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Jordan Peterson on gun control

The Canadian professor calls for personal responsibility over legislation.

Jordan Peterson speaks at ICC Sydney Theatre on February 26, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
  • 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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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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