Saturday, December 22, 2012

And The NRA Guy Speaks

Missives from the alternate reality, it was.  Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA (the National Rifle Association), told us that the solution to too many guns and too many school and mall and other such shootings  is more guns.

The NRA wants armed volunteers or paid arms men to guard every public school in the United States.  As all schools have multiple entrances, we would need one for each door, I think.  A great employment plan, that one!  Of course schools don't have money for the classes they actually need to teach and the health care system doesn't have money for mental health care.  But never mind!  We can get shooting-minded individuals with guns inside the schools, to keep the "bad guys" outside the schools.

Yes, Mr. LaPierre's philosophical views about crimes, evil and guns can be boiled down to this:
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Simple.  Like a Wild West movie.  And appropriate for a five-year-old's thinking.

As Atrios points out, what on earth could go wrong with a plan like this?  Imagine the background checks all that would require!  Because surely those volunteering for this service would include those who kinda plan to be the bad guys.

It's a stupid plan.  Any killer would first take out the guard, from a distance.  It's a stupid plan,  what with the shootings at Fort Worth which is a military base.  And it's a stupid plan,  because his plan logically implies that if the "bad guys" look for places where there are no armed guards, then we will have to keep on arming more and more places, offering more and more guards, until, finally, every person going to the supermarket needs an armed guard.  Well, at least all supermarkets do.  And all hospitals, and any place where people ever might gather.

While writing this post, I quickly gathered news items from various very recent shootings in the United States.  Here they are:

Relative shoots costumed girl after mistaking her for a skunk.

Authorities in central Pennsylvania are trying to determine why a man fatally shot three people along a rural road before dying in a gunfight with police.

A police captain says two people have been shot to death inside a nightclub in a suburb of Birmingham, Ala.

We need to arm lonely stretches of roads, night clubs and we also need to provide an armed good guy to all young girls who might be accidentally shot by their relatives.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Music For Today

News on Women and Gender

Are these stories:

What would the new constitution in Egypt mean for women's rights?  Supporters of women's rights are worried about two articles, specifically, and also the fact that the constitution only mentions women in their role as mothers and has nothing to say about gender discrimination. 

The uprising in Syria follows the Egyptian pattern (and, indeed, the pattern of all revolutions where women have been active participants) in that as the Syrian opposition gets closer to winning the civil war, women are pushed aside and silenced.  The religious victors in both and Egypt and Syria do not bode well for women's rights. This is, of course, what happened after the French Revolution, too.  Women got the Napoleonic Code as their reward...

A study seems to have addressed the question what makes some men into sexists.  I haven't looked at it but it could be worth analyzing.  The sample size, 400 men, is on the small side, however,  unless all those men declared themselves to be sexist. 

The case of Sara Reedy reminds us all of what far too often happens when a raped woman goes to the police:
Reedy was 19 when the man entered the petrol station near Pittsburgh where she was working to pay her way through college and pulled a gun. He emptied the till of its $606.73 takings, assaulted her and fled into the night. But the detective who interviewed Reedy in hospital didn't believe her, and accused her of stealing the money herself and inventing the story as a cover-up. Although another local woman was attacked not long after in similar fashion, the police didn't join the dots.
Following further inquiries, Reedy was arrested for theft and false reporting and, pregnant with her first child (by her now ex-husband), thrown in jail. She was subsequently released on bail, but lost her job. More than a year after attacking Reedy, the man struck again, but this time he was caught and confessed to the earlier crime.
When the charges against her were dropped, Reedy sued the police and has now won a marathon legal battle and a $1.5m (£1m) settlement against the detective who turned her from victim into accused. The payment was agreed earlier this year, but can be revealed only now because of a non-disclosure clause that was part of the settlement.

Though this story has a just ending,  note that had been up to the police alone, Reedy would have stayed in prison for a crime she did not commit. 

My apologies for most of these stories being sad or negative.  I will work harder in the future to get positive stories, but in the meantime why not look at some of the good causes Katha Pollitt lists for your charity dollars?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Power Of The Fist: An Evolutionary Saga.

So,  A new journal article argues that the human hand developed into the shape it has because the kind of hand we have makes the best possible fist for unarmed fighting.

 How was that presumed evolutionary adaptation acquired?

Well, it seems that our prehistoric male ancestors fought over sex with each other.  Women and access to them was the reward, and the guy with hands most adapted to boxing got all the women, passed his seed on widely, and, presto!, here we are with our human hands.

Those prehistoric ancestors fought with the Marquess of Queensbury Rules, I guess.

Here's more about the theory:

If you learn martial arts, one of the first things you get taught is how to make a fist properly. Classic mistakes include sticking the thumb inside the other fingers or curling it around the side. The right way is to wrap the thumb over the index and middle fingers. In this shape, the fingertips are cushioned against the pads of the palm, and the first two fingers are cushioned against the thumb pad and the thumb itself.
By getting martial artists to hit a punchbag, and measuring the forces acting on their fists, David Carrier and Michael Morgan from the University of Utah confirmed that this shape allows the various parts of the hand to buttress each other, turning a flat hand into a stiff, compact club. This channels the force of a punch into the palm, wrist, and forearm, and protects the delicate fingers.
But more controversially, Carrier and Morgan also suggest that this might explain why the proportions of our hands evolved in the first place—for stability during combat, rather than dexterity during tool use.
Compared with the hands of other apes, our palms and fingers are shorter, and our thumbs are longer, stronger, and more mobile. That makes for a stronger fist, and would have allowed “competing males to strike with greater force and power while greatly reducing the risk of injury to the hand,” they write.
It’s an idea that has divided opinion. I contacted four scientists about the study. Two expressed their respect for Carrier’s wider work but were unconvinced by his new idea (although neither wanted to comment on the record). A third—Brigitte Demes, who studies the limbs of primates at Stony Brook State University—said that the actual experiments were sound, but “the interpretation is far-fetched”.
And then there's that usual story of how all this meant a new hand shape for humans!
So, the story goes like this: Our male ancestors fought each other for mating rights. Their hand proportions evolved from those of a typical ape, to those that allowed them to whack each other without breaking their hands. With their non-self-destructing punches, our fore-fore-fore-forefathers got more sex, and gradually their hands attained the proportions of a modern human’s.
Don't you love it?  Video recorders were at the site to give us proof of the boxing matches and so on.

What are the other problems with this quite fun theory?

First,  as Ed Young states in the piece I link to, making the martial arts fist is not a natural thing for humans, and the shape we were taught,* the two-knuckle punch fist, is not the shape boxers use to make the fist.  The two-knuckle fist is efficient, sure, because the power of the punch hits a small area and the way the wrist is extended protects both it and the hand.  But one needs to have the cultural teaching to make it.  If it was the natural way to make a fist, then at least all men would make it naturally, right?

Second, as Ed Young also records, apes fight with their teeth and use open slaps instead of punches.  We don't know the shape of those prehistoric ancestors' teeth and so on, but they were probably bigger than ours.  In other words, they may have had more efficient ways of fighting than boxing, and probably did.

Third, the theory seems weak to me in the following sense:  We use our hands for most everything.  To imply that their shape is determined by one specific use, and not a terribly frequent one, most likely,  requires very strong evidence to tell us how the new shape didn't interfere with any of the more frequent tasks we have for our hands.

I'm pretty strongly in the camp of those who believe that the shape of our hands is what it is because it's good for manipulating tools (sewing leather with a needle, say) and for interacting with the environment in general.

The story in this study tells us more about the difficulty of drawing evolutionary explanations.  First, the initial data begins with a very specific group:  martial artists, and a very specific fist:  the two-knuckle-fist.  It then moves on to more general theorizing about fighting, not boxing,  and only unarmed fighting,  while holding the initial specific example at its core.  That makes it easy to ignore the obvious alternative fighting methods.  Finally, it argues that dexterity in object manipulation could be achieved with hands of different shape, but fails to notice that this is quite as likely to apply for fighting applications.
*To this day, when I make a fist the two front knuckles stick out and the rest recede.  The power of repeated practice!  The callouses do disappear over time, however.  For more on martial arts by me, see this blog post on how to make a fist and this one on the womanly art of self-defense.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More Blog Housekeeping

I've added a link (in the right column)  to Melissa's post about how to see the comments if you are reading this blog from some other country than Murka.  Let me know (by e-mail or Twitter) if it doesn't work.  I can't test it from here.

In other housekeeping, it's not getting done.  The Snakepit Inc.  is very cozy with all the spider webs undisturbed.  Ecological balance..

Today's Short-n-Sweet Post: A Slutty Dresser

And The Conservative War On Women Continues: Charlotte Allen, The Misogynist.

Here we go again:

National Review, whose in-house editorial suggested Newtown was the price of the Second Amendment, published a piece on Wednesday from anti-feminist Charlotte Allen suggesting the reason the shooter was able to kill so many students was because Newtown was a “feminized setting:”

There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female* There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers. The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, seemed to have performed bravely. According to reports, she activated the school’s public-address system and also lunged at Lanza, before he shot her to death. Some of the teachers managed to save all or some of their charges by rushing them into closets or bathrooms. But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm. Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.

Charlotte Allen hates women.  That's not an overstatement.  She was the author of the famous Washington Post column which tells us that we women are dim and we shriek. She wrote a column about women dressing as whores and sluts for Halloween, and she wrote a column summarizing all the most misogynistic ideas about women and sex.

So she hates women.  Lots of people do, in fact, but most of them don't get column space in the National Review.

In a sense, correcting Allen's misogynistic arguments makes no sense.  But it's worth noting that there was an adult male on promises and that was the shooter.  It's also worth noting that not only the principal but several of the teachers acted extremely bravely and some sacrificed their lives for the children.  And it's worth noting that if we took seriously her argument that feminized settings have the norm of helpless passivity (what an asshat she is!), then masculinized settings have the norm for random violence.  Both stories have about the same truth value,  in my view.

Allen admits the bravery of the principal and the teachers but then simply ignores it, in favor of various imaginary scenarios of what husky 12-year-old-boys might have achieved or how high school football training would have turned a couple of male teacher into a force that could have stopped a shooter with more than one weapon, including a semiautomatic one.

And don't you love this bit?

Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel.

My  brain just exploded all over the desk, given the actual events she pretends to write about.  In any case, the teaching of small children has  probably always been a female-dominated occupation, not something that anyone has forced on the schools.   If anything, elementary schools would love to have more men among the teachers, though not for the reason that they can be sacrificed as battering rams in the case of massacres.

Poor Ms. Allen.  How does she cope with that humongous self-loathing she demonstrates?  See how my feminine empathy reared its ugly snake head there?

Back to righteous anger:  Note that the women teaching small children are performing one of the few legitimate roles extreme anti-feminists allow women to have in the labor markets.  But even that doesn't protect them from the misogynistic knitting needles of one Charlotte Allen.

The real question is, of course, why The National Review finds Allen's thoughts worth publishing.  The only possible answer is that they are continuing the war on women, on all fronts.
*Added later.  This link argues that she also makes five factual errors in the first two sentences.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Possible Spread of Conscience Clauses?

I was reading this about a possible conscience clause in the US military:

Some House Republicans are pushing for inclusion of a “conscience protection” clause in the final version of Pentagon budget legislation that could enable discrimination against gay service members, according to LGBT advocates familiar with conference committee negotiations.
The measure could be made final as soon as today.
Two LGBT advocates, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said House Republican conferees working on the final version of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill are pushing for language along the lines of the “conscience protections” in the House version of the legislation under Section 536. One source said this language is “very much in play” for being in the final version of the bill and is one of the final issues yet to be resolved as conferees wrap up the legislation.
Under the language, the U.S. military would have to “accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality” and may not use these beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action or discrimination. Additionally, it would prohibit the U.S. military from taking action against military chaplains who decline to serve a particular service member based on religious beliefs.

It's hard to know if any of that is more than rumors at this point.  But it suddenly struck me that the concept of a conscience clause can be used far outside the topic of abortions and contraceptives in health care!  A conscience clause could legitimize any kind of discrimination, anywhere!  How very neat!

For instance, employers could say that they cannot hire women because taking women out of their homes is against their conscience.  Or employers could say that they need to hire workers of only one race because their conscience doesn't allow miscegenation.  And think of what scope religious beliefs would give to discrimination!  A very strict Muslim would oppose any mixing of the sexes at work or at school.  And so it goes.

Something so innocent-looking and so much a problem only for those "baby killers" can travel far, grow big and stand tall against the idea of fair treatment.

Sure, I'm going to the extremes with this post.  Still.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns And the Decline Of The Young Man: The Need To Be Deferential.

This is the connection Christy Wampole draws at the Opinionator blog of the New York Times.  The causal arrow her bow shoots is from the decline of the young man to mass shootings.  A snippet:

This is merely anecdotal evidence, not social science, but I believe that it is indicative of a sort of infection spreading in our collective brain, one that whispers to the American subconscious: “The young men are in decline.” They were once our heroes, our young and shining fathers, our sweet brothers, our tireless athletes, our fearless warriors, the brains of our institutions, the makers of our wares, the movers of our world. In the Western imagination, the valiance of symbolically charged figures like Homer’s Ulysses or the Knights of the Round Table remained unquestioned since their conception. However, as centuries progressed and stable categories faltered, the hero figure faces increasing precarity. Even if we consider the 20th century alone, we see this shift from World War II, when the categories of good and evil were firm, to later conflicts like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, involving a disparity between what the government believed to be right and what much of the civilian population did.
Does the heroic young man still make sense today, or has his value already been depleted?

An interesting thesis.   I don't believe in it because I don't believe that young men have ever been "our heroes, our young and shining fathers, the movers of our world."  Most young men have never had that great powers, to move the world, and very few people of any type are heroes.  And what on earth is a "shining father?"  One decked with Christmas tree lights?

I also don't think that being "heroic" is a very common life objective for anyone.  Being heroic either requires something truly unusual (as in the case of these principals and teachers in the latest massacre), or it's just a stupid and false label for people who are OK citizens.

Wampole then continues:

If the soldier has largely been replaced by the video game character and the drone, if the mothers have proven that they can raise the children alone, if the corporations are less able or willing to guarantee the possibility of upward mobility and some level of respect that comes with title, if someone else can bring home the bacon, what is left for young men?
All this, and they still are not allowed to cry.

Here's where women enter the column.  Women have proved that they can raise children alone, that they can bring home the bacon, so what are young men needed for?  This juxtaposition smells ever-so-slightly of the argument that if women hadn't become workers in the labor market, if women had remained at home, safely married to a bread-winning husband, then these young men wouldn't have to go out and shoot lots of six-year-olds.

I don't think Wampole necessarily means that.  Or does she?  Who knows.  But a different way of putting the same argument would be to state that some men have trouble with changing sex roles and would prefer the old rules back, whatever their costs to others might be.  That's probably true.  But are those young men the group from which mass shooters come?  I don't think Wampole proves her case.  The examples she quotes do not fit the profiles of the most recent mass killers who are not economically deprived, unemployed or otherwise fighting hard times in their lives.  Indeed, most of them seem to have been still students.

Never mind.  Wampole does turn to that group next.  Her take is a slightly unusual one and it would have sat better without that preamble:
The angry white man has usurped the angry black man.
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.
For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males. Even if this feels intuitively fair to many, including those white males who are happy to share resources for the greater benefit of the nation as a whole, it must feel absolutely distressing for those who are uncomfortable with change and who have a difficult time adjusting to the inevitable reordering of society.
From the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and onward, young men – and young white men in particular – have increasingly been asked to yield what they’d believed was securely theirs. This underlying fact, compounded by the backdrop of violent entertainment and easy access to weapons, creates the conditions for thousands of young men to consider their future prospects and decide they would rather destroy than create.
Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.
What do you think of that?  There may be something in a few parts of that quote.  But this society really is NOT telling white men that they are unnecessary.  If anything, it tells us that all the top places are still occupied by white men, that the churches are operated by white men, that politics is certainly much, much more male than female.

But my major counterargument is that Wampole's thesis doesn't explain the events in China.  China is not a feminist paradise but closer to a patriarchy.  The preference for sons there is strong, the political machine is overwhelmingly male.  Yet China, too, has had its cases of school attacks.  They are not mass shootings because of different gun laws but they are very similar in the selection of victims to the US situation.  Wampole's thesis doesn't explain those events.

Neither is Wampole showing us that the group of disgruntled white men she writes about is the group from which the school shooters come.  What I have read about past shooters and about Adam Lanza demonstrates a more complicated group of reasons, starting with social or psychological adjustment problems very early in life.

I'm also not convinced that today's young men would have had expectations of being treated as number ones however they behave.  That may have been (but probably wasn't) the case for those who were born in the 1950s, say, but not for the last twenty or thirty years.  After all, women started entering college in larger numbers by the early 1990s, Geraldine Ferraro was a vice-presidential candidate in the 1980s.

What is Wampole's cure for the malady that has infected white young men?  It is empathy:

Empathy could serve many of us: those who have not yet put themselves in the position of a person who is losing their power and those who can aim a gun at someone without imagining themselves on the other end of the barrel. For those of us who belong to a demographic that is doing increasingly better, a trained empathic reflex toward those we know to be losing for our gains could lead to a more deferential attitude on our part and could constitute an invitation for them to stay with us. To delight in their losses and aim at them the question, “How does it feel?” will only trigger a cycle of resentment and plant the seeds for vengeance. It is crucial to accommodate the pain of others.

A curious coincidence:  I was just working on the first draft of my perhaps-to-be-book, and came across various evolutionary psychology arguments which stated that women are naturally hard-wired for empathy,  men equally naturally not.   If empathy is natural for women, Wampole couldn't ask any from men and wouldn't have to ask for any from women.  We'd be bubbling over with it already.

And many people are.  Empathy is an extremely important tool.  Even I, a horrible feminazi, feel much empathy with those who are in pain, whether the reason for their pain meets my approval or not.

But "a more deferential attitude????"  From women?  Because that is what she writes.  Women should have a more deferential attitude towards angry young white men and that way no young white man would turn into a school killer.

I can't be reading that bit right.  But what other way is there to read it?  What does "a more deferential attitude" mean?  Bringing back a rank-order of men over women?  Serving all men in the family first?  Please give me more meat on the bones, Wampole.  Should we curtsey or what?

OK.  So I got angry, and I belong to the social group who is not allowed to be angry.  But surely empathy can be reconciled with equality?  Or is Wampole implying that equality is not sufficient?

And on that "delighting in their losses" bit:  I have never done anything of the sort.  My guess is that Wampole has read one or two of those "end-of-men" books and then generalizes from them to all women everywhere.

I get very tired over events such as the "end-of-men" faddish trend, written as if we already live in a matriarchy, as if all feminists are gloating over their past oppressors and so on.  Never mind how hard I write about the real issues (yes, outsourcing has cost us terribly in terms of blue-collar-traditionally-male-jobs, and, yes, we must encourage more boys, especially minority boys, to stay at school and attend college) and the imaginary issues (the mancession, the evil feminist matriarchy which really runs the world, how earning 70-80% of what men earn makes women the wealthier sex and so on), those faddish trends have a rich life of their own, fed by clicks and nasty comments and money.  It's very tiring.

To return to Wampole's column:  Is there anything useful in it?

I'm not sure if it has much to do with the school shootings, directly, but it does remind us of the fact that there never was a real movement similar to the waves of feminism among men, a movement which would have redefined men's roles the way feminism (and other forces) redefined women's roles.

The old roles are now like square pegs trying to fit into round holes, and it's high time to address that.  Yes, men are needed, just as all human beings are needed.  We all come with a bunch of talents and personality traits, and we need to find a way to make better fits between individuals and the society.  We should address the problems of men who have become  unemployed because of that outsourcing.  They should get real support, job training and jobs, psychological support and respect, just as women need those things.  We should address the real problems of young men, of all races.  We should discuss the violent aspects of the traditional definitions of masculinity and we should encourage young men in need to seek help.  We should also make sure that the help is there.

Men should also accept their changing roles in the family.

The new roles are better roles, I think.  They involve being a full parent, not just a disciplinarian who brings home money, to paraphrase the old definition of a male bread-winner.  The new roles mean being emotionally available to the children,  doing real parenting, being there, in one's totality, when one is there.

But many, if not most men, are already doing all that.  Many, if not most, young men are already adjusting to the society, finding their places and becoming useful members of it. 

Empathy is also important.  It's not uncommon in politics to dehumanize the opposition.  But ultimately it doesn't work.  Where I disagree with Wampole is in her hint that it's up to women, the new rulers of the world (tell that to women in most countries!  tell it to women in the US!), to do this work.  We ALL should be able to see the human in other people.

But nobody should demand deferential behavior from us just because the other person is male or white or belongs to some other traditionally privileged class.  Deferential behavior requires something worth being deferential about.  Good deeds, for instance.  Some greatness.

Empathy alone is insufficient, in any case.  If I have an infected finger because of a splinter, I don't baby the finger.  I dig out the splinter.  In some ways Wampole asks us to emphatize with the finger but pretend that the splinter is not there.  In other words, feminine empathy is most likely too weak a medicine for what ails those individuals who might become school killers.  It's too weak even for the problems of angry white men, if those are caused by receiving less privilege than was the case in the past.

Finally,  the assumption that various young school killers didn't receive adequate empathy is just an assumption, not a proven fact.  Perhaps they were given much empathy but they were unable to receive it?

Some Good News On Gun Control

We may achieve some minor steps in that direction.  President Obama has hinted at that and several pro-gun politicians have expressed some willingness to expand gun control laws.

Even Joe Scarborough has changed his mind on the topic:

It is probably human nature to find horrors striking very close to oneself emotionally more powerful than distant horrors.  It's our back-brain asking what the risk is and whether we should run or hide to avoid that "saber-toothed tiger" (it's always that animal, for some odd reason, in those prehistoric sagas).  These dead children looked like his children, they lived nearby and belonged to the same social class.  The horror struck almost at his home.

It takes effort to extend that empathy further and further out, though it can be done, and we should all work at that task.  Still, our imagination is stretched less when the victims remind us strongly of our own situation, our own children, our own neighborhoods.

Some of those responses could be racist or xenophobic.  But a considerable part, I believe, has to do with our limited empathic imagination.  When we hear of a disaster which has killed 10,000 people, our reaction cannot cope, cannot fathom such numbers, cannot grieve 10,000 times as much as we would grieve for one neighbor, one family member.  We would burst into small pieces should such a magnification be possible. 

So we resort to reading about the individuals in that disaster, their stories, their deaths, and that is how we slowly, very slowly accommodate the magnitude of the horror.  I think something of that sort happened to Scarborough, especially because the stories were so familiar to him, so close to his family.

Another human common desire is to want something good to come out of horrors, to want the deaths made meaningful that way.  I share that desire as I share the limping nature of my empathy.  I'd like these deaths not to be wasted, even though all such deaths ARE wasted.  I'd like changes to gun control to come from this massacre, I'd like to have a future where I never need to write of yet another shooting with multiple victims, with the usual questions about why the killer killed.  I'd like to have no news about gun murders to cover.

Nine Facts About Guns And Mass Shootings in the United States. What's Missing?

This is a good list, these nine facts about guns and mass shootings.  But, as usual, it omits the most obvious fact.  David Sirota addresses some of what was omitted  in his Salon piece, titled "Time To Profile White Men?"
Yesterday, during a cable news discussion of gun violence and the Newtown school shooting, I dared mention a taboo truism. During a conversation on MSNBC’s “Up With Chris Hayes,” I said that because most of the mass shootings in America come at the hands of white men, there would likely be political opposition to initiatives that propose to use those facts to profile the demographic group to which these killers belong. I suggested that’s the case because as opposed to people of color or, say, Muslims, white men as a subgroup are in such a privileged position in our society that they are the one group that our political system avoids demographically profiling or analytically aggregating in any real way. Indeed, unlike other demographic, white guys as a group are never thought to be an acceptable topic for any kind of critical discussion whatsoever, even when there is ample reason to open up such a discussion.

All interesting. concerning that "white" part of the group "white men."  But Sirota never got around to writing about the "men" part.  In fact, there's some evidence which suggests that some Asian men also carry out similar massacres, or try to, in places where it's hard to get hold of a gun.

The remaining invisible elephant is naturally the gender of those who carry out mass shootings.  It's overwhelmingly male. 

This does NOT mean that all men are somehow likely to run amok or that no women ever do.  Very, very few individuals do.   And there have been at least two cases of mass shootings by women in the United States,  though I had to search for those.  The cases by men are much more common, and because of the roughly equal numbers of men and women in the population, this difference deserves our attention, however uncomfortable looking at it might be.

Why is it not getting real attention?  I think the answer is probably the fact that men are regarded as the default when it comes to human beings.  It's hard for us to see men as part of some amorphous mass of maleness, the way we more easily have learned to regard individual women as such morsels of femaleness.  The latter is because women are not the default setting of "a human individual" in quite the same way.  Women almost always carry a small taint of their group membership, just as minorities always carry a small taint of their group membership, even when the individuals are men.

That's just the way "the default" is constructed in societies.  Thus, we talk about "black violence" (while actually meaning black male violence) but rarely about "white violence" or about "male violence."   Certain groups are invisible because they are regarded as the overall picture.  Paradoxically, the individuals belonging to the default group get to be treated mostly only as individuals.

That should be the goal for all of us, of course.  But in this particular example, it makes us look for only some possible solutions:  How did Adam Lanza differ from other young men of his race and social class?  What happened to him that didn't happen to them?  Did he shoot all those children because of an illness?

Those are not inappropriate questions.  But the invisible elephant about the most common gender of mass shooters turns other questions invisible.  Is there something about masculinity in the cultures which pushes men with certain problems to this direction but not women with the same problems?   Is the answer in our genes?  Some mutation which the xx protects women from?  Or does this have to do with who plays violent video games and why?  And what is the relation of these massacres to the generally higher rates of gun violence committed by men?

An obvious response to my arguments would be that everybody knows mass shooters are mostly men.  The fact is just obvious.  But ignoring the questions coming from that obvious fact, and the answers they may elicit, are lost if we simply skip over "what is obvious."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People...

An electric lawnmower and a pair of nail scissors can both be used for cutting the grass, right?  It's the human being who cuts the grass, not the innocent lawnmower.

That's a different version of the argument I right now read everywhere on the Internet:  Some version of the guns-don't-kill-people-people-kill-people.  I think it shows the differences in effectiveness.

That's why guns are what we should talk about when it comes to horrible events such as the Connecticut school massacre.  Especially semi-automatic guns.