This is an edited version of an earlier post. I came to realize from the response to it that I had inadvertently pulled out a canard that colored the post into something that was different from what I intended. The post is almost entirely intact, but I've deleted (and replaced) the last paragraph, which is what changed the post from what I really wanted to say into something that had a lot of people reacting to what wasn't my main point, and which ultimately gave an impression that I was arguing something different from what I was.
It's terrible and tragic news, what has happened at Virginia Tech. Given that, this entry is probably coming at an extremely insensitive time, given what I'm going to say-- but on the other hand, I really believe that it is at times like this that we need to think about these things. Before I say any more, I just want to make it clear that I'm horrified by what has happened, and that my heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims.
I'm down in Chile observing at the moment. I woke up to get lunch. The TV is always running here, even if nobody is watching. (It kind of drives me nuts.) Well, today, the news is awful: at least 21 people killed in a shooting rampage in a college in Virginia.
Another astronomer, not an American, watching, says, "They need gun control."
Isn't that always the response? There's a horrible tragedy with guns, and our first instinct is to further restrict the legality of guns. Now, I know that most of the science bloggers here are firmly in favor of gun control, and indeed that most of the world thinks America is nutty in terms of how legal guns are already. But I think that this "we need more gun control!" that is cried whenever there is a highly publicized gun tragedy is part of a larger, and dangerous, pattern.
Something bad happens. It horrifies us. It scares us. We want to feel protected, we want to feel that others are safe and protected. We go to what is practically a feudal response: put the government, put our feudal masters, in more control over us, so that people can't go and do terrible things like that. When we think of feudalism, we generally think of the oppression of the serfs, and the fact that a very few (the lords) benefited from the labors of many (the serfs). But we must also remember that part of the theory behind feudalism was that fealty went both ways; the serfs worked for the lords, but then the lords had a responsibility to protect the serfs. As we turn more and more to government or large corporate entities to look out for our interests, to protect us, we are asking them more and more to act as feudal lords. And, in so doing, we must keep in mind the oppression that the serfs suffered.
I can tell already that I've lost 90% of the readers; "he's talking about oppression because we think that dangerous weapons should be controlled!" Please, bear with me.
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