Of words, arms, and freedom

I’m sick, and back in England. Not that the two are related… no, not at all. But the fact that I was irritable and chanting “I hate England” in my head all morning as I made my way in to work doing various errands on the way, might be due to one or the other thing… or both.

While I was chanting my not-too-Buddhist chant to calm myself, I was thinking about all the differences between jolly old England and Switzerland. I realized at least part of it comes down to the freedom that comes from a durable social contract… a sense of solidarity and interdependence springing from deep down in the Swiss culture.

So imagine my happy surprise when my buddy Curtis pointed me at this blog posting: one to look after the other. In England, we have neither freedom of speech, nor the right to carry guns. This makes it diametrically opposed to the theoretical United States. In the United States, we have pretty good freedom of speech and we are continually losing our right to carry firearms. The author of the post I linked says:

Few politicians trust their citizens unconditionally with either (the right to free speech or the right to carry firearms). The more they allow the free use of one, the more they clamp down on the free use of the other, depending on political denomination. Almost no politician is comfortable with a citizen having unrestricted rights to both.

And it occurred to me, after thinking about Switzerland on the bus this morning, that Switzerland is a place with freedom of speech and the right to carry firearms. In fact, the Swiss have a power even stronger and more dangerous right than free speech: the right to direct democracy. And almost every Swiss man has an assault weapon in his house.

All of this is theoretical of course. I do not personally believe in the “armed society is a polite society”*, nor in the “guns/words dichotomy”. None of this musing really has a thing to do with my personal thoughts on the issue, which are my normal muddled mélange of socialist, capitalist, libertarian and utopian/progressive tendencies. My personal thoughts on guns are something along the lines of, “Well, there’s no real problem with guns, and I don’t want them in my life, and I don’t mind other people having them, except that wouldn’t it be nice if we were building a society where they didn’t want them?”

Perhaps you can see why virtually everyone who discusses politics with me eventually gets frustrated and gives up… I don’t really fit into boxes very well.

* The first image that comes to mind when I think of “an armed society is a polite society” is a sunny morning in Chad, hunkered in a safe room, hoping that stray (or even targeted) gunfire didn’t kill any of my colleagues. Armed societies need not be polite… and the alternative is not completely welcome.

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