Thursday, November 25, 2021

Votes, Guns, and Coming of Age in America, Fall 2021

         On Sunday, Nov. 21, the Ventura County Star reprinted an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch starting from the Kyle Rittenhouse trial and the raising of the US drinking age to 21, to argue that (using the Star’s headline) "National age floor of 21 needed for guns."

There are issues I’d like to look at and an alternative to propose.
In two books in the 1990s, Michael Males argued that in terms of social pathologies — crime, for example — older US teens are a normal US adult population, and usually doing better than their elders; older teens had become, as stated in these titles, a Scapegoat Generation, targets in a process of Framing Youth
The problem isn’t "What’s the matter with kids today?" but more generally with normal adult US populations, and solutions need to be more general, including with guns.
Such an argument can seem more likely when we note the many times (as in the Post-Dispatch piece) we see the phrase "raging hormones" and how seldom we see numbers for actual measurements of hormone levels at various ages. It is definitely plausible and it was my experience to have what felt like hormone fluctuations going through puberty. After that what seems to be crucial to the experience is whether or not people are "having sex" regularly and settling down, and in the modern US we have the issue of delayed marriage and fairly long periods in which older teens are not invited to engage in socially-endorsed sex or adult domesticity. Let’s have some numbers on testosterone and other hormones at different ages and correlations with, say, violence and crime, including the more subtle kinds.
More recently, there is the idea that "Young people’s brains are still developing," which I do not doubt. But it’s safe to assume young brains have been developing through recorded history and across human cultures, and the argument needs historical and cross-cultural context. The example cuts both ways, but Alexander the Great came to the throne at 20, and by the time he was old enough to be US President he’d been dead for 2-3 years and had conquered and ruled fairly well much of his world. Octavius Caesar was doing major politics at 17 or 18; Elizabeth Tudor survived her teenage years — and all sorts of young people worked and married and lived as young adults for millennia.
Whatever is happening with young brains, we need sensible gun laws for everyone.
And as long as we’re going to have young men eligible for getting guns from the government — conscription — at 18, the rule is still, "Old enough to fight; old enough to vote. Old enough to vote, old enough to drink alcohol" and own guns under the same (sensible) laws as their elders.
What we need in the USA is an "age of majority" — full adulthood — across the board, with enforced adult expectations, and some sort of rite of passage: perhaps a few months or up to a year of military or other public service at 18 or so, to the extent the USA can afford it. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021



By definition, the United States as an aspirational democratic-Republic will not survive an authoritarian takeover. Since our main authoritarians are self-described Nationalists, the American nation, as they define it, will.
CoViD-19 may get horrific. However, Eurasian civilization and perhaps half or more of its people survived Bubonic Plague and The Black Death, and its harming European feudal society was on balance a good thing. We'll survive CoViD-19, but it's caused by a pretty robust zoonotic virus with the potential for mutations that could ravage large populations.
Climate change from (basically) global warming is a major threat, but civilization and most humans and other organisms — including some large ones — will survive and some may prospser (those of us in hot, dry places, or near oceans, are in serious danger).
As Daniel Ellsberg shows in his much praised, popularly ignored book The Doomsday Machine (2017), Stanley Kubrick did his homework and DR. STRANGELOVE is farcical in tone but documentary in substance. Kubrick's one major error was saying the official policy of the US was that we wouldn't initiate nuclear warfare: our official policy since at least Eisenhower is that, under some conditions, we would (source: Ellsberg and my MilSci courses in the early 1960s). Kubrick got right:
• The public policy of the US is that the US President has "sole authority" over use of nuclear weapons (and can use that authority at any time for any reason: think about that with your least-favorite US President). However, to assure 2nd strike capability, presidents since Eisenhower have delegated authority — or at least have been believed by the relevant people to have done so — to "lower echelon commanders." Whatever their dedication to Central Control, since the Carter and Reagan buildup (and as far as we know continuing since the more recent build-down), the "Ruskies" have done the same. And for the same reasons: credible threat of retaliation in case of "decapitation." In a number of highly unlikely but possible scenarios, any remaining "Launch on Warning" missiles might *be* launched.
• "General Nuclear War" — all-out and thermonuclear — could destroy civilization in the Northern Hemispheres, starting with all those cities that are the root of the word "civilization."
• General Nuclear War with a significant number of ground-burst nuclear and thermonuclear weapons threatens to start a global winter leading to global famines (etc.) and threatening civilization world-wide, and, if sufficiently prolonged, large-scale extinctions of many species of animals and plants and other organisms dependent on sunlight.
The EXISTENTIAL THREAT to humans and a number of other species remains nuclear warfare.
But no b.s. on "destroying the planet" or "destroying life on Earth." "Earth abides," as Ecclesiastes and a post-apocalyptic novel title has it, and life on Earth will survive: the vast majority of living things are non-vertebrates, a number of whom don't need sunlight. Or will survive until the sun goes nova or other cosmic calamity. We might not; a whole lot of vertebrates and fancy-bodied eukaryotes might not. What we arrogantly call "prokaryotic" — like Nature was just chomping at the bit to evolve cells with nuclei — what we think of as primitive life forms will make it through yet again. They were here before us by billions of years, and they well may outweigh us in biomass and/or outnumber us in genes.
But for us, as we think of us, Nukes remain the only Weapons of Mass Destruction and Existential Threat. Let's pay more attention.