Category Archives: Politics

A possible action to take on mass shootings, and the importance of letting cooler heads prevail

popular_science_brain_scansWhenever there is a mass murder in this country where firearms were used, many politicians will inevitably take to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their community, and many other Americans will just as inevitably criticize them for offering something so useless in the effort to prevent another such mass murder. Thoughts and prayers, everyone can agree, aren’t going to stop the next mass shooter, so what will?

They also balk at the suggestion that it’s the time to mourn, not to start debating over the best method to prevent further attacks. These shootings seem be occurring with greater and greater frequency, so if it becomes verboten to discuss solutions too soon after the shootings, will there be any time when they can be discussed?

It’s understandable that people would be clamoring for ways to stop shooting sprees soon after one occurs, as was the case after the slaughter of elementary school students in my home state of Connecticut and the recent shooting in Florida. If there’s anything that humans are biologically programmed never to take in stride, it’s the deaths of human children. When over a dozen of them are slain at a time, we react with mental anguish, and from that an overpowering desire never to have to experience such anguish again.

But is a time when emotions are boiling over really an ideal climate for reasoned political debate? After senseless death occurs, people overflow with empathy towards the victims and their families. And one thing about empathy to remember is that it cannot be exercised simultaneously with logic.

Does a time when empathy is at its high point really sound like the best time to make decisions on public policy?

If we are to assume that these shooting sprees can be prevented, let’s assess the situation rationally. When many people look over the recent shootings, they notice a common thread: The majority of them were committed using a specific design of gun, the AR-15 assault rifle. Therefore, if the shooters were unable to acquire this AR-15, they would be unable to commit the murders. Therefore, if the AR-15 became illegal to sell or purchase, mass shootings would significantly decrease.

It seems so simple. So obvious. Or at least it does in the heat of the moment, when one is reeling from a mass killing and is desperate for some way to stop them from happening. But perhaps it’s worth the time to assess things further.

What motivates the average spree killer? It’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but it seems as though their goal is to kill as many people as possible. Perhaps it’s to seek fame by any means necessary. Perhaps it’s extreme misanthropy. But whatever the underlying motivation, the fact remains that their immediate objective is to maximize casualties.

Thus the prevalence of AR-15 rifles in these shootings. The AR-15 is the most powerful type of gun that can be legally acquired by civilians in the United States, so of course those preparing for a mass shooting would be drawn to it. Does this mean they would be deterred from committing a shooting if they couldn’t access in AR-15? Of course not. They’d just purchase whatever took its place as the most powerful type of gun. (If one had a dim view of Americans’ capacity to learn from their mistakes, he’d presume there would be a push to criminalize that gun, continuing the cycle.)

Furthermore, the habit of ensuring their gun is procured through legal means might be the MO of a spree killer, but not the overwhelming majority of those who purchase guns with the intent to cause harm with them. If someone wants to commit a mass murder in a twisted bid to make a name for himself, he will want to stick to legal channels when preparing for it, lest he attract the attention of law enforcement before he can commit it. Most criminals, however, have no compunction in breaking laws to acquire guns to be used to break other laws. Making guns illegal would have no impact on those already committed to illegal activity.

So if passing laws to make guns illegal won’t discourage mass shooters, what will? Let’s take another look at their apparent goal: To kill as many people as possible. And what tends to stop mass shooters from continuing to kill people indefinitely? Being confronted by someone else who is also armed.

This explains why mass shooters are drawn to places such as schools: They are crowded areas, full of targets, but where nobody is usually allowed to carry a gun. With no substantial means to defend themselves, the victims have no choice but to run to the nearest room and lock the doors until someone else with a gun arrives on the site.

But what if guns were allowed on the premises in the first place? What if there were a number of firearms throughout the building, that if need be could be accessed by adults who were trained in how to use them? What if this was well-known?

Would such a building still attract a mass shooter? Given that the number of likely fatalities would presumably be significantly diminished in such an attempt, it wouldn’t be nearly as tempting a target.

So that’s the solution that is reached when logic is employed rather than emotions. You may scoff at such an idea, but open-mindedness toward concepts that seem illogical at first blush is the responsibility of those who aim to set policy. And the possibility of an unorthodox solution to be the most (or only) viable one is why it’s necessary to wait until one’s empathy has ebbed and logic can take over.

Why the Men’s Rights Movement?

mockup-fe0f3200Today marks International Men’s Day, a day for societal introspection regarding the current state of the welfare of men and boys. Needless to say, there are a lot of pressing concerns, from high rates of suicide among men to lower lifespans in general to a growing gender gap in academic performance. But as to be expected, plenty of screeching can be found about how in order to tackle these problems, the “patriarchy” must be dismantled first.

As I’ve noted before, feminists have trouble recognizing when double standards hurt men more than women. Perhaps the narrative with which they’re familiar causes them to see things through such a distorted lens. All differences in which the genders are treated by life society are due to a vast patriarchy designed to oppress women; any evidence of men having it worse off is due to unintended consequences of the patriarchy’s actions.

For those of you fortunate enough never to have heard of a blog called “Shakesville,” here is a rather revealing piece about an ugly incident. A man was murdered by another man who was recently hit by a woman. His assailant refused to strike a woman, even the one who struck him first, so he vowed to attack the next man he saw instead. The column is titled “Today in Misogyny.”

A woman hits a man. Said man does not retaliate against her, as he was raised never to hit a woman. A man is attacked, and killed, in her stead. According to Shakesville, this serves as an example of sexism… against women. And this is the same site that has mocked the idea of a men’s rights movement. How exactly can one’s personal mindset become so hideously warped?

Their insistence that a men’s rights movement is unnecessary seems to be this: The goal of feminism is gender equality. If the goal of the MRAs were really gender equality as well, they would simply become feminists. Their refusal to do so is proof that their goal is not gender equality at all, and must be something else — presumably a patriarchal society.

So what sort of campaigns for equality can masculists look forward to by being welcomed into the folds of feminism? How about something such as the incredibly high rate of incarceration of men when compared to women? Surely the feminists are up in arms over such a gender gap?

Not really. I’ve never heard of any self-professed feminist declare that the discrepancy in male and female incarceration rates are a problem.

Well, perhaps that’s understandable. Surely it’s self-evident that men are different than women in ways that mean they are more likely to break the law. Men take bigger risks, are more prone to violent behavior. So it’s understandable that their greater rate of imprisonment is due to natural differences in gender rather than any issue that can be solved with a change of policy, right?

So let’s look at something that does raise the ire of the mainstream feminist movement: The gender gap in regards to salary. Conventional wisdom holds that for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only earns about 75 to 80 cents.

Well, “counterpart” may not be the right word. The statistic doesn’t take into account the fact that women and men tend to work different jobs. Men work more hours in higher-paying jobs, and women tend to favor careers that are less demanding with a salary that reflects that.

Not that feminists are assuaged by such an explanation, however. Why are men and women drawn to different careers in the first place? One theory holds that the omnipresent patriarchy has instilled a set of gender roles in people. Women are not as ambitious in seeking high-paid jobs because they’ve been conditioned to think of themselves as the homemakers and men as the breadwinners. Therefore, say the feminists, the gender pay gap is a problem, even if it doesn’t take such factors as different career paths among the genders into account.

And so, one of the main current goals of the feminist movement is to force companies to hire women through mandatory quotas. As a majority male board of executives in a company must be an indicator of sexist hiring practices rather than a majority of men seeking and qualifying for such positions, the only fair thing to do is to force the companies to hire more women.

(It’s interesting to note, however, that when feminists speak of hiring quotas, they’re always referring to quotas for positions in boardrooms, rather than, say, sewers or oil rigs. They seem to lack any interest in changing the workplace fatality gap, which is far more glaring than the pay gap. But I digress…)

But… Wait.

There seems to be a conflict in this line of thinking. We’ve already dismissed the incarceration gap as rooted in biological differences between men and women. So why can’t sexual dimorphism explain the pay gap as well? What if whatever drives men to commit more crime also drives them to earn more money? Why is the feminist movement demanding that laws be passed to force the closing of one gap but not the other?

(It’s worth noting, though, that even aside from men committing more crime, women still receive more lenient sentences when committing the same crime as men. Unlike the pay gap, the imprisonment gap doesn’t significantly diminish when accounting for other variables… And the pay gap is still regarded as a more pressing problem. But again, I digress…)

It would seem that the feminist movement isn’t as steadfastly determined to fight for men’s rights as those insisting that MRAs should be feminists would have us believe.

But I am reasonable. I am perfectly willing to accept this modern feminism as legitimate. All I ask is that feminists do at least one of the following:

• Lead a campaign to instill quotas for the percentage of female prisoners, urging stricter sentences for female offenders and even demanding that male prisoners be released if necessary;

• Abandon their calls for gender quotas and efforts to close the “gender pay gap,” instead letting the chips fall where they may in terms of who is hired for which job and how much salary they receive, and give equal attention to the issues facing men;

• Cease all claims that their brand of feminism is also beneficial to men, and allow separate men’s rights movements to continue unabated with no further hindrance on their part;

• Provide a logically sound, highly compelling explanation as to why they will not do any of the above.

I think that’s more than fair. Until that happens, I will proudly call myself a men’s rights advocate and refuse to apologize for being one.

Election 2016: Double Standards on Parade

I remember when I was a boy of about ten years. Multiple women at least thrice my age called me “cute” or “handsome.” Two women kissed me without my consent, with one going so far as to grab me and force me towards her. My parents even claimed that one of my female teachers had “a crush” on me. And I was a very shy child — I have no idea how women would see fit to treat me if I was more outgoing. Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea how people would react if I was a ten-year-old girl and a man I barely knew forcefully pulled me towards him and kissed me.

Women discuss groping men without their consent all the the time. Sometimes, they even go through with it, possibly because they realize how unlikely it is that they’ll face repercussions. A woman molested a sports star in public, and no one seemed to care.

Now it’s been revealed that Donald Trump has been acting in much the same way those women have, and he’s facing serious scrutiny. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked.

A Primer on Pills

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So there’s this new documentary out called The Red Pill. It’s from the point of view of a feminist who starts researching the men’s rights movement, and gradually starts to realize the movement may be in the right. Thus the film’s title: She “took the red pill,” or at least she did from the point of view of a men’s rights advocate.

The phrases “red pill” and “blue pill” have seen an upswing in use as of late, and they’re often associated with certain social and political movements. But given the potential of the expression, it shouldn’t be tied down to any one specific mindset.

The terminology of red and blue pills originates from the hit 1999 cyberpunk sci-fi movie The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski… Well, let’s just call them the Wachowskis. It may seem odd for a motion picture to serve as inspiration for an idiom, but it’s hardly unheard of: You may have heard that someone who abandoned their moral principles in their pursuit of wealth or prestige has “gone to the dark side of the Force.”

On the off chance you haven’t seen The Matrix, here’s a recap of the relevant details with spoilers minimized as best I could. Keanu Reeves stars as office drone Thomas Anderson, though he prefers to use his hacker moniker “Neo.” Neo has been getting subconscious urges to seek a mysterious figure known as Morpheus. When the two finally meet, Morpheus compares Neo to Alice on the brink of the rabbit hole, and offers to show him “the truth” about something known as the Matrix. He presents Neo with two pills, one red and one blue, and offers him a choice:

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

It wouldn’t be much of a movie if Neo took the blue pill. After ingesting the red pill, Neo is shown the shocking, devastating truth about his entire life: It was a complete lie.

It was a computer simulation the whole time, to keep his mind occupied and unable to see the world for what it really is. Nearly everyone he knew was also trapped in the Matrix, created by sentient machines to harvest humans’ body electricity. (So why, you ask, do the machines bother farming humans and setting up this simulated reality to use their body electricity for energy, instead of just burning whatever they’re feeding them for fuel directly? Well, that will have to be a story for a different time.)

Morpheus introduces Neo to others on his team, most of them former Matrix inhabitants who have presumably taken the red pill themselves. They live a rather miserable life, manning a futuristic hovercraft and roaming a wasteland devastated by the war between man and machine that machine won. Their mission is to “unplug” more people from the Matrix and give them the red pill, so they too will be awakened and realize the truth about the world. But Morpheus explains this will not be easy:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

It would seem that not everyone would be open to the idea of leaving the reality to which they have grown accustomed and start exploring the real world. In fact, not all those who have already been unplugged are satisfied with their choice. One of Neo’s shipmates confides in him that he wishes he took the blue pill. He’s aware that he would be living a lie if that were the case, but at least he wouldn’t be stuck in a vast dystopia eating food of dubious origin on a tiny ship. “Ignorance is bliss,” he moans as he savors a bite of juicy steak that by his own admission is really nothing more than a few lines of code.

Such is the choice to be made by the inhabitants of the Matrix. Do they take the red pill and learn the bitter reality of the world around them? Or do they take the blue pill, and remain in a comfortable dream world, avoiding unpleasant truths at the cost of their own freedom?

That dilemma is central to the expressions regarding red and blue pills. When you are offered the chance to see the world for what it really is, do you accept, and risk facing unpalatable realities, but gain enlightenment and the ability to improve the world? Or do you refuse, and continue to live a life that is fake but comforting, being part of the problem as you allow the state of the real world to stagnate?

It is rather obvious that this allegory feels relevant to those who believe the common consensus about society does not reflect the actual state of it. It’s especially useful when the speaker believes that people believe falsehoods about their reality because they have been brainwashed by a malevolent, powerful force, and the truth is difficult to take in and handle.

Therefore, to “take the red pill” is to accept the knowledge of how the world really is and how it functions. To “take the blue pill” is to be offered a chance at the truth, but to refuse, as they are so helplessly lost in lies that they refuse to consider they have been lied to, or they prefer a comforting lie to an inconvenient truth.

Here are some ways the terminology of pills can be used:

“James has suddenly started questioning the effectiveness of the 12-step program the court ordered him into. He must have taken the red pill.”

“Of course it’s in the Rothschilds’ best interests that everyone keep taking the blue pill.”

“I didn’t really consider the possibility that Jews control the banks and the media until I took the red pill.”

“Don’t send your kids to public school — they’ll be force-fed the blue pill every day they’re there.”

“A redpilled group on campus is challenging the gender studies majors who claim that gender is just a social construct.”

“Bonnie still refuses to read about how the world is really run by a cabal of humanoid lizards. She really must have swallowed that blue pill hard.”

The speakers in each of these situations may or may not be correct in terms of these statements, but they are using the expression of red and blue pills correctly in the context of their beliefs.

The same cannot be said of some I’ve seen using these sayings. The most glaring error is attempting to adopt the action of taking the blue pill as a badge of pride: “I’m glad I took the blue pill.” This makes no sense, just as you would not say, “Well, I guess ‘not being the sharpest knife in the drawer’ must be a good thing!” If someone accuses you of taking the blue pill, the proper counterargument is that the pill allegory does not apply to the topic at hand, or that it is in fact they who have taken the blue pill.

So there you have it. The allegory of pills can be useful when discussing matters of censorship and unpleasant truths. Just don’t assign the idiom to any specific movement.

Also, if you really haven’t seen The Matrix, you should. But do yourself a favor and take the blue pill — pretend the sequels don’t exist.

Subtleties of the NAP

Conservative vlogger Paul Joseph Watson recently released a hit piece on Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President. Many of his criticisms are perfectly valid, but he starts off his rant by accusing Johnson of endorsing measures that violate the “non-aggression principle.”

The non-aggression principle, or NAP, is an axiom commonly used in libertarian circles, and it essentially amounts to “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” It is their method of determining the ideal legality of any action. Any action that does not impinge upon the rights or well-being of others should be legal; any action that does — whether committed by civilian or government entity — should be illegal. The government should have the power to violate the NAP only to punish individuals who have themselves violated the NAP.

So Watson asserts that Johnson’s policy proposals fly in the face of the libertarians’ dearly beloved NAP. For examples, he lists his support of mandatory vaccinations for children and a carbon tax to discourage excessive production of greenhouse gases. And indeed, both of these concepts seem to run counter to the NAP and libertarian values in general, at least at first glance. But remember the government power that is allowed them even with the libertarian mindset: The power to inflict punitive damages upon its citizens if said citizens’ behavior is detrimental to others.

Should it be within a person’s rights to refuse to have their children vaccinated against infectious disease? Their children themselves may beg to differ when they are suffering from an easily preventable strain of whooping cough. And the lives of other children are jeopardized as well, given their community’s now-weakened herd immunity. The metaphorical nose doesn’t seem especially safe from the swinging fist.

Then there is the issue of the government’s taxation on emission of greenhouse gases, intended to function as negative reinforcement. The excessive production of such substances may not seem very criminal, but then again we’ve been conditioned to think of crime (theft, murder, fraud, assault, and the like) as something that has immediately perceptible consequences. Indeed, excessive damage to the environment is probably something that libertarians should consider controlling (an issue about which I myself made an inquiry once to Gov. Johnson, and later received a response that left something to be desired).

And it’s true that an individual’s impact might be infinitesimal on a grand scale. But perhaps I could produce counterfeit money so realistic that its recipient could spend it without any problems, and so on ad infinitum. It doesn’t seem that any noses are being broken by my fist, so does that mean my actions should be legal?

Of course not. My actions may not directly impact any one individual, but they still lead to overall inflation, as well as my profit despite nonexistent contributions to society. I, like antivaxxers and polluters, would fail the “What If Everybody Did It” test, something that should probably be administered when determining whether the non-aggression principle is being honored.

Obviously, this does not mean that the solutions proposed by Gov. Johnson are practical or feasible, or even the best means to solve what he believes to be problems. But the underlying concept of using governmental control to solve these problems may not necessarily violate the NAP.

The NAP has some intricacies that are not readily apparent, especially when it comes to violations that are not readily apparent. Mr. Watson can be forgiven for believing that Gary Johnson’s proposals make him a poor example of a libertarian, but it’s a good idea to make a thorough assessment of any action before judging measures to control that action.