Eric S. Raymond on one of the less visible effects of gun control


#1

I read a comment on Slate Star Codex’s first attempt to tackle the issue of guns that provided an unexpected defense of gun ownership. It was written by Eric S. Raymond, a figure who has not eschewed strident language and controversy over the years. He describes himself as a libertarian and made some money a while back in tech:

Those of us in the gun culture think it is a disturbingly effective way to do one particular thing – extinguish the spirit of liberty by slow, progressive strangulation. The process was already well understood two hundred years ago by historians with many precedents to examine:

[The disarming of citizens] has a double effect, it palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind: a habitual disuse of physical forces totally destroys the moral [force]; and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression.
— Joel Barlow, “Advice to the Privileged Orders”, 1792-93

That is, many of us believe that the actual intent of gun control advocates is to not just the obvious one of reducing individuals to a condition of helplessness against state power, but a more subtle program of psychological warfare against the free mind. They want us to be disarmed in spirit, to internalize helplessness, to become incapable of even imaging autonomy and rebellion.

If you think this is far-fetched, consider the weird kabuki quality of a lot of gun-control measures, advocated by people who often understand at some level that they cannot achieve their ostensible objectives but insist on the need to “make a statement”, to perform gestures. Consider also the utter irrationality of selective bans on “assault” weapons based on superficial visual features that make them scary-looking. Consider the extent to which the politics of gun control has taken on the aspect of a class war of elites against proles.

When you are oppressed but armed, freedom is not dead. Even if your weapons are objectively inadequate to the forces you face, you can think like an armed person; you imagine a sequence in which small victories lead to greater ones and eventually the tyrants are unable to impose their will.

That is what the gun-grabbers seem to really want to abolish – not just the physical instruments of resistance but the resistant mindset. And that is a far greater threat than the physical disarmament.

I think this line of thinking helps us move away from silly arguments about whether an AR-15 can stand up to an Abrams tank. The ability to reflect on where you are on the spectrum of liberty–one of whose terminal points is armed rebellion–equips us to better evaluate our current society and keep it on the right track.


#2

Interesting perspective on the incentive structure behind the various legislative proposals on this stuff. Hadn’t seen Eric’s stuff before.


#3

His most famous work, appropriately, is “The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary”. He continues to blog about guns and other cultural issues. His blog is here.


#4

I didn’t know ESR was still at it! Now I have to start following his blog.


#5

His last post linked to a mathematical breakdown of what resistance to forced confiscation would look like.

These are fun thought experiments. However, they make me anxious because the sort of event that would trigger it would have to be unexpected, very violent, and very public. In other words, we would not likely be able to prevent it. This is in contrast to the death by a thousand cuts approach which, because of how much time it takes, we may be able to effectively counter.


#6

He’s more well-known among neoreactionary and alt-right watchers than mainstream lefties or righties, so some caution about where you cite him, especially if positioning as a non-partisan or moderate. TQBF on twitter did a little fundraising scheme where he quoted ESR to his followers til they paid him to take it to a different account, for example, and there’s been similar stuff in the more social democratic side of tumblr. While these are often quote-mined, even with context they’re often rough.

I’m not sure how you’d distinguish from causation flowing the other way (maybe Great Britain always was weirdly willing to kneel, and the gun control just flowed from that) or differences of expectation (gun control advocates will point out, not without cause, the use of firearms as a magic talisman, or where the NRA promotes what those advocates see as a symbolic distraction). To be fair, there’s a genuine weird tendency for gun control to act as a weird proxy for vast arrays of other social ills, such as to blame gun ownership for non-gun violence, but to turn this into a movement wide intent takes significant levels of coordination and contrasts with what actual coordination we’ve seen.

Even if a weaker version is truish, it strikes me as a bad way to model them.


#7

Yes, I’m aware that ESR is poisonous outside of certain circles. I also agree with you that it’s not clear that the modern gun control movement is operating the way ESR says it does.

What do you make of the claim that owning weapons allows you to “imagine a sequence in which small victories lead to greater ones and eventually the tyrants are unable to impose their will”?

In my experience, getting involved with firearms really did trigger a shift in mindset. I had never previously thought about civil unrest, or what I was willing to do to protect what I valued, or the importance of finding communities of shared values. It’s been an intense journey and so ESR’s perspective resonated for me.


#8

I have wondered if some do not envy shooters, the control of/over their guns that is demonstrated by hunting and target shooting. And is it denial of that envy that makes such people deny shooters their freedom to enjoy their culture/sport/recreation?


#9

ESR got a really mixed reception even in his native Linux/FOSS circles back in the late 90’s. I personally recall having pretty mixed feelings about his writing. He was occasionally a source for quality arguments and occasionally a source for crackpot thinking, so I’m not surprised that he’s in a similar category with guns.


#10

Definitely_M:

What do you make of the claim that owning weapons allows you to “imagine a sequence in which small victories lead to greater ones and eventually the tyrants are unable to impose their will”?

I think it can, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient.

There’s some traits that are relevant. Among self-defense focused gunnies, for example, concepts like condition yellow, having a lawyer on retainer, or having to plan your day around what activities are both lawful and safe, are all transferable mentalities. Gun rights activism is one of the few cross-political realms where people actually handle the full range of development and training. Knowledge of the vagaries of law enforcement as practiced give good reason to be suspicious of expansive state authority in general.

But not all gunnies do that. Only a small minority of the National Rifle Association has been focused on politics as a strategic field, and for much of the organization’s history they weren’t even taken seriously in the board, instead working through sportsman magazines. A lot of gun owners didn’t historically consider self-defense much, if at all, and today there are still a sizable portion of dedicated hunters or consider self-defense only to the most minimal extent possible. Even those who are serious are often misaimed. I’d like to think that the demands of concealed carry require recognizing that you are the first and last person who can be responsible for your own safety in any true sense, but only a small minority seem to internalize that.

And gunnies are far from the only group who have to think of politics as war by other means : indeed, I’d argue that many political alliances have much stronger histories of fighting tyranny through small battles, starting from the LGBT movement and moving on from there. The most unique thing for firearms owners is that we genuinely have lost physical territory, to all but the longest timeframe. But that’s not exactly something to be proud of.