Outraged Anonymous

One of the chief responses I’ve gotten to my posts (mostly posted at Times & Seasons) about epistemic humility is that going around thinking that you could be wrong all the time saps your resolve. There are evils to be opposed, wrongs to be rights, and stances to be held and doing all this work requires conviction. If you spend all your time thinking about how you could be wrong, how are you going to have the gumption to go out and do what needs doing?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and about some grand unifying theorem of epistemic humility to cover all my bases, but if such a theorem exists I haven’t found it yet. Instead, I have a somewhat different suggestion. 

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Gun Control For You But Not Me

I spend a lot of time talking about the dangers of vilifying the other side, and that makes it a tricky proposition to criticize without being hypocritical. This is tricky both in terms of perception (I don’t want to look like a jerk), but in a more important way it’s challenging to try and strike a balance between being genuinely open and fair to ideas you disagree with while still  maintaining the ability to have an opinion. I believe that it’s possible to have epistemic humility about your politics without pretending that all opinions are equally valid.

But it’s a tightrope.

With that in mind, I can’t help but observe that a lot of liberal commentary about gun control seems to bear out the conservative accusation that liberals are elitist. Here are some examples:

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein is leading the charge for a new assault weapons ban. Her proposal would ban large swathes of current guns and accessories, including the standard-issue magazines for virtually every modern handgun sold. (Her bill puts the limit at 10, most handgun magazines have about 15.) And yet, Dianne Feinstein is a concealed carry permit holder, and I have little doubt that the gun she carries would violate her own law.
  • Michael Moore says “calm down, white people, and put away your guns,” but the bodyguards he employs carry guns. In 2005 one was arrested for carrying an unlicensed firearm at JFK.
  • David Gregory wants us to know how scary high-capacity magazines are, so he waved one in front the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre. Trouble is: that high-capacity magazine is already banned in Washington DC, and so Gregory was breaking the law and, as it turns out, the DC cops had already warned him about that.
  • Then there was the New York paper that decided to publish a map with the names and home addresses of all the concealed carry permit holders in their area, and yet seemed surprised when a blogger responded by publishing the names and home addresses of all the employees of the paper on his blog.

I understand that these cases are not all necessarily cut-and-dry hypocrisy. Prominent figures like senators and famous movie makers attract more attention and are possibly more at risk than an average member of the public. David Gregory may have possessed a high-capacity magazine, but he didn’t even own a gun to go with it so clearly he wasn’t a threat to anyone. And some of the employees whose addresses were published had absolutely nothing to do with the story about where the permit holders live.

But at the same time, there’s real substance to each of these problems. Prominent people may or may not be in danger (I don’t know the statistics), but it seems unfair that they should have recourse to self-defense that the rest of us do not when, after all, even ordinary citizens get death threats. In fact, I purchased my first gun in direct response to a death threat made against my wife. We called the cops and they came over and listened to the message, but it’s not like they have either the manpower or the legal obligation to protect every individual citizen who receives a death threat.

And sure, Gregory didn’t want to use the high capacity magazine for any purpose, but he is subject to laws just like the rest of us. I disagree with a lot of gun control laws, but I’ve never taken my high capacity magazines where they are legally prohibited just to make a point. I’ve actually never felt the inclination to do so, but even if I did I would certainly not expect to be held immune from the law because I don’t think it was intended to cover my specific case.

On a philosophical level, I think there really is something to the idea that liberal ideas are–all else being equal–intrinsically more seductive to those who consider themselves to be superior to the general public. This is why, I believe, Hollywood and Harvard are so overwhelmingly liberal. Laws that tell people who to conduct themselves are far more palatable when you believe that they are written by the enlightened for the governance of the ignorant and, of course, that you are enlightened.

Why Banning Assault Weapons Is Futile

This is another really informative article on gun control and, specifically, on the futility of an assault weapons ban. Even though I’m generally well-informed on gun-control there were a lot of very surprising facts in here.

For example, the Virginia Tech shooter had nearly 20 magazines in his backpack, which is the reason he was able to reload so quickly. I’d always known that even 10-round magazines (the proposed limit in Senator Feinstein’s new version of the assault weapons ban) would provide ample bullets in theory, but I didn’t realize there was such a stark and tragic real-world example of this fact.

The article also includes two examples of assault weapons being used in actual home defense stories. In one, a 15-year old boy protected his 12-year old sister when 2 men broke into their home by firing at them with an AR-15 rifle. The story was actually well-publicized, but most journalists left out the fact that the rifle he used was an assault rifle.

In any case, read the entire thing and send it along to your friends.

Excellent Article On Concealed Carry

I had been planning on writing a long article to explain what it’s like to carry concealed to all my friends who have no experience in the practice or its associated culture. That actually described me for most of my life, since I didn’t grow up around guns or shoot my first gun until well into my 20s. However, a friend posted this article from Harper’s, and now I don’t need to write mine. It’s a long but excellent piece that matches almost exactly what I would have written.

I agree strongly with 2 of the 3 conclusions that the article draws:

  1. We should allow people to carry concealed, and in more places than we currently do.
  2. We should make the training requirements for concealed carry much more rigorous
  3. I plan on continuing to carry concealed (where it’s legal), although the author has decided it’s not worth the trouble for him.

In any case: go read it.

The Surreality of American Politics

German remains at Verdun.

It’s hard to overstate the visceral impact of World War I on the nations who were scarred by it. Part of the shock came from the staggering casualties. In countries where fighting took place, over 16% of the entire population was killed (Serbia), with even  major nations like France and Germany lost more than 3 or 4% of their populations. The scale of the devastation was compounded by the sense that modernity itself had betrayed civilization, however. Prior to World War 1 disease was always deadlier than human weapons, but this changed in World War 1. With newly invented weapons science–the guiding light since the dawn of the Enlightenment–had betrayed an entire civilization. The governments, churches, and other modern institutions that created and perpetuated the war without any ability to foresee it’s true cost cast centuries of political and philosophical progress into doubt.

An example of surreal art: The Elephant Celebes

Surrealism (along with its progenitor Dadaism and its successor Postmodernism) was the reaction to this horror. With it, Western society recoiled convulsively from the core conceit of modernity: the supremacy of  logic and reason. The Surrealist Manifesto advocated expressing thought in the “absence of all control exercised by reason” and took as its core article of faith “the omnipotence of dream.” When confronted with the War to End All Wars, the surrealists decided that if reality had become the the ultimate nightmare, any and all dreams and hallucinations were superior to reality.

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Understanding after Tragedy

When I realized the scope of what had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I posted the news to my Facebook feed to get the word out and called for people to hold off on the political debate out of respect for the tragedy. That’s not what happened, and even after getting used to the fairly rapid news-cycle in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Aurora shootings, I was shocked and dismayed at how quickly the two sides squared off and began attacking each other. 

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WSJ Lets You Balance the Budget

So the fiscal cliff is looming closer and closer, and a new poll shows that “Americans clearly want Washington to solve its looming budget crisis, and they clearly reject almost every option to do that”. It sounds like typical voter stupidity at first, especially since a lot of the options on the table are not only palatable, but probably should be enacted for their own sake. The article lists: “raising taxes on everyone, cutting Medicaid or Medicare spending, raising the age for Medicare, or taking away tax deductions for charitable contributions or home mortgage interest,” and the last three all seem like no-brainers to me.

Before you start to feeling too smug, however, you can head over to the Wall Street Journal and try your hand at balancing the budget on your own. You start with the $1,102,000,000,000 10-year deficit and a menu of choices for raising taxes and cutting discretionary and entitlement spending. 

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How Much More Should the Rich Pay?

Last week I wrote a couple of posts about the Hardy Boys and magical ponies, although actually they were about marginal vs. average and statutory vs. effective taxation. Today, we get to the good stuff: how much more should the rich pay? It makes sense to start, however, with how much they already do pay.

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Statutory vs Effective Taxes (and Magical Ponies)

When Mitt Romney made that infamous “47%” remark, it didn’t take long for people to shoot that full of holes. But, in my previous post on taxation, I also said that the idea of corporations getting away with not paying their fair share was also dumb. You might ask “Why’s that?” I’ll assume that you did ask, and give you the answer in this post. With magical ponies. 

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