Saturday, May 23, 2015

Dark Politics

What metaphor shall we use for the travails of the British Labour Party? As the drama of the General Election abates, the Labour Party hastens to elect a new "leader". Each candidate leader sets out a position, initially intended to attract the members (and possibly the financial backers) of the Labour Party, and subsequently to attract votes in a future General Election.

The word "attract" suggests a metaphor taken from school physics lessons. As if the electorate were pulled this way and that by a series of powerful magnets, and by the magnetic personality of the right person.

More advanced physics yields some more sophisticated metaphors. I recently had this exchange on Twitter.



The "dark matter" theory leads to the idea that the Labour Party needs to identify and attract people who didn't vote for it in this election. This becomes a marketing exercise, based on a segmentation of the population. The candidate leaders fall over one another to suggest that the party has neglected particular segments of the population - the "moderate" voter or the "aspirational" voter, the socially-conservative working-class voter or the more liberally-minded middle-class voter - and to demand repositioning the party to appeal to this segment in future.

The "dark energy" theory leads to the idea that parties of the Left are always frustrated by hidden forces - the baleful influence of the City or Media - which divert the opinions and votes of people who rightfully ought to vote Labour. When she was growing up in a working-class household, @suzanne_moore diagnosed her mother with 'false consciousness'.
"This is still how most of the left operates. We have the truth, we know what is best and we will enlighten you, awaken you from your slumbers and you will be grateful."

Meanwhile, Martin Kettle points out that the search for understanding requires us to look at what was attractive about the Tories, not just what was unattractive about Labour.
"On the left, Tory motives and values are often stereotyped (as Labour motives and values are, of course, caricatured on the right) in ways that make people on the left feel good about themselves. The Tories in this view are variously greedy, mean, destructive, selfish, uncaring, small-minded, racist, nationalistic and more. But what if the motives and values that Tory voters see are less extreme – things like competent, reliable, realistic, prudent, generous, tolerant, decent or patriotic? None of those qualities is in itself in any way objectionable. It would be reasonable to vote for a party that you thought had such qualities – and I suspect lots of people did on 7 May."

The "New Labour" project under Tony Blair simultaneously tackled both parts of the matter/energy equation - appeasing Rupert Murdoch and the City, distancing the party from its traditional working class base (especially the Trade Unions) and appealing to the middle classes. This strategy was highly effective in electoral terms, while it lasted, but it was a Faustian pact. Some traditional Labour supporters believe that the Blair-Brown government permitted itself to be influenced by dark forces of various kinds: it extended the promotion of market forces into public services (especially healthcare), it participated enthusiastically in the disastrous intervention in the Middle East, and failed to prevent the systematic trashing of traditional capitalism by a handful of merchant banks. It introduced tuition fees for university students, and created or extended business-friendly initiatives such as the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Academy Schools programme, which were continued by the Cameron-Clegg coalition government. Between 2010 and 2015, the Labour Party was fairly constrained in its criticism of the coalition government, perhaps because it was easy to imagine a neo-Blairite government doing much the same kind of stuff. Indeed, that has been one of the main complaints of the right-wing of the Conservative Party, especially under threat from UKIP.

In the 1990s, Blair was regarded as a "modernizer"; the word is now used as a coded way of referring to Blairite candidates for the leadership, especially Liz Kendall, and implies a rejection of some out-dated notions of socialism and/or syndicalism (in other words, the baleful influence of the Trades Unions).

The trouble with modernization is that it is a management agenda, not a leadership one. All of the clean-cut and articulate Oxbridge graduates who are now competing for the Labour leadership would probably make a decent job of management, even though none of them appears to have much experience outside politics. But the debate is along familiar lines - Old Labour, New Labour, Borrowed Labour, Blue Labour. True leadership would entail creating a new narrative, not merely rehashing the familiar debate.

Not for the first time, the Labour Party now faces an existential crisis. Historian Selina Todd suggests that Labour could be reborn in a different guise and with a different purpose. Meanwhile radical Conservative thinkers (Steve Hilton) see an opportunity to seize the moral high-ground on social justice. Maybe there is some more drama still to unfold.



Daniel Boffey, Can David Cameron make Tories the new party of social justice? (Observer 24 May 2015)

Alain C. Enthoven, Introducing Market Forces into Health Care: A Tale of Two Countries (Nuffield Trust, June 2002)

Martin Kettle, It’s vital to know why Labour lost – yet more so to know why the Tories won (Guardian 14 May 2015)

Suzanne Moore, Working-class Tories are not just turkeys voting for Christmas (Guardian 14 May 2015)

Clive Peedell, The Politics of NHS Market Reforms (8 January 2012)

Allyson Pollock, A gauntlet for Brown (Guardian 11 April 2007)

Selina Todd, Has the Labour party outlived its usefulness? (Guardian 24 May 2015)

Wikipedia: Academy (English school), Private Finance Initiative (PFI), Tuition fees in the UK


Updated 24 May 2015

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Delight in Giddiness

@roygrubb praises @HPluckrose for clarity.



Helen says we need something. But is this really a clear statement of requirements? What exactly is she demanding here? Does she expect politicians to provide precise definitions of all the cliches and platitudes and vague promises in the manifesto or on the hustings? If benefits are going to be directed towards "hard-working families", do we need this term to be defined as well? (See Terry Eagleton's criticism of the party manifestos.)

Supposing it to be possible to legislate about "islamophobia" (or "hate crime"), the term would need to be defined properly, so that the legislation is fair and workable. My initial reading of Helen's tweet was that she believed that a meaningful definition was not possible, therefore legislation would not be possible, therefore the promise to legislate would be either foolish or in bad faith. However, instead of stating this belief directly, she expresses her challenge in the form of a case that may demonstrate the impossibility of producing a fair and workable definition.

Of course, this form of challenge is quite legitimate, but I should like to quibble with Roy's assertion that it is the clearest (most explicit) way of posing such a challenge. The fact that I initially misread Helen's tweet (as affirmed in the comment below this post) reinforces my concern about clarity. I'm not blaming Helen for this - it is rarely possible to express one's complete meaning in a 140 character tweet.  

Helen wants Ed Miliband to reassure us that any legislation would be drawn narrowly, to avoid restricting legitimate intellectual debate. However, there is a precedent for ill-defined and over-generalized terms being coded into legislation, as shown in the absurd laws on "glorifying terrorism", and we may have little confidence that the legislators will apply the appropriate rigour in coming up with a proper definition of anything.

The example quoted by Helen is interesting because it could be used to generate further examples. Firstly, the word "Islam" could be replaced with the word "Christianity". Secondly, the word "Islam" could be replaced with the phrase "Islam-or-Christianity". Could someone who wished to attack Islam and/or its adherents evade the Islamophobia laws by including a token attack on other religions and their adherents? And how would the law regard someone who claims to attack all religions indiscriminately but is accused of devoting a disproportionate amount of his bile for one religion in particular?

The example quoted by Helen is also interesting because it attacks the notion of truth embedded in the phrase "True Islam", using a correspondence notion of truth, which Richard Dawkins and other scientists take as the epistemological "gold standard". But I think many people would interpret "True Islam" in terms of some (subjective) notion of authenticity, and regard the opening statement as either begging the question or deliberate provocation.


What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting.


Hamed Chapman, Labour would outlaw Islamophobia, says Miliband in an exclusive interview (Muslim News, 24 April 2015)
S. Abbas Raza, Richard Dawkins, Relativism and Truth (3Quarks Daily, December 2005)
Francis Bacon, Of Truth (Essays)
Terry Eagleton, Which party’s election manifesto is the best written? (Guardian 24 April 2015)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Correspondence Theory of Truth
Wikipedia: Terrorism Act 2006
POSIWID blog: Glory Glory Knockdown Argument (October 2005)


Update 14:20 UK time following Helen's comment. Clarified that this was my initial (but incorrect) reading of her tweet. Reworded from "attack Islam" to "attack Islam and/or its adherents".

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Symbolism of the Empty Chair

British newspapers have now turned "empty chair" into a verb.

The intention appears to be to go ahead with the election debates, without the Prime Minister but with an empty chair (or podium) to draw attention to his absence. Similar gestures have been used in the United States.


When Pope Francis failed to turn up to a Vatican concert in June 2013, a few months after his election, a white chair was left prominently on display.

Pope Francis's now famous empty chair (AP)

Commentators were quick to speculate about the meaning and motivation of the empty chair. Writing in the Catholic Herald, William Oddie wondered whether the incident indicated a curial conspiracy against the Pope. "How come that photo of the empty chair became, and so quickly, such an 'enigma'? How did it get itself plastered all over the Italian media? Why, as soon as it was known that the Pope wasn’t coming, wasn’t the chair simply removed?"

In Catholic circles, of course, the term "empty chair" (in Latin, Sede Vacante) has special redolence, as it indicates the interval between two popes. Some anti-modernists (known as Sedevacantists) deny the legitimacy of recent popes, claiming that the Holy See has been sede vacante at least since the death of John XXIII in 1963, if not earlier. Perhaps the Vatican Curia was consciously or unconsciously making a point.

Likewise, there are undoubtedly members or former members of the British Conservative Party who detest the current prime minister, and regard the party and country as being essentially without a genuine conservative leader since the demise of Margaret Thatcher. For such people, an empty chair at the election debates would have extra significance.


Maier, Vivian. “New York, NY.” Street 2. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
<http://www.vivianmaier.com/gallery/street-2/#slide-34>.



Clint Eastwood defends 'empty chair' convention speech (BBC News, 10 September 2012)

Andy Borowitz, POLL: Romney trails empty chair (New Yorker, 31 August 2012)

William Oddie, How come that empty papal chair has become so widely interpreted as symbolic, even sinister? Is this part of a curial anti-Francis conspiracy? (Catholic Herald, 26 June 2013)

Tanisha Randhawa, Vivian Maier and [Nothingness] (19 October 2014) 

Wikipedia: Sede Vacante, Sedevacantism


Friday, December 12, 2014

More on the Purpose of Diversity

There are several arguments for diversity, and these arguments may lead to different flavours or styles of diversity. I use the term imaginary diversity for an appearance or image of diversity that may not reveal the underlying reality. And I use the term symbolic diversity for a formal procedural diversity, often found in bureaucratic organizations, which may also be a long way from real diversity.


One argument for diversity is based on justice, and the visibility of justice. When we see an organization with a largely homogeneous workforce, we may suspect that there is some discrimination going on. Nowadays, this kind of discrimination is unlikely to be deliberate policy, but can be caused in various ways:

  • the managers feel more comfortable recruiting people like themselves
  • the working practices favour people of a particular type - for example, working hours that are not compatible with childcare
  • an expectation of a particular career path - for example, entry via unpaid internships or expensive qualifications 

However, having an appearance of diversity doesn't prove the lack of discrimination. A company may employ lots of women, but few with small children, and none in senior positions. And until someone leaks the salary data on the internet, the female employees may not know if they are paid the same as male employees doing equivalent jobs.

Another argument for diversity is based on organizational intelligence. Similar people see the world in similar ways, with similar assumptions and blind spots.

Race and gender are generally more visible than other potential discriminatory factors, such as class, educational background, sexual orientation and religious affiliation.

The problem with imaginary diversity is that it privileges visible signs of difference over other, perhaps equally important kinds of difference. We don't achieve real diversity in politics merely by mixing male, female, white and ethnic, especially if the politicians (and the journalists interviewing them) all studied the same degrees at the same universities. Politicians such as Barack Obama (black male, Harvard), Hillary Clinton (white female, Yale), Ed Miliband (Jewish male, Oxford) and Diane Abbott (black female, Cambridge) have a lot of things in common: similarity here is not just a function of race and gender.

The problem with symbolic diversity is that it nominates a few kinds of difference for special treatment, while ignoring other forms. Suddenly everyone gets worked up about age discrimination or postcode discrimination or whatever, and we have an official policy and procedure about that, while other forms of discrimination are permitted or even encouraged.


Related Blogs

Relationships built on self-interest (January 2009)
What is the Purpose of Diversity? (January 2010)
Organizational Intelligence and Gender (October 2010)
Delusion and Diversity (October 2010)

Monday, December 08, 2014

What's in a name?

Richard Terrence Peter Hollingworth was until recently a district judge, as well as adjudicating immigration cases. Faced with a case involving a victim whose name was Patel, he shocked prosecutors by demanding that she should attend court the same afternoon, because someone with that name and ethnic background probably worked in a shop or off-licence and wouldn't have any difficulty taking time off work. "She won't be working anywhere important."

I'm sure judges make stupid remarks all the time, but on this occasion the prosecutor (rightly) made a fuss, and the judge is now (rightly) sacked. Although the racism is unpleasant, that is not the only shocking element of the story. The point about being a judge is that you are not supposed to jump to conclusions, racist or otherwise. Although judges may well believe privately that working class jobs are less important than proper jobs like, for example law, they shouldn't base their decisions on these beliefs. And the notion that someone working in a shop (or off-licence) can easily take time off at short notice shows gross ignorance about how the other half live. Let's not jump to conclusions, but when an Englishman has three or more Christian names and an old English surname this can be an indicator of class background.

As it turned out, the victim of Mr Hollingworth's racism doesn't work in a shop. She is 20 years old and studying law. She was horrified to learn about the judge's remarks.

If Mr Hollingworth had said "oh, she's only a student, studying isn't a proper job", he'd probably have gotten away with it.

Perhaps now Mr Hollingworth can go back to college and study law properly. Or he should try working in an off-licence. At least from now on he won't be working anywhere important. As the Hollingworth family motto says, "Disce ferenda pati: learn to suffer what must be borne".





Immigration judge Peter Hollingworth faces race remark investigation (BBC News, 7 December 2014)

Nigel Bunyan, Judge resigns after making racist remark about victim (Guardian, 7 December 2014)

Ben Tufft, Immigration judge Richard Hollingworth forced to resign after racial slur: 'With a name like Patel, she won't be working anywhere important' (Independent, 7 December 2014)

News Release: Judge Hollingworth (8 December 2014). Judge Peter James Michael Hollingworth, 63, who sits as a judge in the First Tier Immigration and Asylum Tribunal and also as a Deputy District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts)  wishes to make clear that he has no connection with Judge Terence Richard Peter Hollingworth, 63, who sat in the same courts and who you reported as having resigned from the Magistrates’ Court and being under investigation as an Immigration Judge. 

Wikipedia: Hollingworth Surname
Wikipedia: Bourne and Hollingsworth

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

School Inspections

#Ofsted's @mcladingbowl via @rachelala asks everyone to share a school inspection myth-buster. So here goes.



Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, reporting directly to Parliament. It carries out hundreds of inspections and regulatory visits every week across England; separate bodies handle inspections in the rest of the UK.

According to Ofsted, inspection acts in a number of ways to drive and support school improvement.

  • raises expectations by setting the standards of performance and effectiveness expected of schools
  • provides a sharp challenge and the impetus to act where improvement is needed clearly identifies strengths and weaknesses
  • recommends specific priorities for improvement for the school and, when appropriate, checks on and promotes subsequent progress
  • promotes rigour in the way that schools evaluate their own performance, thereby enhancing their capacity to improve
  • monitors the progress and performance of schools that are not yet good, and challenges and supports senior leaders, staff and those responsible for governance.

Of course, schools wish to perform well in these inspections, and to avoid the inconvenience and shame of being selected for "special measures". So it is not surprising that certain beliefs have grown up around these inspections.

Although I don't have direct experience of school inspections, I can easily imagine how such beliefs might develop. Perhaps the inspector visiting school A casually asks to see a particular document, or comments on its absence. This becomes part of the collective memory of the school. Before the next inspection, every teacher in the school has been instructed to prepare this document in readiness. In time, this knowledge spreads to other schools, and becomes widely accepted as "best practice" for passing an inspection.  

Ofsted now wishes to dispel certain myths about the inspection process, and denies that it "requires" or "expects to see" loads of stuff. In its latest clarification, Ofsted officially deprecates a number of specific practices.

But there is a critical ambiguity in the notion of requirement. These practices may not be officially required by Ofsted; but if they happen to be strongly correlated with successful inspections, it may well be rational for school teachers to continue to regard these practices as implicitly encouraged and reinforced by the actions of Ofsted inspectors. It would be a brave head teacher who abandoned those practices that had got the school through past inspections, simply because Ofsted insisted that these practices were not officially required.

Ofsted is also charged with a range of political and social objectives, including promoting British values and tackling extremism, and these implicit objectives are believed to colour its assessments of educational outcomes.

And when Ofsted insists that "it is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to the inspection handbook", this sounds suspiciously like a classic double bind. Of course you can have as much bureaucracy as you like, as long as you really want to do it for its own sake and not because we told you to. Oh, and please make sure none of it is "unnecessary".



Ofsted, Framework for School Inspection (July 2014)

Ofsted inspections - clarification for schools (October 2014)

Richard Adams, Ofsted tells teachers what not to do in effort to dispel inspection myths (Guardian 17 October 2014)

Graeme Paton, Ofsted being turned into a 'schoolroom security service' (Telegraph 28 November 2014)


Zoe Williams, Swamp or success: your school is being racially profiled (Guardian 23 November 2014)

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Was She Thinking?

When @emilythornberry MP saw a house draped with the flag of St George, white van parked outside, she couldn't resist tweeting a picture to her followers back in her constituency.



Picture of Emily Thornberry tweet

Emily Thornberry is the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, which, as the Guardian constituency profile acidly remarks, "is routinely maligned as the natural habitat of the hypocritical, well-off, ostensibly liberal chattering classes". Perhaps as a result of this unfortunate stereotype her innocent action was widely interpreted as a snobbish reference, from a member of the North London urban elite, to the working class voters of Rochester, and she was forced to resign her position in the Shadow Cabinet.

But her constituency isn't homogeneously affluent, and she tweeted a photo of herself earlier this week, happily delivering leaflets in a housing estate. So not snobbery exactly.

So what motivated her to post the Rochester tweet in the first place, and who was its intended audience? It is now common for people to post pictures from their travels onto Facebook and Twitter, as a modern equivalent of the postcard home. So Emily Thornberry's tweet from Rochester makes it seem as if she regarded her visit to Rochester as a kind of rustication (or missus ad rusticos).

As @freedland writes, "even Thornberry’s defenders do not pretend she was trying to recruit white van drivers who fly the English flag from their homes. At best, she appeared to express the fascination of a visiting anthropologist for the natives of Rochester and Strood with their curious cultural customs." Or perhaps as @sarahditum suggests, she is drawing attention to the supposed jingoism of the Rochester and Strood electorate. How on earth could that be interpreted as class warfare?

To the extent that her thoughts and tweets are directed at the people back home in North London, she is keeping the Kentish voters at arm's length. As far as I can see, she doesn't appear in any of the photos she tweeted from Rochester and Strood, even as a tourist. Like many tourists, her tweets often lack explicit meaning, which then prompts people to project their own interpretation onto the real purpose of her communication. She casually labels everything #Rochester, although Strood has a significantly different demographic: most of the UKIP support was in Strood, while Rochester remained solidly Conservative.

Further insight into her London-centric vision can be inferred from her having retweeted a post from Buzzfeed called 27 Reasons To Fall In Love With A Londoner, which starts with the assertion that Londoners are the coolest people in the country. Yes indeed, Lady Thornberry, yes indeed.



Adam Donald, Emily Thornberry: How one tweet led to her resignation (BBC News 21 November 2014)

Jonathan Freedland, The Emily Thornberry affair proves it: US-style culture wars have come to Britain (Guardian 21 November 2014)

Sarah Ditum, Tweeting a picture of a house is not an act of class warfare, whatever the Sun says (New Statesman 21 November 2014)


Updated 26 Nov 2014





Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forgotten Tricks

Old typewriters didn't have an exclamation mark key. Those accustomed to modern word processors might infer that people didn't use the exclamation mark. @newstypewriter even suggests that this forced writers to "convey excitement by writing artful sentences".



But if you ever used an old-fashioned typewriter, you should remember the workaround - single quote, backspace, point. Numerous people leaped onto Twitter to point out this error.

Which raises the question - how do tricks like this get erased from the collective memory? 



Another forgotten trick is the fade-out at the end of a pop single. This was sometimes used to conceal flaws in the recording, but was sometimes used as an artistic device. Indeed, the fade-out at the end of the Beatles' Day in the Life was engineered to last for an unnaturally long period. Nowadays, the fade-out isn't thought to suit the way music is consumed, and is typically only used for retro pieces such as Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines.

William Weir, A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … (Slate, 14 Sept 2014)



Obviously our sense of the possible is influenced by present and future technology, but it is also influenced by our experience of past as well as present technology. New technology occasionally allows people to do things they didn't know they wanted to do, but it often merely finds more streamlined ways of doing things that people could already do if they were sufficiently determined and ingenious. Look at Delia Derbyshire and Karlheinz Stockhausen, synthesizing highly original music without the aid of commercial synthesizers. Whereas if you use the same tools as everyone else, you may struggle to produce music that doesn't sound the same.


Related posts

Art and the Enterprise (March 2006)
Karlheinz Stockhausen (December 2007)

Saturday, September 06, 2014

School Uniform

#wrongtrousers @HeatonManor, a state school in Newcastle, has attracted opprobrium for putting over fifty children into detention for wearing the "wrong trousers".

It seems that the school had issued new school uniform guidelines, specifying "tailored" trousers, which many parents had misunderstood or ignored. It appears that the school interpreted these guidelines as banning tight or drainpipe trousers, and was zealous in enforcing this interpretation. Clearly there is a question here of language and class: how many parents appreciated the teachers' notion of tailoring?

If you look at the dictionary definition of tailoring, you might imagine that it meant "made-to-measure" rather than "off-the-peg". Many decades ago when I was at school, there were a few boys with wealthy parents, who had their school uniform made to measure. The rest of us had much cheaper off-the-peg clothes, and everyone could see the difference. This of course undermined one of the alleged purposes of uniform, which is to conceal differences of wealth and social background.

What is the real purpose of school uniform? Sometimes it seems that the real purpose is to prevent children from ever wearing anything fashionable. In the early 1970s, school rules prevented boys having long hair, but very short hair was fine. Then in the mid 1970s, school rules were reinterpreted or changed to ban skinheads. Obviously fashions change faster than the schools can reissue the rules.

Another alleged purpose of school uniform in state schools is to ape private schools. Many comments on this incident have accused the school authorities of behaving like dictators: imposing controls on something that is irrelevant to education, and then imposing sanctions that interfere with education. This is a very old debate, and is certainly not unique to Heaton Manor.

Meanwhile, as @MagNews comments, no reference as to affordability! Some families try to get by with one set of clothes, and may have difficulties when these need washing, while others can afford more than one set. Families typically buy new or second-hand uniforms before the start of the school year, and it's not easy to rush out and buy more clothes because the teachers don't like the first lot.

Finally, let's look at the Heaton Manor guiding principles (retrieved 6 September 2014). These include

  • Courtesy, self-discipline and respect for others – good fellowship
  • Trust, honesty and integrity
  • Acceptance of personal responsibility
  • Understanding, care and tolerance
  • Confidence, motivation, self belief and esteem – encouraging independence 

It will be interesting to see how the school explains its interpretation of these principles in this context.


Sources


Newcastle school puts 50 pupils in detention for wearing wrong trousers (Guardian 5 September 2014)

More than 50 children put into detention for wearing the wrong trousers (Independent 5 September 2014)

and before you think this is only a UK thing ...

Strict dress code nets detentions at NY school (Salon 15 September 2014)

Jessica Valenti, How many young women can a school legally punish for dress code violations? (Guardian 17 September 2014)


Updated 17 September 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Smart Guns

Just suppose that smart guns were safer than ordinary guns.

For example, if someone grabbed your gun and tried to point it at you. If it was a smart gun you'd be perfectly safe because there is a fool-proof mechanism that prevents its use by an unauthorized person.

As with any technological advance, some people are sceptical. How much do you trust new technology? Suppose the gun doesn't work when you need it. Maybe an electromagnetic pulse (triggered by terrorists or natural solar activity) might take out all weapons in the area. Or maybe the bad guys (or the FBI) can hack into this mechanism and disable your gun before they attack you.

Meanwhile, like many technological advances, there are political implications. In the USA, the key question is whether such a mechanism might help reduce gun violence. Some gun control activists think such a mechanism would be pretty irrelevant.

But that doesn't stop the gun rights activists freaking out at the prospect of any damn technology on their precious weaponry. A shop owner in the US claims to have received death threats from pro-gun lobbyists for offering to sell the weapons. Meanwhile, as Joseph Steinberg suggests, an obsession with smart guns may inhibit other technological innovations that could make guns and gun-owning safer.

Because once these smart guns are available, by a process of technological determinism, they become irresistible to legislators. Before long, you won't be able to buy regular guns.

Obviously that's a cause worth killing for.




David Kopel, Brady Center lawsuit to use “smart” gun mandate to trigger handgun ban in New Jersey (Washington Post 22 May 2014)

Karen McVeigh, Gun control groups accuse New Jersey of ignoring 'smart gun' law (Guardian 21 May 2014)

Michael S. Rosenwald, Maryland dealer, under pressure from gun-rights activists, drops plan to sell smart gun (Washington Post, 1 May 2014)

Joseph Steinberg, Why You Should Be Concerned About The New 'Smart Guns' (Whether You Love Or Hate Guns) (Forbes 4 May 2014)

Nicholas Tufnell, Smart guns: How smart are they? (BBC News, 23 May 2014)

Eugene Volokh, Smart guns, electromagnetic pulse, and planning for unknown-probability dangers (Washington Post 23 May 2014)


See also Batman/Catwoman: Trail of the Gun (hat tip @ChBrain).