Learning from Ukraine

Ukraine, like the rest of Europe, has a horrible history of division and oppression, by which it is still haunted. The events of the past week, however, show that it is possible to learn from history, however dark.

The rhetoric is violent to be sure. Long memories cast long creepy shadows… Aged coronels in Sevastapol still accuse Westerners of being anti-Russian, fascist and anti-Semitic. The tank divisions that clashed at Kursk have left unforgettable and unforgiveable track-marks in the cemented mud of the collective mind. In the West, citizens who still aspire to the cultural ideals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, waltz in victory and mock the stiff-booted kitsch of yet another tsarist overlord.

Bloodshed there was, but not that much, compared to Syria, or Egypt or Libya, or even Scotland, in years gone by. The kind of bloodshed that settles back into the sand and monuments of civilization once passions have cooled; does not whip up a stream of desert storms of never-ending blood feuds.

The military police disappeared from the square and begged a forgiveness that was duly granted. A truly moving scene. Motives don’t matter anymore. History lurches forever, if falteringly, forwards. The decency of Hegelian Aufhebung prevails over Kantian terror and the irreversible decisions of the guillotine. The Ukrainian people have given us a better lesson in what it means to be European—in spiritual rather than economic terms—than ever crossed a Brussels bureaucrat’s mind.

Obviously, the Ukraine has a long hard way to go. Don’t we all?… I hope the European Union, Putin’s Russia, Venezuelan protestors and governors half a world away, and the Ukrainian people themselves can learn something from this admirable display of restraint.

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Piers Morgan’s Guns

I shall miss Piers Morgan, whose late night chat show, which I have enjoyed immensely over the past three years, was axed today by CNN.

I cannot say I like Morgan very much. That was always part of his ironic charm. An irony that is, perhaps, too British for American tastes. But he brought a freshly combative approach to US journalism that is sorely lacking in that country.

It would seem, ironically, that it was his campaign against US gun laws, perhaps the noblest cause he has espoused in his ethically ambiguous career, that eventually brought him down.

Morgan clearly has a genius (perhaps an evil genius) for tabloid-style journalism. Who can honestly claim that they do not have a sneaking liking for the salaciousness of the Mirror or the Sun?

In his tabloid-style aggressive campaign against guns in the USA, Morgan came down decisively, convincingly, and very publically, on what I believe is the ‘right side.’

The trouble is that tabloid journalism, as Morgan well knows, is all about circulation and ratings. Cozying up to celebrities and picking fights with politicians, and, up to a certain point, aggressively pursuing socially progressive campaigns, make good TV.

Serious science, unfortunately, does not…

 

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Troubled by the passion and lack of reason on both sides in this gun debate in the US, I did a little statistical analysis of my own.

Headline statistics seem to show that, worldwide, the prevalence of gun crime correlates with the availability of guns. Not content with this global statistic, I broke the stats down by region, and I found, much to my surprise, that, while in Europe and Asia and the Antipodes, it is true that fewer guns mean less gun crime. in the Americas, the statistics tell that the reverse is true.

All the countries of the Americas, of course, have much higher levels of gun crime than their European and Asian counterparts; but in those countries where gun-ownership is restricted or limited, the number of homicides related to fire-arms is enormous, while it is substantially lower in countries where firearms are more easily available. With the exception of Canada, the United States has the lowest gun-homicide rate of any country in the western hemisphere, despite being the nation where guns are most easily acquired.

Does this mean that Piers Morgan is wrong and the NRA is right? Not necessarily. But it does suggest that they should both include other social and geographical and less politically-correct factors in their argument.

In Europe, the countries that have the highest rate of gun crime are Finland and France and these are both countries where guns are more freely available. In Britain and Australia, a small number of high-profile atrocities in the 1990s led to a clampdown on gun ownership and this, in turn, resulted in a significant reduction in gun-related crime, albeit from an already very low level, compared with other parts of the world. In Asia, the carrying of fire-arms is strictly curbed, and gun-crime is practically unheard-of. The Chinese secret police content themselves with roughing up their targets…

In Latin American countries, gun crime rates are off the chart and are worse in those nations where firearms are less freely available. When Brazil held a referendum on banning gun-ownership among private citizens, people voted overwhelmingly in favor of their right to bear arms. Even though—and this is interesting—very few actually do.

This suggests that the ‘gun-issue’ is a uniquely ‘American’ problem, in the continental sense. Perhaps, it has something to do with a residual ‘wild-west’ mentality. It may be related to higher levels of poverty and inequality. Or to a trigger-happy law-enforcement community that has consistently upped the stakes in this arms-race on the edge of the world. These issues need to be examined.

I applaud Piers Morgan for his campaign against guns in the USA and wish him well in his future career. But I wonder whether journalists or politicians are the best-qualified people to ponder this issue and get the true message across…