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Re: How and Why We Are Stupid, Part 2

By Dr. Tom · June 17th, 1999 · Off the Record
When I was 9, my dad bought me my first gun. A pump action BB rifle. Not what most would consider a deadly weapon, but good for instruction on target shooting. By high school, I had learned to duck hunt with my dad and others. By then, I had more than a healthy respect for the dangers inherent in firearms.

Some of this learning was through experience, and fortuitously minor mishaps, hurting no one, with air rifles and hunting bows. Looking back, a learner's permit for anything more dangerous than a low-powered air rifle could only have been of benefit.

The benefits of gun licensure then and now are as follows: the insurance of parental responsibility put in writing for the purchase of guns by minors. Adequate testing for knowledge and practice. Efficiency and fairness in regulation: In other words, when I show my car license, I can buy a car; when I show my gun license, I can buy a gun. If I misuse a gun, I lose the license. If I am not fit to own a gun, I don't have a license or such a weapon. We would distinguish the lawful from the unlawful gun owner, lessening the burden on law enforcement. Finally, we would avoid ridiculous measures such as five-day waiting periods for every purchase -- the overreaction to our previous lack of gun control.

Looking at the issue, we quickly run into logical and functional problems in our society. These are the problems promoting not only stupidity, but cultural alienation and aberrant tragedies such as the one at Littleton, Colo.

I recall the logic of a gun store owner who showed me the passage about the right to bear arms in the Constitution. To him, this paragraph clearly defeated any need to register, license or account in any way for our weapons. "If they know where the guns are," he intoned, "they can come take them away from us."

Such confused and certainly paranoid reasoning starts with a profound intellectual laziness and failure to make any attempt to synthesize opposite extremes into moderate viewpoints.

"No gun regulation" and "total gun regulation" are unacceptable, so we look for middle ground. There are multiple views, so we are faced with a synthesis of these viewpoints, perhaps with some use of powers of deductive and inductive thought in line with our democratic goals.

One such goal is the simple deduction that opposite viewpoints provide resolution through good government, which attempts to maximize freedom and protection of the innocent at the same time. This is the deductive principle. To support such a deduction with inductive reasoning, consider that we require licensing for dangerous activity that might hurt others, from operating tons of high-speed machinery to prescribing medications.

Gun ownership and usage clearly falls into this category of activities. And, licensure provides us with the freedom to engage in such activities.

Such reasoning can protect us from those who would make their view a religion, invoking a holy document, the Constitution, which by the way, says nothing against licensing or even controlling the flow and location of firearms. Those who act as religious leaders, like our gun store owner, apparently promote the unimpeded and unregistered ownership and use of any type of lethal weapon whether qualified or not for the written purpose of extending that right to banding together and shooting people when necessary.

To paraphrase, however, the government that governs best is the one that governs least. No government ultimately leads to too much government. Now we talk about regulating everything in the wake of a gun tragedy: videos, school attendance and so on, simply because we let the lack of regulation grow in the first place.

If you want to see where democracy falls apart, look to where one extreme argument takes over to the point of no synthesis of opposite views. Here you will usually find powerful special interests and maybe a has-been movie star. If you want to see where our governing bodies fail, look to the glorification and misuse of outdated phrases from culturally inappropriate documents and look for faulty reasoning. Reason hides in the face of dollar bills stealthily passed under tables behind closed doors.

Finally, to explain the aberrant, stupid, totally avoidable, wasteful violent acts of alienated youth, we have to synthesize numerous factors into our understanding. Doing this is daunting, perhaps impossible, even to the best logician. We can explain the ready access to guns and the lack of adult oversight through obvious stupidity on our parts: especially by our inability to govern ourselves rationally. But such a tragedy can only be more wholly explained in terms of culture and, perhaps, through the use of meaningful symbols. To do this requires that we also understand our myths, legends and ideals -- both those that are true in addition to the lies.

The least but most effective government is not the good myth being applied to the education of young children up until high school when they finally should start to use effective abstract thinking. An effective abstraction, for example, being we all pursue our freedom under one symbol, our flag. To maintain that freedom, we are a just people. To maintain that freedom, we do not hurt others. We might feel lonely, but we are never alienated, not in America.

The ability of the individual to derive such a wealth of statement and feeling from a symbol, is dependent on the development of character. We can teach character -- freedom, self-expression, self esteem, independence and self reliance -- in our homes, but many families do not. In either case, what is now bad government in our early grade schools is the teaching to standards. These standards are often abstract, putting a 15-year-old mentality over a 7-year-old mind.

Likewise, academic standards applied too early have no validity or reliability in predicting how kids turn out. They predict only how we can turn kids into a product as defined and measure by testing. The high variability in childhood intellectual development and maturity of personality is circumscribed to limited views of functioning and behavior. Interventions to create a system-comfortable median common denominator are then enforced psychologically and physically. As we pat ourselves on the back for higher overall scores, we miss seeing a profound loss.

A sense of belonging often goes out the door, the window, into dysfunctional peer groups and onto a fantasy world focus. As daily life becomes more and more empty, media and sensation tend to rule. The ability to self-direct and to learn, not to mention truly lead, come from the heart, but the heart is running from the institution. The institution demands mind without nurturing heart and forces behavior without respecting character.

So here we must regulate more effectively, but far less. Sure, by all means, test proficiency (defined as an end result) at the end of high school. In the meantime, build schools in such a way that none have less than four grades but no more than 100 children per grade level and 20 children per classroom. In the early years, emphasize those activities that have been clearly demonstrated -- inductively through longitudinal research -- to enhance clear and developed minds and emotionally stable people. Educate teachers with reality and expect them to teach, not train. But, do all of this by putting as much freedom of methods and culture into the hands of each community. Finally, make the buildings new, educationally friendly and clean. These measures are analogous to building good sanitation systems to eradicate disease. They require more reason, will, commitment, funding and work.

The children are not only the future. Their status now is a severe comment on who we are -- now. If we really don't see ourselves, we might as well just keep passing out the guns.