As I approach my 40th birth I can't help but reflect on the folly of my having attempted to be a responsible human being. All around me I see the irresponsible inheriting the Earth, delighting in its rewards, and it makes me feel rather foolish and rather sad, for all I've missed out on.
There are two primary areas where my attempt to be responsible has seemed grossly the wrong thing: having children and home ownership.
I have always strongly believed that being a parent is the most important thing one can do, and one should not do it until they are mentally and financially prepared. No parent is ever perfect, nor perfectly prepared, but the child suffers for the flaws of their parents, so it seems only reasonable that one would minimize their negative impact on their children, while maximizing their positive impact. And it seems only reasonable that one would wait until they were in a relationship likely to last forever before kids were even considered. But all around me people flout these rules, with no ill effects that anyone seems to openly acknowledge. The harm done to the children is discounted, ignored as though that harm was unavoidable, as though all children can expect to be harmed in one way or another, so what's the big deal?
I have some relatives and friends who've had multiple kids with different fathers, having chosen to form unstable relationships, having chosen to forgo effective contraception, having chosen to engage in no serious employment, and having chosen to continue using drugs and alcohol. And while no doubt everyone might casually acknowledge some poor choices, all choose to focus instead on the joy of the existence of these children, and the "marvelous" job the mothers are doing despite the situations they've created, and the choices they continue to make. And I mean no discredit against the positive things the mothers do, and I certainly mean nothing against the innocent children brought into the situation, I just can't help but feel selfishly frustrated by the inequity of it all. That I, who would be a wonderful father, who has made many, many right decisions for a child's benefit, am denied that joy, that satisfaction, that comfort, that opportunity, etc. while others who have taken the role so much less seriously get all those wonderful things. It feels so cruelly unfair. Obviously there's no one to blame, other than perhaps myself, or perhaps the universe. It is I who has chosen to obey a rule I accept as in a child's best interest, and it's the universe which has created the other rules by which we are all bound.
Far less emotionally significant, but certainly frustrating nonetheless, I can't help but remark that I who have tried to be responsible by not buying a house I couldn't afford with a loan I might not have been able to pay back, am deeply annoyed and feel hard done by that others who made reckless home ownership decisions based on bogus beliefs in the housing market and interest rates are receiving sympathy and financial assistance. Why not help those who did the right and good thing, who did not place our nation and economy at risk selfishly? I understand the need to prop up those who have gotten themselves into trouble, lest our economy collapse even further, but how tired I am of irresponsibility being effectively rewarded, and with the resources and sweat of those who did no wrong.
Ah well, that's my useless, self-indulgent gripe of the week.
A friend of mine is pro-drugs and anti-guns. She wants to legalize the former and crimminalize the latter.
Her position doesn't seem logically consistent to me and I hit upon an argument which I felt proves the point. Here is that argument...
I was doing a bit of research to see if the argument I mentioned in the car yesterday might have any actual statistical merit to back it up. I realized it's of course not really about drugs or guns, per se, but the broader question about how we make decisions based on the risk versus the reward of various activities with a mortality component.
Alcohol is legal and other drugs (marijuana) are moving towards legalization. Combined they are estimated to kill about 100,000 people per year (80k from alcohol, 20k from drugs). The deaths are from car accidents, other sorts of accidents, overdoses, organ failure, etc. This does not include the vastly higher numbers of mental/emotional suffering personal or familial that their use creates, nor the huge physical or medical injuries/conditions that do not result in death.
Cigarettes are legal. They are estimated to kill 400,000 people per year. The nature of those deaths is a little different, admittedly, since cigarettes are more likely to kill older people than alcohol, drugs, or guns. Children are, however, also allegedly negatively affected in terms of cancer rates, and issues such as asthma.
Guns are legal, but increasingly restricted. They kill about 18,000 people a year. For simplicity I'm not considering injuries, though I'd argue there's no need to consider them here, since the emotional and physical results from alcohol/drugs are much more larger.
As someone who has never been drunk or high, I cannot imagine how the pleasure associated with alcohol or drugs warrants 100,000 deaths a year, not to mention the millions who suffer serious negative emotional effects directly and indirectly related to alcohol/drugs.
As someone who has shot a gun on a handful of occasions and enjoyed shooting guns (at targets, not animals) I can understand the pleasure associated with that activity. And as someone who has been robbed and been threatened (with the police unable or unwilling to meaningfully assist), I can understand the desire and/or need for someone to want to protect themselves or their family.
So, I do not see why one choice of pleasure with a vastly worse mortality record should be increasingly legally protected while another far less dangerous activity should be increasingly restricted. That does not seem consistent or reasonable.
And in fact alcohol/drug use and abuse are the root cause of the majority of the deaths/injuries from guns. If alcohol and drugs were to magically vanish from the earth, the number of deaths from guns would plummet. Most murders (and many suicides) directly or indirectly involve the influence of alchol/drugs (and in the case of murder, the sale of or attempt to secure drugs).
One final more profound but weaker argument I'd make... Alcohol and drugs have no necessitated "value" for society. One can achieve significantly similar states of altered consciousness without their use, through meditation, lucid dreaming, sleep deprivation, sweat lodges, etc. and those experiences come at very, very low risk (while also bringing spiritual/mental benefit). People may choose alcohol/drugs because that is an easier route to altered consciousness, but that doesn't make it the right means to achieve that societal benefit. Guns, on the other hand, do provide an arguable inherent value for society. Used by responsible individuals in specific circumstances, they are the only means to effectively defend yourself and your family (the cops are useless to protect you in a home invasion, useless to prevent a rape, useless to prevent a mugging). And used by a responsible society guns are the only means it has to ultimately defend itself against its government. Jefferson said quite reasonably, "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." and "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."
It seems inconsistent to gleefully want the legalization of alcohol/drugs while raging against the continued legalization of guns.
My own position is mostly a personal one. I don't get drunk, I don't get high, and I have no guns. But I'm not necessarily opposed, I may do any and/or all of those in the future. If I were made god for a day I would rid the world of alcohol, drugs, and guns. I think they are all dangerous distractions and poor ways to get by in the world. But I recognize I am not god, and that no one can make those things happen. So instead I reluctantly acknowledge that we're stuck with both realities and the benefits and problems they each bring. I hope therefore that we can maximize the benefits of each while minimizing the negatives of each.
Some links with some of the stats:
A note on how I calculated the 18,000 figure. The number of gun related deaths is 30,000 people per year. But let's break down that 30k number, since that's really not a fair number, since a good percentage of those deaths would have taken place anyway, with the use of another weapon. Of that number, 56% are suicides, 40% are homicides, 4% are accidental (with 2% being truly unintentional). Even in industrialized, modern countries where guns are banned there will be murders and suicides, so we can't fairly include those just because a gun is used. The US murder rate is 3x the UK rate, the US suicide rate is roughly 2x. Half of all suicides in the US use a firearm. If we adjust the numbers to eliminate those people who would have used another weapon then the numbers might approximate: 8,000 murders (instead of 12k), 8,500 suicides (instead of 17k), 1,200 accidental deaths by firearm (same) for a new total of about 18,000 deaths per year which could arguably be said to be a mostly direct result of the existence of guns. So, really we're talking about 18k deaths, not 30k deaths. I suspect a fairer exploration of these numbers would further reduce this 18k quite a bit, when other elements of US culture versus UK society are considered.
So that was my attempt to convince her... either to be less in favor of banning guns, or less in favor of drug legalization/used, doesn't matter to me. I'm sure my argument won't work, but it was a nice try.