Are Guns Really the Problem?
By Paul Green, Jr., on Mon, April 16, 2012
Those of you who’ve been paying any attention at all to the news lately are, I’m sure, aware that in February, 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, while walking through a Sanford, Florida community, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman the neighborhood watch captain.
Zimmerman was taken in for questioning and subsequently released after claiming that the shooting was in self-defense.
The events ignited a controversy, especially after Martin’s parents obtained copies of 911 calls made by Zimmerman on the night of the shooting. Over the subsequent 4 weeks or so, news outlets across the country picked up the story, and groups from coast to coast weighed in on the shooting. It got so heated and controversial that the police chief in Sanford, Fla. resigned amid allegations that he mishandled the events, and one radical group even offered a $10,000 bounty for the “capture of Zimmerman” who, at the time, was in hiding. Zimmerman has subsequently been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
This is, by all accounts, a tragedy. But the responses to this tragedy have ranged from interesting to downright alarming. I read one particular story tonight that chilled me to the core.
Bill Cosby was interviewed this week on CNN’s “State of the Union”. The anchor asked him about the Trayvon Martin case. Cosby responded that the issue at hand, “is not race—it’s guns.” Cosby went on to say that, “I believe that when you tell me that you’re going to protect the neighborhood that I live in, I don’t want you to have a gun.”
I don’t want to get too off track here—this isn’t a political blog, after all. But there’s a principle here that applies universally to all societies—large societies like nations, or micro-societies like companies.
First, I think you have to accept that freedom is a profound concept; it’s the fuel of innovation and creativity, and is a vital ingredient in ensuring personal happiness. Further, I contend that, as human beings, we have a genetic thirst for freedom; so much of what we do—even in our day-to-day lives—is about ensuring our personal, enduring freedom. If you don’t believe that, then I’ve probably lost you already (although, I’d love to have a chat with you about it; drop me a note).
Assuming you’re with me so far, then allow me to describe the most paradoxical phenomenon I can imagine. We (particularly Americans—as inhabitants of a nation that was founded not only on the principles of personal liberty, but was only founded because of a deep, burning desire for personal liberty) acknowledge this desire for freedom, yet our response so often to incidents that amount to an abuse of freedom, or an irresponsible exercise of freedom, is to throw the freedom out.
Let me try to explain: back to Cosby’s remarks. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in part, that, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Our foundational document literally guarantees that American’s shall have the perpetual right to have, and to bear, firearms. There’s been much political wrangling about this issue for many years (with many nuanced views of what our forefathers really meant when they wrote this into the constitution), but I think when you consider this writing in light of the circumstances surrounding our birth as a nation, it’s not too hard to discern our founders’ intent.
This isn’t a history lesson, but consider the following from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…” [emphasis added]
Remember that America was only born out of a general sense that Great Britain’s policies and laws, at the time, represented oppression of the sort that robbed Colonists of the very rights that the Declaration of Independence claimed were unalienable. And the Founding Fathers felt that, as citizens who are governed by their own consent, they had the right to overthrow that government, even if by force, in the interest of affirming those inalienable rights to our citizenry.
They were already at war with Great Britain as of this writing, and they knew that their ability to alter or otherwise abolish the then-ruling government, they would have to prevail in armed combat—a reality only realizable because they, as colonists, owned arms.
I believe this is why our forefathers including the “right to keep and bear arms” in the Constitution; they recognized that America was only America because our Founding Fathers were able to take up arms against an oppressive government, and they wanted to ensure that ability for the life of our government; they not only wanted to proclaim that America was a place of Liberty, they wanted to ensure that our citizens could forever take up arms against our Government if our Government ever became, “destructive of these ends.”
All that to say this: this right to bear arms is fundamental to America; it is why we are what we are. It is one of the primary ingredients to the Liberty we count so precious. It should be unconscionable when someone, on national television, advocates for anything remotely close to eliminating the right to keep and bear arms.
But there’s this trend—in American government, but also in professionally managed organizations—to respond to abuses or freedom by stripping away freedoms. This is only one example—someone exercises their right to keep and bear arms in an irresponsible way, and immediately someone jumps up and advocates confiscation of firearms.
Let’s bring it closer to home: you catch someone using the corporate account for personal items, so you eliminate all purchasing rights, and mandate that everyone purchase through a purchasing manager, and that all purchases need three approvals. Or you find that someone was watching N’Sync videos on YouTube while at work, so you block out all access to video websites from work computers. Or you find that someone was working on a project that was a non-starter, a waste of time; so you require that everyone get written approval before spending any time on any new project.
All of these sound familiar, right? And you can probably think of dozens of similar examples: this is the stuff of the “modern organization” (and, incidentally, of a coffee-table book full of Dilbert comics). But think about it: so much of this is simply the result of a few people using freedom irresponsibly, and someone with some power reacting by stripping that freedom away from everyone.
“But,” you say, “why does it matter?” It’s possible that it doesn’t matter to anyone but me (wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been the only weirdo standing alone on the other side of the dance hall), but I don’t think that’s the case.
Here’s what I believe: I believe that Freedom matters. A lot. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things…to everybody. Not just freedom as an abstract concept related to the laws that govern our country, but freedom as a real, practical principle that we encounter in virtually every interaction every single day. And here’s why I think it matters:
1. Freedom yields happiness. I challenge you to find me a national government that has stripped all personal, individual freedom out of the country, yet still has happy, contended citizens. Again, each of us has a burning, innate desire to be free.
2. Freedom brings prosperity. People do incredible and productive things when they are free, and those incredible, productive things yield prosperity—for them, and for those around them.
3. Freedom is efficient. Consider all those examples of organizations stripping away freedoms in the name of “reducing risk of loss”: in all cases, eliminating freedom involves introducing bureaucracy—the deadliest form of waste known to human organizations. Why the “deadliest form”? Because bureaucracy feels like the “right thing” when we are responding to some “crisis”; but it’s almost NEVER the right thing. It is almost always the death knell of the organization that introduces the evil thing.
4. Freedom fosters honesty and integrity. Freedom always brings with it a choice—and when people have a choice, when they can choose to interact with you, or to not interact with you, you have an inherent pressure to be truthful, and to live up to your commitments (the definition of integrity). In the absence of a choice—when freedom is not present—entropy often (almost always, in fact) causes you to fall out of integrity; what you deliver fails to live up to your commitment. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you went to the Department of Motor Vehicles: there’s an implicit commitment to promptly and efficiently serve you, but can you remember a single instance where you were promptly and efficiently served? Of course you can’t. The only reason you accept that, though, is because you don’t have a choice in the matter.
So, I’ve taken a long, perhaps circuitous, route to sound an alarm: beware, business leaders, of the instinct to toss freedom out the door. Freedom is always the right answer.
As a parting note, allow me one final analogy: can you remember when you first started making money? Not the lawn-mowing or baby-sitting money you made when you were a kid; not even that first job—I mean real money. Remember those first few paychecks? You felt rich—even if it was only a few hundred dollars, it felt like unlimited money.
Most of you can also probably remember (vividly) your first major money screw-up. It was probably sometime soon after that first “real” paycheck. Maybe it was buying that brand-new car that you’ve regretted ever since; maybe it was the time-share for a “condo” in the Appalachians (turned out that “condo” was a term used VERY loosely by the marketing folks—and that the “condo” is only inhabitable during the season when the alligators are hibernating). One way or the other, we all have paid a little stupid tax.
Did you, upon realizing that you’d made a very foolish mistake with your money, immediately decry money, pull all the cash out of your bank account, and promptly start a bonfire with it? Of course not! The fact that you were foolish and irresponsible with your money doesn’t eliminate money's value, and it’s not a good reason for abstaining from money for the rest of your life!
Some people will take advantage of the freedom; others will prove irresponsible, and freedom will allow them to screw things up very quickly. But on the whole and in the long-run, Freedom is precious, and abuse by one is not a good reason for throwing Freedom away.
This is one of the stupidest blog posts I have ever seen anywhere. There is no coherent argument. It asserts debatable interpretations as facts. And it assumes causal relations that are unproven.
By nsovik on April 18, 2012
I love the thoughtful provocation of this article as a springboard for considering some core and relevant issues with respect especially to leadership.
I have a friend who is the CEO of one of the largest restaurant chains in North America. He told me once of a story that is about his mentor, the founder of a food service organization that launched many successful chains. His mentor attended a meeting with the management of one of the chains and it was reported that a late shift employee had broken a cardinal rule of the company, namely never to open the door to anyone after hours after the restaurant had closed. Turns out a good actor convinced the employee that he badly needed help and once in the door robbed the establishment at gunpoint. The employee was not harmed, but was understandably shaken up. So the management team reporting this to the company owner described their sadness about having had this happen and the necessity to now fire the worker. The mentor asked, “Why would you fire this employee?” Management responded, “Well he made a huge mistake, went completely against the rules, violated policy, and the employee agreement states that termination is the result of such a violation.” “Well let’s think about it,” the mentor responded. “Out of all of our employees who is the one person who is least likely to make this mistake in the future?” The answer was obvious of course. The mentor continued. “I believe the best course of action in this case is to keep the employee and make this individual the spokesperson company wide for the importance of honoring this guideline in the future.”
I personally believe it to be a vivid example of the wisdom of championing freedom in a moment when few would question the leader’s decision to limit or further restrict it. In this case, most leaders would have removed the employee’s freedom to make this mistake again by firing them. Instead, the perspective of this leader was now to grant the employee the freedom to continue to serve from a position of greater wisdom and strength.
Perhaps the first responder nsovik will find this to be the stupidest response to a blog post he or she has ever seen anywhere. However - whether any of us like it or not - stories rule - and most human beings act upon and think from the context of stories, that is we are motivated to act when possibility and potential are present in the atmosphere and good stories are all about fanning the embers of potential when others have walked away and assumed the fire is dead.
It is often the “coherent argument” that kills the spirit of potential in others most quickly and “facts” that ignore a seed in the soil because there is yet no plant. Sometimes we have to look deeper.
By rlewis on April 24, 2012
In July of 1914 the French thought it was all about “élan” as well - a word meaning spirit, effort and momentum all at once. Elan, based in the French “ésprit de corps” was to stop the Germans in their tracks. Another take at it: There is a reason that “romantic” at once denotes an emotion laden idealistic world view and connotes a unrealistic and detached attitude to the here and now. It is odd. Again and again I see businessmen romanticize themselves and their endeavors. What is interesting about self-management is that it is a place where people with very different world views can meet. Libertarians who idealize markets and the unfettered human spirit and left wing idealists who idealize human flourishing can both agree that self-management is a good thing - as long as it keeps to the facts and not some ethereal projection of what we “all” are. Self-management is essentially a social contractarian view of social arrangements. Social contracts are what we agree them to be. Relating it to very debatable views on the Second amendment (which starts with the words, “A well regulated Militia,being necessary to the security of a free State”) is counter productive if the Self-Management Institute is really trying to make friends. I think both left and right can agree not only that self management is a good thing, but also that when financial companies make 25 to 40 percent of corporate profits in America that financial markets are NOT efficient and that the efficient market hypothesis upon which the ideology of modern financial capitalism rests has failed its test. Making profits from allocative activities is not the same as making them from productive activities. There are many other places the two can agree as well, as long as we don’t insist that we all share a single world view. The point here is that people of many stripes can agree on the rules of the game, it is when they start propagandizing those rules as supporting only their world view that things get messy and people get angry. The first step toward doing this is to imbue the rules with romantic, idealistic views of their meaning. We all want to see our lives painted on a larger canvas. It’s an illusion that may be satisfying, but that we should keep to ourselves. Self-management matters, social contracts matter,because they regulate our interactions. They matter most of all because I can paint the canvas of my life in quite different colors than you paint yours, and as long as I don’t insist that we are both painting the same life-picture we can get along just fine. I noticed that you symposium of a year ago featured both James O’Tool and Edwin Locke, pretty hard nosed scientists,not romantics. They argue with facts and theories, not with analogies, metaphors or examples with an N of 1. Associating self-management with the Trayvon Martin case, Bill Cosby’s take on it, and interpretations of the Second Amendment, doesn’t do self-management, and the good that can come from it, any good.
I regret that I was so cursory in my first comment. Also that it was rude. Keep up the good work, and the experiments.
By nsovik on April 24, 2012
This is one of the more interesting articles I have examined on self-management. Self-management at scale shows up as individual freedom, of individual citizens, in a society governed by laws and not men. Real freedom in real societies is structured in this way. The citizens make decisions and have choices. This associates with the feeling of being free. It is a feeling if well-being.
The gun issue is polarizing. If we strip away the attachments to pro-or-con, we can see how personal responsibility is at the root of genuine freedom. When people cannot handle or abuse freedom, the answer is NOT more prescription—NOT more laws. Instead, the answer is to be found in EDUCATION—the very fertilizer of freedom.
Jefferson is very clear about this:
To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.
To penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.
This whole idea—fewer rules, leading to more choices—is at the root of liberty, what we call freedom. To be free, we must seek education, pay attention, and level up. Jefferson wrote quite a bit about this concept.
Still not convinced? Consider Thomas Paine in the short book, RIGHTS OF MAN:
Quoting Thomas Paine, RIGHTS OF MAN, page 107:
“…society performs for itself almost everything that is ascribed to government.”
Another way of reading it:
“…self-organizing teams perform for themselves almost everything that is ascribed to managers ”
The parallels between self-managing (“Free”) teams and free citizens of a government are clear.
I like this article a lot. Thank you Paul.
By dmezick on May 04, 2012
Shouldn’t “making friends” always be secondary to the pursuit of truth? Let’s drop the tired arguments about the word “militia;” the 2nd Amendment is not truly at issue here. The particular wording of an amendment is less important than the principle which underlies it. Man’s life is an end unto itself. He owns his life and may act to sustain/protect it. The power to circumscribe the ability of a man to use force to defend his life is illegitimate. The answer to an abuse of freedom should not be the removal of that freedom from others.
By Erik on May 11, 2012
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