You know what happens when a video camera points at a video display?
A video feedback, the image of the display recurs ad infinitum on the display. This a positive feedback loop as the image repeats more and more. There are negative feedback loops which regulate many biological processes. For example, blood sugar is regulated by a negative feedback loop. When blood sugar gets too high, the pancreas produces insulin which rids the blood of sugar. When the blood sugar gets too low the pancreas secretes glucagon which converts the glycogen stored in the liver to convert to sugar, thus raising the blood sugar.
The blood sugar example is really two feedbacks happening, whereas the camera is one. Negative feedbacks tend to stabilize things, whereas positive feedbacks tend to make things chaotic and unwieldy. What if we were to hold public debate up to such analysis? For instance, what if we were to put the camera of religion in front of the display of guns.
We’d get much the same thing that’s going on right now in America post-Orlando.
I want to call this phenomenon the efficient feedback loop. Efficient, here, refers to the efficient cause named by Aristotle in classical philosophy. An efficient cause is by what means a change comes to be. For a pile of wood to become a table, the efficient cause would be a human. Don’t read ‘cause’ here as our current concept of causality. Rather, look at it as an explanation.
Both guns and religion have been historically and are currently used for shocking and depraved acts of violence. Prima facie, the difference between the two would seem to be that guns are strictly manufactured for violence whereas religion isn’t created so much as interpreted to be violent. I use religion here to mean the Abrahamic religions, since Orlando happened in an Abrahamic context.
Here’s the problem with the interpretation objection. Have you read the Abrahamic texts? They are full of violence. And while there is an argument to be made for the quality of violence changing over time from genocidal to defensive; any interpretation of them which is devoid of violence is dubious. The violence is there. You can’t un-say the words of your god and your prophets.
Then, the public debate goes between those who say that both guns and religion are inherently violent and should be abandoned. Though, a basic examination shows that this patently false. It makes no sense to say guns are violent. This is the basis behind the “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” counterargument. (Though it should be noted here that Aristotle would say that guns are a material cause of murder. That is to say, a gun murder can’t take place without a gun.) Also, we must separate the adherents from the dogma and the scriptures. For the vast majority of religious people worldwide don’t commit acts of violence despite the dogma and the scriptures. So if we view religion as the sum of the three, then we can’t say that religion is inherently violent.
So then, the rephrasing begins to make an equivalency stick. Guns and religion are both deadly, and by this virtue, should be abandoned. But this means that we should abandon anything that’s deadly. Are we going to abandon alcohol? Junk food? Oxygen? All these things are deadly.
Then we argue from type to token. A token gun is deadly. A token religion is deadly. Some token guns are deadlier than others. Some token religions are more violent than other token religions. And when we argue from type to token it makes it easier for us to use quantitative reasoning to justify why some tokens are worse than other tokens all the while not looking at the qualitative reasons which underpin these tokens … i.e. the type. We then go further into the quantitative field divorcing causation and going towards correlation.
And further and further and further ad infinitum.
All the while the camera is still looking at the display.
If social media has taught me anything, it’s that we’re obsessed with our own opinions. Some are obsessed with opinions only insofar as they’re similar to the majority of other opinions. Others go out of their way to have a different opinion than the majority. Everyone has a right to their opinions, and to express their opinions. But all this speculation about the Orlando murderer’s sexuality, how his religion figured into his motivation for, or justification of the massacre is all pretty pointless because …
The camera is still pointed at the display.
Why aren’t we asking questions about violence? No matter how you break down guns or religion they’re both only efficiently related to violence.
Or have we just given up on that question?