Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reply to Comment . . . The Logic of Normative Discourse . . .

I accidentally deleted a comment by ADHR and therefore post it here in its entirety. 

No. There's a hole in her logic, and in yours. You both assumed that the gun registry actually is a tool for reducing gun violence, particularly against women. That has not been proven. All we have to go on are (1) a correlation between reduced violence and the existence of the registry (and, as any good skeptic knows, correlation is not causation), and (2) the say-so of the RCMP (that's this RCMP). Neither proves the point.

I'll refrain from comment on your "culture of violence" riff. 

Now for my comment on his comment.

I grow weary of people who try to argue formal "logic"  when they don't appear to understand either formal or philosophical logic in any meaningful sense of the word. Our commentator here seems to be conflating hard emphatically centered logic, which has more of a relationship to mathematics, and the more common use of logic as it pertains to social science and the rational discourse of normative questions. 

First of all, guns, like all inanimate objects, cannot be said to "Cause" violence. A machine like a gun could  only be said to 'cause' violence in the presence of a malfunction and even then to argue 'causation' in such a case is a stretch. To put it in biblical terms we can take from the book of Job which reminds us that "Affliction cometh not forth from the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground."  Guns do not cause violence, they precipitate it, in the sense that they promote its possibility to a significant degree both in quality and quantity. 

Thus ADHR doesn't seem to understand that, while correlation is indeed not causation, in most such cases 'correlation' is all the social scientist has to establish links. Thus, ADHR seems to be functioning in a milue of dogmatic empiricism which lost its power generations ago. There is nothing 'illogical' about correlation, rather it is perfectly logical - it is just not empirical in the sense that a philosopher like, say, Hume might demand. 

There is a direct correlation in most cases between the number of guns in a society and the degree of gun violence. One does not need to argue a causation here, in fact causation simply doesn't enter the picture. It is like this - there is a direct correlation between the number of working telephones in a society and the number of telephone calls made each day. The telephones are not "causing" the calls. However, if you took half the phones away, for example, there would be a reduction in the number of calls made each day. This is correlation not causation. 

Similarly with the case of guns; reduce guns and you reduce gun violence - the correlation is clear. Now we come to the question of the gun registry. We actually don't need to prove causation here either, since there is a direct correlation between the degree of gun control in society and the number of guns and the amount of gun violence. Gun registries actually reduce the number of guns in  circulation because there are always a certain number of people who will not purchase a gun if they are compelled to register it. This is one of the reasons that there many more wackos in the US who possess guns - because the easier it is to get guns the more likely someone who doesn't "need" the gun because they live on a farm etc, will purchase it. 

The value of any gun registry cannot be made in a causal or empirical sense, the same way that certain individual laws against violence could not be seen in isolation in order to be meaningful. This is because of something in logic called 'over-determination.' One cannot make a causal link in cases of over-determination. Rather one can only make correlative links. Obviously any gun registry program will not put an end to violence, but since there is a correlative relationship between greater degrees of gun registration and control and the number of gun crimes, it is in fact perfectly "logical" to assume that a generalized program of gun registration and control will ultimately reduce the number of gun crimes. And since one of the primary areas of gun violence is violence against women, we can also assume that gun registry and controls will reduce, in the long run, violence against women. Thus it is important to remember, as Mallick reminds us, that The registration forms are designed to guard against people buying guns after they separate, or divorce, or are under psychiatric care. And it tells police officers what’s waiting for them when they approach a home where there’s a domestic dispute.

Logic utilized by philosophers and social scientists is not simply empirical and causal and if ADHR had read the work of Louis Althusser or Jurgen Habermas he would understand this. Laws and social policies have to seen against the backdrop of  general correlations otherwise reason in normative questions would not be meaningful. Even Hume understood that you cannot derive an ought from an is. But there is not a hole in the logic here as ADHR claims. Rather Ms Mallick simply understands the rational discourse of normative questions and the direct and meaningful correlation between controls on guns and the quantity and quality of domestic and generalized violence. 

PS. Given his apparent failure to understand normative discourse, I am glad that ADHR refrained from commenting on my "riff" on our culture of violence. Because if he thinks we have not created a culture of violence he is so far gone from both logic and reality that it wouldn't be worth our time. 


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ADHR said...

It takes a certain amount of arrogance for a pseudonymous blogger to claim expertise over a commenter whose profile clearly indicates expertise in just that area. Or maybe it was just ignorance. I suppose you may have just failed to click through. In any event: you're wrong about logic, you're wrong about Hume, and you're wrong about empiricism. I also suspect you haven't understood Habermas, but that's really irrelevant.

Your obfuscation about normative discourse is unrelated to what I was responding to. I criticized your empirical point; I explicitly left the normative point ("culture of violence") alone. If you understood normative discourse, you would've figured that out.

It is nice to see, though, that you're one of the few pro-registry folks who's become honest enough to admit that you're after removal of guns from society. You have still failed to establish that the gun registry is doing anything to that end, though. And you do need a causal link on that point; correlation on its own is not going to do it. You've really done nothing to demonstrate that correlation is good enough, except some rather bizarre commentary to the effect that causal relationships have to exist against a set of background conditions. (A point that's been well-established for centuries; Mill talks about it.)

In any event, it is, again, irrelevant. Your argument here doesn't actually use pure correlation -- it implicitly relies on a causal connection, namely concomitant variation between registering guns and the number of guns available. That sort of regular, law-like change establishes, at least provisionally, a causal link. Mere correlation is worthless; correlation with a regular connection between the variables is significant.

If you really wanted to prove your point, you would now go out and find this data that you presume exists. That is, you should be able to show that changes in registration correlate in a regular way with changes in guns present in society, and that changes in guns present in society correlate in a regular way with changes in violence. Hand-waving examples about the numbers of telephones don't settle the point, as those only appeal to cognitive prejudices, rather than settled facts. I suspect you don't want to do this because you either can't, or you're afraid of the consequences. If the correlations are not present, your argument is a failure; if the correlations are too irregular, then your argument is also a failure.

Anonymous said...

Of course, of all the gun violence committed in Canada, only a portion is committed with long-guns. And of those committed with long-guns, only a portion are legally owned and/or duly registered.

So, while the Registry may possibly decrease the total overall number of guns, it will only have a marginal impact on gun violence (since that violence is committed disproportionately by a distinct subset of guns unaffected by the Registry).

Moreover, we have to assume that in at least some cases of gun violence, the absence of a gun would not prevent the violence. On the Prairies, for instance, murders are more often the result of knife-violence, rather than gun violence (on a national level, knive murder and gun murder is about equal). Fewer guns may just mean more knives.

Statistically, there doesn't seem to be a correlation between firearm murders and the implementation of the Registry. Firearm murders as a percentage of total murders has been declining for 30 years.

In real terms, firearm murders are more or less stable around the 200 mark.

Considering the expense of the Registry, combined with its marginal impact on the murder rate, I suggest the Registry is not an effective use of national resources.

But more importantly: the political situation created by the Registry-policy has precluded any discussion of further (and more effective) gun control measures for the last 15 years - and so too into the foreseeable future.


kirbycairo said...

thanks for the comments Leo, points well made. I think it is a good point to consider the wider issue of gun control and whether the gun-registry debate has muffled this wider debate. I was never actually that big an advocate of the gun-registry per se, but the issue of whether it is too expensive is a red herring since that is really a matter of opinion and priority. However, the wider point I have been trying to make is a philosophical one, and that is that this kind of debate should be happening in a wider normative sense with a paradigm of communicative action rather than a techo-rational one. I think we can only see the values and meaning of individual laws, for the most part, against a backdrop of general trends and social goals rather than in terms of technocratic efficiency.

kirbycairo said...

By the way ADHR your comparison of violence in society is remarkable. Comparing the violence in the Bible to, say, a situation in which the majority of children take an active role in virtual violence in games like Halo III everyday, is just absurd. And a simple denial of the lived experience of millions if not billions of people. We have indeed created a culture of violence in the sense that virtual violence has created a profound moral ambiguity to acts of violence. Again, the name calling "lazy" etc just belittles you and undermines everything you say. Many, non-lazy academics and activists have done great work on this subject (like Dr. Jeremy Shapiro and Dr. Spock to name only two) and if you cannot see the qualitative and quantitative difference here I just don't know what to say. What I suspect is that you know exactly what I am talking about only you conveniently choose to obfuscate and belittle because it fits your wider ideological cause. One cannot publish a thesis on ones blog for each individual issue so one must use a kind of discursive short hand and so you are just targeting something which I could perfectly well justify and you understand to belittle people and score hollow ideological points.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my comments were overly techno-rational. I did, after all, point to those general trends and social goals of which you refer.

While the conclusion I offered did speak to the Registry as a misallocation of resources, this is so in more ways that financial, as my final paragraph indicated.

Even if an ultimate goal of gun abolition is pursued through incremental steps, it is possible to take an incremental misstep in the process. It may be prudent, even expedient, to take a step back and reassess the path.


kirbycairo said...

Fair enough Leo, thanks for the comments.