Minutiae
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"Chuck Norris doesn't read books; he stares them down until he gets the information he wants out of them."
- ChuckNorrisFactsdotcom

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
On violence and stupidity:

Uff da! How many school shootings? See,
this is why I don't want to pay attention anymore. People are getting cuckoo and it's just going to get worse.

It's estimated that 2-10% of any random human population will exhibit serious sociopathic or antisocial personality traits. (There are no effective treatments for personality disorders.) That figure doesn't include the people who are genuinely psychotic, (as in genuinely out of touch with reality,) due to severe organic mental illness or brain damage. In other words, there are dangerous amoral assholes and crazies, everywhere there are people.

You cannot truly disarm people. Humans are a tool-using, problem-solving, information-propagating species. That quality is fundamental to the entire history of our continued existence and progress as civilized societies. We accomplish a variety of objectives, through a variety of actions, and with a variety of means, as quickly and efficiently as realistically possible. It’s called technological innovation and evolution.

Humans are also a violent species. Humans are hunters. Humans are alpha predators, the top of the food chain. We’ve been killing both two and four legged animals to survive, for tens of thousands of years. We live at the expense of other life forms.

We are not historically or naturally vegetarian; nor do we photosynthesize. Most of us consume other animals. (Meaning that modern nutrition and food science has made it practically possible to make a voluntary philosphical choice to be well nourished while eating exclusively from plants; rather than simply being circumstantially too poor/old/sick/slow to acquire meat and a modern varied, all-season, vegetable diet. Survival of the fittest is a mother.) [see: generational changes in height in Asia or Yao Ming]

Violence is an action; motive, ways, and means vary. Violence is a choice. Most of the time, between rational civilized humans who posses free will, it’s not the best available choice. However, some conflicts can only be settled with violence.

Some people cannot be dissuaded from infringing on the rights of others, in any other way. It’s stupid and tragic but it happens with disappointing regularity. [see: WWII] (The Amish are philosophically non-violent, it's so TV-movie greek-tragic/ironic.) Healthy societies (rather than minority subcultures,) must find a sweet spot on the violence-reluctance scale that allows minor annoyances and transgressions (road-rage) to be ignored, while serious infringements (attempted: rape, murder, or genocide) are resisted or settled as decisively as necessary.

Efficacy and response-time of local law enforcement is a strong determining influence on where that optimal zone falls. (Do I have to handle this myself, can I call the neigbors, or can I turn it over to a trusted institution with better equipment, training, and manpower?) Strong social norms (mythology, religion, and law) help too. There is truth in the notion that an armed society is a polite society, (but that can also lead to dysfunctional macho honor dueling cultures.) [see: etymology of the word outlaw, and wild west culture]

We as a human society cannot function without: heavy blunt objects, sharp edges, and pointy sticks. Clubs, blades, and awls/spears are our oldest weapons because they are our most primitive tools. There will always be rocks and sticks and vines, (or their more sophisticated analogues,) available. There are whole fighting systems designed to be effective with empty hands or improvised weapons fashioned out of common tools. (Nunchucks were originally rice flails.) Heck, we have a whole movie genre dedicated to watching how cool, ingenious, and effective, such systems of controlled applied violence are.

Humans are a tool-using species. Even high-security prisons have to search cells for weapons regularly. No people would freely or knowingly choose that steep a liberty-security gradient; yet even at that extreme, deadly weapon use is common. Prisons are notoriously dangerous. Police states aren't safe. The power lies in the information and inclination, not the tool.

The new TSA rules are a bad joke for just that reason.
You cannot prohibit canes and crutches. Therefore anyone who cares to study a bit of stick-fighting can legally carry a deadly weapon on a plane. Gaping Hole Number 1: blunt sticks.

Kubotans are banned?!? Picture a 5-6 inch length of 1?2 inch plastic or wood dowel, that’s ALL a Kubotan is. It's a blunt stick that's not even half a foot long. In fact, one of the big selling points for the training was the ability to adapt the technique for PENS. There are at least 3 easy ways to kill with a pen. You cannot ban pens and pencils. Gaping Hole Number 2: pointy sticks.

Wire or rawhide wrapped chokers make for excellent garrotes. Fancy oversize ring & bar fasteners make for perfect handles. Shoelaces or belts will do the job too. You cannot ban wire and cord. Gaping Hole Number 3: string.

I won’t even get specific about the chaos that anyone who paid attention in high school chemistry could cause with less than 4 ounces of liquid and assorted powders. I could sure as hell package any liquid or powder to look like boutique cosmetics or toiletries. Yet you can't ban liquids for babies and the sick. Restricting liquids is already causing untold headaches. (I suspect that rule will be quietly withdrawn within a few months, like the nail-clipper imbroglio.) Gaping Hole Number 4: liquid.

Thermite plus matches.* ‘Nuff Said. Gaping Hole Number 5: fire.
[* Yes, I know you would require 2 other components for mayhem. I'm not going to give recipes, I'm speaking generally.]

The undersides of a few of my appliances should be classed as dangerous weapons. Any metal edge can have a sharp edge put on it. See: shank spoons, credit card knives, glass, and chisels. Gaping Hole Number 6: blades.
There are at least 3 other duh-simple and difficult-to-detect mischief methods that I can think of offhand. I’m sure someone dedicated enough to martyr themselves to make an abstract philosophical point could come up with dozens more after intense study. (Arms-race, hackers, spammers, copy-protection… any of that ring a bell?)

How did that line by General Patton go? "Fixed fortifications are lasting monuments to man’s stupidity." Perhaps the same may be said for "security rules." (Remember, they had state-of-the-art metal detectors and x-ray machines and "security" in place on 9/11.) There’s a way around every rule, just like every wall. Super-complex and restrictive security will just waste time and money while forcing determined bad guys to go Bond. [See: Al Capone and moonshine, also Alcatraz]

Keep bombs and guns off planes. Get over the rest. Other methods are too slow/inefficient to neutralize passengers and crew. The post-flight 93 fear meme (that cooperation will get you killed rather than keeping you safe,) will curtail casualties. Adaptation to that new tactical reality took less than an hour under fire. The air force didn't have to shoot it down. "Unarmed" and given little warning, the civilian "victims" thwarted their killers' objective.

This is also why gun control doesn’t and won’t work. If it's easy to follow the rules, most people will. If the burden of doing so is too great, people will find a way around. Risk/benefit calculations play in too. Many unreasonable rules are overreactions to poorly understood problems. [see: DMCA and the success of the iTunes Music Store, versus free piracy]

As long as you’re going to allow people to freely use tools, they’ll use tools for weapons, according to circumstances and inclination. From guns to sharpened spoons, people will use the most efficient tool they can easily access, to do the job. Guns are more efficient, not more lethal. We killed each other effectively in war and peacetime for 5000 years before we developed guns. [see: crime rate in "gun-free" England]

If you’re going to start restricting tool use, you’re going to severely curtail leisure, innovation, domestic manufacturing, and small-business activity. The information age is bringing power to the people more literally than ever before. It's just going to get more extreme.We're living in the very beginning of the information technology revolution.

My grandmother (depression-era childhood, europe WWII army, Memphis pre-MLK public-health nurse, and post-Roe Planned Parenthood volunteer,) could only have envisioned her future through the most fanciful science fiction and horror. Molecular nano-assemblers will come in my lifetime. (think: Star Trek replicator) You ain't seen nothin' yet. (imagine the near elimination of scarcity as a limiting economic factor, or: metaphoric and literal lead into gold) [see: internet's near elimination of distance, space, and location as a limiting factors, ala Amazon and Netflix versus Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster]
"Ipsa scientia potestas est." Knowledge itself is power.
-Sir Francis Bacon
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." -Alexander Pope
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so is a lot."
-Albert Einstein
The scary flipside is that viruses can be synthesized in labs. [see: gardeners and horticulturalists propagating new breeds of corn, potatoes and, winegrapes] A moderately motivated and wealthy person could create the trifecta of WMDs in a garage, today. We've already had two unintentional genie-out-of-the-bottle discoveries since 2000.

Additionally, knowledge and the value and acquisition-drive placed thereon, will determine the competitiveness of the American worker in a rapidly changing globalizing economy. Adapt or die; the future belongs to the efficient. It applies to continuing education and innovation across all fields of human endeavor. [see: microbreweries]

As long as I have a lathe, a drill-press, a grinder, and a saw in my garage; a gun or blade is never far away. (Heck, with the right kind of rocks to bang together, plus wood, I can make a mammoth-killing spear.) As long as there are rocks and urine, primitive explosives are at hand. As long there're sticks and string, a bow is at hand.

Every engineer, tradesman, farmer, and chemist is a potential walking arsenal. Tools are tools. If you restrict access and use of tools, you’ll kill off the American homebrew garage/workshop invention-yeast that’s brought us things like electricity, the telephone, radio, the car, the airplane, the internet, and private space-flight. The modern risk-aversive/ consult-a-professional/ "don’t try this at home" mentality is terribly corrosive to innovation.

Security should be like an onion, not an eggshell. Private individuals spot, stop, or mitigate more problems than professionals. [See: Morgan Stanley's Rick Rescorla, "The Wisdom of Crowds", and the shoe bomber.] Why? Because they're there. This is by virtue of numbers and ubiquity. "There's never a cop around when you need one." It's also a natural attribute of an unchanging feature of human nature. We group together. We interact. We watch those around us for conformity and we gossip about it. Mailmen and housewives are great detection and warning systems because they're already embedded in every community collecting intelligence and if they cry wolf they'll live with the consequences of embarassment and lost credibility, unlike faceless agents from a centralized authority. [see: minutemen]

"A pack not a herd." Herds are groups of animals without natural defenses; reliant on external protection, and/or safety in numbers. Herds denote the mindless safety of the mob. Herds are driven by shepards. Packs connote intelligent problem-solving individuals. Packs are lead by alphas.

Small groups of humans can be defined as families , societies and packs. Packs are about group dynamics, competition, individualism, efficient accomplishment of goals, and hierarchical assertion of authority. Families are about teamwork, nurturing, collectivism, and collaboration. Humans are social animals, but we are predators not sheep. We do not behave like ruminants but like canids (wolves or sheepdogs.) We have no natural predators, except each other. Society cooperates and adapts in disaster. Mobs and bureaucracies flail or fail, out of control, in unfamiliar circumstances, or they turn barbaric. [see: $2 billion Tsunami American Red Cross donations, FEMA v Churches & Katrina, 2003 East coast blackout v Kitty Genovese & Bystander-effect/apathy]

Packs are also hierarchical by nature. [see: behavioral dog-training ala Cesar Milan] Much of the consistent nature of human behavior across cultures and millennia, is the basic social behavior of any group of complex intelligent animals. Dolphins work together to kill sharks. Other primates: intimidate, threaten, bluff, fight, forcibly mount one another, and engage in warfare. Animals eliminate rivals. Animals kill for food and defense. Animals have no concept of rape.

All that separates humans from the law of the jungle or the naked will-to-power is the ongoing decision (by most of us,) to live under the rules of civilization. If a critical mass cannot or will not do so, society descends into the rot of barbarism, tyrants, and bullies. The choice to abide may change in a moment as circumstances alter. (All of us engage in selective illicit or antisocial behavior on occasion, sometimes we label it "victimless crime" sometimes civil disobediance.)

We call it the social contract on the order side of the balance and the tragedy of the commons on the entropy side. The barbarism-civilization gradient is in a constant state of random fluctuating oscillation, (although over the long-term the trend is positive,) we're on a down swing now. While it is true that I am deeply skeptical of society and government, it is because I am skeptical of human nature. Society and government are human institutions and share the flaws or weaknesses of humans regardless of size or complexity.

[*slightly revised for clarity and references on 10-6, 10-10]

posted by Rachel 10/04/2006
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