My FB Posts about Firearms

Following is everything I’ve written on FaceBook that isn’t a response to someone.

As I mentioned below, I don’t think we can look at a problem by immediately brushing aside a potential solution. Everything needs to be reviewed, even whether the 2nd amendment still makes sense. If we approach this issue already discounting potential avenues of exploration, we run the risk of solving symptoms rather than the disease itself.

Do we as a society have the courage to do that? From what I’ve seen, we don’t.

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Sorry, but nobody is told that humans are descended from apes, and if someone is saying that, then they should reread evolutionary biology. Humans and apes share a common ancestor, which is not the same as descendence. Even still, apes don’t murder each other and as far as we know, they don’t have religion, so maybe this is not the best argument for you to use.

Early christians did commit infanticide (and still commit genocide, homicide, child rape, etc), though, so that’s something.

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I think that in order to solve these issues, we need to be willing to question everything, including what the 2nd amendment means to us as a society. There are far-reaching ethical ramifications of a slavish worship of anything, and if we want to break this increasingly prevalent cycle, we need to accept that.

Putting more burden on the shoulders of teachers to be on the frontline of reporting suspicious behavior (as I read your suggestion) is not appropriate. Adding armed guards to schools in the presence of children is not appropriate. The safety of a citizenry starts with the society in which they live, and that society needs to take seriously that safety. I don’t think we do, as a whole.

First, we need to allow the CDC to study issues of gun violence so that we can determine the causes. Second, we need to be a lot more careful about who can get what firearms. Third, we need to really ask ourselves if we need to own guns, as a society. Seriously. Is it a need like food, shelter, fuel, or water are. Fourth — and this is fundamental — we must start looking at these issues ethically — not religiously, politically, or socially — and allow ourselves to understand how our worship of the 2nd amendment is deeply connected to who we are as a society. What causes that worship, what are the results of it, what things in our culture does that worship limit and influence: these are the questions we need to look at.

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What if instead of shootings, the news was that there have been multiple instances of children dying after downloading a smartphone app. Would anyone advocate for the continued sale and use of that app? Would anyone argue for responsible app use?

Hey, are you against access by children to the dark web, but are unwilling to ban guns after multiple school shootings? Why is that?

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This is a sentence that had to be written today: “[A mother] told CNN that her daughter safely evacuated the school and took shelter at a nearby Walmart.” It’s at least the 12th time this year that a sentence like that had to be written. That means that AT LEAST TWELVE TIMES someone has SHOT at CHILDREN with the intent to kill.

I don’t want new regulations on gun ownership, and I don’t want limits on possession. I want guns destroyed. We can fight wars with aircraft and swords. Hunt with bow and arrow or crossbows. Target practice with BBs. This shit just needs to fucking stop. There is literally no argument or excuse for gun ownership as long as this keeps happening.

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I’m out. Here’s where I’m at on this gun ownership thing. I see it as an ethical issue in the same way that standing by while genocide is committed is an ethical issue. Advocates of the NRA and of blind adherence to the 2nd amendment are making it possible for children to be gunned down in school. That’s the reality at this point. If after a school shooting you believe that a) we need more guns in school, or b) that our gun laws don’t need to be changed, or c) that guns don’t kill people, you are culpable in those children’s deaths. You need to come to terms with the reality that the thing you are defending is destroying our society. If you don’t believe me, let me know and I’ll map out the causal loops that prove it.

NB: Facebook doesn’t have an emoticon for feeling Fucking Pissed and DIsillusioned.

367 days later

Donald Trump’s rise to power is not the story of the success of one man over and above all others, but rather the story of the rise of a system beneath a system, lurking in the depths of the United States. In order to find meaning in Trump’s election, we must explore those murky depths from which he was, very literally, spawned. (ed. I wrote this about a year ago, but never published it. I’m leaving it here now as-is for the sake of completeness.)

This morning, I was thinking about an article published in The Washington Post. In the article written by Brian Schaffner and Samantha Luks, a study is described in which 1,388 American adults were asked two questions. First, to identify which picture of the Washington Mall filled with people goes with which inauguration. Second, to ask which of the same pictures had more people in it. Each question was asked of half the participants. For full details, check out the article here. The result of the survey was that 41% of the people who voted for Trump associated the wrong picture with his inauguration, and 15% of the people who voted for trump said that the picture with fewer people in it had more people. While the results are not psychologically surprising, as Schaffner and Luks point out, they do indicate that perhaps there is more going on here than party loyalty and Trump fandom, as much as Trump would have us believe otherwise.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes how every idea that has caught the public’s eye or entered the Zeitgeist of thought was at some point thought of as absurd, as impossible, or as pointless. The tipping point, Gladwell says, is that point in the development of a product where it starts to gain ground. Where the number of people who think of it as a good idea begin to increase and gain ground against the naysayers. Common examples, of course, are the automobile, telephone, electricity, personal computer, portable music players, etc. Every idea has a tipping point. It just takes the right environment to reach there. Gladwell is speaking primarily here of entrepreneurial ideas, of business and/or product improvement. But, another writer, Thomas S. Kuhn, has written about a similar phenomenon in the annals of science.

Kuhn’s book The Scientific Revolution discusses how revolutionary scientific ideas gain ground. He hypothesizes that a radical idea will first surface, say for example Copernicus’ idea that the earth revolves around the sun. The idea and the purveyor of it are initial discredited, ridiculed, and isolated from society. At some point, however, the idea gains ground through other similarly-minded individuals and a Galileo and a Tycho Brae bring it forward for further study and inclusion in the conversation. At some point, a certain percentage of the general population begins to accept the new idea. Once that happens, it becomes reality. This is very similar to Gladwell’s idea, and it has held up to some scrutiny.

Both Gladwell’s and Kuhn’s theories are based in systems thinking and attempt to quantify — inasmuch as possible — the nature of emergent activities, information, and beliefs. And to that extent, they are very powerful methods by which we can attempt to understand how the world around us works, and what might be causing the kinds of things we observe every day that don’t seem to make sense. In systems thinking, the observation of the immediate must be combined with analysis of the events preceding it.

Don’t worry, all of this will lead to Trump’s emergence, though I’m betting that a few of you are there already. I have one more reference point to bring in, though, a little-known book called Systemantics: They Systems Bible by John Gall. In this book, Gall lists and explains a number of mantras about systems that he and other systems thinkers and observers of complexity have discovered over the years to be consistently true. Most relevant to the discussion here is the mantra “TO THOSE WITHIN A SYSTEM, THE OUTSIDE REALITY TENDS TO PALE AND DISAPPEAR” (Gall, 2012). The results of The Washington Posts’s article from this morning is perfectly explained by this mantra.

The system becomes the manner in which things are accomplished, communicated, and understood. Once the system becomes large enough — and they always do if left unattended — it traps people within it so that the only understanding people have of the world is through the system itself. Think of the parable of Plato’s cave, but in this case the cave is traveling around the world, gobbling people up and expanding as it does so. It’s a metaphorical way of understanding both Gladwell and Kuhn, really. How is it that a tipping point is accomplished? How is it that a 10% – 12% acceptance of something will become close to 100% acceptance. Gall’s mantra lends some understanding to this.

In Kuhn’s terms, Trump is the heliocentric model of the universe that strikes most people as so far-fetched that it’s impossible. He is Gladwell’s iPod. Enough people believe in Trump that he has caught on, and is either in the apex of or passing his tipping point. Couple these with Gall’s mantra that reality outside the Trump system is disappearing, and we end up with a president whose staff releases alternative facts, whose supporters insist that the emptier photo has more people, and on and on and on. The system is winning, as it always does when left to its own devices.

So for those of us who want to fight against this, how do we do it? Trump has proven to be surprisingly resilient and resistant to revelations on his character, his business dealings, and his conflicts of interest. Accusations of nepotism, favoritism, and pandering go unnoticed. All previously-effective methods of political undermining have failed. The system that manifested him doesn’t care about racism, bigotry, or oppression as long as it gets what it wants, which seems to be a combination of ultra-nationalist capitalism and far-right racial, gender, and moral oppression.

Proud of my alma mater

Yesterday, Johnson State College raised flags in support of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ communities. At a time when there needs to be unified voices rising against bigotry and hatred, the gesture is extremely important, if symbolic. JSC is already an inclusive and safe campus, but to take this action now is to reaffirm that commitment. Having been an undergrad, grad student, and now an alumni with a wife and son attending, I’m proud and honored to be associated with JSC. 

Grazing in the grass roots

I had an opportunity to participate in a small part of what is becoming a large movement in support of the “Move to Amend” campaign to adopt an amendment to the United States Constitution that declares in no uncertain terms that corporations are not people. The local group here is comprised of a handful of passionate and determined men and women — veterans of progressive campaigns and protests all — who want nothing more than the elimination of corporate control over elected officials. I couldn’t agree more with the aims of this group. There’s obviously a corruption, and it can be readily traced back to lobbying, corporate interests, and campaign donations. All of which needs to stop and control of elected officials needs to be returned to the voters for whom they serve. So while I support the movement and its aims, I feel that there are talking points that are not being addressed in the public discourse that are an essential part of deciding if this movement is worth supporting.

Firstly, there are two versions of the amendment: the version I linked above, and the one penned by Senator Bernie Sanders here [PDF]. They are actually quite different from each other, and address different points of concerns. The MtA version attempts to establish that a) all corporations are not people, that b) money is specifically not speech and b) neither a nor b apply to the press. Bernie’s version states simply that for-profit corporations would no longer be allowed to participate — through financial means — in the electoral process. These are two fundamentally different statements and to put our support behind a “non-corporate-personhood” movement would seem to imply that they are both the same. Which to choose, which to choose. I will address the specific wordings of each in a later post, but suffice it to say that we have to either merge them or pick one to support or all of our efforts are for naught. For the sake of this post, let’s assume that we’ve settled on a compromise version of the two that includes proper wording addressing the MtA points.

The second talking point is the question of what will happen if the amendment succeeds. It seems like a simple question because we tend to see the success and lack thereof as a binary result. On the one hand corporations are removed from matters of free speech, their money is kept out of politics, and people will regain control of their representatives. Without this amendment, we imagine a country where more money means more speech, where politicians make decisions based on who their largest donors are, where the voting public is unwittingly duped into electing a puppet of some foreign power. I submit however that it is not so cut and dried as it would seem.

For instance, in the case of success will the corruption we’re railing against be cured? Will this amendment keep corporations from establishing some kind of legalized slush fund through which individuals can send donations or pay for campaigns on behalf of the corporation? Will this amendment keep corporations from providing ever-increasing funds to lobbyists and directly influence law making after the election process? Will this amendment in fact make elected officials more subservient to their constituents and less so to their donors? It’s reasonable to assume given the specificity of the language and purpose that the answer to all these questions is no. Let’s suppose, though, we live in a country where the press is free, money is not the same as speech (which means it can be regulated far more than just through time, manner, and place), and corporations are not covered under the Bill of Rights.

In this new country, the government is allowed to regulate the flow of money that supports individuals who are trying to speak because money is not speech and — given the precedent of Citizens United — could not legally be used for speech. If an individual is seeking a grant from the government or a government-funded agency, that grant could be denied if the money was going to be used to perform “speech”. Could a corporation rent a hall in town to present a documentary or educational film? What are we limiting by saying money is not protected speech?

Corporations in our new country would also no longer be covered by the Bill of Rights because of our new amendment. The government would be able to freely seize, shut down, censure, or otherwise inhibit the activities of any corporation regardless of due process, etc. This could be Monsanto, or your local church (a not-for-profit corporation). The Bill of Rights is what keeps the government from doing that. If it no longer applies to corporations, they are removed from its protections. Extending this a bit further, would a work-around be that corporate rules are changed so that they can be represented by a person? Can the chairman of the board work on behalf of the corporation, but still be protected by our new amendment and the Bill of Rights? It’s not unreasonable to believe so since this has not come up as a point of discussion.

Hyperbole aside, are these likely events? Given the history of government behavior when given the latitude for that behavior, it is safe to assume that we are not outside the realm of possibility. England, Italy, Japan, China, Germany, Russia, and the United States all have glaring histories that show how their government behaves when given the right mixture of latitude, reason, and will. Could this amendment provide or be a catalyst for that kind of mixture? It’s possible given what laws are passed afterwards and how desperate certain parties are. While the future is never certain nor predictable, we can safely say that there are unforeseen circumstances that are worse than what we face now.

Lastly, we’re presented with a state of affairs where our chosen version of the amendment doesn’t pass. What if what we’re left with is a post-2009 world where corporations spending money on campaigns is a form of speech, where they can create Superpacs and support a candidate? What is our recourse to such a world? In fact, it is the same as it is in our fictional future-world above: people and their level of determination to change government through the electoral process — which is on a basic level inviolate and sacred if handled in the correct way.

No matter how much money is thrown into a campaign, how muddled a message may get, people have the ability to find their way to the truth of things if they are determined enough. the Federal Election Commission publishes all donations a candidate receives. Corporate board members can be looked up. Individual’s associations can be researched. Who paid how much to whom is a question that in the age of Google, govtrack.us, and Wikipedia is not terribly difficult to answer. Public libraries provide Internet access, free magazines and newspapers. In other words, the methodology for dealing with corruption is as powerful as the citizenry’s desire to use it.

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While I support the idea that corporations are not people, and while I support the idea that money on the scale of the millions and millions of dollars we’re seeing should not be in politics, I support the amendment movement with caution. Whether the amendment succeeds or fails, there are outcomes that are unforeseen. This is because the problem is not a question of corporate personhood, campaign donations, or lobbying. The problem is that the majority of those who are currently in government are not governing well. The only sure way to deal with such a thing is through the willingness of the governed public to take control of their own destinies.

What we’re left with after all the dust clears are some basic tenets that have always been true about our country and are mentioned numerous times in the “Federalist Papers”. The first is that participation in government is a requirement of all voting age citizens. It is not a privilege, nor a right, but a responsibility of each governed citizen who is able to participate. The second is that when the citizenry do not participate, government is pulled from their hands by factions: religious, business, cultish, political. The nature of the faction doesn’t matter, what matters is that a minority (say 33%) becomes a majority as fewer and fewer people participate.

Simplified, I think my argument for supporting the move for a constitutional amendment could be written like this:

  1. Factions are anathema to a government that is meant to represent the entirety of the governed (Federalist Papers)
  2. Corporations are a faction that harms government (Assumption)
  3. The amendment is an attempt at limiting the powers of corporations (ibid.)
  4. Therefore, supporting the amendment helps limit the power of factions (1,3)
  5. Therefore, it is reasonable to support the amendment (4)

Reasonably speaking, then, should we support the amendment movement? Given that in either a passed or failed scenario, we are still relying on the citizenry to vote, participate, and ensure corporations don’t take over elections anymore than they have then yes, but only in understanding that it’s not the solution to all of the problems of government. In other words, support or not, the problems plaguing our government are not going to go away with the success or failure of this amendment. Since there’s no real way to tell if it will do more harm than good, it’s not unreasonable to support it, but it also may not lead the country to the solution that is expected.

On militant veganism and the environment

How does one balance the importance of a strong, personal belief with the overarching needs of an entire society? The answer to this question — if there is an answer — could very well decide whether the human race is able to pull back from the environmental brink we’ve landed ourselves upon. Specifically, I’m talking about the unwillingness I’ve seen in — what I hope is a few — certain sects of veganism. These folks believe that the way to salvation for both human health and the earth’s environment is to completely eliminate any dependent relationship humans have with animals. No dairy. No leather. Certainly no meat. The idea is that by doing so we will reduce the number of greenhouse gases (methane), increase the amount of usable land (less acreage used for corn), and improve human health. I don’t doubt that they’re right, but the cost of their proposed changes is too great.

From the very first fencepost humankind put down, we started ourselves on a path that is impossible to veer from or go back down. We are the only species in the animal kingdom who practices husbandry: the raising and caring for other species as a survival mechanism. To that end, we have altered or created new strains of domesticated animals through selective breeding practices and — less endearingly — kill-offs of entire species (Aurochs among others). While this has been largely successful, there are severe drawbacks that need to be corrected. Industrial farming has impersonalized the husbandry process and turned the slaughter of other species into nothing more than a step on an assembly line. It has produced more methane than we can contain. It has taken up large chunks of land for growing genetically altered corn to feed to these species. It has also placed the control of the world’s food supplies into the hands of the powerful and wealthy. Not to mention the small cages, deplorable living conditions for the animals, etc. So yes, there’s a serious problem here that needs a serious solution. Unfortunately, veganism isn’t it.

For one thing, we’ve got billions of animals to care for. If the vegans had their way we would no longer have a use for them, but then what? Release them into the wild where they endanger or destroy indigenous species or worse? Will the methane production cease because we no longer care for these creatures, or is it more likely to get worse as it will go completely unchecked. I’ve heard it suggested by a self-described vegan that the best solution would be to slaughter all of them. Because after all, killing millions of animals all at once in a bath of blood for no reason other than they’ve outlived their usefulness is far better than sitting by while they’re slaughtered for food. This is a problem that has to be solved.

My greatest concern is on the environmental side. For any environmental solution to be effective, it has to be adopted by a vast majority of humankind. Humans are pretty particular about “adopting” things. We want to be less wasteful, but not at the cost of our families, income, personal property, or freedoms. Militant veganism with its confrontational nature, its “do this or you’re wrong” attitude, and its lack of real solutions is not attractive to vast majority of us and can never succeed on the scale required.

It’s a totalitarian perspective on an issue too complex for black and white reasoning. Totalitarianism just doesn’t work. It’s unethical, inefficient, and it chafes. The same group of people who would tell us to stop listening to the “meat and dairy lobby” will in the same breath tell us to listen to only them. There’s a middle ground; however, and while it doesn’t keep us all from eating dairy and meat, it does seem to have a positive effect on our health, the environment, and the overall well-being of the species we’ve domesticated.

The practices of permaculture and localvore by themselves are effective ways of managing resources and health, respectively. If taken together I believe that the bulk of our environmental and health issues related to animal husbandry can be solved. Firstly, permaculture removes the concept of factory farming from our society. No longer would we see mile-long, stainless steel pens and slaughterhouses funded by the government and managed by the powerful, and centralized out of reach. Each family or community would be in charge of their own food production, no matter their location. It’s pure self-sufficiency. Some would choose a vegetarian lifestyle, others would not. Some might raise timber and barter for food or wool. Either way, we end up with closer communities, cleaner air and water, decentralized food production, and a serious reduction in the number of food-borne illnesses and health issues.

Localvore is the economic model and community promise that provides the motivation for permaculture practices. It is the practice of buying and eating a certain percentage of locally-grown foods. Some communities try to be 100% localvore, others shoot for a smaller percentage with an eye on increasing it over time. Whatever the current level of consumption, by choosing to purchase our food locally we reduce the necessity for government-subsidized farming, gain a vested interest in the husbandry methods our communities use, and support the self-sufficiency or oursleves, our neighbors, and our communities. All of the issues — other than the actual eating of meat and dairy — often raised by militant vegans are solved with these two philosophies practiced in tandem.

The species husbanded in this way have healthier, happier lives and are never killed without need. The humans in these environments feel closer to the natural law and order of things. The food — vegetable or animal — is cleaner and safer. The use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds is eliminated. This is a middle ground that works. There are communities doing this today and more are coming on board every year.

The environment and the caring thereof is one of the greatest weapons vegans have in their arsenal. By showing how industrial farming practices, government subsidies, and wasteful eating are affecting not only human health but the health of the planet, vegans have started a positive dialog. The healthier ones among them have shown how — with enough money in the right location — one can live free of meat and dairy. However, in order for that positive dialog to turn into positive action. In order for the people who can make a difference to stand up and change things, the totalitarian, all-or-none diatribes must stop. The cries of “flesh eater” and “food for pleasure” must stop. The hyperbole needs to be put away. It’s blocking the real issues that have real solutions. The problems of our society and our planet are larger than anyone’s personal belief system.