Guns vs. Cigarettes

With the Newton massacre fresh on everyone’s mind, people are watching Obama’s White House to see if any meaningful gun control measures can be put into place. But gun enthusiasm is still far too entrenched within the American Dream to make things easy. I wonder how change will get made. A hundred and twenty years ago heroin was prescribed by doctors regularly. Now it is illegal and there is a war on drugs. At some point something has to give.

The government takes very seriously it’s role of protecting people from themselves. From unemployment insurance to strict prohibition on many types of drugs, our governments try to make us feel like they politicize our best interests. But even with all the knowledge we have about the harmful effects of cigarettes, they are still available in every corner store. Yet again, ideology and entrenched business trumps public safety.

I don’t believe guns or cigarettes should be strictly illegal. I don’t even think heroin should be illegal. The fact that heroin is illegal doesn’t prevent heroin usage, it only makes that usage more dangerous. This could be an argument against outlawing guns and cigarettes. If something is dangerous but useful there are ways of ensuring the users are qualified. Enhanced background checks would be a step in the right direction for gun use, but it definitely would not end gun violence. Most of us climb into a car, fully licensed, and blast down a highway at 120 km/h without batting an eye, even though it is a terribly dangerous activity. And people die in car crashes every day.

We can’t say in a scientifically definitive way how many lives are lost from cigarettes. And you can’t weigh how many lives are taken by guns against how many lives are saved. Statistics do not tell the full story; the figures are fuzzy approximations at best. Nor can we get the full story from news programs who love the sensational boost in ratings when horrible tragedy strikes.

The NRA’s first statement after the Newtown shooting said nothing about guns, but condemned television, film, and video games for perpetuating virtual violence. It said exactly nothing, but implied the Second Amendment is more important than the First. Their goal is to maintain and increase their membership (less than 2% of America’s population) and to sell more guns. They do this under the guise of protecting American rights.

The issue is personal freedom, and it is the government who decides how much freedom its people have in society. We can drive a car, fire a gun, smoke a million cigarettes, but we cannot do cocaine or pay for sex. Judge these rules how you will but consider if we have reason enough to trust the government’s judgement on socially acceptable behavior.

Lawyers and financial experts bilked the world out of billions in a technically legal way. Legal drugs kill more people than illegal drugs. The USA, under the latest Bush administration, started two illegal wars in the Middle East and gave the rebuilding contracts to associates of Bush and Cheney.

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” – Thomas Paine

A clear-cut solution would be great, but it is impossible. We live in a world of stifled political action, bombarded by arguments on all sides and in all forms of media. It seems to be an unfortunate fact that any large group will have an asshole in it, and we can’t protect ourselves from the inevitability of chaos.

Of course the world could do just fine without guns and cigarettes. But because I know many resilient smokers, and I know that non-lethal weapons could be used by law enforcement, I choose cigarettes over guns. A cigarette, for the most part, is something we choose to use on ourselves, and I believe we should all have the right to physiological self-sovereignty. But a gun is something to be used on others, generally without their consent. A lot more people are losing their personal freedom to guns than to cigarettes.

Mind Kontrol

I’m naturally skeptical of people who flaunt democracy too much. It doesn’t really exist. Canada and America democratically vote for representatives, but that representative is given a lot of power because he or she has to expedite things. Real democracy is too time-consuming and impractical.

True democracy requires media. People need to know the issues if they’re to responsibly choose a policy. So a direct conduit of information is necessary from the government to the people. Hypothetically a government with an agenda can disseminate their message and emphasize, gloss over, and take advantage of margins of error, grey areas, and all my favorite buffer zones. Governments can simply deliver their form of the information.

Propaganda is effective because it’s unfortunately not that hard to condition behavior. So much of our personalities, so many of our beliefs and behaviors are conditioned that it’s impossible to know what a pure person, free of conditioning, should be.

Nazis got pretty good at it stirring up racial hatred. That was in the 30s and 40s. Think about how many more media outlets there are today. Consider that most arts and scientists progress with time, refining techniques and getting more effective through trial and error. Imagine how good governments might be at it now. When I hear American news stories about the Middle East or Islam I always have my guard up.

Nobody likes to feel manipulated. The more sophisticated you are about digesting information through media, the more you’ll notice manipulative messages. Overt messages might work on the mob mentality, but it’s more effective when the real message is subliminal. When people don’t notice they are being manipulated, they don’t erect any psychological self-defense mechanisms to prevent it.

The Canadian government has been running a propaganda campaign about drugs with ads on the subway and television. I personally find these ads offensive, and it’s a perfect example of how a government can deliver its propaganda. If you go to their website, drugsnot4me.ca, you can read about all the effects of illicit drugs. They mention paranoia, dizziness, distorted perception…but they never mention Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or Revolver by The Beatles.

That’s not even what pisses me off. The commercial shows a young, pretty, brimming-with-potential-and-vitality, high school girl in her room. But then…the camera goes all weird because she takes drugs. Then she freaks out and takes her clothes out of her drawers! Then she puts on makeup badly! Then she cuts her hair! And by the end of the minute she’s a shriveled zombie. Besides the obnoxious fear-mongering, the commercial never even attempts to make clear what drugs they’re talking about. My guess is she’s ODing on Viagra.

I wonder how much this campaign cost, and where that money came from. Nicotine is a drug. Caffeine is a drug. What makes a drug one of the bad ones? Well, “health risk” obviously isn’t a factor because cigarettes would have to be illegal. So would alcohol. Actually, I believe cigarettes cause more deaths per year than all illegal drugs combined. Or is it alcohol? But I don’t get the impression their talking about legal drugs in these ads. On a hilarious side-note, Stats Canada apparently doesn’t track prescription drug-related deaths. That’s another figure I would be interested in. Maybe the government pays for this ad with all the tax money they make from the LCBO’s monopoly on liquor. (It’s fun to compare this anti-drug commercial to a beer commercial.)

The ads on the subway ask if I know where drugs will take me. I suppose I don’t. The people who made the ads don’t either, but they have some pretty strong feelings about it. I don’t like aspirin, but I do like coffee. Don’t tell me what I should or should not put into my own body. And I don’t like the idea of a municipal government deciding what goes in my drinking water. Big Governments have legalized aspartame and Acutane without any ideas about long-term effects. Where did that take them? Human suffering and class action lawsuits.

With so many outlets it’s tough to know who to trust. George W. Bush did win that election twelve years ago, right? There’s something to take from every media source, even if it’s just a better understanding of whose side that media source is on…plus it gives you a “fair and balanced” opinion.

Sometimes the hard truths come in the form of fiction. Like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell or Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

“We turn off our minds for the same reason that we turn off our lights: we want to sleep in darkness.” – J. Mitchell Morse, The Underground Grammarian, Vol. 1, No. 9