Sunday, December 23, 2012

Those taste buds

The various end-of-year best-books lists are out there.  But of many good 2012 reads, I keep coming back to Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.  Good people can have honest disagreements on profound questions because they are prompted by deeply engrained and different moral "taste buds" (Haidt's great label).

In my view, not enough people have digested Haidt's findings.  An exception is Arnold Kling's applications of "Three axes of concern" (civilization-barbarism by political conservatives, oppressor-oppressed by modern liberals, and freedom-coercion by classical liberals or libertarians) as he probes policy debates.

The current gun control discussions illustrate the problem.  I just fnished my Sunday morning ritual reading of the NY Times and am grateful that they place Ross Douthat's column at the end of the Review section, well after the standard weekly ritualistic breast beatings.

There will be new gun control legislation but I do not expect it will curtail the mass shootings.  There are 200-300 million guns out there; they will not be confiscated.  Being on the side of the angels and promoting schools as "gun-free" zones simply makes them places where killing sprees can occur.

Here is a thought experiment.  Which gun law would have stopped the gunman in the Newtown tragedy?  Or assume that one or more on the school staff is trained in the use of firearms.  Identifying and vetting such people and encouraging them to be armed and alert (if they choose) would dash the idea that these places are simply protected by a lock behind a glass window.  Which option offers better odds to potential victims?

I think the answer is clear.  But lying between thought experiments and advocacy (and policy) are those moral taste buds.