Human Events Blog

Against the unforeseen

Much of the argument for gun control boils down to the basic statist arrogance of trying to control the unforeseen.  That’s also a core premise of centralized economic planning.  The State can predict the physical and financial dangers of life, and given enough power, it can protect us from them.

This argument would pop like a soap bubble for the first woman in a completely disarmed America who found herself facing a sexual predator with a knife.  You can read the crime news from Britain if you’d like a preview.  The UK maintains a level of surveillance over its populace, including video camera monitoring, that most Americans would probably feel uncomfortable with.  But they still have atrocious levels of violent crime, including gun crimes.  Law-abiding citizens who attempt to defend themselves have been treated much worse than criminals.

“When you need help in seconds, the cops are just minutes away.”  It’s a very valid cliche.  Not all that many crimes are actively thwarted by the police.  It would be difficult to measure empirically, but the police probably avert more crimes by their mere presence, as would-be troublemakers scuttle their plans at the sight of a cop car.  The police would very much like to prevent more crimes, but there will never be enough of them, relative to the size of the population, to achieve the level of public safety politicians like to promise.

Social engineering won’t do it, either.  Absolutely stupendous amounts of money have already been spend on that.  We still have a high level of violent crime, in some of the most heavily engineered… that is to say, heavily controlled… parts of the country.  The crime situation has generally been improving for quite some time, contrary to the impression one might get from sensational coverage of certain events.  But it’s still pretty bad in some places, and of course all law-abiding citizens would like it to be better.

There’s a whole lot of living going on in America today.  311 million people times 24 hours per day; millions of families times $50k in median income; millions of people packed into a few square miles here, while spread across vast rural communities there… no matter how you do the math, a great deal is happening.  Forty billion dollars of productive activity occurs between each sunrise.  American drivers cross almost three trillion miles of road per month.  Traffic on the Internet is projected to pass a zettabyte per year, sometime in the next four years.  What’s a zettabyte?  It’s a trillion gigabytes.

That’s a huge amount of human activity, producing a vast number of unforeseen results.  It is sheer folly to suppose that any bureaucracy could control it all, no matter how well-funded, well-staffed, or well-intended.  Both good and bad surprises erupt everywhere, every day.  Ensuring that individuals have the freedom, confidence, and sense of responsibility necessary to deal with these surprises is the only moral and rational course of action.

But instead, we are smothered with the pretense that everything can be anticipated and controlled by distant overseers… and trust me, when someone puts a gun in your face or a knife to your throat, the local police station becomes painfully “distant.”  This approach actively thwarts our ability to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities, or deal with unexpected complications.  It drains the money we need, and regulates away our options.  It also erodes the confidence of our society, leaving us timid and dependent upon the government.  And it diminishes our sense of personal responsibility, with a corresponding loss of both freedom and privacy.

You probably like privacy, don’t you?  Well, if you’re not ready to take responsibility for your own life, you can’t have it.  Children must be monitored.  If you won’t insist on the right to defend yourself and your family – a united assertion of responsibility, even if you personally choose not to purchase a gun – then the State will be obliged to keep careful track of your activities, lest you become either a lawbreaker or a victim.

In a similar vein, if you won’t take charge of your own fortune, you must be cared for… and those who pay for your care have a right to control your behavior as well.  Some would say it’s a duty.  Look at all the stories about the abuse of EBT cards.  The basic idea of providing assistance for the truly destitute, until they can get back on their feet, involves the promise of responsibility.  Permanent, pervasive welfare states erode responsibility like acid.  Eventually the anger over mounting expense, and outrageous abuse, must be answered with tighter controls on the behavior of the dependents.

This is a particularly grim prospect when a very large segment of the population qualify as “dependents,” in one sense or another.  Try to skate by without government-approved health insurance for the next couple of years, and you’ll see what I mean.  Health insurance, under the literal understanding of the term, is a rational effort by individuals to buy protection from unexpected complications.  That’s not what it means any more, and that’s one reason why the entire concept is beginning to unravel.

Be free, or be cared for.  Be independent, or demand protection.  Assert your right to confront the unforeseen, or hide from it.  There is a great, sad story in progress about a nation that once thought the first choice in each case was the almost laughably obvious answer… but now thinks the second is almost equally obvious.  The story is not over yet.  Every aspect of independence is connected, so they all die together, but some people haven’t quite grasped it yet.  The promises of the State to serve as a universal champion against the unforeseen cannot be kept, and it knows no answer to failure except the redoubling of doomed efforts.  Quite frankly, in order to keep a lid on things, the State will need to slow down all that wild private activity I described earlier.  That will make us easier to monitor and regulate… but much poorer.

More people may come to see the wisdom in escaping from thist process before it crashes.  Perhaps the blatant seizure of control in the name of “safety from guns,” by a government that can’t provide public safety no matter how many gun laws it passes – a government that can’t even compel itself to police its borders, or pass a budget – will serve as a useful example of how every social and economic effort to trade liberty for security ends.

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