We woke up to the awful news of another mass shooting, this time at the college campus of Virginia Tech on America’s East Coast. Having lived abroad for the last four-years, we know this will probably be cited as another example of America’s violent culture and stupid gun laws. But both points miss the lager points.
First, the means to kill in a large scale have steadily been expanding everywhere in the last one hundred years. This is one of the un-discussed consequences of the industrial revolution. Industrial scale violence has slowly proliferated all the way down to the individual level. This is a challenge to governments and institutions everywhere, whether it be the Palestinian Authority in Gaza or the state police in Virginia. How will the police and the authorities deal with citizens who have the ability to inflict mass casualties at a low cost?
The popular answer is to disarm everyone but the authorities, and then hope that the authorities don’t abuse their monopoly on arms. But disarming the population and given the police complete power doesn’t make human beings any less violent. It simply gives the police and the government a monopoly violence. Ask the people in Russia how that’s working out for them.
The other popular alternative is to put a large portion of society into a kind of “lock-down” and institute a through program of identity management, where people can only be in certain places at certain times with valid, government-issued ID. This trend toward turning free societies into police states is what some people dislike most about the direction of modern Western democracies. It’s what drives some Markets and Money editors to Australia or to Argentina.
We don’t really have a solution. We just lament the loss of real freedom and liberty that seem to be the price for living in civilized society, which is becoming rife with rules, regulations, and restrictions on what you can do or say. These days, every tragedy or misfortune quickly becomes an excuse for an expansion of government power. Every problem becomes a political problem that requires a legislative solution.
Faced with a new dilemma, the public invariably ask two questions these days. First, who is to blame? Second, what is the government going to do?
We never lived in Philadelphia in 1776. Or in Ballarat in 1854. We live (or at least spent most of our time) at the Old Hat Factory in Elwood in 2007. But when we think about it, we wonder if we are more free or less free today than the men and women who founded the American republic or who led the Eureka rebellion.
We’re not pining for a revolution, of course. We are too lazy and cowardly for that. And those times weren’t exactly ideal. Slaves weren’t free, not everyone could vote, and not every house had running water, cheap power, and cable TV on a plasma screen.
But after what happened at Virginia Tech, we are sad for the parents and friends of dead college students. And we are not optimistic that the event will lead to more personal freedom and liberty.
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