Re: some U.S. observations and notes

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Fri Dec 28 2001 - 22:19:01 MST


I am seriously interested in a dialog with you about this, but focusing on
your stated concerns, rather than any threadbare chest-pounding pseudo-debate.
I'm not on Extropian-freedom, or whatever the list is called. I want to take this
as a question about appropriate technology and what people need and don't need.
I want to do this in the spirit of raising the level of debate even about something
that is FAQ material, because it does concern a crucial point of transhumanity.

If it ever seems that I am lecturing you or not listening, say so and I will
back off. I want to take this in as methodical and detailed a fashion as I can.
I hope we can both gain from the exchange.

I have asked five questions. Please look for them marked out with "***"s.
Q5 is the crucial one.


Kai, I agree that scary people are scary. Tanked-up Hell's Angels on amphetamines
bumping into me at a bar are really scary, and I don't like the idea of seeing
even one of them with a gun in his (or her) hand.

So we have a baseline of agreement, yes? People (you and I, at least)
prefer feeling safer to feeling less safe. Onward!

> Just to clarify this: My fears are that people go nuts. And people with
> guns can do more bad things than people without. (Okay, repeat the argument
> about the canister with gasoline, but we currently need gasoline to fuel
> our cars. We don't really need guns in our every day live).

My point about the homicidal man who went back to the club with a dollar's worth of
gasoline is: gee, if he'd had a gun handy he might have shot his girlfriend,
and maybe himself and a few other people, instead of burning down a building
and killing 87.

Let's do the math. Even if he were the only one with a gun,
it probably would have saved lives. Pretty weird, no? If every death is
a bad thing, he did more bad things without a gun than he would have with
any gun he would have been likely to get in the same amount of time.
Even a full auto M-16 with two 30 round magazines.

This appears to contradict your comment
> people with guns can do more bad things than people without.

What could anyone have done, either way?

Well, maybe if the people in the club had known he was dangerous, they might not have
chosen to be crowded into an upper floor of a run down wooden building with only one
narrow staircase (the entrance); or they could have taken some sort of action to protect
themselves. But they didn't, and once the gas hit the staircase they couldn't do anything.

Apparently none of them decided, after he told the girl he'd be back, in an obviously agitated
state: "Hey, this man looks homicidal. Let's post a bouncer or two at the door
in case he comes back."

And they didn't call the cops. One big reason was that Happy Land Social Club had
no license to operate. They were breaking the law (including the fire code) and everyone
present would see the cops as more of a threat than a help. Until the smoke started to
gag people. It was too late to renovate and get a liquor license then.

The following comment is a cultural one, not a racist one (sad that I need to say that):

The occupants of the place were mostly Dominicans, the man who set the torch
was Puerto Rican. So there might have been some culture mismatch; the other major
dance club fire ever set in the US and Territories was in Puerto Rico; perhaps
a Puerto Rican crowd would have read the man as a potent threat.

Yes, people do go crazy. Arson is a major crime in the US and worldwide, and
people die from it every day, and a lot of those cases (85% or so) are never solved,
and the ones that are solved have a lot of deeply crazy people convicted.

Homicidal pyromania is absolutely no joke, and it scares me a lot.

So: even though we need gasoline, here are a few ideas: we could require
a three day waiting period before one can have it sold to one in a portable
container. Or a psychiatric evaluation before dispensing.
Or an armed escort to make sure he only puts the fuel in a vehicle
after he buys it. Or only sell "loose fuel" to a licensed tow truck operator.

We don't really need loose gasoline in our everyday lives.

And a three day waiting period for battery acid--you've no doubt heard about
all the horrible disfigurement cases in Southeast Asia from jealous wives
dealing with their husbands' young mistresses? And the courts side with the

We don't really need loose acid in our everyday lives.

For the record: these sorts of things (arson, acid) bother me more than guns,
because they seem much more random and unfair. One bullet generally goes one place.

And do I even need to mention the overmentioned fact that airliners are now
fashionable mass murder weapons? No, I didn't think so.

I have gotten used to dealing with these concerns by noticing that most of the time,
people around me act as if they are sane. That even includes people who probably
own guns. And it includes me, and I know I own a gun. And it includes my friend and
colleague who just applied to become a policeman.

But let's go back to your issue:

> Once again: I am terrible afraid when I know that people around have
> weapons. I am more afraid of any "law abiding citizen" who carries a gun,
> than I am otherwise afraid of falling victim to a violent crime. (Running
> amok woth a gun is a violent crime...)

I try to understand the dimensions of your fear.
> My feeling is that everyone who thinks he must carry a gun is so fearful
> and so near to the brink of paranoia that he is a high risk of eventually
> going nuts.

Yes. I accept that this is your fear. I do respect it; the world is actually full
of scary things besides guns, but for you they are a big concern, right?

Yes. And, you will agree, "people" includes cops and the military, doesn't it?
Here's another anecdote:

The only two crimes on record as having been committed with _licensed_ automatic
weapons here in the US were both undertaken by off duty law enforcement agents.
One was deduced to be a crime of passion, the other was an assassination or "hit".

This leads me to my first two questions in this post:

  Q1: So you are scared of the cops and the military when they're around, yes?
      They have guns, and they are people, and people go crazy.


  Q2: I own a gun and I don't go around with it, nor do I "think I must" these days.
  But yes, it is possible for me to do so (possibly at risk of breaking some laws).

  I am not a member of any of the nearly 100 government agencies authorized to carry firearms freely.

  Presently I live in the USA, and over more than 10 years I have received a considerable
  amount of ongoing training in the safe and appropriate use of firearms.

  Where does that put me in your fears? If I moved next door to you in the EC, would you worry
  that I'd snuck in a gun, or that I knew too much about them? Or what?


You might know that anyone ("Joe Sixpack") can buy the materials to make an effective firearm
at a hardware store, most places in the world. Here in the US I could probably buy
what's needed for $3.00-$10.00 without shopping too hard. I will not spell the details out.

The next question is not intended to browbeat you, but to probe your personal limits.
Please list the items that apply--I won't argue, I just want to know...

  Q3: When does that (Joe Sixpack and the hardware store full of potential guns) become scary for you?
    a. When I announce the fact of it being possible?
    b. When Joe Sixpack goes to the hardware store for any reason, you can't tell why?
    c. When he buys stuff that could make the parts?
    d. When he buys exactly the parts needed?
    e. When he assembles them into a workable firearm, without any ammunition?
    f. When he leaves that, unloaded, in his car, garage, or house?
    g. When he goes out to his car with it and a box of ammunition?
    h. When he loads it with ammunition just before scuba diving
       (Joe is a marine biologist who solo dives a lot in Monterey Bay, and
        it's a "bang stick": last-resort protection from Great White sharks)?
    i. When he assembles exactly the parts needed, but
          put together to make a walking stick, instead of a gun?

For the record, none of those things scare me very much, given no other data (such as, "Joe has just escaped from the
Trenton Hospital for the Crimially Insane").

However, (e) is probably illegal here (CA, USA) unless Joe has records on file as a firearms manufacturer
and pays his taxes, etc. (f) might be unlawful depending on how large it is and how he stores it.
I'm not going to address any Federal aspects of this hypothetical case, and I Am Not A Lawyer, etc.

What would scare me is Joe "acting bad", say, pointing the thing in an inappropriate direction. And yes, if I saw him
carrying it, I'd keep an eye on him. But that's it, unless or until he does something I consider dangerous. But I am
willing to trust Joe some. Especially if I know him.

  Q4: Does the fact that I know how to make Joe's "bang stick" scare you, and/or
      am I scarier now that you know that I could make one or teach others how?

In conclusion, I repeat my most important question, which I've not yet seen you answer:

  Q5: What magic is there that transforms an ordinary person into a trustworthy one?

Your .sig says
> "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced"

So kindly answer Q5, please.

Some day soon, you'll find some amped-up Flagnib standing next to you carrying a set of FULLY MILITARY-SPECIFICATION
TORM RINGS, and they'll look to be set on strong alignment.

Will you be scared? Should you be? How will you tell?

Utterly seriously,



MMB is reachable via butler at comp dash lib dot o r g * My moronic mnemonic for smart behavior: "DICKS" == * * diplomacy, integrity, courage, kindness, skepticism. *

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