Americans have absolutely failed our children on gun control – and I probably don’t mean that the way you think.
There’s no way to write this without sounding like I’m ignoring nuance. I totally understand the responses from both sides: those resenting the politicization of a shooting (on both sides), and those screaming that this will not stand, that it’s time to do something about guns.
We do need to do something about guns. I just don’t think it’s what either side is advocating as talking points.
This morning, I was thinking about those Parkland students who are saying it’s time for them to act, that they won’t stand for this (gun ownership), that the time has come.
It occurred to me – again – that we’ve failed these kids, because we’ve not taught them properly.
Note that I think they absolutely have the right to speak out and protest all they like. They have every right to say what they feel, regardless of what it is, such that it doesn’t directly harm others – and in this, they’re doing fine. I just think that what they feel is too simple to be useful. When they grow up, they’ll enjoy having exercised their civic rights – but I really hope that none of us have to bear the burden of their desires coming to fruition, unless we somehow pacify the supplicants of power in a way that we’ve never managed before, except through the possibility of empowered resistance – and that means by being armed.
Our education system is built such that outsiders are driven far outside, which removes empathy from all sides; we don’t teach our kids in such a way that they’re recognized as useful individuals, we don’t teach our kids how and why our country came to be. We try to teach our kids how to fit in a specific set of neat little boxes. We create our own outsiders. It’s the shooters’ faults, no doubt, but we created the conditions for them – not through armament, but through culture and idiotic education practices.
There are student archetypes in high school. One such (non-canonical) list might include: the intellectual, the creative genius, the athlete, the rebel, the caregiver, the visionary, the royal, the performer, the faithful, the tastemaker, the explorer, and the advocate. Most students will fit these to some degree… but they might not fit in with others in such a way that they’re accepted despite their archetype. The ones that don’t fit in, the ones that have no clique and especially those who are the targets of cliques… those are the ones we’ve failed the most.
We teach our children about the Founding Fathers’ resentment of tyranny; they rebelled. They fought back. They created a system where the people were as well armed as their government was… and it stops there.
Note the use of “they” and “their.” It’s not “our” resentment of tyranny; it wasn’t us, it was them. It’s all about their responsibility, not our responsibility; their risk, not ours.
We teach our children how to read and write, how to count… and we teach them the nuts and bolts of psychology, in some cases, but not much. We ignore game theory, a way to represent interactions mathematically. What they need is psychology, the study of how our minds work. What they need is game theory, a study of mathematical models of how interactions work – the study of ways to define “winning” and achieve it. They need to see everything as a system – as both psychology and game theory suggest and model – and not as a series of unrelated stimuli.
So they see the world as a set of simple causes and effects, because they’ve not been taught to see the world as a set of inter-related systems; remove guns, they say, and people will become kind. They say that we already threw off the chains of tyranny; we don’t need to defend ourselves any more, and the weapons we would have used to defend ourselves have become weapons used against us. They say the imbalance of power between government and the people is too great, so why bother?
Truth is, I don’t understand that last point; it’s often the mantra of people who virulently oppose Donald Trump. How they can master that contradiction is beyond me; if they really think Trump is a fascist (inaccurate) or is otherwise reprehensible and untrustworthy (explicitly true), expecting Trump’s government to protect them from potential gun-wielding maniacs – or trusting Trump to not exploit the opportunity to seize further power – seems stupid. Now would be the time for such people to praise the Second Amendment, not gut it, because it’s the best way to let a simpleton like Trump know that he is not all-powerful.
Sadly, this isn’t even limited to those children we’ve educated; I know people older and presumably wiser than I who see the world this way. They point to countries like England and Australia as examples of disarmed citizenry, saying we can be the same.
We cannot be the same as the UK and Australia with respect to guns.
This is why game theory is relevant; it explains that there has to be someone who lights the way. If the United States didn’t have its culture of an equal populace (meaning “armed such that it can defend its rights even against the government, in potential”) then those other countries would either have had to light the way themselves, or fail. We are the sacrifice that makes peace possible.
Game theory also explains why the imbalance of power between us and the government we presumably might oppose still makes sense, too. The threat of the unknown power balance is very convincing, for one thing. For another, if there’s an imbalance of power, it’s hardly to your benefit to make the balance of power even worse. The goal is to find a Nash equilibrium – a condition in which no party has to change strategy to achieve a better outcome – between the amount of power held by the citizenry as a sort of sword of Damocles held over the government’s head, if you’ll pardon the analogy. (In game theory, certain parties can choose strategies that benefit them personally, assuming the other parties make bad choices; a Nash equilibrium is achieved when all parties make the choices that lead to the best overall outcome. When you make choices to benefit only yourself, you might be making a choice that wins – but you might also be hurting every other player, and you might also be causing your own catastrophic downfall.)
It’s entirely arguable that we, the American citizens, do hold too much power, that we have more than we need. (In other words, we don’t have a desired equilibrium yet.) I have no problem with that conjecture; I’d be interested in seeing what might happen if we fix the root causes of gun violence (education and isolation, along with proper restriction) rather than strike at ownership that is, in the vast majority of cases, legal and responsible. I also wouldn’t have my feelings hurt if we lowered the number of guns overall… especially those in the hands of people who we’ve generally declared as unfit for possession.
There’s nuance here, too. I don’t know of a good, quantifiable definition that would satisfy me as a metric for gun ownership. You could suggest generalities for mental illness – but then you’d have to have a definition for “mental illness” that would be worthwhile, since most humans have aberrations and thus might be considered “mentally ill.” You could suggest that those who advocate violence might qualify… but what does “advocate violence” mean? I’m all for Nazis being disarmed… but that definition might include Nazi hunters, too. And I’m dissatisfied with that. Quantitative definitions in law are difficult to get right, and I don’t know the answer here, either.
But there is no easy fix; repairing education won’t help the legions of people who we’ve already failed, and it certainly won’t help those victims who have already perished.