Friday, August 15, 2014

Ferguson, Los Angeles, and a 14th Century Sultan

Ibn Battuta, a fourteenth century North African world traveler, spent some time in the employ of Mohammed ibn Tughluq, the fabulously wealthy sultan of Delhi. The Rehla, Ibn Battuta's account of his travels, contains a section on bad things about the Sultan and a section on good things about the Sultan. One of the good things he describes is an incident where Mohammed struck a young man with no legal justification for doing so. The young man took the case to court, the Sultan made no attempt to block it, and the verdict was that the victim was entitled to either monetary compensation or retaliation. He chose the latter, struck the Sultan, and, ibn Battuta tells us, he saw the Sultan's turban fall to the ground. Reading the passage, it is clear that the author thought that was how rulers ought to behave, holding themselves subject to the same law as everyone else, but usually didn't, hence that ibn Tughluq's willingness to accept a legal judgement against himself was admirable.

I was reminded of the passage by recent news stories about unarmed men shot dead by police under circumstances where, it is alleged, there was no legal justification. Such incidents occasionally lead to the policeman responsible being disciplined. They practically never, so far as I can tell, result in his being charged with homicide, tried, and, if convicted, jailed. 

It would be nice if our legal system could at least come up to the standards of a fourteenth century sultan.


Perry E. Metzger said...

Well said.

Russ Nelson said...

That said, he was probably not an ordinary sultan.

brendan said...

"They practically never, so far as I can tell, result in his being charged with homicide, tried, and, if convicted, jailed."

They practically never commit homicide, either.

We learned today that the deceased stole from and assaulted a convenience store owner shortly before his own death.

In most recent cases involving disputes between the deceased's supporters and the cops, the cops claims are vindicated. Usually there's sufficient evidence from the getgo, but the civil rights machinery is expert at manipulating the original narrative and thus what people recall.

brendan said...

*The relevance of the theft/assault is that it increases the odds the police story is accurate.

Also, 'unarmed' misleads in cases in which there's a physical struggle, since, as long as one party is armed, both are in danger of getting shot.

Anonymous said...

islam is a cancer on the world.

muhammad raped a 9 year, killed jews, sold blacks as slaves, lied, cheated, stole.

he is not a worthy canidate for any discussion

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to go back to the 14th century for anything?

Do you want to bring back slavery too? What about feeding Christians to the lions? Give me a break.

David Friedman said...

Anonymous appears to have difficulty distinguishing between two men who happen to have the same first name—and are separated by more than half a millenium.

LH said...

The anonymous trolls seem to be out in force there a Godwin's Law analogue for slavery or guilt-by-cultural-association?

The following is only my take, of course, but I think that David spoke generally of these incidents (and specifically used the word "alleged") because he did not believe the specific incident in Ferguson was proof one way or another of the observed pattern. It was only something that brought it to mind.

From the context of your post, it seems that your view is drawn from the incidents that receive national media coverage and generally become a race/class/sex-warfare circus. If the set of [alleged] police abuses were restricted to ONLY those cases, I might be inclined to agree with your take - but it is not. A very small percentage receive major television coverage.

My own view, based on my knowledge of the frequency police mistakes, wrongdoing, corruption, militarization, disciplinary action, general statie incompetence and malice, etc., is not one favorable to the police. If you strongly believe that they "practically never commit homicide," let alone other wrongdoing, perhaps you could provide some empirical evidence comparing police to the general population.

It is also worth considering that even granting criminal behavior in this case, the outcome (shooting) and subsequent consequences (riots, etc.) can be seen as a product of the present legal system, which could be much improved upon - which I think was really David's point.

brendan said...

LH: well said. I quibble w/ this, though:

"It is also worth considering that even granting criminal behavior in this case, the outcome (shooting) and subsequent consequences (riots, etc.) can be seen as a product of the present legal system"

Disagree. Let's see what can be said about riots:

-many people find them fun; kids celebrating NCAA championships
-they often have a theme, or some sort of moral principle, but that's just a pre-text, an excuse, for getting crazy; why smash up korean liquor shops cause you're mad at a white cop?
-certain personalities are more likely to join in; aggressive, young men, for example. and young black men are provably unusually aggressive
-in terms of the form of the pretext triggering a riot, substance matters little; interview folks and ask em what they're pissed about, see if their complaints match reality. if not, then why would changing reality- a fairer legal system- matter much?
-in general, there's incredible variation over time in what sorts of things people find unjust. people's sensibilities are trainable. and many of the megaphones, big institutions in the US, seem intent on amplifying perceived injustice.

rambling, sorry. but i strongly doubt legal reform will do anything to reduce perceived injustice and rioting (not that rioting is much of a problem; disorder more generally, is, but not rioting)

brendan said...


A core difference between old school conservatives and libertarians:

The former sees harsh policing as a necessary product of a crazy, disorderly citizenry. We even imagine that there's an 'uncanny valley', wherein if police are just harsh enough, disorder will fall, and police/citizenry conflict will fall, too. Harsh policing today enables more humane policing later.

Libertarians see it in reverse: citizen disorder and distrust are products of harsh policing. Reduce the latter and trust will improve, etc.

Obviously causality flows both ways.

But I think the evidence is strongly on the side of the conservative view, at least as it pertains to certain populations in the US and around the world. Obviously I think the Dutch would be fine w/ a libertarian styled police.

Anonymous said...

Cops do go to jail, though they tend to get the benefit of the doubt. Same for rich people.

On the other hand, there's the case of Nixon - somebody who committed crimes that nobody defends (they weren't crimes committed in the process of overzealous performance of legitimate duties, which are the type of crimes by officials that routinely get excused).

bruce said...

>Nixon- somebody who committed crimes nobody defends

Some of Nixon's staff broke into an opposing campaign headquarters, and he weaseled about it. Out of 535 present members of Congress, how many would never have anyone on staff who might sneak into an opposing campaign headquarters? How many never weasel? Obama? Clinton? Anyone?

js290 said...

Stick a fork in it, bin Laden and the "terrorists" have won. When internet personalities like brendan are rationalizing the actions of state agents rather than rule of law and the principles of innocent until proven guilty, it is over. Perhaps more generally, this is where civilization was headed anyway.

BTW, according to this report, the officer who shot the suspect had was not aware he was a suspect. These were seemingly two different incidents.

But, brendan, please continue to rationalize state brutality in all its forms.

Anonymous said...

bruce, the watergate burglary itself was just the tip of the iceberg. Nixon was ordering crimes left and right, even if not that particular one.

js290, the point is that the guy who was killed may have believed that the cop was after him.

js290 said...

Annoymous, I see, execute and apprehend the suspect now mean the same thing. Like I said, stick a fork in it. Bin Laden and the militant muslims have won.

Anonymous said...

I have read, but cannot verify, that the cop in question did not know about the convenience store robbery, and the shooting was not related to it.

The problem for people in our proximity is that both narratives are plausible; I.e. of unwarranted police brutality on the one hand, and of thuggish behavior on the other. Neither necessarily precludes the existence of the other.

What bothers me mostly is that public servants are seldom ever punished for what they do, but the ordinary citizen has to sit and be lectured about racism for the umpteenth time.

Also as far as the link between policing and crime goes, I do not think the link is strong or necessarily decisive. One can reform the police department, at least in theory, but there are societies that are orderly where crimes are severely punished, and orderly societies where punishments are very lax. Similarly, there are disorderly societies with no police presence [detroit] and those with extreme police presence.

Anonymous said...

"I have read, but cannot verify, that the cop in question did not know about the convenience store robbery, and the shooting was not related to it."

Once again, that the cop didn't know about the robbery doesn't mean the shooting was *unrelated* to the robbery. It only means that the cop didn't think he was shooting a robber (but since shooting robbers isn't generally permissible anyway, what difference does it make...)

Power Child said...

@brendan and a few others:

My understanding of the conservative argument for harsh policing is that it also discourages immigration by the sort of people who that style of policing is meant to deal with. Meanwhile, law-abiding people may be philosophically repulsed by harsh policing, but in their day-to-day lives have no reason to fear it.


Based on a combination of the private autopsy commissioned by the deceased's family and on eyewitness accounts, it's becoming clearer that Brown, the 6'4" 290-pound unarmed teenager, did in fact try to grab the officer's gun, did not in fact raise his arms in the "don't shoot" pose, and did in fact turn and begin to charge the officer.

Since Brown had already been shoot but was still doing this, the officer may have had reason to suspect that Brown was on some kind of substance that would make him difficult to neutralize using a level of force that may have been conventionally appropriate.

So David, your 14th century anecdote is interesting and worth discussing here, but it's no longer relevant to what happened in Ferguson.

brendan said...

This is why I can't call myself a libertarian anymore.

Libertarians are racially blind. They do not know the crime stats. They do not know what inner city folk are like. They either do not see, or do not consider absurd, the "war on blacks" narrative pushed by much of the media, academia, and democrat party. If they don't see it, they're blind, if they don't consider it absurd, they're innumerate.

They think good institutions can solve all problems, and all problems are caused by bad institutions. They extrapolate their own WEIRD nature onto all of humanity, despite overwhelming evidence that different groups respond differently to the same incentives.

Look, the core significance here is that, a) many very smart/powerful people/orgs benefit from convincing blacks they're being hunted down, like minority sects in Iraq (MSNBC made this analogy) and b) they are quite persuasive, despite the evidence, and c) this is the LAST thing black people need to be told.

Reason mag mocks:

"Officer Who Shot Mike Brown Faces 'Threats'? But Police Are Quick to Name Those Who Shoot Cops."

Yeah, and comics who freely mock Jesus won't touch Muhammad for the same reason. Some groups are safer to piss off than others.

Libertarianism would make the already civilized world a richer and happier place. But it has no understanding outside civilization's bounds.

David Friedman said...

Power Child:

I think you, like those on the other side, are too quick to take your preferred interpretation of the evidence as gospel.

Power Child said...


I used the following preface:

"Based on a combination of the private autopsy commissioned by the deceased's family and on eyewitness accounts, it's becoming clearer that..."

That is not simply my "preferred" account, it is the most up-to-date account available. And I'm not taking it "as gospel", I'm simply saying that based on this most current information, your 14th-century anecdote is no longer analogous.

(I did use the phrase "in fact" several times, but it was meant to provide emphasis within the above context, not to signify that the facts were definitively settled. Additional contrary evidence could indeed turn up.)

That's perfectly okay, by the way. You wrote your post last Friday, well before any of this information had surfaced. I was simply trying to update the discussion.

brendan said...


"I think you, like those on the other side, are too quick to take your preferred interpretation of the evidence as gospel."

OK. A white on black crime is alleged. Becomes national news. Info is scarce enough that interpretation is controversial.*

Now, as info emerges, how often does it favor each side, respectively?

Nowhere near 50/50. I think it'd be hard to find one instance in which emerging evidence net favored the black victim's story.

Which is exactly what you'd expect. The initial consensus reality is dominated by the strength of interested parties (probably some concentrated benefit diffuse cost of info transmission works here). The ultimate outcome primarily by the facts of the case.

*I'm not saying that blacks are never victimized, rather, I'm saying that cloudy cases are portrayed as slam dunks, and dubious cases as cloudy. This case may be cloudy. The Trayvon case was utterly dubious from the start.

Power Child said...


I fundamentally agree. Something that eludes most libertarians, liberals, and even many conservatives is the fact that social institutions are like "software" while people are like "hardware".

Hardware has some capacity to accommodate different types of software, but that capacity is not limitless, and not all hardware is limited equally.

Power Child said...


Former libertarian here. I can assure you I definitely was one. I considered myself an anarchist of the David Friedman stripe, and I was bewildered by how anyone could consider themselves a principled libertarian without also reaching the logical conclusion of anarchism. I looked around and saw the government as an artifice, a false religion, an illegitimate corporate monopoly backed by violence and coercion.

But then I saw deeper, or at least that's the best way I can describe what happened from my perspective.

brendan said...

"But then I saw deeper, or at least that's the best way I can describe what happened from my perspective."

The realization is this:

A human spectrum exists. It's hard to define, so I'll define it extensionally. The Amish are on one end. The Yanomami are on the other.

Compatibility with a libertarian society depends on where a group falls on that spectrum.

Ironically, those whose ancestors lived under strong states for many generations can do w/ out a strong state today. Those whose didn't, can't.

Libertarians haven't disproved this notion, they've ignored it.

brendan said...

David, the news is flowing in. Cop suffered an "orbital blowout fracture to the eye socket" and over a dozen witnesses are backing his story.


This 50/50, wait for more info Prior is not rational in racial controversies in the US.

js290 said...

@Power Child,
How did we ever evolve as a species without "government" and "capitalism"? With all due respect to David Friedman, your exploration of anarcho-* may have been self limiting.

Perhaps what we've all observing is the limits of "civilization."

"Every culture that has depended on annual plants for their staple food crops has collapsed."

Unknown said...

Dear Mr.Friedman, may I ask you a question? Have you received my e-mail regarding translation of your books into Russian language? Slava Sablin

Power Child said...


I could be wrong as I lack expertise, but it seems that the notion of "government" as a distinct entity is a relatively new development. Primitive tribal societies intertwine government, religion, and everyday culture and ritual. It's totalitarian, I suppose.

This recognition of our evolutionary roots is a portion of what fueled my movement away from libertarianism.

Jonathan said...

Good post here, but most of the comments above are not actually related to it.

The post is not about any particular modern event, and I don't think it was intended as an invitation to ramble on about "why I'm not a libertarian any more".

As I understand it, the intent of the post was to argue that members of the police should be held responsible for their actions in the same way that ordinary people are held responsible: they should not be above the law.

Power Child said...


I think you're right that a lot of the comments, including some of my own, veered from the original topic of discussion.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting your point, but it seems to me that there are many situations where the police need special permissions that ordinary citizens do not get, otherwise they would not be able to police effectively.

For example, the ability to "kidnap" (essentially) is needed in order to bring suspects into custody. If police are tried for kidnapping every time they bring in a suspect, or even if only when they bring in a suspect who turns out to be innocent, then the police may be too deterred to do their job.

Instead, we tolerate the police being able to "kidnap", but we expect they will do it in a humane way--without inflicting unnecessary force beyond that needed to bring the suspect in. In fact, police will start with words, and will only use force if that does not work. It is true, however, that they will put even cooperative suspects into handcuffs, but that is a reasonable precaution, as some suspects may only cooperate at first to put the police off their guard.

The Ferguson case is a bit different: a police officer shot and killed a man who, evidently, was belligerent and uncooperative. (The cop may have had reason to believe that the man was on drugs that could make him further resistant to the policeman's efforts to subdue him.) As Steve Sailer said:

"It would be a very good thing if police officers could always nonlethally subdue belligerent 6’4″ 292 pounders accosted during their crime sprees. In fact, it may very well be that the cop screwed up in various ways in this case and should be disciplined."

But should the cop be charged with murder as if he had been a civilian in the same situation? I don't think so.

Ryan said...

I wonder how we ever come to any sort of real knowledge about whether the police systematically get away with abuse, when each case is so fact dependent.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (I assume that most the people in the media) certainly have an incentive to find legitimate black victims of unjustified police brutality. And yet it seems like more often than not, they pick losers. Maybe my memory is selective, but the biggest examples I can think of are Tawana Brawley, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin (Police-like violence) and now Michael Brown. Of these, only the Rodney King beating was truly unjustified. Tawana Brawley rapes didn't happen. Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense. We don't know the facts yet on Brown, but it's looking like he was shot in self-defense, too.

I'm prepared to believe that police are regularly abusing their authority. But if it happens so regularly, why can't Sharpton et al find a better class of Martyr?

Jonathan said...

There needs to be some power to make arrests, but that power doesn't have to be limited to the police. In England and Wales, at least, "citizen's arrests" have long been legal. In principle, it is possible for the police to follow the same law that applies to everyone else.

There also needs to be some provision for people to kill other people legally in certain particular circumstances (e.g. self-defence), but I don't see a need to make the police a special case here either. To go around killing people is the job of the army, not the police.

Tibor said...

Brendan: on blacks - you say that race is a factor that should be considered (by the way, the left is not so different from the right hre, only they want to use sugar where the right would prefer the whip). It is interesting to observe blavk minorities in different places and cultures as it can give you an idea about whether it is actually a race (and not culture within a racially more or less homogeneous group) that is the most important factor (i am not saying that there are no genetic effects, but in my opinion they are not as decisive..they can manifest themselves in statistics, but individuals vary much evev within a race and you typically have a much better information about a particular individual than just his race).

But to my point - i am currently visiting Hong Kong and staying in the Chungking mansions, which is where backpackers and poor immigrants often stay. Most of the staff of local guesthouses are black and the (chinese) owners seem to prefer them greatly to Indians and Pakistsnis who also mostly live in the area and see them as more honest, reliable and less likely to be involved in criminal activities. This is quite to the contrary of the US. By the way, Chungking mansions is the place with the reputation of the least safe place in HK with the most criminal activities. But my impression (confirmed by the guesthouse owner who is a HK native) is that most of that is just seling drugs, i never felt i should take special care to protect my brlongings...and when i forgot my smewhere, the receptioniskt at the guesthouse found the people who found it and returned it to me...with no calls on my sim or anything altough they could have called to india for a couple of hours for free and then sold it in Mong Kok for some 500 HKD still.

Power Child said...


You are providing more ammunition for the charge that libertarians live in a theoretical world of rational individual actors, detached from social tribal reality.

Citizens' arrests exist in the US too, but they don't happen often. This is especially true in urban ghettos where people are united, either by racial tribalism or by fear of reactionary violence, against unnecessary compliance with any sort of law enforcement.

Police are typically not targeted by criminals, because criminals are deterred by the drastically increased costs of harming them. However, criminals are not uniformly cautious, and tend towards aggression and physical imposition anyway, and consider it a tribal humiliation to be subdued by a white person in a uniform. These things combine to make police officers justifiably ready for violence. When police do not have lethal force at their disposal, criminals will try to take advantage. This is not theory; I think it is safe to say this is the learned experience of all police who have dealt with violent criminals.

@Tibor Mach:

The consensus among people who study the interrelation of genetics and behavior seems to be that the nature/nurture split is about 50/50. That said, you must also acknowledge that most black people in America are genetically separated from black Africans by more than 8 generations (the height of the transatlantic slave trade was between 1701 and 1800).

Jonathan said...

Power Child: "You are providing more ammunition ..."

Anything anyone says is usually twisted by other people and used to confirm their own prejudices. This is a matter of routine.

I'm aware that citizen's arrests are rare; it's not surprising. The police are paid, trained, equipped, and organized to conduct arrests and other police duties; naturally they do so much more often than anyone else does, and that's unlikely to change. I merely suggest that the applicable law should be the same for all.

"criminals ... consider it a tribal humiliation to be subdued by a white person in a uniform."

Are you assuming that all criminals are non-white, or does your statement apply to white criminals also?

Jonathan said...

I point out that security guards employed by anyone could well be paid, trained, equipped, and organized to conduct arrests as permitted by law: the same law that should apply to everybody.

Hill Country Dog said...

If you want a fuller picture of what injustices our police inflict, try these two websites:

The later site is particularly good and accurate, and is part of the Cato Institute.

Brendan in particular should look at the sites to see how often they do commit homicide. It is a regular occurrence and they rarely get convicted of it. The events are investigated by other police or others in the justice system with little outside oversight.

Every day police men and women abuse citizens, deny rights, and create a hostile environment for the rest of us. They are out of control.

Power Child said...


Some things do not need to be twisted to confirm prejudices, nor are prejudices necessarily inaccurate. (In fact, that's exactly why many things do not need to be twisted to confirm prejudices.)

Anyway, I was not trying to berate you, I was just tying what you said in to some of the criticisms of libertarians raised in above comments.

I was not assuming that all criminals are non-white; I was referring specifically to the criminals I had been talking about before--the ones in the inner city ghettos. Sorry I didn't make that more explicit.

The law is itself, in many ways, a set of rules that give certain people the ability to do things others may not do. This is what licensure is all about, for example.

As for security guards, they enjoy less respect exactly because they are more closely beholden to the same laws as citizens. Criminals (and, significantly, many non-criminals) derisively refer to security guards as "rent-a-cops".

Jonathan said...

Respect, or fear? I suggest that we respect someone because of his personal qualities, not because he has powers we don't have. What you may feel in the latter case is fear. You may want a police force that people are afraid of; I don't.

If a police officer (or indeed a security guard) gets genuine respect, that's great. It suggests that either he's a good person or that most people wearing that uniform are good people. No need of special powers for that.

Power Child said...


What makes you think that respect and fear are mutually exclusive?

There are cases where respect is not based on fear, and where fear is not based on respect. And of course respect can be based on fear in addition to other things, and vice versa.

But I think in most cases--and especially those dealing with the need to influence other people's immediate behavior--respect and fear are interdependent.

Jonathan said...

Suffice to say that I don't want to live in a country where I or others go in fear of the police. Criminals should go in fear of the law: of being caught, tried, and sentenced.

They shouldn't go in fear of being beaten up or shot by the police, because if the police do that kind of thing, they can do it to anyone.

Power Child said...


Have you spent much time in the ghetto or around the people who live there?

Jonathan said...

Power Child: Can't say I have. Born in England, I've lived in a dozen countries in Europe and Africa. Never lived in the USA, never particularly wanted to; and, the more I hear about it, the less I want to live there.

For the last 17 years, I've been living in Catalonia, Spain. Not perfect, but I'm happy enough here.

Jonathan said...

Found on the Web:

«In 2012, 409 people were shot and killed by American police in what were termed justifiable shootings. In that same year, British police officers fired their weapons just once. No one was killed.

In 2013, British police officers fired their weapons all of three times. No one died.


The Economist argues that the reason for this disparity is actually quite simple: guns are comparatively rare in the UK. Most cops don't carry them and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British officer was killed by a gun was in 2012. In the US last year, 30 police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty.»

Apparently many Americans live in a violent society, and many of them seem to like it that way. Shrug. Each to his own taste. If you like it, you're welcome to it.

Anonymous said...


Please don't post on this site again.

Jonathan said...


Please don't post anonymously again.

brendan said...

"The Economist argues that the reason for this disparity is actually quite simple: guns are comparatively rare in the UK."

Jon, gun laws might have something to do with it, gun laws might explain a bit of the variation, but something else explains much more of it.

Jon, within the US, it is race, not gun ownership rates, that correlate with the aspects of the country that you despise.

Jonathan said...

Brendan, I didn't say I despise the USA: I just don't want to live there. US culture is alien to me. Of course, that also means that my culture (whatever it may be) is alien to Americans.

As for race, Wikipedia tells me that the peoples of the USA are about 78% 'white', and those of the UK are about 87% 'white'. Well, there is a difference in degree.

Skin colour is less of an issue in Spain, the great majority of people here are more or less 'white'.

I put 'white' in quotes because, if you find anyone who's literally paper white, it might be worth checking that he's still alive.

Power Child said...


Again, the libertarian refusal to consider race realistically. (For example, nitpicking the term "white" when, come on, you know what it means.) And again, I'm not berating you, I'm just pointing out how this fits into and supports what's been said.

The US is majority white. But the gun deaths largely happen in areas that are not.

From the time I spent in England, mostly in London (4 years as a kid plus several summers as an adult), I gather the most dangerous areas are in the cities with the African and "Asian" immigrants. There are certainly some rough white blokes, but not in anywhere near those concentrations.

Anyway, my point in asking whether you've spent much time around American ghettos or the people who live in them is that if you had, you may eventually come to the realization that the honorable ideas of citizens arrests and fear of the law rather than of lawmen--these ideas break down at a certain point. They can be trumped when stronger, more basic orientations--to racial tribalism, for example--are dominant.

And in case you want to say I am obsessed with race or some such thing, you must keep in mind that race is essentially a large, relatively inbred group--and extended family. Family is very important, because it describes the flow of genes, and genes (as I said) account for about half of our behavior. I don't see much benefit to deliberately ignoring that.

Does this make me a racist? Well, my black wife is constantly telling me I am one. :D

Jonathan said...

Power Child: If I'm not as preoccupied with race as you are, I think that's not because I'm a libertarian, but because I'm not an American. Race seems to be a conspicuous issue in your environment; it's much less of an issue in mine.

You generalize too much about libertarians: they're a disparate set of people who disagree with each other on many things. In fact, you'll find such disagreements in any group of people linked by a political label.

I have no intention of proposing solutions to the problems of what you call American ghettos. As you say, I have no relevant experience and no competence to discuss these specifically American problems, and furthermore I have rather little interest in the subject.

I commented on this post because it's about general worldwide problems of policing and law. In fact, the first paragraph is set in India.

Mr. TA said...

Dear conservatives!

Libertarian approach would've prevented this death not because of some divinely ingenious policing strategy but rather as a result of a complex set of policies.

For example, if 50 and 80 years ago there was no corrupting government expansions, then today real GDP would've been much higher and consequently there would've been fewer or zero ghettos.

Tibor said...

Jonathan: I generally agree with you, but I'd like to react to the More guns = more gun violence argument. Firstly, you don't usually observe the cases of dettered violence, that is to say, violence which did not occur exactly brcause someone was either holding s gun or could be armed with one and the potential attacker did not dare to risk it. Secondly, there have to be other factos than just laws and the number of guns that make US gun violence so high. In Switzerland, every man is issued a rifle from the government and keeps it in his household (he is also responsible for keeping it in good condition and has to practice 14 days a year between the age of 20 and 30...for those 2 weeks, he is reimbursed crom the state). In addition to that, buying a private firearm is easier there even than in most US states and even if you don't count the issued rifle, the Swiss are the second most armed nation, after Americans ( if you count the issued rifles, then maybe they are 1st). Still, the number of gun related deaths per guns per person is lower in Switzerland (even if. Ounting only the privately owned guns again) than in the US and quite a lot so. You can find all the relevant numbers on wikipedia and calculate the ratios.

So I guess that somehow culture has to play a role here...or something i am missing.

Power Child said...


Everyone is preoccupied with race, and race is just as important everywhere, it's just that in England it's usually called something else. Nationality or ethnicity perhaps. And there may be more of a taboo on thinking about it out loud.

I was a hardcore libertarian for a long time, so I know that they disagree on a lot of things and that you can't necessarily generalize them based on, say, what they do and do not want privatized.

But in my experience it is also true that libertarians tend to share similar blind spots. On these they can indeed be generalized.

One way I think of it is this: libertarians understand the abstract "machinery of freedom" well, but have a much weaker grasp upon the machinery of the human social organism.

Jonathan said...

Tibor Mach: Thanks for your reasonable comments. I agree that culture is a factor. Frankly, it seems to me that the USA has a culture of violence; and you can see it in the films and the computer games, which are full of people shooting each other.

Apart from mere violence, American culture is obsessed with guns. Out of curiosity, I once forced myself with some difficulty to watch "The terminator", a film full of violence. I noted with some amusement that the title character normally used a gun, even though he surely had no need of one: as an inhumanly strong robot, he could have killed effectively with bare hands.

As you say, Switzerland has a different culture; and furthermore I think there are both practical and psychological differences between owning a rifle and owning a smaller gun. Though I speculate: I've ever owned either myself...

Power Child: No, race is not just as important everywhere. It's less important in Spain than in England, where in turn it's less important than in the USA. Even in the USA, I think there are significant variations in racial tension between different regions.

The racial tension in the USA is a legacy of mass slavery, which hasn't existed in Europe in the same way. Europe had slavery too, but it was much longer ago, and the ancient Europeans enslaved each other: they weren't preoccupied with race.

Of course, Europeans were originally responsible for slavery in the USA; but they didn't import large numbers of African slaves into Europe, so there's been little or no lasting effect on European society.

Power Child said...


You're right, I miswrote. Race is important everywhere inasmuch as race describes extended family and shared heritage/tribal feelings, but it becomes more subjectively important (a "preoccupation") where people of different races live closely together, as differences in all sorts of patterns become more apparent, and as parents must pay specific attention to the identities being formed by their children.

Mass slavery has had some impact on racial tension in the USA, but aside from the simple act of placing different races in close proximity to one another, none of it is direct, or even removed by less than maybe half a dozen links of causality--and by that point, plenty of other causal factors have entered the picture.

If you want to isolate the most direct direct causes of racial tension, combine average differences among the races, and the way people have responded to these differences, with the fact that for generations it has been considered taboo to notice them.

BTW, regarding Terminator & guns: the ability to project lethal force at a distance is significant, even to a bulletproof robot with infinite strength. This ability is in fact a defining feature of humanity that allowed us to become fully bipedal.

Jonathan said...

Power Child: "Terminator & guns: the ability to project lethal force at a distance is significant ..."

It can be significant, but as far as I remember the Terminator normally used a gun at close range. Sometimes so close that he (it?) could have reached out and grabbed the victim.

Tibor said...

Jonathan: I don'tknow the ratio between long firearms and pistols in the US, nor in Switzerland (if we just look at the privatpe firearms, not the Swiss militia rifles).

I shot a pistol once in my life when I was about 10, though about buying one for fun but haven't done that yet and probably i will not in the near future (In Austria or Switzerland I would probably buy it, but in the Czech republic I'dhave to buy an expensive permit and inGermanyitis evenmore complicated). I think the two main differences between rifles and guns are that guns deter better as they look more scary and secondly they are more visible and someone is much less likely to carry a rifle to a pub or something (unless it is a hunter's lodge or something).

Tibor said...

When i say for fun, i mean shooting at a shooting range by the way :)

Power Child said...


Well, here we're starting to get into "movie universe" vs. "real life" stuff, but I can say this (about real life) with certainty:

If someone was going to attack me, I'd rather be able to shoot him from 10 feet away than have to worry about grappling with him directly, even if I have a knife and he does not. The more space you can put between yourself and your adversary the better.

If this common sense notion means I'm obsessed with guns, that's fine with me.

brendan said...

Jonathan (of spain) helpfully admits he knows diddly of american black ghettos, but proceeds to blame US violence on computer games and movies like Terminator.

Jon, if you want to talk culture-media-violence interaction, you need to think about Tupac and Biggie and DMX- not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here's a taste of DMX:

"I got blood on my hands and there's no remorse
And got blood on my dick 'cause I fucked a corpse
I'm a nasty nigga when you pass me nigga look me in my eyes
Tell me to my fuckin' face that you ready to die
You be a dead motherfucker, red motherfucker
Don't be stupid, you heard what I said motherfucker
Who shot you? Aw nigga, like you don't know
Stickin' you for yo' dough while I'm fuckin' yo' broke ho"

Jon, what you can't appreciate, because you're not here, is how influential gangster rap is on black kids. But what you ought to be able to appreciate, if you were numerate, is the data. Violence isn't evenly distributed demographically, so explanations that assume it is are dumb.

brendan said...

One further point:

Within the US you can think of two groups who are unusually likely to own guns: inner city blacks, and rural conservative whites.

The two groups could not be more different.

My grandfather, an old English Wasp, falls into the latter. He's a patriot. The kind of guy whose conscience is bothered by jaywalking.

The gun culture meme is a dirty lie designed to demonize these sorts of traditionalists, and to distract from the real issue- ghetto culture.

Jonathan said...

Power Child: "If someone was going to attack me, I'd rather be able to shoot him from 10 feet away ..."

Sensible enough, and no, that doesn't indicate that you're obsessed with guns. It just suggests that you're more worried about the possibility of attack than I am; perhaps you live in a more dangerous environment.

I have the impression (from afar) that many (not all) Americans are obsessed with guns, because many of the Americans I meet online talk about guns frequently, and because American fiction of most kinds can hardly conceive of a story without shooting in it. Whereas real life, as I've experienced it, contains no shooting at all.

Brendan: I'm afraid you've completely misinterpreted what I said. We'd just be conducting a dialogue of the deaf if we went on trying to talk to each other.

Power Child said...


Please read more carefully. I said "If someone was going to attack me...". I'm not talking about gauging the possibility of attack, I'm holding that possibility constant and gauging instead whether I'd rather be able to project force from a distance or have to defend myself hand-to-hand.

There's a common trope among European commenters where, after discussing guns in the US they assume that America is dangerous and that Americans who defend gun ownership are paranoid, rightly or wrongly, about being attacked.

But as Brendan said, violence isn't evenly distributed, echoing one of my old mantras: "Nothing in the universe is distributed evenly, or evenly randomly."

Jonathan, do you walk around certain rough areas of West London at night? What about a rural village in Wales?

Jonathan said...

Power Child: As I think I've already indicated, if I were ever attacked then I'm sure I'd agree with you. However, as I've never been attacked, I don't go around thinking about it.

There may be parts of London that are dangerous to walk about at night. If so, I don't know where they are. I've never lived in London for any length of time, and during my visits I've never wandered into any area where I felt apprehensive.

Rural villages in Wales? I wouldn't expect them to be dangerous, but in my whole life I've spent only a few days in Wales (in 1985, I think), and that was in Llandudno.

I agree that violence isn't evenly distributed. I never thought it was.

David Friedman said...

A few brief comments:

Gun violence and race: I believe the FBI figures show black murder rates about eight times as high as white murder rates, which is indeed a large difference. But my rough calculations suggest that even if you limit yourself to murders by whites, the U.S. murder rate is anomalously high, substantially higher than the rate in otherwise similar countries.

Violent culture, films, etc. My problem with the argument is that past literature, from the Iliad on, is full of violence. It isn't anything special about modern American films. Further, modern American films, I gather, get a majority of their revenue abroad, so people in those peaceful European countries are watching more or less the same films as Americans.

Finally, it's worth noting that although U.S. murder rates are anomalously high, the same is not true for other crime rates, which is an interesting puzzle.

Jonathan said...

David: Thanks for the comments; especially as we've wandered far off topic, which is regrettable but tends to happen, even if no-one is doing it deliberately.

Your original post deserved more attention than it seemed to get.

I've looked just now for an international comparison of violence in films, but failed to find it. Most films seem to be American, and most are full of violence; but it may be that most films from other countries are also full of violence. At least partly for that reason, I've almost given up watching films in the last few decades. I look at what films are available, and feel no motivation to watch them.

I hope my son is taking in the violence he sees on screen and interpreting it as fantasy that happens only on screen; I'm not a stern enough father to try to censor what he watches.

Going back for a moment to Power Child's "I'd rather be able to shoot him from 10 feet away", are the anticipated attacks all made by stupid people?

Wouldn't a sensible attacker hit you before you realize what's happening? From behind, if he hasn't a gun himself; or if he doesn't want to cause major damage. If he has a gun, why announce himself? He could just shoot you from a distance without warning. Guns allow people to do that.

I'm not really surprised that the USA has more murders than other countries, but about the same amount of other crime. Theft is worldwide, although it may take somewhat different forms in different places.

Power Child said...

I'm of the belief that cultural patterns sit on top of biological patterns, sort of like how computer software sits on the computer's hard drive. Environment has some influence, as I'll explain, but it's more like the influence of a kayak paddle on the path of a kayak going down rapids than the influence of a fruit item in a smoothie.

So, I expect genetically similar people to be more behaviorally similar to each other, even when in very different environments, than to genetically different people who share their environments.

When looking at why American white people shoot each other so much more than, say, Swiss or Canadian white people (both populations with high rates of gun ownership), I first want to know which American white people we're talking about.

I haven't looked at the data, but my guess is that these American white people tend to live close to black people, and so there may be lot of cultural influence. (Illustrated well by this clip from "The Wire".)

I also think about how various groups react to being drunk. Drinking alcohol is the most common method of after-work-hours intoxication. My personal experience is that white people are more likely to become violent when drunk than black people, and so again, I'd guess that a lot of the white-on-white gun crime you see happens near bars, whereas most of the black-on-whomever gun crime happens around corners where drug dealers are beefing over real estate.

Jonathan said...

Power Child: Frankly, I'm more of an environmentalist, but I have no scientific expertise, so even I take my own opinions lightly on this subject.

As far as I know, the genetic differences between peoples are trivial; indeed, I've read that there's remarkably little difference between human and chimpanzee genes.

Anecdotally, I'm about as pure 'white' as they come, and I have more experience of alcohol than is really good for me; but I find that getting tipsy or drunk just makes me amiable and peaceful. People vary in their reactions.

My guess is that alcohol releases your inhibitions and deep-down desires, and my deep-down desire is to relax and take it easy. :)

Power Child said...


Like I said, people who study it for a living tend to agree that genes account for around half of our behavior.

As Carl Sagan famously pointed out, humans share 98% of our DNA with cucumbers, and 99% with chimps. We must share something like 99.99% with each other.

However, that doesn't mean the remaining fraction of a percent isn't significant in explaining differences in all sorts of things, including behavior.

Beware of Lewontin's Fallacy.

Jonathan said...

Yes, I've also read in the past that nature and nurture are about 50% each. However, that means that ALL genetic factors account for about 50% of human variation.

Not all genetic factors are attributable to racial differences. In fact, it seems to me that most of them are not. If you could take an average person of each race, stand them side by side, and compare them, I think you'd find them not exactly the same, but very similar in most respects -- apart from superficial colouring. Whereas if you take a random sample of people of the same race, you'll find clear differences in height, weight, intelligence, sensory perception, baldness, running speed, and so on and so forth. The within-race genetic differences are much greater than the between-race differences.

Power Child said...


Genetic factors account for 50% of human behavioral variation. Environment plays less of a role than that in most physical, physiological, neurological, etc. type traits.

Regarding racial differences, see Lewontin's fallacy.

Take average differences in IQ for example. If you took an average person from each race, you'd find their IQs vary greatly (from about 85 to 115), though you'd be correct to say that different races of people are all very similar if you also stood a chimp in the lineup with them.

Jonathan said...

I've taken your advice and read up on Lewontin's so-called fallacy, and what I found was that different experts come to different conclusions about it, and the consensus seems to be that it's not really a fallacy, but just one of various possible ways of looking at the situation.

Although we're touching on subjects of some interest, I think we've wandered off topic too far and for too long. Our poor host will be wishing his visitors could please discuss the specific point he raised and conduct other discussions on their own blogs.

I know I tend to follow trains of thought in all directions, but sometimes I feel guilty about it.

brendan said...

Lewontin's claim was a non-sequitur. From the true fact that most DNA base variation is within race rather than between, he falsely deduced that most *phenotype/trait* variation was within race too.

As Greg Cochran points out, then some Swedes should have darker skin than some Bantu- but they don't.

And further, since the DNA variation math works out similarly among dog breeds, Lewontin's argument would imply that a certain Chihuahua could more closely resemble certain St. Bernard's than other Chihuahua's.

Since Lewontin's argument is a joke, you should ponder the broader implications of its persistent popularity.

Tibor said...


You have a good point with the violent films. Also, East Asian cinema is also full of violence (although from my very limited knowledge of it, I guess that it is more often hand-to-hand combat and less often shooting).

Then again, culture is not just films, books or other stories (especially not in the era when those things are mostly produced by professionals and in the case of US films also often for a world-wide audience). Culture is also social norms and it seems to me (from across the ocean, so it might be severely distorted) that what makes Switzerland different from the US in terms of guns are not the gun laws (if anything, the Swiss are more liberal than some US states in this respect), but the unwritten laws - social norms regarding firearms. I think Swiss hold their guns quite dear (last year, they voted in a referendum against a law that would limit the amount of ammo one can carry to 2 magazines or something like that), but in a different way than the Americans.

For example, would it be ok to just go to a bar with a pistol visibly hanging from your belt in (some parts of) the US? I'm quite sure that in Europe, even in those places where this is not illegal to do, the person who did this would get quite a hostile reaction from the people in the pub. My (perhaps mistaken) impression is that in some places in the US, this would be different.

I still think that somehow the answer must be in culture, particularly in the social norms regarding guns as I can always find countries with the same, or even more "permissive" gun laws in which gun violence is less common. Income distribution is more flat in Europe, but if the rates of other crimes are not significantly different in the US, then income distribution is probably not the answer either. Population distribution could perhaps play a role...I don't know whether most gun violence (per person) happens in big cities or in rural areas, I would guess the cities. Then if US population is more concentrated and less evenly distributed over land, this could increase the gun violence rate...but again, this should also increase regular crime rates, so this does not fare well either.

It would be interesting to look at how gun violence developed in the US and Europe over several decades (in peace time) to see whether this difference is a consistent thing or a relatively recent trend.