TECHNOLOGY AND TRUST (LONG), was Re: some U.S. observations and notes

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Sat Dec 29 2001 - 11:03:16 MST

Kai: thanks for responding. I've broken things up into 8 mind-sized chunks.

1 KAI:
> Am Samstag, 29. Dezember 2001 06:19 schrieb Michael M. Butler:
> I don't know if you got my point.
> (1) I wouldn't feel safe with _anyone_ in that bar carrying a gun, not even
> you or me.
> (3) I am talking from my perspective here in Germany, where we'd rather
> call the police than try to play the hero. (cf. Sting: "Englishman In New
> York")

1--OK, I get that. Guns are just scary as far as you are concerned, as is anyone carrying one.
No exceptions. Very clear. But then...

3--Uh oh. Now I am confused, help me out. Are cops somehow not-people? This lemma is broken:

(*) Anyone with a gun is bad. Cops are good. Cops have guns.

Please explain this inconsistency, or explain where I err. If cops are _better_ than people,
then we have an example of someone who has that magic I asked about in my Q5. Don't we?

2 KAI:
> See, I don't accept that a free and liberal society has to be so dangerous
> that their citizens only feel safe when they carry a deadly weapon.

We are in utter agreement on this point, as written. There are a bunch of grand generalizations
in it, though, so I can tell you that it's my feeling that I have never lived in such a society
as you describe, and I think I never shall.

Since I have read the novel _Stand on Zanzibar_ by John Brunner, however, I must point out
that in the appropriate (evil? violent, certainly) frame of mind, _anything_ really can be
a deadly weapon. A plate glass window. A pencil. A rolled-up magazine. A stiff finger.
Lots of this stuff is everywhere you go. Some of it you'd have to amputate to be free of.

Nonetheless of course I agree completely with your sentiment. All that stuff doesn't make the world any more dangerous;
it simply is what it is.

But let me think of one subculture in the US that you might be talking about, as if it were the whole society:

Inner cities. For now, specifically, their schools.

I hear reports that there are _some_ highschools where _some_ students are criminals who carry
firearms, and there are _other_ (scared) students who carry their own in response. This in no
way pleases me, and I wish I could change it. That is at present beyond my powers. It sucks.

Regarding age association <25 with gun misbehavior:

Very likely. Same goes for renting cars. I completely agree that impulse control is key.
It's one of the reasons young people in boot camp get the "Chaka Zulu" resocialization
treatment. But see the movie "Full Metal Jacket" for the nightmare scenario.

But I knew a fair number of trustworthy kids when I shot rifle in the Boy Scouts, and not one of them
ever killed anyone or even waved a gun around. What counts is the individual.

Given the status quo in that school I mentioned, I can't wave a magic wand. I can't in good conscience tell a scared kid
who *does* have good impulse control, and *does* obey his momma, and *does* have a justifed fear--specific, articulable,
and present, of deadly violence--that he has the absolute obligation to not do what he can to feel more in control of
his destiny. I _still_ trust such a kid over the crack smoker/gangsta.

Let's move out of the school.

The same goes for a nurse in an empty hospital parking garage at 4 AM, down near where they keep the narcotics. That
nurse is precisely zero threat to me, and if she's trained and practices properly, just about zero threat to anyone but
bad guys.

And yes, there are some bad places in the US, and yes, it sucks that there are.

3 KAI:
> > 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.
> I have heard this argument before: "The minorities" are far more violent
> and criminal than the rest. (I won't discuss prejudices of the police and
> justice here) It is sad to say that the numbers seem to confirm this
> theory, in the US as well as here.

"This argument"?

Minorities being more unhappy, or violent, or criminal, is a really complex topic.
I don't feel qualified to discuss it, and so I don't bring it up.

That was not my point at all. My point was that different cultures learn different
cues for abnormal behavior, and that just as "Moroccans stand too close for Americans"
is a sociological heuristic, "A homicidally jealous Puerto Rican does not typically
appear homicidal to a recent Dominican emigre" might be another.

A more colorful example: a Masai herder who talks about having a nice cup of blood for breakfast
is simply discussing daily life; a Wall Street banker straightfacedly saying the same thing
to an important conservative client would cause some raised eyebrows.

4 KAI:
> Someone also suggested that the reason for the different crime rates is the
> inhomogeneity(?) of the US society compared to a more homogeneous Europe.
> Hm. But the "majority" also consists of former minorities, here as well as
> in the US, correct? Unless you propose that the "new minorities" are
> intrinsically more violent than the "old", what magic turned a mixture of
> minorities into a homogeneous, peaceful, law abiding majority?

I can't answer that, since I am not confident of the premise and never claimed the premise as mine.

5 KAI:
> > ***
> > Q5: What magic is there that transforms an ordinary person into a
> > trustworthy one? ***
> I think this question explains the difference between us... My experience
> is that more than 99.99% of the "ordinary persons" here are non-violent
> persons. Trustworthy in the sense that they won't rob or kill me, even if
> they could.


Kai! Good news! This question was phrased in the way that it was because of
the _sameness_ between us. Day to day, I treat my life the same way as you say.

I trust people. And I own a gun.

I phrased it the way I did because I think that that 99.99% you mention might
be able to be trusted with guns, too, but you seem to think they can't be trusted
with guns--which makes them untrustworthy in the first place, because if I can't
trust them with a gun, how can I trust them with a dollar's worth of gasoline?
Both items are trivial to kill with. Yet life goes on.

6 KAI:
> Lunatics and violent persons are a very small minority. So, my
> default assumption is "non-violent until proven different" (which doesn't
> imply that I leave my house or my car unlocked, though). If you'd say that
> this standard assumption is different in the US, then we might have one of
> the soft factors (or a symptom of it).

The funny thing is, I extend the default assumption to include
"non-violent until proven different" even when I think about
(mature, responsible) adults having guns. Or Molotov cocktails.
Or lots of things. All I ask is that they not fuck up and not scare me
by waving them around or setting them off irresponsibly.

And I am still capable of doing my best to respond to adversity
in some way other than as a victim; I know I do not have a victim's
attitude as my only choice if it turns out my trust is someday misplaced.
Having no gun handy makes little difference to me, as I've tried to make clear.
Am I a barbarian, or just "facultative"?

You have indicated that even _wanting_ to own any gun, any time, anywhere
is a sign of psychopathology. Pardon me, but I think that's really silly.

A loaded gun is just a couple of ounces of low explosive wrapped in metal.
I know you could go to a hardware store and make one for $10, and there is nothing
I can do about it, so I live my life confident that you are probably part of the
99.99%, absent obvious clues to the contrary.

For you, though, it seems as if there's a problem once anyone thinks about having a gun.

I'm really interested in a response to my (*) problem above, about cops, in the section labeled 1 KAI:.
Crazy (they have guns, they willingly pick them up) cops are a reason to feel safe?

This makes no sense. Please explain.

7 KAI:
> >From my point of view, I'd rather ask it the other way:
> (2) What evil magic transforms an ordinary person into a mass-murderer?

A fair question. I have no final answer. I agree the question is important,
and am happy to see that we agree.

Since you have posed it in that form, let me pose a question in reply:

Is it the evil magic of the demon-possessed handgun carried on the person?
Like the enchanted sword of Elric of Melnibone, it must taste human souls?
I don't think so. You have talked as if you do think so.

8 KAI:
> (1) (the even more interesting question) How can we all (every person on
> this planet) live together when we cannot risk that anyone is so
> "disgruntled" that he starts a mass-killing with some "empowering"
> technology?

A very good question. I wish you luck and courage in finding an answer
that satisfies you. I would suggest a reframing away from "we cannot risk"
because that seems to translate to "the risk must be 0", and I know no way
to accomplish such a thing.

Your question has a melancholy counterpart: What if we cannot all live together?
How might we nonetheless live as rightly as possible? Surely not by huddling in fear
of everyone's capacity to do harm?

We are moving toward a time when, conceivably, any arbitrary collection of atoms
will be trivial to create. What is to be done?

Whew! Thanks for the workout.



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. *

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:32 MDT