Friday, May 10, 2013

Liberty and Responsibility

In the thickets of other things going on in the world, one bit of news that stuck in my mental craw this week was the announcement by Adam Kokesh, a libertarian blogger/self-promoter/provocateur, that he would be leading a march on Washington this upcoming fourth of July.

The purpose of the march?  To declare the fundamental right of a citizen to "open carry," meaning to visibly carry a loaded firearm wherever and wherever one wants.   This is the law of the land in the great state of Virginia, but it is very much not so in the District of Columbia.

So what is planned is this:  A thousand gun rights advocates will cross the Memorial bridge from Virginia into DC.  Every single one of them will be carrying a loaded weapon.  From pictures of prior demonstrations, most of those weapons will be AR-15s and the like.

They will be met by law enforcement for several reasons, not the least of which is that on the 4th of July, security in DC is considerably tighter, as families from the entire area and around the country arrive for the evening's firework display.

So a thousand armed individuals, many of whom are convinced that the government is inherently tyrannical, will be asked to put down their weapons by police on high alert.   Does this sound like a good idea?

Actually, to many of the event supporters, the answer is "Yes."   It's extreme, but what is called for, they say.  It's bold!  It's defiant!  Sure, there could be violence, but we won't start it, they say.

I tend to strongly favor individual liberty.  In fact, my theology increasingly demands it.   Human beings...all sentient life...has been created fabulously, terrifyingly free.  That's taken me to increasingly view morality and ethics not in terms of the One Right Choice.  Unlike deontological ethics, which are grounded in an absolute duty, or consequentialist ethics, which assume particular outcomes, probabilistic ethics are squishier.  They leave space for freedom.

That ethic involves making decisions that frame and shape possibility.  No guarantees.  Just increased likelihoods.

So let's look at this libertarian decision from the standpoint of the ethics of probability.

The scenario imagined by the organizer is a peaceful march that draws out the sympathies of liberty loving Americans.  Fifty-five hundred patriots, all good-hearted and true, march to the city bearing the arms that guarantee our freedom.  Law enforcement, impressed with their discipline and evident love for America, approach them and there is a constructive and mutually respectful exchange.   Media coverage shows the real nature of the libertarian movement, and national sympathies sway more towards the right to individual freedom.

Is this possible?  Why yes it is.  In some universe, it might happen.  But it is not likely.   Why not?  Because it is an ideal that isn't grounded in reality.  It is so improbable that it amounts to delusion.

Here is the reality, which both reason and compassion permit us to see.

The reality is that being Cop is hard.   Law enforcement professionals have a hell of a job, and for all of Kokesh saying that he respects what they have to do, he doesn't.  He's a paleolibertarian, dangit.  Not respecting the law is that entire worldview in a nutshell.

What a cop will see as that march approaches is a thousand individuals, all of whom at best adhere to the idea that he/she is an agent of tyranny.  What that cop will feel is tense, knowing that his/her duty is to disarm those individuals, all of whom believe that setting down their loaded weapons would be an affront to their person.   The entire armed march does not respect Cop, or the law.  That is why they are marching.

"Put down the gun," says the cop.  "No," will say the marcher.   So we have tense, frightened, angry human beings with loaded guns, confronting tense and angry human beings with guns.

And not just tense human beings.  Reading through the Facebook page set up to organize this event, you read some posters who are libertarian, and defiantly so.  That is their right.

But you read others who are insane.  Not eccentric.  Actually mentally ill.  There are posts that can only be typified as paranoid schizophrenic, incoherently ranting about the Zionist Occupation Government and the end times.   As of a few days ago, Kokesh had tried to delete these posts, but he doesn't seem to totally know how Facebook works.

So in this crowd of armed citizens, there may well be several gun-bearing individuals who are there to kill and die, to start an armed conflagration that plays into their delusional fantasies.  How can you tell them from a sane armed citizen who is expressing his legal right to open carry in the state of Virginia?

You can't.  Not until they start shooting.

From the standpoint of the ethic of probability, what this march creates is a tiny likelihood of a positive outcome, and a vastly higher likelihood of violence and bloodshed.

It isn't bold.  It's blind to both reality and compassion.   And that, by the standard of the Law of Liberty, is just plain wrong.