Designing for Failed Solutions
The other day I posted Our Wealth Gap. In it I wrote: We can’t solve a problem to save our lives! Today, I focus on an example.
What Gun Law Changes Would GOP Lawmakers Consider? offers Steve Inskeep’s interview of Alex Conant, a Republican political consultant. Mr. Conant offers a pleasant, disciplined, and articulate voice. He almost sounds reasonable!
So how did Mr. Conant tork me off? Cause me to scream at the car radio, which I don’t do … very often. Here’s the question, the offending answer, and the highlighted sentence which reflects a desire to never solve the gun problem:
INSKEEP: But, I mean, define the problem. What is causing it to be so much worse in the United States, do you think?
CONANT: Well, clearly, we have a lot of weapons in the United States, and you don’t have any guns in some of those other countries—or a very, very limited number of guns in those other countries. And clearly, I think that there’s some cultural issues in the United States that are also fueling this. Look, it’s a very – it’s a multifaceted problem. And I think the challenge for policymakers is, what policy could we pass today that would immediately eliminate mass shootings? And the truth is that there isn’t such a policy. Simply banning the ownership of guns – banning assault weapons, as we did in the ’90s—will not eliminate mass shootings.
Why Scott Conant and His Ilk are Charlatans
First, nobody with any power in this country suggests banning guns. Nobody! Unfortunately, setting up a straw man so you can knock it down signals quickly a lack of desire to solve a problem. Your solution—the one I attribute to you—won’t work, so move along, nothing to see here.
Then there’s the immediacy thing. Whatever you’re suggesting—what you really are proposing—won’t fix the problem by 5:00 p.m. next Saturday. So, no solution. Move along, nothing to see here.
Mr. Conant uses the “law-abiding, healthy” formulation three times in a less than five-minute interview. “Law-abiding” used to travel by itself. Not anymore. Now healthy comes along for the ride, and here healthy means mentally healthy, (We all know this, right?) Never mind the fact that President Donald Trump set aside adopted regulations which would have made keeping guns away from mentally ill individuals easier. Never mind the fact that we do not make nearly enough money available for mental health diagnosis and treatment. And, the entire formulation assumes a static population:
You: Sick and never getting better. No gun.
You, over there: You’re good to go with your AR 15, and if you become mentally ill later … uh … gee … uh … what now, Boss!
Mr. Conant’s theme? Tough problem. Can’t fix it, in part because nothing we do will fix it completely, right now. Really about health. And, ultimately, anything we do which limits anyone’s right to have an arsenal won’t work. Why? Well, there’s freedom, the Second Amendment, and that Good Guy with a Gun thing-y.
Occam’s Razor tells us when we have competing hypotheses, we should select the one which requires the least number of assumptions. K(eep) I(t) S(imple) S(tupid) aka KISS is the modern version of the centuries-old principle. For me, Occam’s Razor explains the problem thusly: in the First World, America has by orders of magnitude more guns per capita and more gun deaths. Maybe, just maybe, could that mean guns are our problem? Yep!!!