Blog, Gun Control, Media + Politics, Politics

Black Lives Matter: A Dialectic

Originally published January 22nd, 2016 on the Huffington Post

In today’s highly charged, extremely volatile environment, it’s extremely risky to weigh in on anything having to do with race. And yet, because of the extreme importance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the national conversation on race and policing that it has rightfully inspired, I deliberately choose to do so.

I am struck by the divergence between two of the nation’s most thoughtful and notable black writers about BLM. Their views are not only important in and of themselves, but even more, they constitute opposite sides of a powerful and important dialectic.

John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University, has written that while he is not against the BLM movement per se, he is just as concerned, if not more so, with black on black crime. Because so many more blacks are killed regularly by blacks, black on black crime hurts the black community even more than the killing of unarmed black kids by white cops. As Professor McWhorter puts it, Do Black Lives Matter Only When Taken by White Cops? Does a black mother mourn the loss of a child any less when it’s taken by someone who is black than by a white cop? Do arcane matters of political philosophy–i.e., the underlying philosophical tenets of the BLM movement–really matter to someone who has just lost a child to street violence? For Professor McWhorter, this last point is so overwhelming that it essentially ends the discussion. This is not meant in any way to say that he either belittles or ignores the racism that is a prominent feature of many police departments and the harsh racist attitudes towards blacks that are held by far too many police, black as well as white.

On the other side of the dialectic is Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent forThe Atlantic Monthly. In his own words: “…’Black-on-black crime’ is jargon, violence to language, which vanishes the men who engineered the [racial] covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the [housing] projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel. And this should not surprise us. The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

For Mr. Coates, shifting the conversation away from the killing of blacks by white cops, especially unarmed black kids, is not only just another instance of whites taking over and controlling the discourse, but once again, of whites basically showing that they are able to do anything they want with the bodies of blacks with no recourse to justice. In short, the brutalization of blacks is written into the basic DNA of whites. For this reason, from its very founding, it’s really no surprise that the brutalization of blacks was also written into the country’s DNA as well. Is it not the case that Blacks have been subjugated longer than they have been free? Is it really any wonder that brutalization and subjugation persist to this day?

In Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, Professor McWhorter sees blacks hampered by three outmoded and self-defeating beliefs: Victimology, Separatism, and Anti-intellectualism. Yes, racism still exists, but it’s time for blacks to give up playing the perpetual victim card. There is no longer the kind of overwhelming and debilitating racism that blacks faced in the past. It’s also time for blacks to stop separating themselves from all things white. And finally, if they really want to get ahead in the modern world, the time is way overdue for blacks to embrace education. It’s the only way that blacks and whites can get ahead in today’s high-tech world.

In sharp contrast, for Mr. Coates, racism shows no signs whatsoever of letting up, especially since it’s hard wired into the DNA of whites. Since blacks cannot stop whites from practicing brutalization and subjugation, whites must ultimately stop themselves, if they ever really can.

I confess that of the two, Professor McWhorter is far easier to read. It’s not just that he excoriates blacks for what he sees them doing that is basically not in their best self-interest, but that it’s unbearably difficult to take the intense anger that boils off of every page of Mr. Coates’ book, Between The World And Me. Even though whites need to be made keenly aware of the unbearable trauma that black people have suffered repeatedly at the hands of whites, Mr. Coates’ anger towards whites is seemingly without bounds. To this reader, the same prime message comes through repeatedly, namely that whites are irredeemably evil.

Time and again, Mr. Coates pounds home the point that for most of our history, whites could do whatever they wanted with black bodies with little, if any payback. Further, the police are society’s most visible and potent symbol of the virtually absolute power of whites over blacks. Even though I don’t like to admit it, his intense anger made it all-too-easy for me, at least at first, to turn away from his very important message. It’s far easier for whites to accept Professor McWhorter, and by doing so, let themselves off the hook. However, in the course of putting together this dialectic, I came to appreciate Mr. Coates’s message all the more.

The best dialectic is one where a person is gripped by two equally powerful and opposing arguments, stories if you will. As a result, it’s never a simple choice of one versus the other. In this case, I believe that both messages contain important “truths” that I feel deeply.

It’s important to emphasize the basic points of the dialectic at which the stories disagree. In one, whites are the wrongful, if not inherently evil, party. In this story, blacks have been perpetually wronged. In the other, blacks have done wrong to themselves. In one, whites have to change, if they ever really can; in the other, blacks need to change. In both stories, philosophical tenets or beliefs system are important, but they are obviously not the same, and thus, their roles are not the same as well. In short, they differ over fundamental matters of good and evil, who the righteous versus the wronged parties are, who needs to change, etc.

If there is a point of agreement between them, and hence, a possible synthesis, however small it may be, it is this: Blacks and whites have profound changes that only they can make in themselves before they can live together in peace and harmony, let alone separately without each other. While this is undoubtedly true, none of us can change entirely on our own accord. We need others, especially those that don’t have the same take on things, who as a result push us further than we can go on our own. In brief, I believe that the need for others and the desire for change is also wired deeply into our DNA.

If the multiple killings of young black kids and unarmed black men is not a clear wake-up call that police departments everywhere are in need of fundamental reforms with regard to how cops use force, then nothing is. At the same time, having worked with cops over the course of my career, I know that every time they go out on a call, they live in abject fear of their lives, even though they often have trouble admitting it. Cops live in constant fear because in a society with over 300 million guns, one has to approach every situation as if everyone is armed with a deadly, high-powered automatic that can easily penetrate the best life-protecting vests. For this reason, if I had to assign blame, then I would put the lion’s share squarely on the NRA for contributing to and stoking the climate of fear such that far too many of our fellow citizens feel that they cannot trust the government to protect them.

In the end, I wish fervently that a direct action movement to curtail guns could take shape that was as full of as much passion as BLM. Indeed, I wish that BLM would expand its agenda to take on the role of guns in our society. That’s a movement I’d like to join.

Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Time to Face Hard Facts

Originally posted December 10, 2015 on Huffington Post

The response by the Republican Presidential candidates to the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino, plus the fact that only one Republican Senator voted to deny terrorists access to high-powered assault rifles, forces us to face six painful facts about U.S. society:

1. No amount of mass shootings, evidence, and rational arguments to the contrary are enough to change the deep-seated beliefs of Republicans regarding the rights of Americans to own guns. Any attempts to change such beliefs are doomed.

2. We are held hostage to a 200 year-old, antiquated law–the Second Amendment–that is completely unsuited to modern times. Attempts to change the Second Amendment are doomed.

3. Instead of calling for sensible gun controls, every mass shooting only causes people to arm themselves even more. Attempts to de-arm this society are doomed.

4. Grieving for innocent victims does nothing to stop the carnage. We’re just bidding our time before the next mass shooting. We’re doomed to experience them again and again.

5. Calls for better mental health programs and understanding of the motives of shooters are a gigantic diversion. We’re doomed if we think that any society can safely manage over 300 million guns.

6. The American people, and especially their representatives, show little will in taking action. We are doomed!

I am left with the painful conclusion that there is nothing that will change this society’s attitudes towards guns. In short, the Right has won. They control this society.

If you want to live in a country where you are not afraid to go to school, church, the movies, holiday parties, etc., the only option is to move to another country that is not afraid to enact strict gun control laws. This is not that society. We are ruled by madness and fear.

Blog, Gun Control

Welcome to Gunlandia

Originally published 10/12/2015 on the Huffington Post

Once upon a time there was a very special land known as Gunlandia.

Gunlandia did everything in its power to help its citizens shoot one another; the more killed, the better. Besides, didn’t everyone have a God-given Right to shoot at one another and to be shot at in return? Why indeed leave mass shootings to chance? What fun was there in that?

To achieve its goal of endless mass shootings, the National Gun Box Association (NGBA) placed boxes that were conveniently located throughout all of Gunlandia’s major cities. Each box contained unlimited numbers of high-powered guns of all kinds. On each box, a sign clearly said, “Please take more guns than you need for the bad guys are always waiting to pounce. Fourteen is a good number!”

The NGBA did everything they could to ensure that the boxes were always filled with loaded guns because it was every citizen’s fundamental right to live next to a well-stocked gun box.

The NGBA never tired of saying that “Gun boxes don’t kill people; only people without gun boxes kill people.” “When gun boxes are outlawed, only outlaws will have unmarked gun boxes.” Etc.

After each mass shooting, the people were strongly encouraged to cry in public because the NGBA knew that this would only encourage people to have more gun boxes. The people were also encouraged to engage in endless conversations about the causes of gun violence to help ensure that the gun boxes were never removed. The more diversions, the better. This was in fact one of the best ways of furthering one of NGBA’s major goals: placing a gun box on the every corner of every street!

The NGBA came up with a special wrinkle of which it was especially proud. They placed brightly colored gun boxes outside of schools, churches, movie theatres, super markets, in short, wherever people gathered in large numbers. They strongly encouraged people to take at least one gun with them into every event and place. In this way, no matter where they were, more than one person was guaranteed to be terminated.

What better way of instilling apathy, fear, and hopelessness? Aren’t these the goals of any uncivilized society?

Blog, Gun Control, Politics

Enough! It’s Time to Put Our Bodies and Pocket Books on the Line for Gun Control

Originally published June 23, 2015 of Huffington Post

The shooting of nine people in a black church in Charlestown, South Carolina raises once again the god-awful issue of what to do about gun violence and gun control. Yes racism was a prime factor and undoubtedly so was the poor mental health of the shooter. As a result, the familiar bromides that we need to do more work on race relations and better mental programs are being offered once again. What sensible person could possibly disagree with these?

Personally, I’ve had it with the old remedies. I’m tired of mourning the innocent victims of another senseless act. We need to break out and try other things.

All the logic and rational talk in the world are virtually useless against racists and rabid gun proponents. (Obviously they are not useless for more rationally minded people or else why write this?) What we need is direct action. We have push hard against culture that is so deeply immersed in fear, guns, and paranoia that it’s lost its very grip on sanity.

More guns only lead to more fear and paranoia. If more guns were the answer, then we’d be the safest nation on the planet! Instead, we are the nation with the most mass shootings. Indeed, other Western industrialized nations actually have more crime than we do, but since we have vastly more guns, our crime is generally more lethal.

The best model I know for changing society are the civil rights protests of the 1960’s. Young people were literally willing to put their lives on the line by going down to the South and staging sit-ins at restaurants and other public places. As we know, a number died as a result.
The paradox is that one has to be willing to die for less gun violence!

We need to have mass, perpetual sit-ins outside of gun shows and in front of the NRA headquarters in Washington, DC. for as long as it takes to de-gun this society. No other Western industrialized society in the world allows the amount and kinds of guns that we have.

I also want to stir the pot by proposing that other countries impose a tourist embargo on the U.S. Why come to a country where one’s life is constantly threatened? While I don’t expect that this alone would remove the over 300,000,000 guns in the hands of private citizens, perhaps money will finally get our attention. If rational logic doesn’t work, then we have to hit people where it hurts!

The point is that the time for talk is over. Until we are ready to put our bodies and our pocket books on the line, we’ll just have more and more mass shootings!

Ian I. Mitroff is Professor Emeritus from USC. He is a Senior Investigator in The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley. He is President of Mitroff Crisis Management. His most current book is Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments.

Blog, Gun Control

Police Shootings: Young Black Men Pay a Heavy Price for America’s Lax Gun Laws

Originally posted December 12, 2014 on the Huffington Post

As a human being, I deplore the recent shootings and deaths of young black men. They make the notion of equal justice a sham. How and why could so many unarmed black men be killed so easily?

However, as a social systems scientist, I am equally disturbed for other reasons. Given the multitude of factors that are involved in every situation, why do we focus on so few factors and give others that are just as important so little consideration?

The quick and easy answer is that just a few factors are primarily responsible for police shootings and misbehavior. Therefore, if we correct these few, then we will lower substantially the chances of future tragedies. Supposedly, if we’d just do a better job of selecting and training cops, and weeding out those who are racist, then we’d lower police shootings dramatically. Were it all that simple!

Of course police officers are the end links of the chain. They are the ones who decide whether or not to fire or to use force. But enumerable other factors are at play as well.

Yes, drugs and poverty certainly breed crime, but other countries have just as much drugs, poverty, and crime as we do and yet do not have nearly the same rates of police shootings and fatalities. In fact, some countries have even higher rates of crime and yet they don’t experience anything near what we do. Guns almost ensure that if there is an altercation between the police and others, then it is more likely to result in deadly consequences.

Systems thinking not only looks at more factors, but it looks at more potential interactions between them, especially those that we are prone to ignore or to downplay. Given the fact American society is so heavily armed — there are over 300 million guns in private hands — police officers have little choice but to approach every situation with the ever present and all-too-real possibility that deadly force can and will be used against them and those they are charged with protecting.

Of course racial stereotypes play an important role. We can’t do enough to confront and to weed them out. And yes, we need more black policemen everywhere, especially in black communities.

But we are basically kidding ourselves in believing that we can continue to have so many guns in American society and not pay a terrible price. Unfortunately, young black men pay a higher price than young white men. The effects of America’s lax gun policies are anything but equal.

Blog, Philosophy + Systems, Politics, Religion + Spirituality, Serialized Blog

Arguments With Ourselves: Wrestling with the Key Issues of Our Times

Published as a series of blogs on Nation of Change

A Native American boy asked his grandfather, “What do you think about the world today?”

The grandfather replied, “I feel like two wolves are fighting–one with hate and fear, the other with love and acceptance.”

“But grandfather,” asked the boy, “which one will win?”

The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 5, 2013


Arguments big and small envelop us every waking moment of our lives.

From the time we wake in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we are literally bombarded with hundreds of arguments. The vast majority of arguments are of course mundane and thus of little concern or consequence: what to have for breakfast, what to wear around the house, etc. (Give the fact that we are struggling with a nation-wide epidemic of obesity and health related problems, many issues that were once considered ordinary such as what to have for breakfast are no longer mundane.) Nonetheless, increasingly, many are about matters of extreme importance, for instance, whether to go to war, whether gays should be allowed to marry, etc.

It is thus no exaggeration to say—argue—that arguments big and small make the world go around. For this reason alone, this book examines critical arguments with regard to some of the most important issues of our time.

Many fine, intelligently written books already exist that give the important issues of our day the in-depth treatment they so richly deserve. The present book could not in fact have been written without them. But literally none exist that show how the dominant issues of our times not only impact one another, but in a deeper sense are strongly connected. This fact alone accounts for why the definition of our key problems, let alone their solution, is so difficult. In short, our critical problems can neither be defined properly, let alone managed, independently and in isolation of one another.

Hard Hitting

Arguments With Ourselves is an incisive, hard-hitting examination of some of the most important issues and problems we face as a nation; for example: the persistent battles, if not out-and-out wars, between Science and Religion, more specifically between Creationism and Evolution; the frequent and bitter skirmishes between those who defend a traditional conception of marriage and those who are in favor of allowing gays to marry; those who are strongly in favor of greater gun controls and those who strongly oppose them; those who believe in the power of the “free market” and those who believe in strong governmental regulations, more generally, between those who assert the primacy of business versus those who believe fervently in the greater role of government; and of course, the current prolonged and acrimonious discord, if not the deep hostilities, between Democrats and Republicans.

A Life-Long Friend and Colleague

The story of how the author first met Vince Barabba, a life-long friend and colleague, is an integral part of this book.

Some thirty years, Barabba was the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census and Mitroff was a Professor of Business Administration and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The late Russell Ackoff (systems planner and thinker extraordinaire), who was a member of the American Statistical Association’s Advisory Committee for the Census Bureau, brought them together.

Ackoff had previously issued a challenge to the Bureau to think and behave differently. He asked the Bureau to “design an Ideal (not utopian) Bureau for the year 2000.” In a word, Ackoff asked the Bureau to go through the serious planning exercise of envisioning what an Ideal Census Bureau—that is, a Bureau that was freed from the onerous constraints of the present–would look like and how it would function. Furthermore, since Ackoff pioneered the concept of Idealized Planning, he insisted that one of the essential properties of any idealized design was that it had to be capable of being implemented. Ackoff thus challenged the Bureau to produce a strategy for actually implementing whatever ideal design it produced.

As a member of a major Advisory Committee to the Bureau, Ackoff felt that it was not proper for him to lead the challenge he had issued. He therefore suggested Mitroff instead.

Although all of Mitroff’s formal degrees are in Engineering (B.S, M.S., and PhD), for his minor field for the PhD, Mitroff studied the Philosophy of Social Systems Science with Ackoff’s mentor, life-long friend, and colleague, C. West Churchman at UC Berkeley. (Ackoff was Churchman’s first Ph.D. student in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.). Indeed, his “minor field” quickly became his “undeclared major.” Mitroff was thus well suited to act as a consultant to the Bureau in order to meet Ackoff’s challenge

Many of the tools that Mitroff and Barabba developed for complex problems had their origin in response to the design of an Idealized Census Bureau.[i] However, they were particularly the result of follow-on projects such as the design, management, and policy implications of the1980 and 1990 censuses. They were also refined in additional projects at Kodak, Xerox, and General Motors, where Barabba was in senior management. Mitroff also developed the tools further in his over 30 years of work in Crisis Management.

The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

One tool in particular is the heart of this book: The Toulmin Argumentation Framework or TAF for short.

In the early 1960’s, Mitroff and Barabba made a special trip to the University of Chicago to meet the late, distinguished historian and philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin. At the time, Toulmin was a member of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought.

Toulmin had developed an ingenious framework for capturing the intricacies of complex arguments. We travelled to Chicago because we were interested in applying TAF to complex business situations in which the wrong arguments could literally spell the life or death for a new business venture, key product, etc. Needless to say, we were able to apply TAF in a wide variety of complex and important business and governmental cases. Nonetheless, to our continuing disappointment, TAF has still not been adopted as widely as we believe that it should.

One of the most distinguishing marks of this book is the use TAF to analyse important arguments with regard to significant issues. This not only allows one to capture more succinctly the essential points of the various arguments that pertain to key issues, but ultimately, it allows one to see how the arguments are connected.

Breaking the Tyranny of “Either/Or Thinking”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 9, 2013

While I certainly do not believe that all situations have two equally compelling positions that are worthy of equal consideration, I do believe that there is always more than one position on every important issue that needs to be considered. Indeed, many demand it. In this sense, I am for breaking the tyranny of so much of the “either/or thinking” that exercises a stranglehold on our nation’s mind. If anything, I am outraged at many of the positions of both parties. To take just one example, far too many Republicans and Democrats caved in to the gun lobby in voting to disallow greater background checks before anyone would be permitted to purchase a gun. I am particularly incensed at recent Republican efforts to pass onerous voting requirements that effectively potentially block higher percentages of Blacks and other minorities from voting. Many life-long Republicans are just as outraged.

This does not mean that on every key issue, all positions are of equal value and therefore deserve equal consideration. It also doesn’t mean that on some issues, there isn’t a single, dominant position that trumps all of the others. For instance, I don’t believe for one moment that there are cases of “legitimate rape.” To think otherwise is to pile additional insult onto injury. Indeed, it is nothing less than additional injury. If anything, the phrase “legitimate rape” is obscene, if not out and out evil. Its obscenity should be enough to stop all discussion dead in its tracks.

Concluding Remarks

As much as anytime in our history, we need to move from the tyranny of “either/or” to the thoughtfulness of “both/and.”

Nonetheless, as the reader will quickly see, on most issues , I am generally left of centre. Thus, I am a harsh, unrelenting critic of the gun lobby. I am also extremely critical of those who are opposed to gay marriage. And, I am extremely critical as well of the proponents of Creationism, more generally towards those who take a hard, unrelenting stand against Science. However, when it comes to general role of Science and Religion, I am critical of both with regard to their persistent inability to reach a reasoned accommodation with one another. I am also equally critical of both Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

Although I am generally left of centre, I hope that my rendering of the arguments on key issues will help those that don’t agree with me to sharpen their own arguments. I am thus not asking the reader to necessarily agree with me, but in the best sense to enter into a better argument.

Finally, I need to make absolutely clear that this is not a book on the “logic of argumentation.” It is certainly not about “logical fallacies.” Instead, it about the reasoning that underlies some of the major issues of our times, if not all times.

Arguments big and small do indeed make go around. They always have and they always will.

Chapter One: TAF–The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 11, 2013

In 1958, the distinguished historian and philosopher of science, Stephen Toulmin, published a remarkable little book, The Uses of Argument.[ii] In it, he laid out the general structure of all arguments. It quickly became an academic bestseller. It was adopted widely in courses on Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. Strangely enough, it was not widely adopted in Philosophy. Such is the fate of all innovators. They are not necessarily prophets in their own lands.

Although Barabba and I first applied The Toulmin Argumentation Framework (TAF) to the analyses of complex business and governmental problems over 30 years ago, to the best of our knowledge, it has still not been widely adopted in schools of business and government, not to mention practice. Few outside of Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. even seem aware of it.

TAF, which is shown in Figure 1.1, is deceptively simple. It posits that all arguments (including this one!) consist of a Claim (C), a set of Evidence (E), a Warrant (W), Backing (B), and Rebuttal (R). Since none of the parts of an argument are independent of one another, taken together, they constitute a highly interdependent system. Given that arguments are one of the most prominent components of problems, examining the structure of arguments eventually provides us with deeper insight into the nature of problems and ultimately into complex systems.

Figure 1.1

All arguments, logical or otherwise, terminate in a Claim or a set of Claims. The Claim is the end result or conclusion of an argument. For instance, two very important and currently opposing Claims are: “The huge federal deficits are completely out of control and leading us straight to ruin. Therefore, government programs, and thereby spending, must be sharply curtailed. In short, we must practice austerity.” In contrast, an opposing Claim is: “Yes, the deficits are bad, certainly in the long run, but putting people back to work now is more important than saving money. We need to spend our way out of a terrible recession whose effects we are still suffering. In addition, the Evidence is in from those European countries that have practiced austerity as a fiscal policy. It has failed miserably. It has made their economies even worse off.”

At this time, the point is not to take sides with either one of these arguments over the size of the Federal deficits and what to do about them. Instead, I merely want to illustrate the nature of two highly important and opposing Claims, especially their role in the context of the broader TAF.

All arguments make use of some kind of Evidence E to support their Claim(s). Typically, E is whatever facts or data one has at hand. For instance, those who see the deficits leading us to economic ruin cite the sheer size of the current deficits in the trillions of dollars and the fact that they are growing steadily and the very high amount that is being paid in interest. Thus, the “number of dollars” and the “fact” that “it has been growing steadily” are the Evidence for this position. On the other hand, those who view the deficits differently also acknowledge the size of the deficit, but they see it as a “manageable problem in the future,” citing instances where we have recovered from deficits in the past. Thus, both sides start with very different sets of “facts.” One side starts with the “sheer size of the current deficits;” the other with “past instances where we have recovered from deficits.” The other side also wants to attack the deficits but to pay them down when the economy has recovered, i.e., pay them off in “boom, not hard, times.”

In general, both sides of an argument start with different Evidence because they are working backwards from different Claims. A Claim can thus either be the beginning and/or end of an argument. Once one has a preferred Claim, one searches for Evidence to support it. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, one is generally working backwards from a preferred Claim or set of Claims.

The upshot is that instead of facts or more generally Evidence always leading unequivocally to or driving conclusions, more often than not, it is the other way around. One starts with a favored, pet conclusion, or typically a set of conclusions, and then works backwards to make it appear that one derived it by first starting with “Impartial Evidence,” etc.

The Warrant is the set of reasons why the Claim follows from the Evidence. A good way to think of it is that Warrant is a “conceptual or intellectual bridge” that allows one to go from a limited set of evidence E, to a general conclusion, C. (See Figure 1.1) To put it another way, the Warrant is the “because” part of an argument. For instance, a typical Warrant is: “Whenever E has resulted in the past, C has occurred because E is not only an indicator of C, but a prime factor in its occurrence or causation; since E has occurred this time as well, we are Warranted in concluding C once again.” In this particular example, the Warrant functions as a “continuity preserver.” Supposedly, whenever a particular set of facts or certain events E, etc. have occurred “n” times, then we are Warranted in concluding that they will occur “n+1” times. Furthermore, according to this line of thinking (argument), the larger n is, the more we are entitled to conclude that n+1 will result. Thus, if E has occurred 1000 times, then we feel confident that it will occur the 1001th time.

More often than not, the Warrant is the Claim of a prior argument, and so on ad infinitum. The same is true of the Evidence and all of the parts of an argument. In addition, arguments are key parts of problems. Arguments are parts of problems—indeed, some of their most important parts—because arguments are used to define what is a problem in the first place and how they ought to be handled in the second place.

Most of the time, Warrants are implied rather than stated explicitly. In fact, a great deal of the time they are unconscious. That is, the person is not fully aware of them. In general, they are reflective of a person’s entire personal history. In the case of society, they reflect its general history and current conditions.

Those who believe that the deficits are leading us straight to decline have some form of the following as a Warrant: “Whenever the deficits of a country are of a certain size, then economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.” Alternately, “Unless we curb our deficits, then we will go the way of Greece, Spain, etc.”  In other words, “Unless we rein in our out-of-control spending habits, then what is true of Greece, etc. is a forerunner of what lies in store for us.”

Those on the other side reason: “Proportional to the size of our current national GDP, the deficits are not significantly worse than they have been historically. Therefore, it does not follow automatically that economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.”

Every argument also has a Backing B. B is the deeper set of underlying assumptions, basic reasons, or values as to why a particular Warrant holds. If the Warrant is not accepted at its face value—which is often the case–then the Backing is necessary in order to support it. For instance, those who oppose increasing the deficits generally believe, “One cannot trust Democrats in general with the economy.” In sharp contrast, those who are more concerned about the well-being of all citizens believe, “All the Republicans want to do is to reduce the taxes of the wealthy who support them.” Like Warrants, Backings are more often than not implicit and even unconscious.

In general, the Backing is the larger set of general philosophical assumptions a person has about what is right (Ethics), human nature, the world (reality itself). Since Backings are generally taken for granted, they are mostly implicit and unconscious.

Another way to think of it is as follows. If the Warrant W is the “conceptual bridge” that allows us to go from the Evidence E to the Claim C, then the Backing B is the “foundation” on which the bridge rests.

Finally, every argument has a Rebuttal R. In principle, R challenges each and every part of an argument. In terms of the metaphor of arguments as a “bridge” between Evidence and Claims, R attacks E, W, and C as strongly as it can. R thus tries to “tear down the entire bridge and its foundation.”

An Example: Four Views of Change

To get a better understanding of TAF, let’s look an important issue: whether an organization or society needs to change, and if so, how much change does it need?

Table 1.1 below shows four positions regarding change and the accompanying Toulmin arguments that are needed to support each of the positions, i.e., Claims.

Table 1.1: How Much Change Does An Organization Need, If Any?

Degree of Change Claim Evidence Warrant Backing Rebuttal
Status Quo No Change Is Necessary Sales of Our Products Holding SteadyNo Serious Threats on the Horizon If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully for 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Moderate Only Moderate Change in Our OperationsIs Necessary Our Products and Operations Are Strong If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Substantial Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Major If We Are to Survive, We Must Make Major Changes Our Sales Have Been Dipping Steadily It Is Not Clear That Our Products Will Survive without Major Changes It Is Irrelevant That For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader This Is Not the Time to Panic
Radical We Need to Become a New Company with Entirely New Products and Services The Market for Our Products and Services Has Tanked We Will Be Out of Business in 6 Months If We Don’t Change Fast We Are No Longer the Leader in Our Industry Don’t Panic Things Will Return to Normal

The positions above are so general that my colleagues and I have used them in conducting numerous workshops with organizations of all kinds, i.e., not just with for-profit organizations. Instead of already presenting them with the table above, we’ve asked them to construct the strongest arguments they can pro and con in order to help them explore what kinds and degrees of change, if any, that are right for their organization. The table reflects the kinds of arguments we’ve heard.

The workshops proceed as follows: Twenty or so top executives and managers are brought together. They are then assigned at random to defend a particular position with respect to change. People are assigned at random because often those who are opposed to a particular policy can make a stronger case for it than its natural allies. Assigning people at random also does not bias any of the positions.

Each group is asked to make the strongest arguments they can for their assigned position. After each group has made their presentation, a timed debate then takes place to see what the strongest arguments pro and con are for each of the positions.

After the debate has taken place, four new groups are the formed by drawing people at random from each of the initial groups. Each of the new groups is then asked to consider the four initial positions and respond to the question, “Now that you heard a debate between four very different positions, what is the best, possibly new, position that is good for your organization right now?”

Note carefully that the process does not leave to chance the exploration of four different approaches to change. Further, it intentionally does not leave out any of the stances along the continuum so that later there will be charges that an important position was neglected.

The process is of course heavily dependent upon the assumptions that are made about the organization, its products, structure, customers, etc. But then, in the course of examining the arguments that are needed to support  a position, the process helps to bring underlying assumptions up to the surface where they can be examined and debated explicitly, i.e., not left to chance.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 15, 2013

This chapter has introduced the major tool that underlies this book. In effect, the argument is that the situations facing individuals, organizations, and societies are so complex, dynamic, important, and thorny such that whether they know it or not, they need ways of examining the major arguments on which their key decisions depend.

To be clear, I am not saying that TAF needs to be applied to every decision or situation facing an organization or society. That would render it useless and irrelevant. I am also not saying that organizations and societies need to use TAF formally, i.e., lay out the Warrant, Evidence, etc. systematically. But make no mistake about it; I am saying that whether one acknowledges it or not, one is in effect using TAF all the time. Whenever one puts forth a Claim, one is making an argument. Indeed, TAF wouldn’t make any sense at all if it weren’t already in our minds so-to-speak.

Like everything else, the more one uses TAF, the faster and better one becomes at it. Indeed, my colleagues and I have found that it’s easier for people to zero in on the really critical parts of an argument the more one uses TAF.

TAF also gives a new and important meaning to the concept of the Learning Organization and Society. In my view, a Learning Organization/Society is one that systematically keeps track of its critical Toulmin arguments and reviews them periodically to see if the Evidence, Warrants, Backings, and Rebuttals have changed significantly such that the Claims are no longer supported, and hence, are in need of serious revision. In other words, a Learning Organization/Society records and thus has an official memory of its most critical decisions. Obviously, this will not work if the records are used in any way to blame people, which they are unfortunately a great deal of the time. Instead, their prime purpose is to help an organization/society learn from its successes and mistakes. But to do this requires that an organization/society is healthy emotionally. I would be the first to acknowledge that we are far from this ideal. Thus, one of the aims of the book is to help move closer to this ideal.

Of course, historians periodically review and assess the arguments of the past; special interest groups, social scientists, etc., review and assess the arguments of the past and present as well. But they do not necessarily do it formally in terms of TAF.

It should be noted that TAF resides in the entirety of an organization and/or society. For instance, in many organizations, Marketing and/or Finance control or are solely responsible for the Evidence with regard to important business decisions. The top executives control or are responsible for the Claims and Warrants. The Backing resides in the general culture. And, the Rebuttal often belongs to groups low in power. Thus, another requirement of the Learning Organization/Society is that all the parts of TAF be coordinated as an integrated system.

For example, when Barabba worked for Kodak, he conducted a TAF to help explore if and when Kodak needed to get into digital imaging and thus abandon its traditional photographic film business. Even though it had an early opportunity to enter into digital cameras, it proved impossible for Kodak to make the switch. In essence, what Kodak was not willing to do to itself, its competitors did. Its competitors were the Rebuttal.

In effect, Kodak Park, the 2000-acre facility with 50,000 employees that manufactured film and paper, was the real underlying Backing, or better yet, “drag” on the company’s thinking. After all, how could Kodak abandon its financial and emotional investments in Kodak Park? Today, the land has been repurposed as Eastman Business Park.

Arguments are seldom coldly rational and perfectly well organized. More often than not, the clash between Claims, Warrants, Backing, and Rebuttals is better described as a war than a debate. It is anything but a “disinterested inquiry.” But this fact in itself doesn’t obviate the need for better analyses of arguments. It only heightens their necessity. My use of TAF is intended to aid our examination of important arguments, not to imply that all arguments need to be structured strictly in terms of TAF.

Finally, we need to note that arguments do not exist by solely by themselves suspended in some kind of “disembodied space.” Arguments are parts of living, breathing, life stories. All arguments not only exist but function within the larger life-space of a person, organization, society, etc. While I do not necessarily examine these larger surrounding “spaces,” I am nevertheless acutely conscious that they are always there.[iii]

Examining key arguments is no longer a luxury. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Chapter Two: Deadly Arguments–The Role of Guns

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 19, 2013

There are few issues in U.S. society that are as contentious as guns. This is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are for greater gun controls. For this reason alone, I need to make it as clear as possible that at the outset I am not for the complete abolition of guns. Hunters, sportsmen, and ordinary citizens have a legitimate right to own and to use certain restricted types of guns but only under special restricted conditions. For instance, the average citizen cannot own machine guns. Furthermore, I am strongly in favor of having guns stored safely in gun clubs, as they are in most other Western industrialized societies. Thus for myself, and apparently a majority of fellow citizens, gun owners have a great accompanying responsibility to use and to store guns safely. They also have in my view a serious responsibility to lead the fight for greater gun safety and gun control laws.

The preceding paragraph is the “both/and” part of my argument. The rest of this chapter is unequivocally and unapologetically in the “either/or camp.” There is no getting around the fact that I am in strong if not total opposition to the “gun lobby,” specifically the NRA. There are very few points on which we agree.

I believe in the Second Amendment, but I don’t believe for one moment that it’s absolute or that it was ever intended to be. For instance, I don’t believe that there are valid reasons for the possession of automatic assault weapons—weapons of war– in civilized societies. To the extent that any society allows such types of weapons, it is not in my view “civilized.”

I also need to make it clear that there is no way in a single chapter that one could–assuming that it was even desirable–to cover all of the weighty arguments pertaining to guns. I also acknowledge that readers will not necessarily agree with my choice of arguments, and certainly not my positions with respect to them. In other words, I don’t expect that readers will necessarily agree with my initial choice of arguments and my representation of them via TAF. But then my hope is that my use of TAF will help readers to form their own representation of and positions on the arguments.

Before examining the arguments, I also need to make it clear that I don’t pretend to be a disinterested, neutral observer. I am certainly not proceeding from a pro-gun, pro-Right position. This affects how I state the arguments in terms of TAF. Thus, I first state the Claims in terms of a pro-gun position. I then muster the Rebuttals to the Claims in terms of a left of center position. In fact, this generally true of how I proceed throughout the entire book.

Furthermore, I mainly provide only general references for both the Claims and the Rebuttals. I don’t provide detained references for every point. This is not because the references are not there. They are more in abundance. Rather, in order not to overly burden the reader, I have not provided detailed footnotes for every point in order to make the arguments as tight, short, and to the point as possible.

For this reason, I am the first to admit that in many cases, I commit the same errors of those I am excessively critical. That is, it appears that I merely to assert Claims in the guise of Rebuttals without Evidence. For this reason, I refer the interested reader to the general references for they are crucial in supporting my depictions of the arguments I take to task. They provide ample support for counter-Claims, counter-Evidence, etc.

“Guns Don’t Kill People”: The Granddaddy of All Gun Arguments

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 24, 2013

Figures 2.1 and 2.2 are Toulmin analyses of the most basic of all the arguments for the unrestricted ownership of guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Taken to their illogical conclusion, they justify the unlimited possession of any and all types of guns.



Many have noted[iv] that as far as it goes, the second part of the Claim, “People kill people,” is obviously if not trivially true. Of course people do in fact kill people. Nonetheless, the true function of the second part is to serve as a Warrant to support the first, “Guns don’t kill people.”

One of the sure signs of an invalid or disingenuous argument is that the Claim functions simultaneously as its own Evidence and Warrant. In other words, the argument is essentially pure assertion. We are supposed to accept the Claim because it’s its own proof or self-justification. True, other paltry Claims are offered as supposedly independent bits of Evidence and Warrant, but they are really thinly disguised versions of the primary Claim. Needless to say, over the centuries, philosophers have not been partial to such arguments. They have found the number of arguments that are self-justifying to be zero!

The essence of Figures 2.1 and 2.2 is contained in the Rebuttals. One of the very first things to note is that the number of items in the Rebuttals is far greater than the two main Claims. To be sure, this obviously reflects the fact that the author is not especially partial to guns. As a result, it also reflects the two main sources that I have used as references for the Rebuttals: the Brady Handgun Center, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Nonetheless, like all arguments, the strength of the overall argument pro and con lies with the comparative strength of the Claims, Evidence, and Warrants relative to the Rebuttals. For this reason, let us turn to an examination of the Rebuttals.

The first thing to note is that all of the Rebuttals are a combination of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. That is, as with the main Claims, Evidence, Warrants, and Backings, the Rebuttals are a complex mixture of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. As I stated in the previous chapter, rarely, if ever, do we find so-called pure arguments.

Once again I realize that a strong proponent of guns could muster the same criticisms that I use against them against me. For instance, they could Claim that many of the Rebuttals are pure assertions. In doing so, gun proponents would be offering counter-Rebuttals to my Rebuttals. The difference is that the Rebuttals are not mine alone. They have been assembled from various references that go into the issues in great depth. I thus leave it to the reader to judge the relative merits of the arguments.

The first and most powerful argument against the uncontrolled proliferation and possession of guns is that compared to all other types of weapons, guns are much more lethal. This goes hand-in-hand with the second Rebuttal, “Guns kill people more effectively than any other types of weapons.” Since the NRA is so highly inclined to reduce complex issues to simple-minded bumper stickers-which I am pained to note are highly effective–a counter slogan is, “How many mass drive-by knifings have you ever heard of?”

The third Rebuttal is extremely important. Instead of guns conferring absolute protection and security, having a gun in one’s home ups substantially the chances of suicide. It also greatly ups the chances of intentional and unintentional homicides that are committed in the heat of passion by people who know one another intimately. It also ups the chances of accidental shootings especially by young children.

The fourth Rebuttal says that compared to all other means, suicide attempts through the use of guns are more likely to result in death. For example, taking pills is far much less likely to be “successful.”

Finally, no reasonable person would argue that “Cars don’t kill people; people kill people.” Indeed, the argument is patently absurd. Cars kill people even when one clearly doesn’t intend it. Why then should we accept the argument for guns? Why are they put in a special and protected category?

The fact that cars can be dangerous is one of the chief reasons why we require that before anyone can operate a vehicle on public lands, he or she needs to undergo successfully a course in driver training, pass a driver’s test, and get a license. One also has to be retested periodically.

The fact that cars are dangerous is also one of the prime reasons that the government has consistently pushed for greater safety devices that are built into cars. In many cases, it is far easier to modify cars than it is to modify people. Finally, the registration of cars and their owners has not lead to the confiscation of cars.

Technologies Are Not Morally Neutral

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 1, 2013

The argument in Figure 2.2 is just as insidious as the one in Figure 2.1. Nothing that humans do is ever ethically or morally neutral. All technologies are made with a primary purpose or set of purposes in mind. They are also made with a set of particular stakeholders in mind. For instance, Facebook may well have been used in responsible ways by Harvard undergraduates for whom the technology was first designed. (Even this is debatable.) But it has proved to be an unmitigated social disaster when it is used 24/7/365 for cyber bullying by young people who are not mature enough to use it responsibly.

The overriding fact is that guns are primarily manufactured, marketed, and purchased for use as weapons, not for target shooting or collectors’ items.[v] Cars are not.

Finally, I present Figure 2.3 with little comment since it is mostly self-explanatory.


In fact (E), gun laws are effective. To be sure, by definition criminals don’t obey laws, but that is not an effective argument (Claim) against having laws. We don’t abandon laws against murder because murderers don’t obey them.

Laws reflect the basic will and values of the majority to have and live in a civilized society. As such, they derive their basic existence and day-to-day support from the will of the people. In other words, while not perfect by any stretch, it is the law-abiding members of society that work to make laws work by basically believing in them. Yes, this means that law-abiding citizens have to give up previous “rights” in order to secure a more prosperous and safer society.

The Evidence shows clearly that those states with tough gun laws are more much effective than those states with weak laws in preventing guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people. Those states with weak laws are responsible for guns being imported into states with strong gun laws. This is the strongest argument for having national gun laws.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 10, 2013

Once again, there is no way that a single chapter could cover all of the arguments pertaining to guns. This has obviously not been my intent. Instead, the basic intent has been to show the power and the utility of TAF. At a minimum, it is a compact and convenient way of summarizing and organizing the main arguments for and against a particular issue. At its best, it gets to the root of important arguments.

For instance, the following TAF is a summary of many of the main themes of this chapter.


Lurking not far beneath the surface of all of the arguments for guns—and for most of the other issues we examine—are fear and varying degrees of paranoia. For this very reason, we need to examine in a later chapter if and how fear and paranoia can be addressed. Indeed, fear and paranoia are some of the most powerful bits of “social glue” that ties most, if not all, of the various arguments together.

In this regard, we would do well to reflect on the comments of one of the leaders of the NRA. He nailed the Backing:

“’You would get a far better understanding if you approached us [the NRA] as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervour about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk from attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends on the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties…In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing and debate, but are rather a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood. [Note that this helps to account for why the arguments of pro-gun advocates are largely pure assertions devoid of any independent Evidence, Warrants, and Backing.]

“To the true believer, the gun is an object of religious devotion…The hollowed place of the gun is reflected in the holy text of the gun rights movement: the Second Amendment…the gun is the ultimate means for a free people to secure and protect all other rights…”

In sum, I have no illusions whatsoever that this book with its use of TAF is for those who are “true believers,” whatever it is in which they believe so passionately. It is for those who by definition are not true believers. It is for those who want to better understand what drives the true believers of the world, not so they can argue better with them, but so they can argue better with themselves.

Chapter Three: Ugly Arguments—Savaging President Obama

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 19, 2013

By any standard, some of the worst “arguments” one could ever hope to find—if they even deserve to be dignified by the term “argument”–are those with regard to President Obama. The arguments are not just plain ugly, but in their unmitigated fear, disgust, and loathing of the President, they cross over the line from reasoned dissent to pathology. They are nothing short of venomous.

As Will Bunch makes abundantly clear in his book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, there are sizable numbers of Americans—primarily members of The Tea Party and fringe conspiracy groups—who are more than willing to impute the worst attributes and motives to the President, and as a result, thoroughly demonize him.[vi]

Figure 3.1 represents my summary of Bunch’s analysis of anti-Obama sentiments. As we saw in the last chapter, in terms of TAF, the arguments are for the most part pure assertions without any real Evidence to back them up. Indeed, as in the case of rabid gun proponents and their unbridled exaltation of the Second Amendment, Evidence is beside the point.


Most of the items in Figure 3.1 are self-explanatory, and thus require little comment. However, one in particular deserves discussion. This is the plaintive cry “I want my country back!” that Bunch heard time and again as he travelled across America, listening to and talking with various people, mainly those who were dispossessed. It represents the cry of those who are unable to accept that a Black man, however gifted, is not only qualified, but was legally elected to be President. It represents all those who have been left behind by the global economy and a world more complex than anything they have ever known. It is a world with which they have not been prepared to deal. In short, it is the painful cry of those who are unable to accept and adjust to deep, substantial change.[vii]

“I want my country back!” is the wish to have things turn back to what they were, and will be no more. It is the loss of normalcy, as it was known.

However, “I want my country back!” is more than just mournful cry of those unable to accept change. It is a cry of outrage, of pure hatred against a Black man, the Other, that is not like them. As such, it has clear racist overtones. But, it represents something that lies even deeper: pathology. To see this, we turn to the creative, original, path-breaking work of one of the earlier pioneers of psychoanalysis.

Before we do this, I need to make clear that there is a form of “I want my country back!” about which the author feels strongly. I mourn the loss of civility. I am aghast at practices such as “sextexting” that demean young women. I am aghast at the unlawful taking and distribution of pictures of young women who have been raped, leading in some cases to their suicide. In other words, not all forms of “I want my country back!” are signs of the fear of progress or racism. There are legitimate things that everyone would like to preserve.

Extreme Either/Or Thinking: The Work of Melanie Klein

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 27, 2013

The path-breaking work of the child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein on splitting is crucial in achieving a deeper understanding why conspiracy groups in particular are highly prone to dividing the world into “good” versus “bad guys and evil forces.” Indeed, as we saw in the last chapter, according to rabid gun proponents, supposedly there is a clear and sharp distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys.” In this simple-minded view of the world, one is either a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but never both. Certainly, one cannot have aspects of both at the same time. In this view of the world, “good guys” can have all the guns they want without any dangers to society.

Reference to Klein is all but absent in popular, and even academic, books on contemporary politics.  This is unfortunate indeed because Klein is indispensable in understanding some of the most important aspects of complex issues. But then, this is a consequence of the fact that despite all the talk of interdisciplinary cooperation, different fields of human knowledge still do not talk to and learn from one another as much as they need to do.

Certainly a key factor inhibiting greater cooperation is the lack of understanding and acceptance that while psychoanalysis may have started with the analysis and understanding of discrete individuals, it is no longer confined to their study and treatment alone. One of the most important contributions psychoanalysis has to make is the analysis and understanding of group and societal behavior.

Klein is without a doubt one of the early giants of psychoanalysis. Her work with children is invaluable in shedding light on the human condition. It has been said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. In other words, she pushed back even further an understanding of the roots of human behavior. She did this by means of play therapy, which she literally invented.

By definition, one cannot ask children directly, or even adults for that matter, what is going on deep within their unconscious. One has to resort to other means to get a window into the psyche. To do this, Klein gave children toys and various objects with which to play and observed what they said and did with respect to them. If they behaved aggressively by banging or shoving one object representing the child into another object representing the mother or father, or between the mother and father, then Klein was able to see and assess the emotional conflicts that were going on within the child and the family. It allowed a conversation to ensue between the child and Klein.

The phenomenon of splitting was one of Klein’s earliest and most important discoveries. Klein discovered that under the age of three or so, children generally split the image of the primary caretaker—typically the mother, or at least it was when Klein worked early in the 20th century—into a “good” and a “bad mother.” The “good mother” is the “good, comforting breast” that is always available on demand to meet the child’s every physical and emotional need. In contrast, the “bad mother” is the “bad, mean breast” that withholds comfort and nurturance and disciplines the child when necessary.

Under the age of three, the child is generally not mature enough to accept psychologically that the “good” and the “bad mother” are merely two aspects of the same person. But then, the child is not yet psychologically mature enough to accept his or her own “good” and “bad sides.” If there has been trauma, then the split is prolonged. In severe cases, it may never be healed.

Even if there has been normal development, splitting generally persists throughout all of one’s life. On occasion, all of us spilt the world into “good” and “bad guys and forces.” Nevertheless, it is especially disturbing when political parties deliberatively use splitting to demonize one another so as to win votes. It is especially disturbing when the government which is We is viewed as an “alien—the Other.”

In systems terms, splitting is an extreme and dysfunctional form of differentiation. Mild forms of splitting such as analysis (breaking a whole into its constituent parts) are often necessary to allow different voices to be heard and different perspectives to emerge. But to split completely is to fracture, as for example, when we completely divorce the complex interrelationships between people and technology. When they are split completely, the components of a system are more than dissociated; the system is broken, often beyond repair. In short, to split is to break apart in such a way that putting things back together requires much more than rational integration, it requires emotional integration, that is, healing.

Splitting is also interesting for many other reasons. It is in fact the basis for most of the world’s great fairytales. The Grimm fairytales are only one example. Thus, the “good, fairy god mother” is the “good mother” and the “evil witch” is the “bad mother.”

Klein is particularly helpful in understanding situations where it appears that splitting has been successfully resolved, but it really hasn’t. Thus, in The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin makes a strong case for the proposition (Claim) that Conservatives want to have it both ways: They are both victim and victor simultaneously. “They are aggrieved and entitled—aggrieved because entitled—and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitably of its triumph. They thus can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity that [only they can] imagine. This makes them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection…” The whole point is that if conservatives had successfully resolved splitting, then they wouldn’t need to be either victim or victor.[viii] I would only add that Liberals have their own distinctive forms of playing victim and victor. The same is obviously true of rabid gun proponents.

Readers who are interested further in how Kleinian ideas shed significant light on the motives and behavior of political figures are strongly urged to read Obama on the Couch by Justin Frank, M.D.[ix]

Concluding Remarks

This chapter has argued in effect that in the vast majority of cases, the Backing is an expression of forces that emanate deeply from within the unconscious. This helps to explain why the analysis and discussion of arguments in purely rational terms fails so much of the time.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bring the best analyses of arguments that we can. It merely means that rational analyses are necessary, but in and of themselves, they are far from sufficient.

Finally, it should be understood clearly that I am not saying that President Obama should never be criticized. When his actions and policies are faulty, then of course he should be roundly criticized. Furthermore, while people of course have the right to portray President Obama with a Hilter-like moustache, we need to understand clearly that this is nothing more than the vilest form of human expression, if not signs of an out-and-out pathology.

Chapter Four: Gay Rights

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 7, 2013

Figures 4.1 through 4.5 represent five key aspects of the debate regarding whether gays should be allowed to marry or not. We consider whether: 1. Allowing gays to marry violates the centuries old traditional definition of marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman; 2. Marriage is primarily for procreation; 3. Being gay is an abnormality or leads to abnormalities; 4. The Bible forbids homosexuality; and finally, 5. Prohibiting gays from marrying denies them of their basic civil and legal rights.






For the most part, the figures are self-explanatory and thus require little comment. As in earlier chapters, one thing in particular stands out. In Figures 4.1, 4.4, and 4.5, the Claims, Warrants, and Backings are relatively independent of the Evidence.

More importantly, as one scans all of the figures, there is a definite pattern. Those who support gay marriage are for substantial, if not radical, change and for a clear expansion of human and legal rights. Those who oppose gay marriage are not only in firm opposition to change, but for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. Indeed, those who oppose gay marriage do not see the issue in terms of civil rights at all. They see it as a grave threat to the very foundations of society. In this sense, “They want their world to carry on as it is!”

As with all of the issues in the previous chapters, there are huge age differences in how one feels about the issue of gay marriage. Those who are under the age of 65—especially those of the Millennial Generation—are much more strongly in favor of gay marriage than those over 65.

A famous quote by the distinguished historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is relevant here: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents eventually die out and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” The same is true of ideas that upset traditional social orders.

The Boy Scouts of America

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 14, 2013

As a closely relatedly postscript, recently, The Boy Scouts of America reversed a long-standing policy by voting to admit gays as members. Previously, gays were not allowed to become scouts. At the same time, the decision not to allow adults to be scout leaders was reaffirmed. Both decisions set off howls of protest.

Conservatives not only expressed their strong disapproval of the decision to allow gays to become scouts, but a number indicated that they would immediately pull their children out of The Boy Scouts. But they went even further. They expressed their desire to found a new organization that would affirm their basic values. In their view, one of the prime attributes of The Boy Scouts was that it inculcated and reaffirmed a sense of “manliness,” a “virtue” that would be lost if gays were admitted as members.

At the same time, gays were offended—“incensed” is a more accurate description–that adults would not be allowed to be leaders of scout troops. There is little if any evidence that gays are more inclined to be pedophiles and thus pose a greater danger to “straight” children under their supervision. But then, Evidence always faces an uphill battle against deeply entrenched views.

The Truths About Gay Marriages

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 21, 2013

For another, recently, The Atlantic Monthly ran an eye-opening article entitled, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples.”[x] The article dispelled one of the central myths about gay marriage.

One of the chief arguments of those who are opposed to gay marriage is that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. That is, supposedly if gays are allowed to marry then the institution of marriage, which is already under siege, will be further threatened. The article certainly affirmed that marriage is certainly threatened, but not by gays. If anything is at fault, it is the changing economic conditions that make it harder for young people to get married.

In particular, the article pointed out the areas where gay marriages are clearly superior to traditional ones. Freed from traditional gender roles where the man works primarily outside the home and does little housework and the women does most of the housework in addition to working, gay couple are more able to share chores and responsibilities equally. Gay couples are also more able to share emotions and feelings more easily.

Instead of gays threatening the institution of marriage, gays are helping to redefine it.

Chapter Five: Creationism Versus Evolution—Science And Religion

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 27, 2013

Nowhere is the battle between Science and Religion more bitter and contentious than the contemporary war between Creationism and Science. Figures 5.1 and 5.2 lay out some of the major issues that are involved.



Although there are many varieties of Creationism, the basic overriding idea is that Evolution in particular and Science in general are wrong in supposing that they can account for something so complicated as the existence of human beings. To take but just one example, according to Creationism, the human eye is too complex to ever have evolved from primitive organisms or cells. Thus, at a specific moment in time, God must have created humans intact.

To say that Science does not agree with Creationism is putting it mildly. Evolution is able to account for the features we see in animals and humans.

Nonetheless, there is a more significant issue that Science and Religion generally avoid, if not duck altogether. This is the generally unacknowledged “fact” that there is a deep metaphysical side of Science and that this side is not incompatible with Religion. Indeed, it is deeply compatible with Religion. At the same time, Religion has to acknowledge its compatibility and deep dependence on Science.

The Metaphysics of Science

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 4, 2013

The British physicist Stephen Hawking once posed the following question, which I paraphrase, “Suppose some day we physicists are able to write down the grand equation of Everything. That would still leave unanswered, what breathed life into the equation?” In more prosaic terms, what designed and implemented the equation?

I have no doubt that we live in a universe that is governed by the laws of Evolution and physics, to mention only two of the sciences involved. But what created the kind of a universe that is governed by such laws? To answer “God” is to replace one mystery with another. But that’s precisely what Religion does. Religion does what Science is loath to do because humans cannot live with unfathomable mysteries. But then many scientists cannot live with mysteries as well. They persist in hanging onto the metaphysical belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws.”

The belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws” is not a scientific statement that can be proved or disproved empirically. It is a metaphysical belief. It asserts something about the totality of reality that cannot be proved. We cannot wait until the end of time to check on its validity. The ability to “wait until the end of time” requires an ability far beyond humans.

To be sure, Science has continually expanded our knowledge of the world, but to assert that it will continue to do indefinitely and thus ultimately be able to explain everything is a belief that scientists cannot go out and test as they can other hypotheses.

The trouble is that the vast majority of scientists grow up with a deep distaste for Philosophy in general and Metaphysics in particular. Understandingly, both seem to limit the nature of Science. Even worse, they harken back to a time when Science was racked with unproven speculations of the worst kinds. But this is not how we conceive of Philosophy and Metaphysics. Their role is not to replace Science but to make it aware of its unproven assumptions that all fields of inquiry need to make.

The basic assumptions that the world is intelligible and knowable are religious in origin, not scientific. Science is thereby more dependent on Religion than it wants to acknowledge. But then equally, Creationism cannot pretend to be Science when it violates all the cannons of modern Science.

Chapter Six: Who’s Responsible?

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 10, 2013

Recently over 1000 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh. It raised anew questions of the ultimate responsibility of retailers who employ thousands of poor workers to make garments for well-off consumers in Europe and the U.S. The very same issue was raised when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas.

Figures 6.1 and 6.2 present two typical arguments with respect to the issue of responsibility. Once again, the figures are mainly self-explanatory.

However, Figure 6.2 warrants further commentary.



The Processed-Food Industry

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 16, 2013

In the Sunday, February 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine, an important article by Michael Moss appeared on how the processed-food industry deliberately employs scientists whose specific job it is to design junk food products that are effectively impossible to resist. If there were any doubts before the article was published regarding how the industry intentionally designs products that appeal directly to our cravings for fast food, the article dispelled them entirely. The products were so successful that they not only “appealed” to our natural, built-in cravings for junk food, but they actually “heightened” those cravings.

In addition to the “distasteful” (pun intended!) disclosures about the practices of the processed-food industry, just as important were the revelations about the arguments that the industry used regularly to justify its behavior. The arguments are particularly important because with very little modification, they apply to other industries. They are used over and over again to promote dangerous, unethical, and unhealthy products, e.g., violent movies, pornography, TV shows, and video games, etc.

The major arguments are variants of: “We only give consumers what they want; if there weren’t a market for what we make—if they didn’t demand it–then we wouldn’t make it because we couldn’t sell it.” Just as frequent, “If we don’t do it, somebody else will. Better us than them.”

Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, put it as follows. He noted that consumers were “fickle.” “People bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good.” “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Sanger is also reputed to have said that to “react to the critics would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products [General Mills] so successful. Thus, “General Mills would not pull back.” He vowed to “push his people onward.” And, he urged his peers “to do the same.”

One of the most disingenuous arguments that is used repeatedly by those who want to deny or evade any responsibility whatsoever for the ill effects of their products, actions, etc. is the “complex systems dodge.” The argument goes as follows: “A complex system of factors are responsible for obesity, etc.—whatever the social ill. Thus, there are no direct cause-effect relationships between the consumption/use of our products/services and some societal problem.”

What’s so disingenuous is that persons and organizations that generally show little, if any interest, in complex systems thinking, suddenly become, when it is in their direct interest, experts in systems thinking! Of course, in today’s complex world, no single factor by itself is rarely, if ever responsible, for the cause of another desirable or undesirable effect. But this does not mean that individual factors do not contribute at all.

Consider the movie/TV/video game industry. There is an over 30-year history of research that shows that there is a significant correlation between the repeated exposure of children to violence and aggressive behavior. Indeed, at-risk children from low-income environments show greater ill effects to prolonged exposure. But since correlations are not causality, the industries argue in effect, “Whenever the correlation between our products, etc. and some societal problems are low, we are warranted in not taking any responsible actions.” Of course, this only raises the prime ethical question, “How high would the correlations have to be before you acted responsibly?”

Notice carefully that in sharp contradistinction, no cardiologist would ever argue, “Because a certain factor or set of factors contribute only modestly to the chances of a heart attack, we should ignore them.” Instead, they argue, “Treat every risk factor as seriously you can to lower the chances of a heart attack.”

Clearly, we are far indeed from anything even approaching a Cardiological Society.

Chapter Seven: The Tyranny of Either/Or—Extreme Moderation

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 24, 2013

Table 7.1 and Figures 7.1 through 7.3 represent the arguments of three positions along the political spectrum with regard to the issues we’ve examined. In terms of the table and figures, I am clearly a moderate but with a tilt somewhat to the left. Hence, the term “extreme moderate” best represents my views.





The point of the table and figures is not to argue that moderate positions are always better. Nor are they always “moderate.”

As we have before in our tumultuous history as a nation, we need to move beyond the tyranny of either/or thinking to both/and. I have no illusions whatsoever that at this time in our history, that this is easy. Indeed, given the current political climate, it’s as difficult as any time we have ever faced as a nation.

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Thomas Mann, a liberal, and Norman Ornstein, a conservative, both place more blame on the Republican Party than they do on Democrats, although there is more than enough blame to go around for the breakdown in our inability to get along, let alone govern with any degree of respect and civility.[xi] Mann and Ornstein essentially see the House dominated by right-wing insurgents who are scornful of compromise, which of course is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. The current crop of Republicans put fealty to their party ahead of problem solving, which again is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. For this and other reasons, Mann and Ornstein view the current Republican Party more like an apocalyptic cult than a political party.

What suggestions then do Mann and Ornstein offer for ways out of the impasse? In a word, expand moderate thinking by expanding the electorate through the reduction of gerrymandered Congressional districts. It is hoped that this will help to bring out more moderate voters and candidates.

Other ideas include recreating the “public square” where hopefully more moderate ideas can be aired. The idea that has the most power is the restoration of public shame. Public shame has the most power because it penetrates to the deep emotional Backings that are the true drivers of most arguments. Public shame works by having those with more moderate voices speak out loud, clear, and long against the extreme arguments of the NRA, conspiracy groups, etc.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, October 1, 2013

In the end, the author would be naïve beyond belief if he thought that an analysis of arguments alone would be enough to prompt deep changes in how we view the vital issues of our times. An analysis of arguments is necessary, but it’s hardly sufficient.

One’s attitudes towards guns, President Obama, gays, and responsibility are more than a matter of arguments, logical or otherwise. They are a matter of lived, core beliefs.

The Backings that move men and women reside in their souls, not just in their minds alone. But then this is a fitting argument on which to close a book about the power of arguments.

[i] Barabba, Vincent P., and Mitroff, Ian I. Time to Get Real!, Tools for Navigating a Complex, Dynamic, and Messy World, in preparation, 2013.z

[ii] Toulmin, Stephen, The Uses of Argument, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,

England, 1958.

[iii] See Walton, Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach, Cambridge, 2008.

[iv] See Henigan, Dennis, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths Paralyze American Gun Policy, Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2009; see also, Webster, Daniel W. and Vernick, Jon S., Eds., Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2013.

[v] See Henigan, op. cit.

[vi] Bunch, Will, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, Harper, New York, 2010.

[vii]  Knight, Peter, Ed., Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America, New York University Press, New York, 2002.

[viii] Robin, Corey, The Reactionary Mind, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, p. 99.

[ix] Frank, Justin, opcit.

[x] Munday, Liza, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples: Why Gay Marriages Tend To Be Happier And More Intimate,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2013, pp. 56-70.

[xi] Mann, Thomas E. and Ornstein, Norman J., It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Basic Books, New York, 2012.

Blog, Media + Politics, Philosophy + Systems

Want to End Gun Violence? Write A Good Bumper Sticker!

Originally published on Nation of Change, February 8, 2013

One of the reasons why the NRA and rabid gun “enthusiasts” are so effective in getting their ideas across is that they’ve perfected the art of writing bumper stickers. They’ve taken extremely complex ideas and reduced them to half-truths and pithy, easy-to-remember slogans.

Why shouldn’t liberals and progressives fight back? Or are we “too pure to sink to the level of communicating effectively with a wider public?”

I think the attitude that liberals and progressives are somehow “above” such forms of expression is not only wrong, but “dead wrong!” Pun intended!

We do ourselves a great disservice by not communicating our ideas as simply and as forcefully as we can. To do so is not necessarily to debase them. It is to sharpen them.

Sadly, I have been unable to find any sites on the Internet that have “bumper stickers for gun control advocates.” They may well be there, but I haven’t found them.

In the spirit of countering the NRA and other organizations, I offer the following as merely one attempt to come up with bumper stickers for those like myself who want tougher gun control laws. Since they merely represent a first attempt, they are a work in progress. This also accounts for the fact that there is a considerable overlap and repetition between the items.

One last thought. If you have to explain it, then it isn’t working.

Baseball Bats and Cars Can Kill, But They’re Not Made for Killing. Guns Are!

Help us speak truth to power. Donate what you can afford to support NationofChange.

We Don’t Abandon Laws Against Murder Because Murderers Don’t

Obey Them! Why Are Gun Laws Any Different?

How Many Mass Drive-by Knifings Have You Heard Of?

Automatic Weapons Kill More People Faster Than All The Baseball Bats, Cars,

And Knives Put Together!

Guns Kill Whether A Good Or A Bad Guy Fires Them.

People Die, Not Guns!

Guns Laws Make It Harder For Outlaws To Get Guns!

Outlawing Gun Laws Helps Outlaws Get Guns Easier!

Get A Gun! Kill Yourself On The First Attempt!

Guns Don’t Give People A Second Chance NOT To Commit Suicide!

Get A Gun. Have An Accident. Kill Your Loved Ones And Yourself!

More Americans Have Died From Accidental Gun Shootings Than All The

Americans Killed In Vietnam!

Buy A Gun And Up The Suicide Rate By 57 Times!!

If more guns made us safer, then the U.S. would the safest country in the world.

Stop the government plot to confiscate our cars by forcing us to register them!

I strongly encourage others to come up with more and better slogans.

Originally published on Nation of Change, February 8, 2013

Blog, Crisis Management, Media + Politics, Psychology

Treating Gun Violence as an Addiction and a Cult

Originally published on Nation of Change, January 30, 2013

There is something seriously wrong with a society that even has to debate whether it needs to control the most lethal types of weapons in the hands of civilians.

I want to propose what is to my knowledge a novel way of thinking about and thereby treating gun violence. If as I believe that an obsessive need for guns is akin to an addiction and therefore cannot be dealt with by means of conventional arguments (after all, many alcoholics know “rationally” that alcohol is killing them but they are still unable to resist its near total control over their lives), then I believe that we need to stop beating around the bush and treat the obsessive need for guns as a major form of addiction. Accordingly, I have taken the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and reworded them to apply to our society’s deadly obsession with guns. In proposing this, I have no illusion whatsoever that in and of itself this will help us to better manage what I believe is our society’s completely out-of-control proliferation of guns. What I do hope is this it will encourage us to explore new ways of thinking about guns.

I strongly urge the reader to note that in the second paragraph above I have deliberately stressed the word “obsessive” for I don’t believe that everyone who possesses guns or has the desire to have them is therefore suffering from a major form of addiction. Quite to the contrary. I also don’t believe that all guns ought to be banned. I believe that only those guns that are extremely lethal ought to be strictly controlled. That is, contrary to the NRA, some guns are more lethal than others. All guns are not equal. As a result, I believe that there is no place whatsoever for military-assault type weapons in the hands of civilians. Apparently, neither do many responsible and sensible gun owners.

Here then is my version of a twelve-step program for rabid gun owners.


1.      We admitted we were powerless over our fascination with and need for guns and as a result that our lives and society as a whole had become unmanageable. (Notice that this first step is a frank admission that one is no longer in denial of the fact that by themselves guns do not necessarily make oneself and one’s society automatically safer, that there are not dangerous side effects to having guns in one’s home, etc.)

2.      We came to believe that a Moral Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. That is, the lives and well being of children were more important than our desire to hunt, shoot, and collect/own firearms, especially high-power automatic weapons. As such, we came to realize that no rights were absolute. Thus, while we still believed in the Second Amendment, we came to realize that it did not sanction the possession of weapons of war.

3.      We made a conscious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Moral Power as we understood It.

4.      Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and how our unrestrained possession of firearms harmed the collective good of society.

5.      Admitted to a Higher Power however we conceived of Him/Her/It, to ourselves, and to others the exact nature of our uncontrolled obsession over guns.

6.      We are entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all these defects of character. That is, we are ready to take action against our obsession with guns.

7. Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our obsession.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed through our beliefs and actions and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power, as we understood Him/Her/It, praying only for knowledge of His/Her/Its will for us and the power to carry it out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to gun owners, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In particular, we saw the need to design and implement a new organization of Responsible Gun Owners for the Collective Good.

In short, the practitioners of this new Twelve Step Program for Gun Owners would be enacting a new form of a Precautionary Principle for Children. That is, if there was the slightest chance that a specific type of weapon posed an especially dangerous threat to the well being of children in particular, then they would willingly give that weapon (hobby, etc.) up for the greater good of society.

Religious and Cult-Like Aspects

If only the preceding were sufficient to change our deeply held attitudes towards the most dangerous types of guns. Sadly, there is almost a naïve, child-like quality to the preceding. It is not that Twelve Step Programs don’t work. They do. But in order to work, one not only has to “hit bottom,” but to believe that a “cure” is possible and to want to undertake it more than anything else.

Unfortunately, this is not possible for many for there is no denying that there is a deep, fundamentalist aspect to the makeup of many ardent gun owners. This is perhaps the strangest aspect to the whole gun issue for the founding fathers did not intend via The Bill of Rights to aid and abet any kind of “state religion.” And yet, the fervor in which many hold The Second Amendment is akin to an article of religious faith.

No one has said it better than Dennis Henigan, author of the incredible book, Lethal Logic, Exploding The Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy (ISBN 978-1-59797-356-4):

“As one NRA leader put it some years ago, ‘You would get a far better understanding [of the extreme fervor with which many owners often have for guns] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervor about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of religious faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk of attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends upon the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the government cannot be trusted to provide security to individuals and families, that democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties as Americans, that those institutions are at constant risk of subversion by tyrannical elements, and that tyranny is kept at bay only by the potential for insurrection by an armed populace intent on maintaining liberty. In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing or debate, but rather are a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood.

“To the true believers, the gun is an object of religious devotion…The hallowed place of the gun is reflected in the holy text of the gun rights movement, the Second Amendment to the Constitution…”

If this is indeed the case, then all the rational arguments in the world don’t stand any chance of making headway with those who regard guns and the Second Amendment as “holy objects.” It is like talking to the members of a cult. The only thing one can do is to “deprogram them.” But even assuming that we could, there aren’t enough therapists and trained facilitators to deprogram those who don’t see any need for it. Besides, who “deprograms a whole society?”

In the end, all one can do is rely on those who are not members of the cult to come together and to organize themselves politically to take action against collective madness; and of course, to hope that there are enough who are not members to overcome those who are.

The more that the NRA speaks out against sensible gun laws and actions, the more it empowers those who have more responsible views. In sum, whether it knows it or not—and it clearly doesn’t—the NRA is its own worst enemy.

Originally published on Nation of Change, January 30, 2013

Blog, Psychology

Let No Factor Go Unheeded: Treat Every Causative Factor in Gun Violence as Aggresively as Possible

Originally published on Nation of Change, December 19, 2012

There are at least two widely differing positions in treating gun violence that surface every time there is a horrendous tragedy like that which happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Indeed, they are always just beneath the surface of any argument pertaining to gun control.

The first is represented by the movie/TV and video game industries; the second, by cardiologists of all people.

The first position argues that there is no firm causal relationship between (1) the prolonged exposure of children and young adults to violent movies/TV/video games and (2) their engagement in actual violent behavior. Correlations are all there are, and correlations are not hard definitive proof of causality. Therefore, lacking such proof, there is no valid reason for the producers/writers of violent movies/TV/video games to tone down their creations. Besides, aren’t they protected by the First Amendment?

The second position argues that no cardiologist would ever say that because a certain set of factors are low in their overall contribution to heart disease that one should therefore ignore them. Instead, no matter what their level of contribution, one should treat any and all factors as aggressively as one can.

To draw out the differences between these two positions even more starkly, let me put them in the form of two opposing ethical principles because that’s what they really are. The first says in effect that, “Whenever the correlation between what we do/produce as an industry and some important problem in society is low or beneath a certain ‘threshold,’ then we are warranted ethically in not doing anything; we are absolved as it were.” The question of course is, “How high would the correlation have to be before one accepted ‘ethical responsibility’?”

The second says, “No matter how big or small the correlation, do everything in your power to make it even smaller.”

The first principle is in effect a variant of Utilitarian Ethics. As such, it is a form of Cost/Benefit. That is, one weighs the “benefits” versus the “costs” of doing or not doing anything and if the benefits exceed the costs, or the costs are unclear, then one is justified in engaging in a certain set of actions.

The second is Kantian in spirit. It says do as little harm as possible. Even if the correlation is as low as 0.001 so act as to make it continually even lower.

Of course gun violence is a complex mess, where a “mess” is defined as “a complex system of problems that are so dynamically interconnected such that no single problem can be taken out of the mess of which it is a part and worked on independently of all the other problems with which it is intertwined.” So of course gun violence cannot be separated from mental health, video game violence, poverty, etc., etc. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attack one of the most critical components of the mess, the all-too-easy availability of military style weapons to virtually everyone.

It also means that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that while the correlations between viewing the worst depictions of violence may not rise to the level of “causality,” over 35 years of research demonstrates that the correlations are not negligible. Typically, the correlations vary between 0.2 and 0.4, but even more significantly, they rise considerably with children from high-risk environments. And, they rise with increased, persistent exposure to violence.

The arguments that rabid gun proponents use to justify the manufacture and possession of the worst weapons are so many that I could not possibly address them all. Instead, let me close by hitting straight on one of the most flawed arguments that is used far too often: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” This argument is not only “wrong,” but it is “dead wrong.” The more complete, correct proposition is: “People kill people more effectively by means of guns than by any other known weapon to which they have easy access!”

The time has never been more appropriate to see the arguments of rabid gun proponents for what they are: fundamentally unethical!

Originally published on Nation of Change, December 19, 2012