Classics: The Myth of Man The Killer

I’ve been looking for a while for a way to work Eric S. Raymond’s “The Myth of Man The Killer” into a post here, and finally decided to make a post dedicated to it. Go, read, I’ll be here when you get back. The article he links to (Natural Killers —Turning the Tide of Battle) is worth reading as well.

I once read (and I can’t for the life of me find it again) that one of the reasons that humans are “so vicious” is that we don’t have any body language for “dominance” or “submission”, and must therefore express same with words or fists. Balderdash, with extra balder and double dash. Labrat and Stingray can and have gone into the whys and wherefores of humans not having the same sort of fixed social roles as a pack-oriented preferentially-carnivorous quadruped, domesticated or wild, but anyone who has seen almost any form of human social confrontation or other interaction(which apparently does not include ivory-tower academics) can quickly pick up on the nonverbal cues of hierarchy. The “naturally aggressive” either settle down, find a channel, or are eliminated from society; they don’t long continue with their antisocial behavior in a functional society. This has always been the case, as any student of historycan tell you. When this hasn’t happened, there has been a breakdown of social order, and those cases have been both notable and remarkable.

Somalia, in fact, is often used by the anti-gun debaters as an example of what happens where everyone is armed; “naturally”, chaos and brutality result. But the warlords of Somalia and their men are pikers compared to the mercenaries of John, Count of Tilly and the rest of the men who rampaged across the German states for half a lifetime; and they lived in a period where firearms were unreliable and expensive, almost unavailable to the general populace. The fighting of the Thirty Years War acted as a filter, pulling out and concentrating the “natural killers” by the most brutal and efficient process possible – combat in the early gunpowder era. The killers of Somalia, by contrast, are tribesmen, who don’t practice disciplined war with a sideline of oppression, but oppression without discipline. Warfare in tribal cultures has been characterized as two lines of men chanting insults at each other, then flinging javelins at the opposing line and retiring to tell lies about their bravery. “Modern” tribals can often be seen doing the “modern” equivalent – emptying a couple of magazines in the general direction of the other side, and then retiring to tell lies about their bravery.

The great massacres of history have generally been performed upon unarmed victims, by men “just doing their job”, or, as in the case of Germany in the 17th century, gangs of men who have been selected for their ferocity and sociopathy. Somalia is an anarchy, true, but death rides a single horse, not a mechanical combine, there. I’d be interested in seeing exactly how common firearms are among the general populace – I suspect it’s not as much as They would like you to think. Good luck getting that information, though…

I am going to make a claim that the religiously anti-gun people will reflexively deny – that we could arm every adult man and woman not ineligible for reasons of mental impairment, incorrigible violence, or habitual intoxicant, and the rate of antisocietal violence against others would either not change or go down. This shouldn’t be shocking to most of the regular readers here, as we’ve tried that experiment across the country; but let me explain for the people in the back there (say “Hi”. MikeB…)

Let’s start with the premise laid down by ESR and MAJ Pierson – that the vast majority of people are not violent by nature and, if they are to become so, must be made so by careful and prolonged work. Even for many of the naturally violent persons, they can, if allowed or directed, become functional and productive members of civil society (there are jobs that need them). Let us add the second premise, that most people are by nature abiding of the laws and rules necessary for civil society. This can be easily seen to be true, as we live in a functional civil society (more or less). Per ESR and MAJ Pierson, the naturally violent are less likely than most to obey laws and rules. Thus, laws and rules against possession of arms are less likely to be obeyed by the ones most likely to use them inappropriately. As laws tend toward more restrictions on arms, the functional members of society will be less likely to be armed, and the violent ones relatively more likely to retain their arms.

Firearms are, overall, the most efficient and deadly form of personal armament we know of. Certain other arms are more efficient in tight niches, and certain forms of firearm are more efficient than others in various roles, but overall, the firearm is the ultimate in personal armament. Nothing combines the ease of use, simplicity, portability, and effective range of a firearm. In particular, the physical requirements to successfully use a firearm are low. Grade school children can and are taught every day to use firearms safely and effectively, under adult supervision. “God made man, Samuel Colt (replace with JMB, Gaston Glock, &c, as your personal devotions require) made them equal.” Any firearm can be used by someone with one functioning hand, arm, and eye; and there exist firearms that are used by quadriplegics. (Oddly enough, I know this because NJ issued a Firearms ID and a hunting permit to a quadriplegic. NJ leads the nation in disabled firearms owners, I guess). The disparities of height, weight, strength, etc are erased. This leads to a diminished ability for the naturally violent (who are disproportionately young, strong, and more fit) to dominate the older, weaker, and less fit.

As restrictions on arms (and particularly firearms) are loosened, more of the naturally societal persons acquire them, but they are disinclined to use them antisocially. Firearms may be the most efficient weapon, available, but they are far from the only one available. As more of society is armed, the would-be committer of anti-social violence has to factor in the larger chance of death or injury in a confrontation with another person. Even if he discounts this factor, he has a larger chance of encountering death or injury in his antisocial games.

If he does kill a member of functional society, well, unjustified homicide the crime that is unacceptable. There’s a reason that more often than not, a mystery is a murder mystery. We consume fiction to reinforce our societal mores. Murder is the Original Sin in the Bible, and it’s frowned on in every moral code; while justified homicide is, well, justified almost everywhere. More effort is made to catch and punish the criminal who is a murderer than for any other crime, while a killer whose act is “justified” will be punished less harshly or let off entirely. This is entirely sane societal response to homicide. It is a (rarely) required mechanism of society to remove the incorrigibly, violently, antisocial from our midst.

It is not the presense or absense of (fire)arms that results in societal breakdown, but the presnse of killers, born or trained. Guns in the hands of non-killers have no effect on non-killers, but counter the effect of any weapon, from strength of fist on up through firearms, in the hands of killers. In any particular encounter, of course, there are more factors than the firearm. After all, it was Caleb’s generous donation of coffee that set a youth on the path of righteousness, and nobody died or was seriously hurt. But his dinky little pocket pistol was there, and the youth saw it before he changed his mind. Because when someone swaggers up to you and sincerely offers to punch you in the face, there’s a difference between putting your own body on the line  with a physical counteroffer, and a counter-offfer consisting of a few grams of lead delivered supersonically. One requires strength, agility, skill and a high pain tolerance, and the other requires a modicum of hand-eye coordination and the ability to lift a pound or so for no more than a minute.

16 thoughts on “Classics: The Myth of Man The Killer”

  1. Awesome post! I don’t really have anything to add … just wanted to take a second and thank you for taking the time to write it out.

    People have been trying to define human nature based on their preferences/political goals for a very long time, but we can’t change the basis of who we are or how we interact. And when you train people to be weak and unarmed … it just makes the predators that much more empowered. It doesn’t reduce their numbers or make them less violent.

  2. I don’t have much to add either, great post.

    I will add that the effect of free markets for goods and services tend to unite people with differences. When someone does your shirts well and relaibly for a good price, their creed, color and other factors tend to lessen as reasons to dislike/fear/mistrust. In fact, the mutually advantageous arrangement makes both want to continue it and have a common interest, that their commerce continue.

    By disrupting such voluntary relationships, government intervention in the economy arguably can erode the civility of the population, especially when one group is favored over another and such distortion is broadly known.

    The situation in India when the Brits partitioned it into Muslim and non-Muslim sectors, people who had lived together without friction for generations started killing each other on “religious” lines. The common interest in a civil society evaporated into “them and us”. This example is not a good one for the above hypothesis, but IIRC the Brits were surprised at the bloodshed their arbitrary rules caused in what had been a cohesive, amicable territory.

    Perhaps another reason generally for people to act peaceably is they can associate and conduct the business of life freely, at the optimum for them. When life is good, most people would like to enjoy it, not start a war or shoot others. Life will not be as good, after.

    I much prefer making love to making war, but I can do either. If you want war, war you will have.

  3. Just fyi, murder is not the original sin.
    Cain killing his brother was the third sin recorded in the Bible.

    Eating fruit from the tree of knowledge was the first sin. Hiding from God was the second sin.

  4. That’s what I get for not paying attention in bible class… Seriously, I ought to have known that. No-one tell my pastor, OK?

  5. Free markets increase social interaction, by making the unknown familar via exchanges where both sides get better value than they had.

  6. Good post, man. We gunnies spend a lot of time insisting that you can’t prevent criminals from getting guns, which leaves the antis some wiggle room. A casual reader probably understands that they mean to make it _harder_ for criminals as a group* to get guns, not _impossible_, making our arguments about black markets and backyard gun factories seem like we’re attacking a strawman.

    It’s important to keep in mind the next step in the argument: if we could push a button and magically disintegrate all guns not held by the police or military, that would dramatically benefit violent criminals at all levels, from streetcorner mugger to domestic abuser.

    [* – This is probably a fundamental difference in perspective. Gunnies tend to think in terms of individuals, while antis are usually collectivists. We think, “if I was in that situation, could I get my hands on a gun?” They think, “looking at the group ‘violent criminals’, is it possible a policy could decrease the rate of subjects who have access to guns?”]

  7. elmo iscariot,

    I think you have hit on something in your subtext about the way “we” think and the way the anti-gun rights people think. Interesting observation.

    I do have one thing to add though. In my view, there are two kinds of anti-gun persons.

    The first is ignorant and afraid and will agree with anything to get rid of scarry guns. I had a friend like this once who would literally start to cry whenever she saw a gun in the same room as her. She was afraid, so she believed every (made up, or mis-represented) statistic, and supported every proposal that was billed to get rid of guns.

    The second kind is more insidious, they may or may not even believe the made up statistics (and are often the ones making them up). Their goal isn’t to make everyone “safe”, thats just what the tell the first group. Their goal is to disarm anyone they can. They know that “one-gun-a-month” laws don’t really make it harder for violent criminals to get guns. They don’t care that their “gun show loophole” doesn’t really exist or that a statistically insugnificant percent of firearms used in crimes come from gun shows. They don’t care that their proposals (the ones that do anything at all) only disarm the law abiding people who don’t do crimes. They are collectivists. They do what they do because they know that they could never control an armed populace and that is exactly what they want. They want control. The fact that their proposals ONLY disarm the law abiding isn’t a flaw, it’s a feature. Once the law abiding are stripped of arms and pacified, the violent criminal (who is still armed because they already, by definition, don’t obey laws) becomes an assett. Once we are disarmed, who will we call if threatened? Those in control, and the collectivists see this as being them.


  8. I grew up in Lebanon during the height of the ’70 christian-muslim civil war. Guns, suddenly, became available to everyone. And guess what: crime dropped through the floor. No one would risk a robbery if a FAL was awaiting him.

    Though the government broke down for almost a decade, society continued to function well with the violence concentrated on the green line.

  9. Stuart, you’re right: it’s tricky sometimes to figure out just how much… malice, for lack of a better term, a given gun controller has.

    On the one hand, you have to be vigilant, or you start to get swept up in seeing conspiracies everywhere. On the other hand, Mike Bloomberg for example is far too involved in the issue to honestly have any illusions about gun control preventing violent crimes. He’s clearly pursuing it because it dovetails with other goals (not least of which is that gun control is a cheap and easy way to appear to be addressing violent crime, an issue that’s almost impossible for Democrats to talk about honestly without alienating certain of their fringe voter bases).

  10. Nice essay but one quibble: “It is a (rarely) required mechanism of society to remove the incorrigibly, violently, antisocial from our midst.”

    I content that the “mechanism” is _always_ required. It is the _use_ of the mechanism that is “rarely” required.

  11. @ Bob – you are correct, sir; some kind of mechanisms to remove the antisocially violent from society are always required to have a functioning society. Exercise of that mechanism is rarely required; but under-use or misuse or overuse of these mechanisms are all equally corrosive of good social order.

    I was discussing a specific mechanism of removal in that paragraph, that of the justified killing. That is and ought to be the rarest of the mechanisms to remove the antisocially violent, and reserved only for the incorrigible examples.

  12. Ian,

    I look upon it more as justified use of deadly force. Just as murder and attempted murder are inextricably linked, with the justified use of deadly force it doesn’t matter if the criminal actually dies, what matters is that the law abiding citizen applying the deadly force (in justified self defence) was successful in defending themselves. I think this is far more common than “rarely required” gives credence to.

    I also believe (in spite of those who would disagree with me) that having the (legal) option to use justified deadly force when faced with a violent criminal is a requirement of a free and just society. Sadly, there are places in this world (and to a lesser extent, even here in the US) that no longer enjoy this freedom.

    The people who advocate the removal of this option, be it with firearms bans or laws that require retreat from criminal violence if at all possible, would see me as being uncivilized at least and, in extreme cases, inhuman (they would also probably wet their pants if they knew the firepower I carry on a daily basis, but I digress). What I struggle with is deciding if it is moral to reciprocate and view THEM as less than fully human (sheeple?). Turn about is fair play after all.


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