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Government: Who Needs It?
Posted: 24 January 2007 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]
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Fair enough, though if word meaning has no empirical value what are dictionaries and language structure for? Obviously words and sentences do have a meaning in reality…just as the symbols and numbers used in a physical theory must have a fixed meaning for the theory to be anything other than nonsense. If I were to claim that the E in E=MC2 stood for eclair the entire formula stops making any sense. But this is not a science journal for the publication of specific provable theory either, so we must agree that holding to a scientific degree of “proof” in many topics is an unreasonable benchmark, much like we do with the criminal justice system. It is a forum for discussion. So whats your point?

1. Dictionaries and grammar/usage guides are conveniences. They are useful when one is unclear on the accepted meaning of an unfamiliar or seldom used word or construction, or for young people/non-native speakers learning the language. The best of them, such as the OED, approach meaning very broadly, primarily by giving extensive citations of how the word has been used over time and how its meaning has shifted. The problem arises when people start to view such convenient reminders as strict, immutable authorities and begin to use them to solve disagreements about meaning.

2. You are, of course, right that words and sentances have meaning, but they do not have “fixed” meaning. Meaning, as I’ve said, is effectively a matter of consensus, so it is a moving target. Except for neologisms and slang, it moves slowly enough not to be too much trouble. But while E will always = MC2 unless there is a dramatic new idea or new evidence in scientific research, the meaning of words and structure of language are guarenteed to change over time. That’s what makes interpreting archaic language, such as that of the Constitution, tricky.

3. My point was simply that appeal to authority is not a useful way to adjudicate the meaning of the amendment. Perhaps I misunderstood the flow of the discussion (I’m reading and writing in the brief interstices between patients during the work day), but it seemed like you were arguing for a right to bear arms independant of any need for a formally regulated state militia because you interpreted the meaning of the wording in the second amendment differently than Doug, and that you were supporting your reading by appeal to authority. That’s all.

As far as the underlying debate- I agree with Doug’s reading for both linguistic and historical reasons, and I suspect a survey, again wiht similar construction but different content, would find ours the more common reading, though I can’t prove this since it hasn’t been done, as far as I know. However, I also think those points shouldn’t really be important since, as we seem to agree, the issue is really what people today believe about whether or not we should have a right to own guns and how inviolate this right should be kept. This is a debate I hesitate to get into since I’ve never had it lead to anything but stalemate, but again for what it’s worth, I think the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that private gun ownership makes us less, rather than more, safe and that the right to defend oneself is not meaningfully dependant on any right to own guns. I think we’d be safer if they were largely or wholly banned and I have no moral problem doing so. There may be a constitutional problem, since your readijng of the amendment is reasonable, though I disagree with it. So in practice, the only way to solve the dilemma is to repeal or rewrite the amendment, which doesn’t stand a chance in hell of happening anyway. So we’ll all just continue to limp along debating what it means and how tightly we can regulate it, which misses the real point somewhat.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 107 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”] Data from the CDC shows that US gun deaths from 1981 to 2004 totalled almost 800,000 people, or an average of 34,700 per year. This compares with ~58,000 US troops killed in action during the entire 15 year Vietnam war. It is not an insignificant number, by any estimation.

But that doesn’t answer my charge…you eliminated all the Vietnamese deaths, both Civilian and military, as well as the Cambodian Laoatian and Thai deaths, from illegal inclusions into those boarders during that particular unjust war, and the you included ALL gun deaths in the US which includes criminal use of guns.

I have no problem with taking guns away from criminals. After they have committed a gun crime. After guilt is proven. But I believe wholeheartedly in the innocent before proven guilty.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 108 ]
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Mckenzievmd, and Doug,

My point is not so much that I support ownership of guns (though I do, but it is quite complicated) but that yes the second amendment does guarantee an uninfringable right to the people (not the state) and the only way around that is a constitutional amendment. But since governors are as lazy as the rest they move for the fast track, which is far less reasonable. If a democracy, is going to work, the people need to support these amendments. The fact that we have insane laws that can not be supported by the constitution (by either standard) is strong evidence that our democracy is not working very well in this case (if there were enough support an amendment could be gained, if there is not it should be left until sufficient support is there).

But I believe in the largest amount of freedom for individuals without prior restraint. That is laws should not infringe on the actions of people who have done no real and provable harm. That laws that restrict action before guilt is assessed, laws that assume guilt, or presume the states right to be mother of all, are bad laws, and not just against reasonable democracy, but against humanistic ideals as well.

As to the repeated claim that I was appealing to authority, I respectfully disagree. I was again merely providing evidence of a serious & scholarly counter notion to the meaning of the words and sentences, which Doug claimed to have the sound truth of. At no time did I say, it is so because X says it is so.

Oddly the gun discussion demonstrates my point on government as well. We don’t see an elimination of gun violence, we just see the focus of the violence moved from a one on one nature to a mass mind sort of thing, where no one is really in control and no one can really be held accountable. Its not better, unless it is a totally subjective better. Were the Vietnamese better off after our violence? Are the Iraqi’s or Afghanistan’s? To me bad JuJu.

If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns…especially those outlaws at the heads of state who have showed time an time again that they are often the least responsible gun owners of all.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 109 ]
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Chris,
First off, call me Brennen.

Secondly, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.

Thirdly, I hate to find myself in the position of defending the restriction of our freedom by the government, especially in the time of a particularly egregious example of an administration determined to take away our freedom in the name of protecting us. But philosophically, I guess I see freedom in much more utilitarian terms than you do. Some things matter more than others. I see no useful purpose for gun ownership that can be supported by the data (so if you buy the self-defense argument, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one as well). And the recreational value of gun ownership does not, for me, trump the real harm the damn things do to innocent people. Waiting for someone to shoot someone else and then taking away their gun seems a poor bargin for the victim. Preventing people from owning something inherently so dangerous seems to me an inconsequential infringement on their freedom with a tangible benefit to the freedom from harm of potential victims. In principle, I accept the idea that a government has a legitimate right to limit the actions of individuals if it can reasonable show a compelling benefit to other individuals, and as I read the data that is the case with limiting gun ownership.  I would use the same logic, with an opposite conclusion, to abolish the death penalty because I believe it gives the government the very dangerous authority to kill individuals when no compelling benefit can be demonstrated for other individuals.

True libertarians, as I take you to be, object to any limitation on an individuals action by government in principle, whereas as a “civil libertarian,” I take a very cautious, but I think more pragmatic approach to balancing the harm that comes from ceding power to government and the harm that government action can prevent. The default should be in favor of our loberty, but there are cases where limiting my actions when it can be reasoonably shown they will infringe on someone else is legitimate. Obviously, we probably disagree in most, if not all cases, about the actual data, since I doubt I could convince you any government action does more harm than good. That’s why I’m not especially interested in debating the merits of specific issues, like gun ownership, since I don’t see much chance of you excepting any of my arguments when our underlying philosophy about what “rights” are is so different. Hope I’m not painting you with too broad a brush here.

You and Doug have already hashed out pretty well the arguments for and aginst government in principle and the issue of how humans behave “naturally” with or without it, so no need to cover that ground again. And I apologize if I misinterpreted your citation of the grammarian to imply that was intended to prove your interpretation of the constitutional language.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 110 ]
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I’m fascinated that those who believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution are also in favor of allowing citizens to own a wide variety of guns.

I think, if we wish to live by the concepts of the Constitution as it was envisioned when written, we should certainly allow every citizen to have a couple of single shot muskets in his/her home.  However, multiple shot guns, automatic weapons, and fancy handguns, rifles, and shotguns should be banned since they were not part of what the framers were conceiving.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 111 ]
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Nor did they conceive of women or minority voters or liberation. What is your point? One of the beautiful things about our founding documents was just how well written they were to allow for change, improved technology and circumstance. The fact that we have been able to use these simple documents to guide the growth of the freest and most productive nation ever is testament to their inherent flexibility. But, just as we use steel in skyscrapers for it’s flexibility, we also use it for it’s structural strength. So while the gaps in the constitution allow for flexibility, it is arguably the firm structure of absolute prohibitions and insistence’s of liberty for the individual that has thus far given the strength to withstand the tremors of time.

I have had shops that occupied a few old buildings here, and especially in this hot salt air, the concrete spalls…corrodes, and has to be refreshed form time to time. But the steel inside the concrete maintains the buildings integrity through time.

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Posted: 24 January 2007 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 112 ]
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Thanks Brennen, I’m not so sure I am a “Libertarian (or as Dave Hit would differentiate libertarian)” I do have some things that confound my own thinking. Roads being one. Air and water another. These are quite hard things to make private property, so I guess I can understand the need (at least at this time) for some commons. I also live in a city where I can own a gun but it has to remain at the gun club. I did own a few guns when I lived in AZ 15 or so years ago, but perhaps I am over childish things.

And to that I do guess I believe in some gun control. For criminals? Sure, of course I mean real criminals, not prostitutes, tax evaders, or drug users, but murders and rapists? Why sure make it illegal, but that does not keep guns out of their hands, it only makes the punishment worse when they finally do kill and are caught.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics, are of course a problem with this discussion. But I believe that gun deaths and injuries, once you exclude that police and the criminals are probably far lower than, say automobile deaths. But we are not talking about taking away peoples cars. And while some of the suicide in children stuff Doug posted is sad, there is no reason to suspect that those disturbed kids would not have suicide in another way if no gun was available. The favored forms of child suicide here (very common during A level exams) is either jumping or inhaling charcoal fumes. The point being the kids still kill themselves. Removing the gun doesn’t remove the suicide.  On violent crime, how many Chopper Attacks have you had in the US that you can recall? It has been a regular event here, where guns are not as often employed (though the criminals still use them often for jewelry and bank heists).

http://www.springerlink.com/content/h638xq4329688l34/
http://english.people.com.cn/200508/28/eng20050828_204972.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6194852.stm

And the danger to liberty, is increased when the people stop having the ability to overthrow tyrants.

So yes we can agree to disagree, I guess.

One thing I’ll add…I don’t think the government as it is, should do nothing. But I think they are more efficient and effective at public awareness and education, than at controlling behavior through force. As an example I suspect far more people have quit or reduced smoking because of factual information than any smoking law.

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Posted: 25 January 2007 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 113 ]
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Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics, are of course a problem with this discussion.

Absolutely! When faced with statistics that support an argument one disagrees with, it is always possible to question or re-interpret the statistics to get a different answer. Everybody is guilty of this, and none of the data is ever perfect enough to be completely definitive, especially about complex social issues (as opposed to narrow scientific questions).

 

But I believe that gun deaths and injuries, once you exclude that police and the criminals are probably far lower than, say automobile deaths. But we are not talking about taking away peoples cars.


No, but cars serve a valuable, possibly indispensible purpose, whereas I would argue guns do not. Possibly they make the overthrow of tyrants easier, but I’m not convinced. It seems like in countries with widely available weapons, either the tyrant’s army is too powerful to overthrow and there is a protracted guerilla compaign with atrocities all around, or once the tyrant is overthrown the citizenry splinters into factions which fight over the right to be the next tyrant. Ok, that came out more cynically than I intended, but I’m suspicious of the idea that the harm guns currently do is justifiable in terms of the potential for facilitating an armed revolt should it become necessary.

And while some of the suicide in children stuff Doug posted is sad, there is no reason to suspect that those disturbed kids would not have suicide in another way if no gun was available. The favored forms of child suicide here (very common during A level exams) is either jumping or inhaling charcoal fumes. The point being the kids still kill themselves. Removing the gun doesn’t remove the suicide. On violent crime, how many Chopper Attacks have you had in the US that you can recall?

Again, you’re right that suicide and other lethal violence would still happen if guns were made more difficult to get. Statistics again come into play here, since the ease of killing larger numbers of people with guns vs other methods suggests to me that the total suffering would be less. Males tend to use guns for suicide in the US and females pills or sharp objects, and males are proportionately more successful at killing themselves even though females make more attempts. But, again, the numbers could be massaged in many different directions to support both arguments.

But I think they are more efficient and effective at public awareness and education, than at controlling behavior through force. As an example I suspect far more people have quit or reduced smoking because of factual information than any smoking law.

Interesting point. I definately agree people are more effectively controlled (for better or worse :wink: ) by convincing them to do something voluntarily than by trying to force them. Clearly the change in smoking behavior by way of convincing people it was a bad thing has worked a lot better than Prohibition (though the information campaign was in addition to making smoking more expensive by taxation, limiting convenience by banning it from certain venues, and other more coercive tactics). Certainly government played an important role in making the information available, since the cigarette manufacturers worked very hard to suppress the facts about how deleterious smoking is to health. Still, the media, industry,  and politicians convince us of bullshit all the time, apparently with ease, and I’m often unimpressed by the quality of the reasoning and decisions we as a populace make when left to choose.

Here in California, we have an initiative process designed to give the people the power to legislate directly. What has happened is that when a true “grass roots” group of whatever political persuasion gets an intiative measure on the ballot, the opposition (if is sufficiently organized and funded) fights the measure in a sneaky way. Direct advertising against the proposition arguing the merits turned out not to work very well. So instead, now a competing group (usually business, religious, or sometimes union since they are the only groups with sufficient organization or funding) places a competing measure on the ballot with virtually identical language but subtely designed to negate the first measure. Usually people are so confused that neither passes and nothing happens. Sometimes (though not always), it may be more eficient to have a professional cadre of representatives or beauracrats make rules than have the populace at large do it.

I certainly don’t intend to box in your political position. Clearly, you think deeply and rationally about issues, so you can’t really pick a simple general stance (libertarian, socialist, anarchist, whatever) and adhere to it 100%, because such overly simplistic thinking doesn’t really work. I try to look at individual questions on their own merits, though I have a general philosophy that probably leads me to mostly traditional “liberal democrat” positions. It’s interesting to watch my feelings about government swing back and forth with the particular government in place. I’m much more suspicious of it (and send more money to the ACLU!) since GWB took over and tried to remake the system by fiat. When I grew up, there was lots of warm and fuzzy feelings about government programs, and we all idolized FDR, JFK, and the like. Then came Watergate, and suddenly the government was the bad guy. In general, I agree that the strength of our system is the ability to remake the rules and institutions as appropriate within a basically stable framework. The :twisted:  is in the details, of course, about which we’l undoubtedly continue to debate.

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Posted: 25 January 2007 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 114 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]Nor did they conceive of women or minority voters or liberation. What is your point? One of the beautiful things about our founding documents was just how well written they were to allow for change, improved technology and circumstance.

Quite true, and when the problems were recognized, amendments were written, freeing the slaves, giving them the right to vote, and another giving women the right to vote. 

If you want to push for an amendment allowing or requiring people to have automatic rifles, machine guns, or any other armament, that’s your right.  However, my point was that until you get that putative amendment passed, we should limit gun ownership to single shot muskets. 

Just because society changed from what the framers believed, to accept that women and minorities should be allowed to vote, it didn’t happen until the Constitution was amended.

Occam

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Posted: 25 January 2007 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 115 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]If you want to push for an amendment allowing or requiring people to have automatic rifles, machine guns, or any other armament, that’s your right.  However, my point was that until you get that putative amendment passed, we should limit gun ownership to single shot muskets. 

Except of course that the 2nd does not say musket it says arms.

arms |armz| plural noun 1 weapons and ammunition; armaments : they were subjugated by force of arms | [as adj. ] arms exports.

And of course Webster said explicitly:

Tyranny is the exercise of some power over a man, which is not warranted by law, or necessary for the public safety. A people can never be deprived of their liberties, while they retain in their own hands, a power sufficient to any other power in the state.

And Madison famously said:

This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.

The second amendment was largely provided as a solution of the federalists to calm the fears of tyranny of the anti-federalists, and the arms were to be equal to those of the standing army. So if the US military is supposed to only use musket, then so be it.

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Posted: 26 January 2007 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 116 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]Except of course that the 2nd does not say musket it says arms.

Precisely. The Second Amendment is vague. It gives us a “right to arms”, without saying what those arms are. It doesn’t say “a right to the same arms as are used in the standing army”, and indeed it has never been interpreted in that fashion. We do not have a right to own tanks, battleships, F-16 fighter jets or nuclear missiles.

If we are going to go the strict constructionist route, the arms we have the right to are those that were used in the day the amendment was written.

As for Madison ... great man, but he was clearly dead wrong on that prediction.

The statistics I gave before bear out the terrible toll that modern weaponry has unleashed upon our population. Let’s recall that this discussion of gun ownership began, above, in the context of why there was so much more violence in the US than in parts of Asia and Europe ...

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Posted: 26 January 2007 02:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 117 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]If we are going to go the strict constructionist route, the arms we have the right to are those that were used in the day the amendment was written.

So then the only free press is the manual press? The only free speech is the town crier, in the grammar of that time? Congress can make laws to prohibit any religion founded after that date? We have a phrase here…Chi Sin. IT is amply appropriate. But aside from that you all seem to forget the final two amendments, which in effect make all the opposite of what you are claiming true.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. 

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Posted: 26 January 2007 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 118 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]So then the only free press is the manual press? The only free speech is the town crier, in the grammar of that time? Congress can make laws to prohibit any religion founded after that date?

Note that I said: “If we are going to go the strict constructionist route”. For the record, I think the strict constructionist route is absurd.

At any rate, I take it then that you believe the constitution grants the people the uninfringeable right to own tanks, battleships, F-16 fighter jets or nuclear missiles? Whether or not they are members of any sort of well-regulated militia?

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Posted: 26 January 2007 03:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 119 ]
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Oh you mean you were propping up a straw man? And you continue to do so now? Ic, have fun with that then.

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