The shootings in Las Vegas are an appalling event. I won’t rehash gun control arguments as, to be honest, I think everybody knows them all now. However, when it comes to gun deaths in general and mass shootings, in particular, a basic issue has to be acknowledged: the USA is exceptional. No other industrialised democracy has the levels of gun violence as the USA does. None of the culturally most similar English speaking nations do. In this regard the US is exceptional. However, we should grant, rationally, that the US is exceptional in other regards so maybe, America’s exceptionality in gun violence is due to some other aspect of its exceptionality other than the glaringly obvious one (lax gun laws).
BUT rationally we can at least dispense with explanations of mass shootings that rely on elements of USA’s politics, culture or economic system that are NOT exceptional. If, as a strawman, somebody were to argue that speaking English was a cause of mass shootings it would be easy to dismiss that as a very implausible explanation. As noted before William of Ockham is our friend and an explanation should avoid descending into epicycles.
Yet here we are and US conservatives and libertarians have run out of arguments as to why disproportionate levels of gun violence in the US is not due to the disproportionately lax levels of gun control. I say “run out” but that doesn’t mean they don’t try.
“Intellectual Takeout” is another one of those attempts to recast rationalisations as rationality. In it’s “about” section it says:
“Like you, we are deeply troubled by the growing divisions within America. Discussions today quickly become heated, emotional yelling matches that drive people further apart. Many of us even fear making our opinions known, lest we be ostracized, threatened, fired, or even physically assaulted.
How did the land of the free and home of the brave come to this? Frankly, we see a couple of significant contributors: Breakdown of the education system and the collapse of family and community.
Decades ago, parents could count on the local schools to train students in logic and ensure that they would be historically and culturally literate. No more. Meanwhile, the ongoing collapse of community, family, and faith leaves a large and growing number of Americans feeling lonely and insecure.”
Yup, it is another case of the right presenting itself as the poor persecuted section of society, so starved of chances to speak that it controls the US Presidency and both chambers of the US legislature, not to mention multiple media channels. Ah but if only students were trained in logic! Which would be an appropriate point to insert an Inigo Montoya talking to Vizzini gif, but you all know the line I mean so I’ll let your imaginations deliver the image.
I’ll grant the article this, the writer (Jon Miltmore – apparently a former intern in the GW Bush administration) casts his net a bit further than usual and lands on Hannah Arendt.
Arendt is a complex figure, who experienced 20th-century history first hand. Her most notable work is The Human Condition but she is most widely famous for coining the term “the banality of evil” in her book on the Eichmann trial.
Miltmore’s analysis of America’s gun violence focuses on Arendt’s essay “On Violence”. I can think of worse places to start and Miltmore begins with what could be an interesting point:
“True power, Arendt says, doesn’t require violence. It belongs to a group (never an individual) and it remains so long as the group stays together and can exert its will. Violence, on the other hand, is an instrument. It’s most often employed by those who lack power (a ruffian on a dark street) or by a group that feels power slipping away.
If Arendt is correct, violence is an instrument most likely to be used by those who lack power and feel powerless. And this is where she critiqued modern society.”
“Or by a group that feels power slipping away”. Did you all feel a tinge of hope at that point? That subtle tension of when a person thinking out loud seems to be on the cusp of revelation?
Sadly, having coming close to following an idea that might provide some insights, Miltmore collapses into familiar territory. It is the state! Hmmm, OK, maybe, I *can* think of many ways in which the US as a state has issues – particularly in terms of militirisation…but…no. Miltmore goes to…
To be fair to Miltmore that is where Arendt went as well but then Arendt wasn’t trying to explain away mass shootings. While the role of a feeling of powerlessness within modern society may be an interesting factor in all sorts of elements of violence (including state-sanctioned violence) it fails a basic test when considering US gun violence. Whatever role it might play, it must play the same role in any modern society.
While Miltmore may be unhappy with the US as it stands he is not going to assert that countries like Canada, Australia, the UK, France or Germany are LESS bureaucratic or that the citizens of said countries feel MORE empowered in the face of their respective governments than US citizens. Or, if he does, he isn’t demanding that the US becomes more like those nations in terms of their citizens’ relationship to the state.
Five out of five for effort, zero out of five for logic. Logic requires us to consider the IMPLICATIONS of our hypotheses. You can’t just stop when you find an idea that you like.