making plans (or already implementing such plans) to depopulate the planet. There are simply too many non-essential personnel.

    I hope I don’t live to see it, but I probably have 20 good years left, so I’ll see some of it. It has already begun. I think it accounts for the decreased education standards and the lack of progress in public healthcare. I think the drama that constitutes modern “news” is symptomatic. Bread and circuses is a tried and true method of appeasing the populace. Ignoring the rising sea levels and the melting glaciers and ice caps is only going to serve this doom scenario.

    The military budget is where most of our taxes go. My field has been electronics and I still receive trade magazines. The largest consumer is the military. So that is what most of the jobs serve. (I worked in recording studios and rock ‘n’ roll). I believe that one tenth of the current military budget could pay for nearly all we need to improve things (education, health, infrastructure). Is that likely to happen? I like to think so, but it is difficult.

    Since corporations are now people and money is now speech, what then becomes the “majority”? Can anyone posting here compete? Will any politician listen? Our society seems (to me) to be like a giant herd of bison heading toward a cliff we can’t see. The ones in front are getting a glimpse, but can’t communicate with those in the middle or steer the course in a different direction; the mass is too large, the inertia too great.

    As a nation we have become less the world’s policeman and more the world’s bully. Profit is our god and sacrifice is required. Is it any wonder that some feel so hopeless that they snap? How do we change this? I surely don’t know. I design circuits. I put fuses in to protect them. Sometimes they blow.

    This has grown too long and I apologize. I like your OP skzb, and your books. I admire most of the posts here and agree with many. Hope springs eternal and I continue to endeavor to persevere.

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