Jordan Peterson on gun control

The Canadian professor calls for personal responsibility over legislation.

  • Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, Jordan Peterson replied to a question about gun control in America.
  • Peterson believes only the police and army being armed is dangerous, and that the citizenry should be equally dangerous.
  • He also feels that legislation would do "zero" to stop school shootings in America.

In 2016, 64 percent of homicides in the United States resulted from gun violence; in Canada, the number was 30.5 percent the year prior. England and Wales posted much lower numbers during those two years: just 4.5 percent of deaths resulted from guns.

We're drowning in statistics. More charts likely exist explaining gun violence in America than any other topic. Each one highlights the same issue: Americans have issues. This we know. When those issues involve firearms, we're particularly ready to claim the American promise of being "number one." No longer do we dominate in education, quality of life, happiness, life expectancy, or health care. But guns, we've got them.

The reasons are manifold; no one denies that. Speculating over why so many guns are fired in this country is useless. But that doesn't stop some people from trying.

When asked if the right to bear arms is equivalent to free speech, Jordan Peterson replies that nothing is as essential as the right to free speech. His father, a hunter, collected 200 single-shot rifles because "he believes in aiming carefully." Northwestern Canada, Peterson continues, is a rural, hunting culture, where "people take their guns seriously."

The right to bear arms, he continues, is an integral part of a free society. If only the police and army are "allowed to be dangerous," there's going to be problems. He attempts to end his response there, then reconsiders.

Jordan Peterson: Las Vegas Shooting and Gun Control

This video is shot in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017, in which a lone gunman fired over 1,100 rounds into the Route 91 Harvest music festival. After killing 58 people and injuring another 851, the gunman killed himself. This was the deadliest mass shooting by a single individual in U.S. history.

Peterson notes that gun legislation debates kick off after incidents such as this, with "each side" hunkering down in their corner, refusing to budge. He continues,

"I think that it's unfortunate to use an event like the Las Vegas shooting or the Columbine shooting to make political capital."

It is Peterson's belief that it is a right that the individual should be "allowed or even encouraged to be dangerous, but controlled." He concludes this segment by encouraging individual responsibility, then references his audience to a biblical lecture he gave on Cain and Abel.

It's not hatred for other people that drives someone to shoot down into a defenseless crowd from a hotel window; it's hatred for being itself. Being embittered leads to outrage, which leads to becoming homicidal and even genocidal. Peterson speculates that such shooters are, in essence, out for "revenge against God for the outrage of creation."

This isn't the first time Peterson cited anger at a supreme being as the impetus for murder. When discussing a reckless driver navigating sidewalks in Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 16, he said the murderer, a self-proclaimed incel — "involuntary celibates" believe women are sexual objects and little else — was angry at God for the fact that women reject them. Murderous impulses, it appears, often stem from an offense by the Big Guy Upstairs.

The Las Vegas shooting could have been inspired by neurological pathology, he continues, though he believes the embitterment hypothesis is correct. He cites a Steven Pinker tweet that suggests that the media not publish the names of shooters. Peterson suggests this last-ditch arrogance provides an opportunity for them to be in the spotlight — their meaningless lives have amounted to something, however horrendous that thing might be.

Jordan Peterson during his lecture at UofT, January 10, 2017. Photo credit: Rene Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images

That is all to say Peterson appears to believe gun control is useless at best and dangerous at worst, given that it reduces our own opportunity for "dangerousness." When asked if gun legislation would help stop school shootings, he replied:

"I think that in the United States the probability that gun legislation would stop the school shootings is basically zero. School-shooting culture doesn't seem to have manifested itself in other places as much as it has in the U.S. And I can't tell exactly why that is. It's conceivable that it has something to do with the more rough and ready attitude towards guns."

By the time I entered second grade in 1982, I walked the half-mile to Parkview Elementary. Two years later, the mile-plus walk to Joyce Kilmer was how I commuted for the next five years. Times change; today few parents would allow their young children to walk such distances in any suburb or city.

I also never experienced active shooter drills in school. This fact has not biased me against guns. I enjoy shooting skeet; while I've never hunted, I'd be open to trying. Given that I partake in the end cycle of animal life when consuming them, participating in the beginning would be both informative and valuable.

What I couldn't imagine is standing in front of the parents of the children murdered in Sandy Hook, staring them in the eyes and pontificating about the "outrage of creation" or being mad at God for not getting laid. Yes, the country is divided in our reactions to gun control. Yet when the debate leaves the realm of basic human emotions, you have to question its worth.

Not that Peterson is necessarily wrong in this regard. The psychology of murder is as intense as the act of it. We just get so caught up in the debate we forget about the humans these violent actions affect. While I can't imagine the need for owning 200 single-shot rifles, so be it if the hunting brings satisfaction and sustenance. But thinking this problem is going to work itself when more people take personal responsibility is simply ignorant.

Legislation matters. When laws allow for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed to stockpile armaments, there is no need for debate. Basic common sense suffices — one would hope.

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Want to forge stronger social bonds? Bring beer.

New research shows that a healthy supply of locally-sourced beer helped maintain Wari civilization for 500 years.

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  • A new analysis of an ancient Wari brewery suggests chicha helped maintain the civilization's social capital for hundreds of years.
  • Civilizations throughout the ancient world used alcoholic drinks to signify kinship, hospitality, and social cohesion.
  • The researchers hope their findings will remind us of the importance in reaffirming social institutions and sharing cultural practices — even if over coffee or tea.

Beer is history's happiest accident. Though the discovery probably happened much earlier, our earliest evidence for beer dates back roughly 13,000 years ago. Around this time, the people of the Fertile Crescent had begun to gather grains as a food source and learned that if they moistened them, they could release their sweetness to create a gruel much tastier than the grains themselves.

One day a curious — or perhaps tightfisted — hunter-gatherer hid his gruel away for a safekeeping. When he returned, he found the bowl giving off a tangy odor. Not one to waste a meal, he ate it anyway and enjoyed an unexpected, though not unpleasant, sensation of ease. By pure happenstance, this ancestor stumbled upon brewing.

That's one possible origin story, but we know that our ancestors learned to control the process, and beer took a central role in Fertile Crescent civilizations — so central that Professor Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that beer, not bread, incentivized hunter-gatherers to relinquish their nomadic ways.

Beer may also be proof of a God who wants us to be happy (Dionysus?), because the beverage* would be independently rediscovered by peoples across the ancient world, including those in China and South America.

One such peoples, the pre-Inca Wari Civilization, made beer, specifically chicha de molle, a critical component in their religious and cultural ceremonies. In fact, a study published in Sustainability in April argues that the role was so important that beer helped keep Wari civilization intact for 500 years.

Brewing social capital

Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as an ancient Wari outpost. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.

The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**

Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer only kept for about a week.

These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of chicha, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume chicha in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.

"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in a release. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."

The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales.

Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, an impressive run for a historic civilization.

Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)

A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization.

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer:

"They placed food in front of him,
They placed beer in front of him,
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
And of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive
and sang with joy.
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human
."

Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his History of the World in 6 Glasses, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology.

Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship.

The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine.

During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In Alcohol: A history, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.)

Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known to damage social relationships as much as improve them.

In the 17th century, London's coffeehouses stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment.

Relearning ancient lessons

The Field Museum archaeologists hope their research can help remind us the importance social institutions and cultural practices have in creating our common bonds, whether such institutions are BYOB or not.

"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," Williams said. "Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the European Union today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society."

So, grab a beer or coffee or tea, spend some time together, and raise a glass. Just try not focus too much on whether your friend ordered Budweiser's swill or an overpriced, virtue-signaling microbrew IPA.

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