Some Thoughts to be Thought Through After Las Vegas

One of the stranger impulses that one has a problem dealing with in the age of social media is not just a tendency to feel to comment on every element of an event with a preconceived set of basically tribal political criteria when something like this happens. This is understandable, the US has many problems and we think our side has a quick answer to it. I find myself responding to a lot of liberal arguments, not because they are more egregious or illogical, but because I am exposed to more of them as a left-wing urban dweller.

On the idea of terrorism, things get complicated. I actually find the idea that lone wolf shooters are white and the media doesn’t call white terrorists, terrorists suspect. The media narrative around Timothy McVeigh or various IRA bombings in the 1990s, they were clearly defined as terrorists. Mass shooters weren’t though, and at the time, there was no legal reason to do so. This is not to say dispropriate hysteria is not applied to non-white “terror” attacks and mass shootings are treated as terror in those cases by the media often. Prior to the 2000s, if you don’t know the motive for a killing, you don’t know if it is terrorism. The first mass shooters weren’t terrorists because they have no objective beyond the act itself. If any act of violence is terrorism because it is violent, then the category has no real meaning.

Now, by federal statute, terrorism is defined by motive and only domestic attacks carried out at the behest of or on the behalf of foreign organizations. There is no federal charge for domestic terrorism, but there are state-level charges. Nevada defines terrorism solely be scale and targets, and mass shootings count. The media figures don’t know that I am guessing because there are 50 sets of laws that apply here.

There are all sorts of biases at play but seems like expanding the category of terrorism to encompass all sorts of random or semi-random violence just increases the arbitrariness of state charges. The expansion of state-level terrorism laws was a product of the Bush-Obama period, but there is no standard legal definition, and encouraging an expanded popular definition seems to be operating on the idea that if everyone is oppressed together, then the privilege will go away.

Then comes gun control arguments, and I feel like I always to add a bunch of caveats: I am not anti-gun control and I am not a second amendment fetishist. However, I am a little tired of the ” if it was only as hard to get a gun as it is a car” In most states, this simply isn’t true. There are states in the West and the South where it is very easy to get a gun, but you don’t have to pass a safety check, get a background check, in some states a mental health check, and go through a waiting period to a driver’s license in most states. You have to be of age and pass a test, and maybe go through a probationary phase with use restrictions. As study after study shows, there is no strong relationship between state- and city-level gun control laws and gun crime. 

IF you want to be honest, admit that the philosophy federalism over most regulation is a problem, but then admit that your issue is larger than the second amendment. There is no way to ad hoc this problem as many liberals say, but there is also little evidence even from international statistics that gun control alone will decrease the violence.

And as I have said many times, poverty reduction correlates more strong to decreased homicides than gun control if you look at international statistics. There is evidence that national level laws would have an effect on the margins, but very little if they would have an effect given state by state laws.

One would do well stop only mentioning rich countries with low historical rates of homicide before their gun control laws as your sole model. IF the laws are the same Mexico and UK but the gun-violence isn’t then you cannot attribute the success to the legal regime. You would have to control for a other effects, including access created by the US border. In short, the study is beyond what I have seen either liberal or conservative outlets actually doing. Furthermore, looking at the current evidence and the likelihood of the kinds of gun deaths, gun regulation would likely have an effect on suicides more than any other category of crime. While Australia’s example is often sited, the European trends of the last half-decade indicate that mass shootings as a method of political attack will likely happen despite strict gun regulation, but its hard to say, because while mass terror attacks are increasing, they are still incredibly statistically rare and our sample sizes are small. Many conservatives pointed that out in the Australia case, despite the reporting at Slate and Salon, that as, non-that-conservative L.A. Times points outs:

Each year between 1979 and 1996, Australia had an average of 3.6 gun deaths (both homicides and suicides) per 100,000 people. After the NFA was passed, that rate dropped to an average of 1.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people.

In both time periods, the total number of firearm-related deaths was on the decline. But “the trend accelerated” after gun control took effect, the researchers wrote.

The researchers also found that passage of the NFA was associated with a steep drop in the overall homicide rate. Before Port Arthur, homicides involving weapons of any kind had been falling at a rate of 0.3% per year, on average. Afterward, they fell by 3.1% per year. There was no evidence that killers who couldn’t get their hands on guns switched to other weapons instead, the team wrote. . .

Overall, gun-related deaths fell faster after gun control than before it. But some of those gains might be due to factors that have nothing to do with guns. For instance, trauma doctors and surgeons have gotten better at treating gunshot victims. They’re also getting treated more rapidly in the NFA era, thanks in part to the growing ubiquity of cellphones, the researchers wrote.

In short, the most steady analysis of Australia doesn’t produce clean data for either side and inclusion of statistics like that of Mexico, where similar laws are failed, we realize that even if the laws were passed, the laws themselves would not necessarily remotely effective policy.

This is not to say we don’t need a dialogue about gun control, we do. But perhaps we can quit pretending that this is just about federal regulation, or the second amendment. Perhaps it isn’t just a question of political will, which my liberals friends seem to think they can shame people into supporting, but a question of complex, multicausal social issues and a constitutional framework that is ill-equipped be coherent.


a reading list that is entirely idiosyncratic on political theology, political anthropology, political philosophy, and political economy as well as philosophy of science and the history of philosophy, part 1

One will note that these not only don’t agree but often in conflict in claims directly. However, this combination of books has been helpful to clarify my thinking. These are in no order and not categorized.

Political and Philosophical Manuscripts by K. Marx
“The Critique of the Gotha Program” by K. Marx
Das Kapital by K. Marx
Negative Dialectics by T. Adorno
Introduction to Dialectics by T. Adorno
The Dialectic of Enlightenment by. M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno
After Virtue by A. MacIntyre
What Kinship Is-And Is Not by M. Sahlins
The Human Condition by H. Arendt
On Tyranny by L. Strauss
On The Notion of Authority by A. Kojeve
On Politics by A. Ryan
How (Not) to Be Secular by J. K.A. Smith
The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy by G. Lloyd.
Violence: Six Sideways Reflections by S. Zizek
A Secular Age by C. Taylor
Purity and Danger by M. Douglas
Stone Age Economics by M. Sahlins
Orientalism by E. Said
God Is Dead: Secularization in the West by Steve Bruce
Property and Progress: the historical origins and social foundations of self-sustaining growth BY R. Brenner
Understanding Class by E.O. Wright
The Mismeasure of Man by S. Gould
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by S. Gould
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by D. Dennett
The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Volume 1: by I. Lakatos
Occidentalism: Images of the West by J. G. Carrier
The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View by E. M. Woods
The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by H. Cruse
The Invention of Culture by R. Wagner
The Making of the English Working Class By E.P Thompson
Outline of Theory of Practice By P. Bourdieu
Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson
Europe and the People Without History by Eric R. Wolf
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by G. Cochran and H. Harpendiing
Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live By M. Zuk
The Morality of Happiness by J. Annas
The Norms of Nature: Studies in Hellenistic Ethics ed. By M. Schofield and G. Striker
Theory as History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation by J. Banaji
Man and Society by J. Plamenatz
The Idea of the Muslim World by C. Aydin
Marx’s Theory of Price and its Modern Rivals by H. Nicholas
Capitalism. Competition, Conflict, Crises by A. Shaikh
For and Against Method: Including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence editted by M. Motterlini
An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital by M. Heinrich translated A. Locascio
The Making of Marx’s Capital-Vol 1 by R. Rosdolsky
Historical Capitalism by I. Wallerstein
Reclaiming Marx’s ‘Capital’: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency by A. Kliman
Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought by S.S. Wolin
The End of Theory: Financial Crises, the Failure of Economics, and the Sweep of Human Interaction by R. Bookstaber
The Long Depression: Marxism and the Global Crisis of Capitalism by M. Roberts
After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840–1900 by F. C. Beiser
Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy by K. Marx
The German Historicist Tradition by F. C. Beiser
Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy by Paul A. Rahe
German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism, 1781–1801 by F. C. Beiser
The Black Jacobins by C.L.R James
Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition by C. J. Robinson
The Cultural Revolution at the Margins: Chinese Socialism in Crisi by Y. Wu
Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class by J. Andreas
On Revolution by H. Arendt
Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology by K. Sterelny and P. E. Griffiths

Some Axioms on Long March Through the Academy

  •  It is an empirical fact that left theory after 1968 largely left the factories as an organizing model and even the community organizing model and then went into Academia. Even if the overall left-wing skew of academia is overstated, which it is, one can look at where the prominent surviving members of Weather Underground and BPP work now to see this.
  • It is also an empirical fact that post-war boom in academia, in both skills training and scientific investment against the cold war, made these institutions flush with money. Since they were seen as largely traditional institutions, rent-seeking trends among administration was not predominant at first as they are now, and these institutions could count on state largess and tolerance of highly dissenting opinions in fields that were cheap to maintain (i.e., fields and posts didn’t require must research cost outside of the investment in professors’ salaries, which were marginal compared to research labs expenses, but also didn’t bring in a lot of outside investment).
  • It is also an empirical fact that in the 1990s, the pressure to increase college enrollments and make campuses more competitive increased rent-seeking among non-faculty portions of the university. One sees this in the explosion of administration and building projects in US and UK universities for this point.
  • This has meant, however, there is more pressure to cut those fields that are not professional-training grounds and not fund empirical research in fields.
  • One of the things that I don’t hear leftists talk about that much is that one of the reasons left theory is so popular in academia–beyond the fact that it is a good place for cranks to hide and get a measure of legitimacy– it doesn’t cost much to produce theory. It’s easy to a get TA or post-doc to think. Fieldwork and empirical data require capital. The reason there is more theory divorced from empirical reality in left-wing circles is not just bad faith academics, but also that there is little funding incentive for empirical research in these fields outside of education, medicine,  and other functions that are DIRECTLY tied to the state.
  • If you are a Ph.D. in some form of left theory that is driven primarily by the humanities or media studies, please forgive me for treating you with suspicion. I think getting credentials in phrenology was also suspect. The incentives aren’t there in contemporary academia for you do high-grade empirical research and the research program has largely degenerated in Lakato’s sense of the research program thas no longer has theoretical or empirical consensus.
  • Capitalists often do much better work on organizational intelligence than even pure academics do because it matters to them for survival. In areas like this, the left would do well to ACTUALLY READ the unsexy literature even if pair it with and inform their theory. So often much managerial work on organizing is miles ahead of left academic political work on the same.
  • This is not to say those studies are not mired in ideology or even self-consistent; however, if one is a critical reader one can find better empirical data from such work that is used in most left theory as well as better use of the raw data from psychological studies.
  • What capitalists (business analysts) don’t do well is historical analysis because there is not a good immediate profit incentive in understanding long-term trends and origins. There is no time preference incentive to do so.
  • This means that for the left theorists to work on NOT maintaining an institutional disadvantage for its organizing, they must rethink their relationship to academia and be far more willing to use empirical data from industry fields and pair that with its historical and economic analysis more skillfully. PhDs in academia, particularly in the humanities or softer social sciences, have little incentive to do this because of the current systemic limitations in funding as well as the way papers must be produced fairly quickly to maintain one’s career, and one can’t blame them for it.
  • It is time to end the long march through the Academy.