The US is struggling to find the moral compass needed to reduce the horrific gun violence and death rates. Ideological, financial/business, political, and practical interests all seem to be competing and advocating for specific positions with regard to gun policy. Virtually none are interested in addressing the actual problem of gun violence. Some advocate ramping up the presence of guns as if stepping backwards in time to the days of the US wild wild west as depicted in cartoons and movies where everyone walked around with a gun strapped to their hip ready to take on anyone who challenged them. Here is one perhaps not-so-surprising comment that arises from this warrior macho attitude:
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“Criminals don’t obey the law so there is no point to passing more laws!”
What an asinine comment. What on earth could they be thinking? One becomes a criminal by intentionally breaking the law. Are they suggesting no laws? Are they thinking that if there are no laws there would be no criminals? Do they want a society where anything goes? Are they advocating anarchy in which everyone is on their own? What madness runs through their minds when they suggest we don’t need laws because criminals don’t obey them anyway? Continue reading
Some surprising results from a seat-of-the-pants statistical analysis on a global basis of guns, gun ownership, gun-related deaths, overall crime rate, and the effect of being in a rich or poor country on the likelihood of being involved in a crime or homicide, whether as a perpetrator or victim. I also offer a couple of workable steps to significantly reduce homicides and gun deaths backed up by the results of the surveys.
Natural Justice, Fair Play, and Empathy in Nature
Injecting moral values into capitalism is not an easy task. Capitalism is a wealth-driven, competitive system in which there are no built-in internal mechanisms for requiring responsible behaviour with regard to people other than the capitalists themselves.
A sense of natural justice is deep seated in our evolutionary past. We are not the only animals that understand what’s fair and what’s not fair. Nor are we alone in having empathy for each other. Experiments with a wide range of animals including primates, parrots, crows, elephants, whales, wolves, rats and others suggest that these feelings of justice and empathy we have are very instinctive. If you have ever played a game with your dog, you can see that he trusts you to play by the rules — and yes dogs understand the rules of a game and of interrelationships. But some dogs play by the rules and others know how and when to break the rules to their own advantage, so cheating is not unique to humans either. What dogs do when another dog cheats? They refuse to play with the cheater. And it takes quite a while for the cheater to be trusted again.
The Sustainable Thesis
Al Gore and David Blood have proposed developing a sustainable capitalism. I agree completely with the underlying sentiment to create a system that does not over-exploit the planet’s resources nor ignore the people who are not included in the equation governing capitalism. Unfortunately, capitalism is not designable — it is a spontaneous, self-generating process that reacts to external forces operating on individual entrepreneurs or capitalists. It is possible to influence capitalism if you can exert external forces from outside the system. From inside the system one can only react as do other individuals in the system. And we are all inside the system.
I suspect that Gore and Blood share with many of us, the sense that capitalism appears to compete with ruthless (in human terms) strategies. They propose to design a system that is not competitively ruthless. This might be possible, but I doubt it. On the other hand a more appropriate approach might be to examine how econosystems work using a biological metaphor and see if it is possible to make a better analysis and projection of what can actually be achieved by attempting to manage what is a spontaneous self-generated system, with no predetermined end points.
In 1983, I led a research team to Fiji to collect specimens of coral fish. Fiji is an ancient piece of a continent so has a different habitat and different geological history from the coral atolls in other island groups. The assistance of the Royal Ontario Museum, private donors, University at Suva, the Department of Fisheries, and many other organizations made it possible.
Buying bananas from Fiji roadside vendor
The slides shown here were taken in a variety of locations and for anyone who currently lives in Fiji it will probably be a bit difficult to recognize the locations. For the time we were there, we donned local clothing and lived with the local people on the various islands that we visited.
We travelled by van from Nandi to Suva and our first impressions were of interesting people and scenery. One of our first stops was to buy lunch from one of the local roadside vendors. Although we were travelling from Canada, we had lived in the West Indies for a while so were comfortable stopping and chatting to people along the way. Everyone we met was enthusiastic and interested in our little group. Unlike the coral islands of much of the rest of the Pacific this landscape was more like a countryside in South America or Africa with rolling hills dark earth and lush forests. Continue reading
Have you ever thought about the number of rules required to keep a large flock of wheeling birds together, not crashing into each other and moving at high speed to go somewhere? For many years it was thought to be a complex process dependent on one or more birds assuming a leadership role either permanently or temporarily. Recently, however, research suggests that 4 or 5 simple rules that everyone knows and obeys keeps the flock synchronized without a leader. Simple rules like “Don’t bump into the other guys”, “Keep moving forward”, and so on. Each bird also knows that some rules trump other rules. So you veer slightly if somebody is in the way of moving forward.
Photo by John Holmes
I began to wonder if people in a society are also governed by only a few relatively simple rules. The concept of rules however, didn’t seem to fit very well with humans because it is hard to imagine everyone obeying the rules even if they knew what they were. So instead, I thought one could imagine society responding along dimensions. When one considers how many dimensions this would need to be it is quite a small number. My first guess is four.
In a multidimensional model, no dimension is first or last, they just all interact. The four that seem reasonable each have extremes and can be considered continuous within the dimension. And they are simple.
In no particular order, here they are:
Resources: Of any type but ranging from finite to recyclable to renewable or “infinite”. Infinite is only available within in a societal model of limited time length, of course.
Human Behaviour: Of any type that emphasizes self or others or the group, from selfish, greedy,avaricious to sharing, altruistic, empathetic.
Governance: Of any type but ranging in emphasis from preserving the nation at all costs to preserving the citizenry at all costs.
Economy: Of any type or level from subsistence to world-wide, but the variable in this dimension is the degree to which the economy is governed by internally imposed rules or externally imposed rules as well as how well or badly those rules are imposed and followed.