The Perils Of Wonkism

So this guy here notes a really stupid idea from this other guy there about some sort of “gun-tracking” scheme:

So, we’ve got a technology professor at some university who thinks he has a really new, useful, good idea what to do to make firearms safer. He’s proposing that each gun has its own “log”, making a record of exactly where and when it has been fired — perhaps even contacting the police. Presumably, this feat would be accomplished by means of a GPS receiver, a computer chip of some kind, and a wireless transmitter.

And our hero then goes on to a meticulous analysis of exactly why the idea is impractical and unimplementable. He concludes:

The only thing that a system like this can do is inconvenience law-abiding gun owners. It is less effective and less reliable than existing systems while being both more expensive and more intrusive. It is, in short, just as wrongheaded and ineffective as all the other “smart gun” proposals out there.

Brilliant! Devastating! Or not. Y’see, the author is really missing the point.

Note the bolding, there. I added that, because that is the point he missed in all of this wonking about. If any smart-gun (so called) proposal is enacted into law, it will be precisely because it will inconvenience law-abiding gun owners. Only it won’t say so on the box – no, it will ostensibly be for The Children or Public Safety or one of the myriad other Orwellian cause-names that the voting public has adopted into their little black, rotten hearts. But the real purpose will remain: to simply disarm the American populance.

Note some other key points: the author has implicitly endorsed a scheme such as this that would not “inconvenience” folks. Inconvenience will presumably be defined at a later time, by someone, somewhere. All of his objections center around the practicality of implementing such a scheme as this, with nothing said about morality. Morality as in “Who in the hell are you to tell me what to do with my stuff, pal?”

Also and more chillingly, he drags out that NRA Approved Phrase “law-abiding gun owners”. Law-abiding gun owners register their weapons when the law tells them to. Law-abiding gun owners turn in their weapons for destruction when ordered to. A quick study of history shows that “law-abiding gun owners” are eventually forced to choose between being law-abiding and owning guns. When he’s at that point, maybe the author rethink his love for the law and his disdain of criminals.

This all is an example of the perils on Wonkism: trying to explain a subject so thoroughly that you lose sight of the root idea, so much that you actually bring arguments against it. Wonks tend to trip themselves up with page after page of print, when in 90% of all cases, a simple “Hands the fuck off!” would suffice quite nicely.

20 thoughts on “The Perils Of Wonkism”

  1. John — there’s a place for all of your arguments as well. Rest assured that I agree with your points on the morality, as well as the practicality, of the scheme I was debunking.
    I originally picked up the thread from here,
    which included a link to this other response covering the moral concerns. I wanted to address the author’s presumably sincere attempt to propose a solution in terms he could understand and sympathize with.

  2. Micha: The perils of non-wonkism*: convincing only those five people
    Micha: who already agree with you.”

    [*euphemism for “rational argumentation”]

    Well, what’s your *pragmatic* point, Micha?

    That I *won’t* have to SHOOT stoopid and evil people come the civil war?

    Help me out here.

  3. The point is this: if you spend your whole life thinking the earth is flat, anyone who comes up to you and says that it’s round instantly gets filed in the “kook” folder and ignored. This applies even more so to someone who asserts baldly that the earth is round and refuses to explain his evidence or reasoning as to why he thinks the earth is round. It doesn’t matter that they are right; if you live in the 16th century you’ve tuned them out from that first sentence, and if they keep talking, you might decide to burn them at the stake.

    If you want to actually *convince* someone, you have to work within their framework a little.

    Now, there are a couple memes involved here:

    1) GunControlWorks. This is the meme that BSU is following — he thinks it might work and he’s asking why no one has ever done it, and hey, here’s this nifty idea I’ve had…

    On the other hand, we have three countermemes:

    2) GunControlDoesn’tWork
    3) GunControlViolatesConstitution
    4) GunControlIsWrong

    It’s appropriate to talk about all three, but there are strategic considerations. It’s hard to prove that gun control violates the constitution, because the modern courts refuse to strike down any gun control laws on that premise; that line of argument is not likely to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced.

    On the other hand, it’s easy to prove that gun control doesn’t work — particularly for “smart gun” ideas. So that’s a winning line of argument, and it’s likely to encourage critical thought and consideration as well. It offers the opportunity to bring up the citizen-police disparity in legal status and to mention firearms used in self-defense, as well as legitimate activities such as hunting and target shooting that the original writer is clearly not thinking about. The line of argument makes the other person think rationally, examine the facts, and begins to remove some of the ignorance about firearms.

    Whereas going in with GunControlIsWrong is like trying EarthIsRound on a medieval bishop. They are not intellectually capable of understanding it. The step from where they are to where we are is too big.

  4. I wanted to address the author’s presumably sincere attempt to propose a solution in terms he could understand and sympathize with.

    I totally understand that approach, but there’s a serious problem with it. Namely, when you’re dealing with a person who doesn’t agree with the root principle of private property, you aren’t ever going to accomplish anything beyond getting them to slightly, maybe, sometimes adjust the degree to which they want to hitch you up to their particular value-wagon and whip you along. And that doesn’t mean that they won’t change their mind tomorrow, nor does it mean that they won’t find some other matter of your life to stick their nose into.

    In short, it’s a losing approach if they can’t get over the hurdle of realizing that other people aren’t their property. Given that, utilitarian arguments will always be at best a waste of time, and at worse a repudiation of your own position.

    And Micha: someone who can’t come to terms with The World’s Most Direct Political Quiz isn’t much use to me.

  5. My point is that in “the coming civil war”, it will be about five of you versus everyone else – everyone else being those who don’t believe in an absolute, a priori natural right to private property.

    I don’t know as much about poker as Patri, but even I know those are bad odds.

  6. If you want to actually *convince* someone, you have to work within their framework a little.

    Matthew, Micha –

    Politicians persuade lots of people of this or that all the time; there’s no big trick to it. So why don’t you guys work in their framework as politicians?

  7. JTK,

    Marxists work in the framework of “rational argumentation” and “natural rights” and successfully persuade lots of people of this or that all the time; there’s no big trick to it. So why don’t you guys all become Marxists?

    Just because politicians work in the framework of persuasion does not mean the persuasion is immoral or pointless. I reject politics because it is systematically flawed, for the methodological individualist reasons given by public-choice economics.

    Certainly, I don’t think persuasion is the best way to change things; I would much rather have some kind of technological, market-driven solution. But until we discover one ourselves, it’s best to try to convince others of the importance if liberty. Perhaps one of them will think of a solution that no one else has thought of previously.

  8. They are not intellectually capable of understanding it. The step from where they are to where we are is too big.

    To put it as succinctly as possible, fuck them. If they don’t have the absolute, gut-level intellectual courage to state exactly why they think I’m their property, I don’t see a possible meeting of the minds. Now it’s almost certain that they have never had it presented to them in those terms, that honestly. I’ll give ’em a chance, sometimes, to think about the implications of “the greatest good for the greatest number” (which is a summation of every last stinkin’ theft-scheme out there).

    But most folks simply aren’t up to the challenge, and that means that they’ll be delighted to cut you up for the cannibal pot provided that doing so meets some level of “practicality”. Dealing with people like that is like bailing a swamp: there’s always another bucketful of muck to deal with. Best to find out if it’s feasible to simply drain the sucker, or not.

    And Micha, this:
    My point is that in “the coming civil war”, it will be about five of you versus everyone else…

    I don’t know as much about poker as Patri, but even I know those are bad odds.

    …Is the same sort of thinking as “Why, I’m a member of the Party! They’ll never come for me!”

    A cannibal doesn’t have allies, Micha: just food he hasn’t gotten to, yet.

  9. I think the major difference in viewpoint here is that I perceive BSU as someone asking a sincere question from ignorance, and John perceives him as a committed anti-gun advocate who can’t be persuaded. Am I right?

  10. Attacking the root will kill his whole collectivist tree, but pruning a branch will only make the rest of it stronger.

    You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest WIIITTTHHH….. a herring!!!

  11. …and John perceives him as a committed anti-gun advocate who can’t be persuaded. Am I right?

    No, I think he’s worse. The mere fact that he has the nerve to want to force you to dispose of your property in a manner he sees fit very strongly implies that he sees you have exactly zip-all of a claim to it. What I perceive is that arguing with such a person about gun control or drug laws or zoning ordinances is a waste of time if they indeed think you are their property.

    “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” — Thoreau

    The branch in this case is this “gun blog” nonsense, but the root is this guy’s utter contempt for who owns what. Attacking the root will kill his whole collectivist tree, but pruning a branch will only make the rest of it stronger.

  12. And your’s isn’t a losing approach?

    To attain freedom, you mean? Of course it is. But the fact that one given strategy, such as not trying to persuade folks who think you’re grist for their mill, won’t work, in no way implies that the inverse, trying to persuade those folks (somehow) to leave you alone, will work.

    What’s the point of arguing with those who already agree with you?

    Because it’s a less losing approach, since you aren’t wasting time with hopeless cases, and in fact it occsionally gains you something, namely a correction to your own world-view.

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