During the course of my daily internets reading I happened upon a link to a Business Insider article, itself a rehash of a Facebook post which is one of the more astonishingly stupid things I have read in the past week.
Granted, it is only Tuesday and the week is still new, so there is still time for something even more breathtakingly absurd to accost my eyes.
I usually do not offer opinions on guns and the various blatherings that accompany the aforementioned topic in the public sphere, but the arguments presented by one Nassim Taleb were so bone-headed as to simply beg for mockery.
As always, I am more than happy to oblige.
(It should be noted that the quotes come from the Business Insider article, and that only the second half is on the Facebook wall to which the article links. It could be that the beginning portion was removed; at any rate I was unable to locate it.)
I cannot possibly buy the argument that people need weapons in case the government fails them and democracy breaks down. If the narrative were true, someone over the past 5 years would have taken arms to express frustration with the banking establishment hijacking the political system for self-enrichment –one of the greatest iniquities ever, ever — and other similar lobbyists, instead of using w weapons against schoolchildren and college students.
The first difficulty is that the argument objected to- that people need weapons for when the government fails/breaks down- is presented by Taleb as if it only exists in one form and could have only one possible outcome. It also presumes (or seems to presume) that the argument ultimately has the federal government in mind, as if state and local government failure/breakdown could not be the ‘government’ intended by the supposed argument.
Since the context of this discussion is presumably gun control in the United States, it is odd that wide-scope governmental failure is presumed when, for someone actually making such an argument, local governmental failure/breakdown would be just as, if not more, catastrophic to the individual in question and more germane to the rationale behind such an argument. Given the wide variety of circumstances that exist alongside any particular locality in this country, it is a wonder that Taleb perceives the United States to be such a monolith.
Similarly, governmental failure/breakdown could be perceived or understood in myriad ways, all the way from natural disasters in which government services are unavailable to the complete overthrow of the current political order on every level. The number of scenarios in between is immense.
Thus, Taleb’s rebuttal ignores all these important nuances and considerations. He argues that the hi-jacking of the political system by the banking establishment should be enough to compel someone to shoot up members of the banking establishment, but, since that has not occurred, then people really do not need weapons in case of government failure. However, there are any number of reasons why this hasn’t happened which are easily imagined:
- Persons with weapons don’t consider this an obvious or overly odious example of governmental failure
- Persons with weapons might not think shooting up the banking establishment is a means of overthrowing that order or protecting oneself from it
- Persons who possess weapons specifically for this type of hypothetical failure/breakdown are not disposed to express their frustration in a fit of gunfire
- Persons with this mentality choose to isolate themselves rather than go on a rampage
- Persons with weapons and this motivation perceive the situation Taleb describes as too far removed from them to bother trying to change
- Persons might have already been predisposed to understand the collusion of the banking establishment and the political sector as a given, and thus have not been unduly moved by the events of the past 5 years
These are only a few of the myriad explanations which render Taleb’s argument obviously fallacious. Moreover, one could easily imagine equally numerous reasons that a governmental breakdown might be better abided with some means of self-defense.
For example, after a natural disaster strikes, a business owner might want some means of protecting his business from looters when police are busy with other things. (The presumption that the protection of his business is under the purview of the government is hardly warranted even in the best of cases.) Even in places (such as portions in Arizona) where the government is still ostensibly in control, possession of weapons is hardly simply the result of over-excessive gun-lobbying; there is a real danger to which the possession of weapons is perceived by their owners to be a reasonable response.
The reason we have arms is gun lobby, period.
While one might argue that the (a?) “gun-lobby” is excessive in its influence, it hardly follows that possession of arms is causally related to the existence of the gun-lobby. One immediate and seemingly obvious rejoinder would be that the possession of arms predates the cadre of gun-lobbyists assumed to wield such expansive influence.
To repeat the argument against the long peace, a weirdo with a knife can’t go far.
22 children in China would perhaps disagree…
Just as I don’t want to be in a plane with an armed gunman on board, I don’t want weirdos with guns in civil society.
I’m not convinced that anybody wants ‘weirdos’ (presumably by which Taleb means ‘mentally-unbalanced’) with guns in civil society. The difficulty with the argument Taleb advances is the assumption that gun control would necessarily keep arms out of the hands of the ‘weirdos.’ Given that the ‘weirdos’ are presumed to not be reasonable individuals, it hardly follows that the existence of a law against possession of a gun would necessarily deter such a person from possessing a gun, especially if the rationality which presumably allows others to follow the law is not held entirely by the individual in question.
Via Negativa: gun control is perhaps one of the very few things the government should do.
Taleb apparently favors the non sequitur since he gives no compelling reason for asserting that gun control is a necessary function of the government. Nor does he describe how the via negativa would lead one to such a conclusion. After all, societies have existed with both the possession of guns and the lack of governmental oversight of that possession; it hardly follows that by abstracting away from government the imperfections of human-operated government that such a conclusion is necessarily reached. There may be other reasons to make such an argument, but this is not one of them.
So to continue, let us examine the arguments against gun control, one by one.
Let us indeed.
1) Argument of self defense: mass murder weapons like automatic rifles is not compatible with “self defense” (“mass” in that context =weapons that can kill >4 persons).
Taleb begs the question here, definitionally biasing the discussion by means of a semantic shift. While automatic rifles might be used in mass murders, that does not make them a mass murder weapon. Ignoring Taleb’s arbitrary standard of what counts as ‘mass,’ the logic he employs would label anything used in the murder of more than 4 people as a ‘mass murder weapon.’ A knife could be (and has been) used to kill more than 4 people, but it does not follow that knives are mass murder weapons. Given enough time and opportunity nearly any object could be used to kill more than 4 people.
The argument, however, seems pointless anyway; automatic weapons are already part of United States gun control. The argument from self-defense does not necessitate an automatic weapon as part of its conditions.
However, Taleb yet again begs the question by simply asserting that automatic weapons are not ‘compatible with self-defense.’ The reason is ostensibly that they are ‘mass murder weapons.’ The difficulty with his argument is that simply because something can be used as a ‘mass-murder weapon’ does not preclude it from being used as a means of self-defense. Granted, it may be be impractical to use an automatic weapon for self-defense in many situations, but that does not mean that such a use is therefore impossible.
2) Argument of government tyranny: Why don’t gun advocates fight for the right of private citizens to own large tanks and atomic weapons?
Taleb shifts the definitions again to try and score some rhetorical points. Earlier, the argument he attempted (and failed) to rebut was that weapons were necessary for when the government breaks down or democracy fails. But here he shifts it to abject tyranny. The former, as was shown, can exist in a wide variety of situations while the latter is a distinct issue in and of itself.
Further, even in the case of tyranny there can be a range of motivations for possessing weapons. Recognizing that in any human government there is no monolithic effect on all citizens, someone might feel that the breakdown in society that results from tyranny should be individually responded to with arms. The local authorities might press harder upon certain individuals, giving them added incentive to keep corrupt local officials from unduly interfering in their lives or molesting them further than is already the case.
Taleb’s lack of imagination in this regard is actually rather striking.
He additionally engages in a categorical error by attempting to draw a direct equivalence between the ownership of guns and the ownership of large tanks and atomic weapons. The obtuseness required to make such an argument is a sight to behold, for it is not difficult to recognize the distinction (which exists on many levels) between the former and the latter. For example, guns- while used within the military- are not therefore exclusive to the military or military use. The history of warfare for much of human society has in fact been that soldiers often provided their own weapons. For example, in the internecine warfare in ancient Greece the same armor and weapons would have been passed down through family lines. Military exclusive weaponry (and the providing thereof) is a relatively modern innovation.
A semi/automatic rifle is too potent for self defense, and too weak against government tyranny.
Taleb does his semantic shift again, now subtly weaving semi-automatic weapons into the mix. He also does not specify what he means by semi-automatic and automatic weapons being too potent, nor how something can be too potent or what possible difference that would make. The sheer fact that a semi-automatic weapon has more than enough power to (potentially) achieve the goal of self-defense does not therefore render it outside the bounds of use. In fact, it is this very potency that compels many people to possess a gun for self-defense.
Additionally, while a semi-automatic weapons might be impotent individually against tyranny, that does not therefore render it impotent in a number of scenarios within either tyranny or governmental failure/breakdown.
Its main use is on innocent crowds and, typically, schoolchildren.
If one compared the number of uses of guns for self-defense to the number of uses of guns on crowds or schoolchildren in the United States, one might come to the exact opposite conclusion.
Thus, while there might be compelling arguments for gun control, Taleb is certainly not the one to make them.