Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Decline of Violence and Guns

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker documents the extraordinary decline of violence, from 500 deaths per 100,000 per year in the non-state hunter-gatherer era, to about one tenth of that number in the agricultural state era to the present 1 to 5 deaths per 100,000 per year in the industrial democracies?

What did it?  Well, first of all, it was states with police and courts that put a stop to the private justice of feud and revenge.  And also the Humanitarian Revolution of the 18th century and the Rights Revolution of the 20th century.  And "gentle commerce."

So what about the conservative line of More Guns Less Crime?  Pinker notes that violence is higher in the South and the gun culture.

But it is also higher, he admits, in the inner city, where the peace of the Leviathan state doesn't extend.  That's because the police don't bother to enforce the law for the poor in the inner city.  The police "seem to vacillate between indifference and hostility,... reluctant to become involved in their affairs but heavy handed when they do so."  A Harlem police sergeant describes how this works.
Last weekend, a known neighborhood knucklehead hit a kid.  In retaliation, the kid's whole family shows up at the perp's apartment... The victim's family was looking for a fight... But all of them were street shit, garbage.  They will get justice in their own way.
The police and the district attorney could have prosecuted, but "none of them would ever show up in court."

This, of course, is why the conservative argument about guns and concealed carry works.  It's because liberals have so bollixed up the policing of the poor that the writ of the government of a monopoly on violence doesn't extend to the inner city.  Policing of the poor is a battle royal between liberals who say that violence is due to "root causes" like poverty and conservatives calling for law and order.  In that no-mansland, justice and policing have collapsed, and private justice obtains.

Fortunately, in some places, policing has been restored to the inner city.  There is Bill Bratton's work in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, based on the "broken windows" theory of James Q. Wilson to prosecute minor disorders, and implemented through a system called CompStat that tracks crimes and measures the effectiveness of police in following up.

But the Bratton system is hard work.  The CompStat system requires leaders at the top to work hard pushing the neighborhood officers to perform.  You can't expect too much out of that when you consider that police are, after all, uniformed unionized bureaucrats.  And there are always liberal social justice groups looking for a way to accuse officers of "police brutality."  The default position for the police is just to show up and let the activists fight it out.

Steven Pinker has to tread carefully.  He can't rubbish his liberal friends too much, or they will trash his book.  But he wouldn't want to give conservatives too much credit.  That might encourage the fascists.  That makes his book into a work of Straussian esoterics.  For the street liberal, the book is OK because it mouths all the liberal shibboleths.  But if you know where to look, it tells a different story.

In my view, the whole thing comes down to commerce.  Business needs peace, and business encourages trust in strangers.  Fierce local and tribal rivalries are bad for business, and so, wherever business grows, violence declines.  It takes a lot of work by liberal and lefty agitators to keep the people enraged at greedy businessmen and corporations.

And wherever liberals have destroyed the peace with their destructive politics, people will need guns to defend themselves against liberal anarchy.

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