Britain: Land of the Cowardly

Watching from the UK, America’s gun control debate seems bizarre, archaic, outlandish and fascinating. Like most progressives, I come down firmly on the side of greater gun control; but I’m not American, and don’t claim a right to participate in the decision making. But I do claim my right to help influence the decision as best I can. America’s guns aren’t just America’s problem.

They leak out, fuelling the Mexican and Central American drug war. And in buying so many guns, Americans have greatly increased the size of the global small arms industry, bringing down gun prices and creating a wealthy industry with immense lobbying power that can be used to modify the will of the people. A gun manufactured in Russia is as likely to be sold to an American consumer as to the Russian police. Without legal weapons in America, guns would be less numerous and more expensive globally. Wars in poor countries would be more difficult to fund, if only marginally.

And the “debate” over whether guns lead to an increase in violence is laughable. International data are now available at the click of a Google button. Any American can now quickly compare the murder rate in their country with that in any other, and discover that America is far more violent than any similarly developed country. America has 4% of the world’s population, yet the vast majority of mass shootings happen in the United States – more than 200 since 2006.

The pro-gun “liberty” argument is deeply flawed. The prevalence of guns tends to discourage, rather than encourage, free speech – as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gabrielle Giffords and many others have inadvertently demonstrated. With so many guns, it takes a brave person to stand up in a public place and espouse a controversial idea. Minority viewpoints are violently suppressed in the United States, usually not by the state, but by lone men with access to fire-power. One of the greatest limitations to the First Amendment is the Second.

And yet, watching the arguments from the UK, I also experience a genuine and strong respect for the importance that many Americans attach to liberty. Britain pays lip service to liberty, and yet this country appears to almost completely lack the libertarian attitudes that exist on both the left and right of American politics. Britons are far more accepting of state intervention in our lives than Americans, in many forms. The merest hint of a threat will trigger a moral panic in the media, and Britons are repeatedly happy to accept the need for a little more police power without considering the cost.

The gun libertarians may have picked a dumb fight, but at least they stand and fight for (what they believe to be) liberty. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the state has rolled over British liberties, cheered on by the media and both of the main political parties.

Last weekend, thousands of Americans demonstrated against spying by the NSA. Meanwhile in Britain, we discover that GCHQ is spying on us and sharing the information with the NSA. Here in the UK, we don’t demonstrate for our right to privacy or free speech. Nor do our leaders have the backbone to criticise the secret police; instead they issue threats against newspapers that dare reveal the erosion of our freedom.

It’s easy to draw up a long list of liberties lost in recent years, but what is most shocking is that these were taken without opposition.

  • Laws drawn up against a “terrorist threat” have routinely been used to attack other targets. When police brutality started to be routinely exposed by photographers, the police responded by using terrorist powers to harass photographers.
  • Carrying a knife is an offence punishable with prison time. The change in law came about following a moral panic over a “knife crime epidemic” which never happened. I’m not a huge fan of people carrying knives, but I’m even less of a fan of a police state with endless justification to stop and search people in the street, which is where we now live. We don’t need police stopping and searching our teenagers at their whim, especially since they choose to direct their actions against young black and Asian men – such police behaviour was a prime cause of the 2011 UK riots.
  • Possession of “extreme pornography” is punishable with prison time and addition to the sex offenders register. Possession can even constitute receipt of an “extreme” image by email. What constitutes “extreme” is the decision of puritanical politicians and regulators who seem never to have had sex lives of their own. This law is now to be extended to include “rape porn”. In practise, although sold as a law to “protect” people, this criminalises the recording of legal, consenting sex acts between adults.
  • We allow video and TV to be more tightly censored than most other democracies; now we are also ready to watch our free Internet access slip away, under the guise of “protecting children”.

Through moral panic after moral panic, draconian law after draconian law, British rights are eroded. But it seems the British people deserve this treatment. We fail to protest. We re-elect the Labour/Tory duopoly that competes to be “toughest” against the next non-existent threat to our safety. To their credit, the Liberal Democrats exhibit at least paper support for civil liberties; for this reason, it’s better that we elect Lab/Lib or Tory/Lib coalitions than either simple Labour or Tory governments.

We live in one of the safest societies on Earth. Crime in all forms has been falling for decades. And yet the average Briton seems more afraid and more prepared to surrender liberty than ever. We have become a nation of cowards (if we were ever anything else – our belief in our “glorious and courageous history” seems to largely be based on the courage of one man: Winston Churchill).

Liberty is often ugly. It means allowing people to do things that many people dislike or even fear. We’ve forgotten this in Britain, and unless we re-learn it, we will deservedly continue our slide towards living in a sham democracy where everything is monitored, and many harmless acts can result in police intervention in our lives. America, with its endless wars and regular suspension of democratic values, may not deserve to call itself the Land of the Free, but it has more right to do so than Britain does.

NRA: National Rapist Association?

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association's new logo

A suggestion for the National Rapist Association’s new logo

Morons never seem to rest, especially on Twitter, and yesterday saw yet another surge of moronic activity as the hashtag
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape trended. In case you’re wondering, the gun lobby has found yet another way to sell guns to frightened people: the idea being that women should carry guns to prevent themselves being raped, and that in calling for gun control, those evil liberals are actually helping out the rapist.

The NRA, of course, has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for a very long time – for example using school shootings as an excuse to sell even more guns – but if there was any bottom still left in the barrel, this latest ruse may have finally worn all the way through. In its hysteria, the pro-gun American right has left behind any sense of decency, but also any sense of reason.

To start with, if guns are freely available, who is more likely to be carrying one – a rapist who pre-meditated his crime, or a woman who didn’t expect it? And if the victim is carrying a gun, how much use is it to her (or him) if there’s already a gun pointed at her (or his) head? Only two weeks ago, let’s not forget, Spanish tourists were raped at gunpoint in Mexico. Rapes at gunpoint are sadly common (as a quick Google will reveal); stories of potential victims escaping because they (and not their attacker) far less so. Guns are, it seems, far more the friend of the rapist than of his victim. I therefore feel it fitting to give the NRA a new name: the National Rapist Association; because no doubt, any American who has ever used a legal gun to rape anyone is grateful to the NRA for their tireless campaigning work on his behalf.

But let’s look at some hard statistics. How do we determine whether gun availability makes rape more or less likely? As the NRA constantly whines, there are US states (typically Democrat-voting) which do implement gun controls, as well as states (typically Republican-voting) that do not. Luckily, I already produced some statistics for a post I wrote a year ago, breaking down rape statistics by red vs blue states. The statistics revealed as follows:

Rapes per 100,000:

  • Average in Republican-voting states: 34.96
  • Average in Democrat-voting states: 28.33
  • Average in marginal states: 29.47

(Full table is available here as a PDF).

Or, to put it another way, rapes are 23% more prevalent in Republican states than Democrat ones. Not only does the right to buy a gun not make women safer, but it appears to make them less safe.

As I’m not a lying, rape-loving, spokesman for the National Rapist Association, let me make clear that I have only revealed a correlation, not causation. We don’t know that the guns are making rape more likely – we only know that states with softer gun laws have more rapes, but not why.

It should also be pointed out that America, uniquely, has a huge prison rape problem. A quarter of the world’s prisoners are American, and the brutality of the system turns a blind eye to rape in prisons – both by prisoners and guards. Given the NRA’s insane position on guns (that guns always make things better), let’s not be too surprised if they start calling for prisons to be filled with guns. After all, if guns help prevent rape on the outside, surely that same approach will work behind bars as well?

Yes, we live in a strange world where many people seem to be convinced that violence of all sorts can be solved by more guns. And then more guns. And then guns, guns, guns, guns, guns. The fact that America has both the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest violence of any developed nation doesn’t seem to stop morons from taking this plainly idiotic position.

And if you’re worried about being raped? Well, in gun-loving Alaska, you are around seven times more likely to be raped than in gun-restricting New Jersey. Take your pick. And if you’re an aspiring rapist? Buy a gun, and send a thank-you donation to your friends at the National Rapist Association.

Newtown, Connecticut: The Suburbs Strike Again

The Ghetto It Ain't

The Ghetto It Ain’t

In the wake of yet another US mass shooting – and this time, featuring the murders of 20 small children, being particularly hard to understand – we see ourselves going through the same old rehearsed positions.

Step 1: Unite momentarily in expressing outrage.

Step 2: Select one of the following positions according to your stance:

Anti-gun: Blame it on the guns.

Pro-gun: Defend right to own guns as an important component of liberty, despite the obvious costs.

Gun-nut: Claim that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen if the teacher/janitor/children had been armed.

Step 3: Wait until the next inevitable shooting, and repeat.

It proves very difficult to conduct a discussion on why these events actually happen. You’ll be given a stock position: too many guns, or not enough guns, and any deviation from this agenda results in the debate being shut down.

Yet, take a step back from the heat and emotion of each immediate event and some statistical correlations can be easily made. To start with, the vast majority of these events happen in the United States, a country with less than 5% of the world’s population. That surely is significant. But dig deeper, and even stronger correlations are revealed.

The US actually appears to have two separate gun problems. The first accounts for most gun deaths: it is the carnage that takes place in the poor, mostly non-white inner-cities. This first problem seems easy to explain: poverty, lack of opportunity, disenfranchisement, and a highly profitable (and competitive) illegal drugs trade. The second consists of an epidemic of random mass shootings, as we saw in Connecticut last week. Look at these problems as a single issue, and the statistics are confusing; separate them, and perhaps things become clearer.

The inner-city shootings, accounting for the vast majority, cloud the statistics. Separate out Newtown-style events, and something else emerges. Here’s the weird thing: despite the fact that the vast majority of gun crime is carried out by poor non-whites in urban areas, these mass shootings are completely different. The perpetrators are almost entirely white, and middle-class.

Now let’s look at a couple of much bigger trends:

Trend 1: Urbanisation. for most of the 10,000 years of human civilisation, we have been increasingly inclined to urbanise; to move together into increasingly populous and compact cities. In 2007, for the first time, the majority of humans lived in cities.

Trend 2: Decline in Violence. It’s fashionable to believe that we live in dangerous times (often encouraged by authoritarians who profit from an increase in fear), yet violence has been on the decline for thousands of years. Indeed, there appears to be a direct correlation between urban living and the decline in violence. We tend to idealise ancient, rural lifestyles, but the realities are far more brutal than we imagine. Around 15% of deaths in primitive societies are violent, compared with 3% in states. And murder is estimated to have fallen between tenfold and 50-fold in Europe between the Middle Ages and the 20th century. These facts contrast heavily with the constant claims that mass murders are somehow a “product of modernity”.

And now here’s a third trend, over a shorter scale:

Trend 3: The Suburbanisation of America. The United States was following the same trend of urbanisation as Europe, although it was more rural than Europe. And then, along came the car. Although on paper, America continued to urbanise, in practise, its development skewed off the 10,000-year path of urbanisation. Cities are places where people are forced to live in close proximity to, and meet with, people unlike themselves. The suburbs allow people to cluster closer together than in rural communities, and yet never have to interact with each other. Big houses, bigger yards and – most importantly – cars, ensured that the civilising process of urbanisation almost ground to a halt. The peculiarly American behaviour of white flight accelerated this process. Civil rights frightened white Americans, and they took their families, and their cars, to the edges of the cities into the suburbs and – another American peculiarity – the Exurbs. Exurbs are rural communities under a new name.

The American suburbs are a paradox: modern on the surface, but able to maintain the ignorance and prejudices of rural communities that cities tend weaken and break down. America’s suburbs are bland, dull, soulless and allow ancient human fear, ignorance and prejudice to be preserved, under a civilised shell. They allow the frightened, the ignorant and the racist to ignore the places where human cultures are made: the big cities. Now you throw in gun ownership on a huge scale, and you get the same effect as if you flooded rural Africa with guns – that experiment too has been tried, with the inevitable, horrific results.

Here’s my prediction: the next school shooting will take place in a mostly white, middle-class suburb that looks just like 10,000 other places in America. The perpetrator will probably be white, but this isn’t a racial thing: as middle-class non-whites also head for the “safety” of the suburbs, the chance of a school shooting by a black, Asian or Latino person increases. The shooter won’t be a black or Latino gangster, nor will he be a gun-totin’ redneck.

I believe that restricting gun ownership will reduce these types of events, but certainly will not eliminate them. Thanks to the rise of the car, cheap oil, and suburbia, America lost its way almost a century ago. Only a return to high-density urban development, as the nation once achieved so spectacularly in Manhattan and Chicago, can complete the job of civilising its population.

Random Shootings: What’s Whitey’s Problem?

guns

The West’s Gift To The World

Denver, Colorado. Yesterday, yet another unknown white American opened fire on some of his fellow citizens, apparently at random. He attended a premier of the latest Batman movie, threw a smoke grenade, and strolled around shooting (apparently)  complete strangers. This story is so familiar, as is the aftermath: arguments over gun control, heated discussions over why people do this, sick jokes. But who can blame the jokers? We’ve been round this loop so many times before – what else is there to say?

This – and I mean people opening fire on random strangers with no apparent political target or goal – is overwhelmingly an American phenomenon. I found a list of notable school shootings on Wikipedia and crunched some numbers (I realise that this one wasn’t a school shooting, but I wanted a quick global comparison of such events, and this was the first reliable-looking resource I found).

Here’s a breakdown of the above list:

  • USA (current pop: 312m) : 118
  • Canada (pop:34m): 11
  • Europe (pop: 738m): 22
  • South America, Asia and Australia (pop: 4572m): 13
  • Africa isn’t mentioned: although it’s a continent where many horrors have occurred over the past century, kids walking into school with guns and spraying their classmates with bullets may not be among them.

A European like myself may start by smugly noting just how much more prevalent such events are in North America. But this is to miss a wider point. It seems that the “white world” has a random violence problem; factoring in the one incident in Australia, only 7.5% of these incidents happened in Asia or South America, regions comprising well over half of the world’s population (this ignores that two of the “Asian” incidents took place in Israel, which is effectively a European colony too – I didn’t check whether these Israeli incidents were “classic” school shootings, or the result of the Israel/Palestine land struggle).

It is Europe, and its diaspora, that has claimed the moral authority to dominate, invade, bully, occupy, bomb and manipulate the rest of the world’s populations for the past 500 years or so. The collapse of the European empires didn’t end this behaviour, but merely shifted the centre of the Empire from London, Paris and Berlin to Washington DC. Indeed, America has been relentless in pursuing the same claims that Europe had once made: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iran – these (and their resources) were all territories jealously claimed by European powers before the new American Empire came into being.

This article isn’t about analysing why events like yesterday’s in Denver happen – I’m sure even as I write, thousands of blog posts have been published on that subject. I’m merely pointing out what should be obvious: not only does the “Western World” (aka white world) not have the moral authority for its endless wars and occupations; it lacks any moral authority at all. Most of the huge slaughters in the past few centuries have been carried out by Europeans or their descendents; and even those few that weren’t – the Cambodian killing fields or the Rwandan genocide – have Whitey’s fingerprints all over them (America’s secret Cambodian war led directly to the Killing Fields, and The French, Belgians and the Vatican were squarely in the frame for Rwanda).

This shooting is a reminder of something that most of the world is never allowed to forget: the violence that is so much more implicit in European cultures than almost any other (an excellent book, Dark Continent, looks in more depth at this truth). Westerners have deep trouble understanding or believing this, despite the endless wealth of evidence surrounding us. Even today, far-right agitators attempt to persuade us that it is the Muslim world, not us, that is the threat to world peace; a precursor to persuading morons that yet more white violence, just one last push against Iran, or Venezuela perhaps, is the answer to the problems facing the planet.

It’s time for Whitey to get some self-knowledge. When the European diaspora ends its eternal blood lust, the world will take a huge step towards civilisation. While America is incapable of stopping crazy, gun-wielding morons from shooting up schools, McDonald’s or cinemas, how can it possibly justify having military bases (undeclared occupations) in over 150 countries?