Conservatives like to assume a laissez-faire posture when it comes to guns and markets, but then, in the same breath, lament that people can be evil. Conservatives can't have it both ways: people are either rational and should be left to their own devices or irrational and in need of external controls.
In his recent article conservative intellectual Thomas Sowell explores the supposed shortcoming of left-wing ideology:
"At least as far back as the 18th century, the left has struggled to avoid facing the plain fact of evil — that some people simply choose to do things that they know to be wrong when they do them. Every kind of excuse, from poverty to an unhappy childhood, is used by the left to explain and excuse evil.
Why has evil been such a hard concept for many on the left to accept? The basic agenda of the left is to change external conditions. But what if the problem is internal? What if the real problem is the cussedness of human beings?"
I'm on the left, and I recognize that people will do evil things just because they can, regardless of the circumstances of their birth and upbringing. Tomas Sowell writes that liberals only want to rely on external controls like governments and institutions to control human nature, without giving any consideration to what he calls deteriorating internal factors, like families, traditional values, and culture. And then, to better make his point, he brings up the gun debate.
He does so to demonstrate that external factors (gun control) don't work. While making this point he, puzzlingly, offers another external solution: more guns.
"But if evil people who care no more for laws or treaties than they do for other people's lives are the problem, then disarmament means making decent, law-abiding people more vulnerable to evil people."
But here his implicit solution is also external: arming law-abiding citizens so they can fend off the bad guys. Nothing internal here, and his original complaint about the human nature doesn't make an appearance here. The lament comes further, when Sowell wanders into the usual conservative talking points about the degradation of family and sex life.
So he begins his article with the implication that people are irrational and evil and then, in the very same article, while reprimanding liberals for wanting to control usual human failings with external controls, expects us to become more virtuous persons via possessing more guns to fight off evil. I couldn't quite make that conjecture in my head, but I take him at his word.
Furthermore, and this is a no less important point: If people are capable of evil, then how can this kind of gloomy mindset reconcile with the free-market ideology which the very same conservative camp promotes under the idea of rationality? Should we expect people displaying irrational or anti-social behavior to suddenly become rational when it comes to making economic decisions? Aren't these the very people who can't engage in self-control, in self-discipline, in self-policing? Or, does Thomas Sowell imply that there are two different sets of people ... ones that warrant the social control mechanisms (ghetto folk) and the ones who don't (financial industry, gun lobby)?
I understand the conservative position of wanting to fight evil with guns. Or at the very least, I'm sympathetic to some cases when people really do need to own guns (those who live in remote, rural areas; those who have received death threats, etc.). The Second Amendment protects all of them; law-abiding citizens are not under threat of disarmament. But why, then, is such contempt coming from the same conservative quarters when liberals want to fight evil with laws? Aren't we a nation of laws first?
True, laws are not a deterrent to crime, the way a speed limit is not a deterrent to speeding, but I still prefer to live in a society where I can address my grievances in court or in the voting booth, not in an OK Corral.
I'm almost embarrassed for Thomas Sowell. I watched his appearance in the 1970s (on Youtube obviously) on the Firing Lane, the late William F. Buckley's political debate show, the kind of high-brow intellectual discussions that don't exist anymore. I was impressed with what he was saying, how he was saying it (the topic was affirmative action), and I did not find him unreasonable at all. He got me thinking. But his thinking has been deteriorating as of late.
It's sad to see an intellectual turn into a mere shill.