This is the World Wide Web edition of J. Neil Schulman's book Self Control Not Gun Control. It's posted for informational and entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author. If you wish to purchase the hardcover edition, it's available for sale at this website, or at fine booksellers everywhere.
Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. Rights to make copies and print-outs from these files are limited by the license agreement. All other rights reserved.
SELF CONTROL Not Gun Control
"Who controls the maze, controls the rat."
-Æsop, Li Quai Quat, Pavlov,
or "the lady who designed the downtown L.A. freeway interchange"
This is not a diet book.
Full disclosure requires that since the title of this book mentions self-control, I'd better get that idea out of the way right up front, because if this were a diet book, I'd honestly have to advise you against buying it.
With diet and exercise, I have successfully lost large amounts of fat several times in my life and kept it off for years at a time. But slowly, like some relentless force of gravity, the fat has managed to migrate back onto my body, and I am currently fatter than I am happy being.
But I am not fatter than I choose to be.
The word "diet"--if you trace its origin back to the Greek word diaita--literally means "manner of living." The profession I have chosen involves writing, reading, watching movies and TV, listening to music and talk radio, sitting in chairs listening to people speak, lecturing, and debating ideas--all of which exercise my mind a lot more than they exercise my body. These are not high-fat-burning activities. Therefore, any time I devote to the physical exercise of my body has to be stolen from time I'd otherwise be spending on doing the brain-oriented things I regularly do--not only as my means of producing income, but as the source of my intellectual passions and pleasures.
There are two purely physical activities, however, that I like even more than the intellectual ones I listed above: eating and sex. But, all other things being equal, eating good-tasting food makes you fat, and the ability--and opportunities--for having great sex varies directly as the ratio between the human body's muscle and fat.
I have consulted with a mathematician friend, Dafydd ab Hugh, and this can be stated as an equation:
[SIGMA] = F +( [mu] / [phi])
where SIGMA is Sex, F( ) is an increasing function, mu is muscle, and phi is fat.
This is the equation that rules my desire for the physical pleasures of life. Medieval theologians would say I am torn between the competing sins of gluttony and lust. Every mouthful of delicious food I eat puts me farther away from the opportunity for great sex with some hard-bodied goddess. Past a certain point, I find solace in eating more delicious food than my body can burn, and I get fatter. When I get sexually anxious enough to overcome my desire for food, I start eating spinach and trudging up the Stairmaster. I've been eating a lot of spinach of late.
The Stairmaster is an exercise device, usually found in health clubs, that allows you to climb stairs without ever reaching the top. It was invented by a man named John Harrington. I bet John got the idea by reading the stories of how King Eurystheus had to come up with twelve impossible tasks for Hercules to perform. If King Eurystheus had had a Stairmaster to put Hercules on, he could have skipped having Hercules clean out the Augean Stables.
Another common exercise device found in health clubs is a treadmill. This is a sidewalk that goes nowhere, and takes you forever to get there.
Then there are weights, and health clubs have various contraptions for lifting them. One expends great effort lifting things that, at the end of the efforts, are in exactly the same place they were when you started.
Have you detected the insanity here yet? Throughout human history, hard labor was necessary for survival. Nobody liked it but there it was. Now, a lot of us make our money by using our brains rather than our backs, so we get soft and fat, which is bad for us. So we go to places where we pay good money we earned with our brains to do hard physical work which produces no goods whatsoever.
Why has no one picked up on this? Instead of paying slave wages to migrant workers for picking grapes, grape growers should hire Teri Hatcher--the gorgeous Lois Lane on Lois & Clark--away from being the spokesmodel for Bally's Health Clubs. Teri could seduce us brain-workers into paying the grape-growers for the privilege of picking their grapes. The grape-growers would hire hard labor at a negative cost and we'd get hard bodies in return.
So this isn't a diet book.
My previous book, Stopping Power, was subtitled "Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns." It examined the ability of privately-owned firearms to produce individual freedom and individual security. This current book is going to follow the format of Stopping Power in that it's also a book I grew from articles and essays rather than a book I outlined in advance; but this book will "spray and pray" ideas full-auto rather than my more directed-fire last book.
About a third of this book deals directly with firearms-related topics. But unlike Stopping Power, this current volume doesn't contain a comprehensive treatment of the firearms issue.
So if that's what you're looking for, I'll direct your attention to my last book.
Stopping Power set out to prove that guns are instruments of power, and the people with guns are the people with power. If that power is used more by criminals and tyrants than by decent ordinary people, then you get a crime-ridden and tyrannical society. If that power is, alternatively, treasured and exercised by decent individuals to defend themselves from gangsters and powermongers, then freedom from crime and tyranny is the social result.
In contrast, SELF CONTROL Not Gun Control explores assorted issues which revolve around the uses and abuses of power. Because firearms are implements of power, some of the materials in this book must again deal with firearms; but much of it will deal instead with how power is exercised--either by individuals who wish to rule their own lives, or by other individuals who wish to rule their lives for them.
For that, in fact, is the primary political question in any society: if you can not, may not, or do not exercise the power to control your own life, someone else must and will.
Not all the explorations in this book are political or even ideological. Some questions which would naturally arise in any discussion of power relate to economics; so I have some articles on that; there are some pieces on how technology can empower us with new tools and frontiers; I've included some discussions of literary technique and values, since that is a kind of power with which I have had direct experience; and if you think I went out on a limb by telling everyone in the entertainment and publishing industries that I approve of guns, I'm going even farther out this time: I'm going to explain as precisely as I can what I think about God, religion, and the place of human beings in the ultimate scheme of things.
My friends who participate in organized religions, and my friends who are atheists, will both find reasons to distance themselves from me, as I find myself in that twilight zone of philosophical theology which used to be called "free thought."
In other words, while I believe in God, I don't believe in religion.
So why should I alienate friends on both sides of me?
Call it a form of flashing, if you wish; but I couldn't see putting together a book about the power of the individual without treating ultimate issues. Power relates to what we do. We can't have a comprehensive discussion of that without also getting into who and what we are.
Returning for the moment to a less lofty discussion of power, it's notable that proponents of government control over private guns wish always to bring the subject around to children. Their rhetoric always focuses on the tragedies that result when the ignorant or undisciplined among us--and children certainly are numerous there--misuse firearms. For their political purposes, advocates of government control over private guns are exactly right to do so.
But the difference between a child and a grown-up--and I am speaking personally as the father of a four-year-old girl--lies not in the child being any less passionate than the grown-up in the pursuit of her goals, but merely less practiced in the selection and achievement of them. Kids are born with an adult-sized willfulness. The job of growing up involves learning to harness that will to the better judgments of the brain and heart.
Our society does not handle the transition from childhood to adulthood well. Biological puberty makes us physical adults usually between ten and fifteen years old; our brains need a few years practice after the onset of physical maturity to be able to control reproductive impulses with any rationality; our current society passes out condoms to thirteen-year-olds but discourages marriage until they're thirty.
But the point is, the psychological difference between the child and adult is the relative ability of adults to control their own lives and negotiate various problems and dangers.
Let's solve the problem of children and guns right here, since it can be solved easily. Firearms--like automobiles, like matches, like pharmaceuticals, like rat poison--are safe and useful when used properly and dangerous and destructive when used improperly.
Some children can handle responsibility; some adults can't. The successful ability to make rational decisions about potential dangers is a function of an individual's natural gifts, the parenting skills with which they were raised, and their individual life experiences.
It's also a function of that ability we have to reinvent ourselves, which we can conveniently label free will.
Beyond the age of reason when the brain has completed its growth--which is around the age of seven--the rates at which individuals master assorted tasks vary. In emergencies, three-year-old human beings have punched 9-1-1 and called for help. Five-year-old human beings have saved their parents using CPR which they saw performed on television. Ten-year-olds have soloed as airplane pilots cross-country.
At seven-years-old, Mozart was composing symphonies, Sarah Chang was performing violin concertos, and Bobby Fischer was winning chess tournaments. Admittedly these are prodigies but why should laws be written which hold the gifted among us to the lowest-common-denominator?
Our society's current practice of imposing uniform age standards on the transition from childhood to adulthood--in driving prohibitions, alcohol and tobacco prohibitions--is collectivist bigotry.
There are some children whom I would trust with a match or a gun without hesitation; there are some adults whom I would keep away from anything as dangerous as a can of hair spray.
In my novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, I portray a space habitat with a social contract called, simply, the Lease. The Lease says nothing more than that signatories agree to answer for any liabilities for their debts or damages to others. Any adult may sign it. The test for adulthood is the ability to read and understand the Lease. No one is required to sign the Lease--this is a libertarian society I'm portraying--but anyone who doesn't sign the Lease must either find someone to act as a legal guardian or go somewhere else. In my imagined society, responsible adulthood is a matter of reason and choice; childhood ends when you are capable of ending it.
My friend, Dafydd ab Hugh, puts it more succinctly: if you can't be trusted with a gun, you need a keeper.
I do not believe this is a utopian goal. As a matter of fact, I see our current society's problems as a function of not understanding the differences between childhood and adulthood in its political decisions.
Statism in all its pathological variants--communism, fascism, Nazism--treats the government as a wise parent and its citizens as irresponsible children. The current term for this is infantalization. Paternalistic thinking is at the base of even the more moderate politics of the United States, though I have often remarked that the United States has two political parties: the Mommy Party and the Daddy Party.
The traditional Democratic Party--the "mommy" party--has wanted the government to take care of all our physical needs from cradle to grave, with government child care and education, welfare, social security, government health care, and government jobs--and plenty of government oversight for any remaining nominally-private activities.
The traditional Republican Party--the "daddy" party--expects us to pay our own way, but is more concerned with our moral upbringing: we must pray, avoid sex out of marriage, work hard, stay out of trouble--and there's hard punishment for anyone who disobeys.
Of the two philosophies, the Daddy Party's is less destructive to society, but both approaches still miss the point. You don't turn children into adults by shielding them from either economic or moral failure: you turn children into adults by letting them learn from their mistakes so deep down they know the reason for not doing it again.
Politicians are the most arrogant, self-important busybodies in the country. They honestly believe that if they don't solve a problem, it won't be solved. If there's a scarcity of something the public wants or needs--child care, Shakespeare in the Park, literacy, a colony on Mars--the private entrepreneur sees this as an opportunity to enter the market and provide it. The political entrepreneur in a legislature or executive mansion sees it as an opportunity to create a program--and starts by making it impossible for the private entrepreneur to compete with the government.
Gun control is at its essence a product of socialist thinking. It has all the earmarks of virulent statism. Gun-controllers don't want us to have guns because we--poor children--are too emotionally unstable and careless to handle them without shooting ourselves and our friends. Gun-controllers don't want us to have guns because in their view we're not supposed to protect ourselves: that's what the police are there for. Finally, gun controllers don't want us to have guns because they have been working hard for the last century to create a cradle-to-grave socialist utopia--and now that they have vast bureaucratic mechanisms running our lives, they're terrified that we might come to our senses and shoot the bastards who have enslaved us.
They are right to be afraid. That's what the guns are for.
Not that arrogant tyrants don't deserve being shot for subverting the American Dream, but it's a damn sight less messy to overthrow statism in the voting booth than it is in urban guerrilla warfare. So Congressman Charles Schumer won't have the opportunity to accuse me of encouraging armed rebellion: I advocate working peacefully within the system so long as we have free speech, free elections, and occasional redress of grievances.
But I'm still going to hold onto my guns in case the statists get one percent more arrogant and decide to do away with free speech or free elections, too--for our own good, of course.
Under those circumstances, Congressman Schumer--the circumstances of King George III's America, Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Castro's Cuba--I would not hesitate to use my guns to overthrow the government by force.
We must make a fundamental choice about how we want to live in this country. We can have a country of self-reliant grown-ups who are free to succeed or fail--and to pick themselves up after failure to try again. In practice this means letting us decide for ourselves what drugs we want to take, what speed we want to drive and whether or not to strap in, how we want to educate our children, what weapons we carry for defense.
Or, we can live wearing political swaddling in a society that makes drugs forbidden fruit, diverts cops from catching carjackers so they can give out speeding tickets, convinces children that teachers are their jailers, and shows by our intolerably high violent crime rate that only suckers obey gun laws.
The difference between children and grown-ups is that children are not yet competent to run their own lives; grow-ups can and must be. We destroy the innocence and beauty of childhood if it has no end. We destroy the meaning and pleasures of adulthood if we do not have the independence to control ourselves.
Go to The Politics of Gun Control.
Return to Table of Contents.