In 1999 I failed to revive a kid in a Taos ER who’d just been shot by his friend who was playing with a gun in their home. The paramedic was the victim’s cousin and it all still feels like yesterday. So I’ll admit to some bias.
I haven’t typed much this past year in part because I’m just chronically uncertain, and boringly “moderate” on so many topics. Rarely do I land in any one camp with my fist in the air. Some say social media is left/right polarizing, but to me it’s polarizing in another way too. It splits the world between noisy typers and watchers. I guess I dabble in both.
The Texas school shooting shoves me back to typing now, probably because I have a 4 and 6 year old. But this post could have been triggered by the buzz on abortion, or digital free speech, or COVID lockdowns, California homelessness, addiction, wealth inequality, vaccines, smoking in public, bike lanes, climate change, Ukraine, etc.
It seems to me that our perspectives on the word “freedom” are at the root of nearly all of today’s debates. So I’d like to step back and reassess our take on just that word for a bit. Personally, I consider it to be a mirage that keeps people staggering through the sand. Maybe we’re free to choose between ketchup and mustard. But to me, the vast majority of our actions are just reactions to our surroundings, rather than choices. Physically, we’re trapped by gravity. No freedom to float up even an inch. Our lives are shaped largely by our genetics and where we were first planted by our parents. Physiologically, we need to breathe, pee, poop, sleep, eat, drink. Very few choices in there. Our perceived free will bubbles expand into our 20s or 30s with increasing physical abilities and sometimes wealth. But then our free will bubbles contract again with parenthood, responsibilities, and dwindling health until we’re no longer… unless we’re removed more abruptly mid stream.
Freedom to say what you want, to protect yourself how you want, to worship how you want, to dress how you want, to take long showers and burn as much gas as you want, to control your own uterus (if you have one), are all reasonable wishes. But as we propagate and fill the planet, those freedoms often collide with the freedoms of others. (Your “right” to spout nuttiness at night outside my window, impinges my right to a good night sleep.)
Also, as populations grow and our free will bubbles collide more frequently in person and online, we have a parallel exponential curve. I call this one the “action amplifier” curve. If you think about most of our activities, we continuously work towards getting more done with less effort. As early settlers, with miles between neighbors, people were “free” to spend all day long plowing, eating, sleeping, praying and spouting absurdities. But with hydraulics, electronics, pneumatics, smart phones and 401ks, those days are pretty much gone. The push of a finger can flatten mountains now.
To think that a pilot can slide the throttle of a 747 just a few inches to bring tons of weight into the sky is incredible to me, and a very concrete example of action amplification. A relatively cheap drone flown by a gamer can help take out a $1m tank. One Tweet by Elon Musk can shift the global economy. And, sadly, moving a finger just a few millimeters can mow down a classroom. These are current day action amplifiers. Nothing creative or imaginative here at all.
Soon, however, I suspect we’ll have app guided microdrones that will make bullets seem ho-hum. Why suit up in body armor, when you can assassinate from the comfort of home? We may not even need to move fingers at all to kill some day. Just a thought could be enough to trigger an assault. Medical miracles are helping quadriplegics to gain mobility. How else might those miracles be deployed? What’s the limit? Should one exist?
Social media has already shown us how flash mobs can grow like rogue waves, sometimes leading to dead people. Should free speech have no bounds?
How much of your religious delusions should be allowed to impinge my religious delusions?
On abortion, can neither side be less imaginative? Abortion (or gestation) is one of the most concrete examples of colliding freedoms. Mom or fetus… Who wins? I think there is no answer. But to me, it’s moot. If the warring parties truly want to save lives, both sides of this debate should focus only on preventing unwanted pregnancies, because tech will certainly outrace all the politicians and lawyers. Abortion clinics are doomed no matter what the courts have to say. Between online pharmacies, Instacart, and smart phones already offering both ultrasound and fiberoptic DIRECT visualization, DIY action amplifiers are the future here. No regulations have a chance.
Bringing this back to guns and kids, my question for those who love their guns… and their kids… is where’s the line? I have friends who own AR15s, and I don’t begrudge them. Thankfully these friends are level headed and responsible folks, and they have legitimate reasons to be armed. But if you say there is no line, then begrudge I do.
Maybe you were waiting for solutions here. Sadly, I have none. Only predictions and observations. We’re running a 21st century country on 18th century operating systems. Until our sacred texts are refined, I suspect we’ll just keep hammering away at each other with memes, bullets, thoughts and prayers.