We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.

– Jeff Cooper (10 May 1920 – 25 September 2006)

38 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Kim du Toit

    My favorite Coop quote:

    “There is an enchantment cast upon almost any man when he holds a rifle in his hands.”

    From The Art of the Rifle

  • Freeman

    The rifle . . . has no will of its own.

    True, but, strangely enough, the same applies to people: if one accepts that our actions are just the product of our hereditary and our environment (including all the antecendant factors), then we have no free will either.

    Of course most people don’t want to believe this as it’s far too disturbing. But what is the alternative? That we have a homunculus in our head that makes all the key decisions for us, and if so on what basis does it decide what is right or wrong, or even when to cross the road?

  • then we have no free will either…Of course most people don’t want to believe this as it’s far too disturbing.

    I do not believe that not because it is disturbing but because it is manifestly incorrect. I do not feel like getting into that debate here (yet again) but for one of the best (and most straightforward) explainations of why ‘yes, we really do have free will’ is by far the best theory, take a look at David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality.

  • watcher

    The nuclear bomb itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with nuclear bombs.

  • watcher, I am sure you have a point you are trying to make in there somewhere…

  • I don’t see any point other than a sophomoric attempt to build some type of moral equivalency of use between rifles and nuclear bombs. If you would justify the use of a rifle for good, you would also justify the use of a nuke for good. News flash – As a right-wing-death-beast, I don’t need a reason to use either. Just a target.

    Anywho. My personal favorite line comes from a poem by his daughter Lindy Cooper Wisdom.

    There ain’t many troubles that a man can’t fix with seven hundred dollars and a thirty ought six

  • Actually, Watcher, that is exactly the difference between rifles and bombs. One madman with nuclear weapons can end the world. One madman with a rifle (in a society where carrying guns is normal) will be dead after firing one or two shots.

  • Brian

    “(I)f one accepts that our actions are just the product of our hereditary and our environment (including all the antecendant factors), then we have no free will either.”

    Well, this one rejects such claptrap.

  • gravid

    I’ve been sitting on this one for a while.
    I just had to post this somewhere..I whooped for joy when I read it.

    Didn’t know where to post it…many apologies for it being OT.

  • Stefan

    One madman with a rifle (in a society where carrying guns is normal) will be dead after firing one or two shots

    Sorry to point out the glaringly obvious, but you’re wrong

  • ricardo

    Sorry Stephan, but the reason Columbine has a huge body count is because no teacher was allowed to carry a concealed handgun and there werent any security guards in the premises. They trusted the police and the police waited three hours before entering the building. Have Harris and Klebold tried to do the same in Israel they would have been shot down in the first minutes of the rampage.

  • As Stefan is obviously ‘hard of reading’, let me repleat with emphasis added:

    One madman with a rifle (in a society where carrying guns is normal) will be dead after firing one or two shots

  • Paul Marks

    Determinism is fun:

    “I have to say that you are not an agent (i.e. do not have “free will”) I have no choice in the matter, it was determined that I say this by a line of causes and effects going back to the start of time”.

    “I have to beat you to death (in response to you saying that I am not an agent), I have no choice in the matter, it was determined by a series of causes and effects going back to the start of time”.

    Of course, determinism (whether of the gentic or environmental sort – or of a mixture of the two) really denies that there is any “I” (an agent, a subject as opposed to a nonreasoning robot) at all – so there is no “I” to “believe” in anything (including determinism).

    Not a question of being “disturbed” as under determinism there is no mind to be disturbed (the mind being a different way of saying the agent, which is a different way of saying free will).

    Certainly both genetics and environment have an influence – but a human being can often resist both (that is part of the definition of being a being – an agent).

    “I shot those kids because people were nasty to me when I was a kid”.


    “I shot those kids because my genetics means that I am more violent than other people”

    Or a mixure of the two (or the old forms of determinsm “it was all of God’s plan from the start of time” or “it was written in the stars”).

    None of this will removes choice – and hence moral responsibility.

    Things are certainly harder for some people than others – but they can still choose.

  • Freeman

    There have been some spirited challenges to the disturbing idea that ultimately we have no free will.

    Paul: You are correct in the sense there is no “I” separate from the brain’s neural network. It’s just an evolved illusion created by a complex mind, similar to the highly effective mental illusion that a gunshot wound causes pain; it hurts even though flesh itself (just meat) can’t feel pain. Anaesthetics diminish the mind’s functioning so that the synthesised sensation of pain the “I” feels can be relieved.

    Brian: Yours seems to be an emotive response, without giving justification. As I originally implied, most people don’t want to accept the findings of neuroscience, and prefer to remain with Descartes’ dualistic theory of the mind which he proposed some 400 years ago.

    Perry: The Deutsch/Everett hypothesis of branching into multiple universes has some application in explaining quirks of quantum physics, although (pace Penrose) quantum effects are not actually needed to explain (in principle) the operation of the mind. Fortunately, however, the Deutsch/Everett hypothesis is deterministic and so its application can also lead to the idea that the mind is ultimately deterministic.

  • If I have cause to chat to Deutsch again I must tell him that as I am sure it will make him chuckle. If you are (for want of a better word) God, then the multiverse is indeed ‘deterministic’ in the sence you clearly mean. If you are not God (and I am guessing you are not), then the universe in which you exist, free will is actually inescapable, with all the moral woes that brings. Suggest you re-read FoR to see why it does have rather a lot to do with the idea of free will. Perhaps you think your mind is a constant in an uncertain universe but mine sure ain’t.

    And really, I cannot see why the notion is ‘disturbing’ unless you accept it. For example Flat Earth Theory is only disturbing if you believe it to be the best theory and happen to be sailing into unknown waters in a ship.

  • Stefan

    Well Ricardo and Perry, I’ve rather under-estimated you’re belief in gun-ownership. When you talked of a society “where carrying guns is normal” I assumed you meant a nation such as the U.S. (Where it is far more regular and normal than it ever could be in Britain or Europe.) Of course if teachers carried guns incidents such as Columbine might not reach such tragic proportions, but a society where teachers carry guns is a seriously troubled one I would suggest, and as such hardly “normal”.

    (Which, incidentally, suggests why Israel is an extremely odd choice for a society to emulate. The reason the carrying of guns is normal there is that it is a) a society that is hugely militarised, an army with a state as they used to say; and b) because it exists in a state of permanent and violent instability. So yes, teachers might shoot a Harris or Klebold before they could kill too many people, but at what cost? Personally I’d rather live in a society such as ours where virtually no-one carries a gun, tragedies such as Columbine are extremely rare and the young are not forced into traumatising and brutalising service in an army engaged in intense fighting, whether defensive or as a force of occupation.)

  • molly

    Personally I’d rather live in a society such as ours where virtually no-one carries a gun

    Oh you mean england? that great place where women can get raped and kicked but cannot have a way to protect themselves? yeah, it is much safer in wonderful england. Yet strangely in Ulster where any gobeshite can get a gun, your’re less likely to get your face punched by some beered up fuckwit. funny that eh?

  • Midwesterner


    In virtually all of the US, schools are ‘gun free zones’ except for occasionally armed (but often not) police officers.

    Economic theory predicts that the perceived ‘cost/benefit ratio’ found in schools would lead shooters to seek them out for their deeds. In which case, a vast majority of this sort of crime would occur specifically in schools. Off course, that’s exactly where these always occur. I hold that these ‘gun free zone’ policies are drawing shooters to schools.

    Today, we had one in my part of the country. The janitor took the guy’s shotgun by force. The guy escaped the janitor who then called 911. The guy also had a pistol and went on looking for his target, the principle. The principle, who of course being in a gun free zone was unarmed, wrestled the shooter’s gun away from him with his bare hands. The principle, John Klang, was shot three times in the process and died about 3 hours ago.

    There is only one thing a shooter will fear when he walks into a situation he views as a shooting arcade. That is someone shooting back. We need to lower the perceived ‘cost/benefit ratio’ in schools for potential shooters.

    Guns cannot, and will never be eliminated from society to a degree that criminals cannot get them. I think it entirely reasonable that well trained volunteers on the staff should be thoroughly trained in the use of guns in potentially crowded venues and be given keys to locked gun cabinets on the school grounds. Each time a cabinet is unlocked a hearing should be held to review what happened and suggest changes.

    It’s time we changed this ‘gun free zone’ policy and stopped drawing these attacks into our schools, which seems to be the only place they happen anymore.

  • gravid

    Molly, anywhere without a legally armed populace means only the goblins have guns. In the town I live in , I wouldn’t walk around at night especially near pub closing time. In fact things have got so bad there are a couple of landrovers of police outside the pubs every Saturday night to ,em, quell the violence. It may be true that the level of beered up fuckwittedness is much less than England/Scotland/Wales and strangely the level of gun crime is less also. Here in Ulster there are plenty of beered up fuckwits who enjoy a fight after the pub on a Saturday night. In communities where the gangsters are well known, funnily enough they don’t get any trouble. Now if we all could pack some heat……

  • Paul Marks

    “Freeman” (an ironic choice of name?).

    Determinism can not be a “disturbing idea” if there are no minds to be disturbed, nor can it even be idea (for there are no minds, according to determinism, to produce ideas).

    As for materialism (the mind as brain) meaning that determinism must be true – that is somewhat odd considering that many famous materialists (such as Ayn Rand) were also firm supporters of agency-free will.

    Actually I would rather like free will to be incompatible with materialism – as this would refute materialism (not free will) and I rather like the idea of there being a soul. However, the legion of materialist free will supporters would beg to differ with your argument.

    But, of course, according to you what I (although, of course, there is no I) say is determined by a series of causes and effects going back to the start of time – and the same is true for you.

    So what is the point of the conversation? Accept (of course) neither of us have any choice about how long the conversation goes on for or what is said.

  • Paul Marks

    I forget about the “illusion” point.

    Who is having the illusion?

    For someone to have an illusion-delusion presupposes that this person exists (i.e. is a mind – an agent, a free will being).

    Someone may have the wildest illusions-delusions (for example he may think that he is a thousand feet tall and is yellow with pink spots), but to have the illusion-delusion the person must first exist.

    A human being is a being – a mind, an agent, a free will creature.

    The denial of the subject-object distinction is a fundemental error. Also it is a contradiction “I deny that I exist” has a big problem in it.

    Saying that “I am an illusion” solves nothing – for who is having the illusion-delusion?

  • Paul Marks

    Sorry for three comments in a row – but it occurs to me that there is something else that should be covered.

    Physics has been called in to the defence of determinism.

    Even mathematics no longer goes along (I am told) with determinism – see chaos theory.

    As for phyisics, the quantum people won out long ago over the idea that “God does not play dice with the universe”.

    However, that is randomness (which takes us back to the “swerve of the atom” of Epicurus). There is more to the universe than just determinism and randomness – there is also CHOICE.

    It is the abilty to make choices (a choice being something that is NOT entirely predetermined by prior events – otherwise is not a choice) that defines what a “mind” or reasoning being is.

    A subject (as opposed to an object) is not simply a mixture of determinism and randomness (let alone determinism cause-and-effect on its own) – a subject (by definition) is also something capable of choice (which is NEITHER determinism nor randomness).

  • Freeman

    I won’t bore anyone further with a modern theory of the mind in regard to free will except to say that, for all practical purposes, I too feel and act as though I have free will even though I acknowledge (as many others are apparently constrained not to do!) that I don’t really have it.

    Nevertheless, I regard a realistic and robust “theory of the mind” to be important because it affects, for example: the way in which we bring up and educate children, the treatment of people with mental disorders, the effective sentencing and rehabilitation of criminals (punishment is easy) and our attitudes towards adults whose mental outlook has been crippled by childhood religious indoctrination.

  • Midwesterner

    Serious question Freeman, (or Paul),

    Even if predeterminism is correct, while your choices would have been predetermined, you don’t know what those predeterminations are, so you actually have to make the choices.

    Doesn’t the fact that we don’t know what we have been determined to be and do, invalidate predestiny’s relevence to our decision processes?

    Ergo, no matter which is true, one still has to live life as though there is free will. The practical effect of a belief in predestiny and the total lack of will and self-preservation that it would cause will terminate one’s DNA line rather quickly if it lead someone to not attempt to effect their future.

  • Midwesterner, hmmm…your point about DNA almost hits what I was just ruminating about…what about women like me who have not fulfilled the biological mandate to breed? Aren’t we supposed to be enslaved by our fertility? How could it be determinism if I choose not to comply with a conspiracy of facts that indicate that I should have not got away with never being knocked up?

    Herculean choice.

    Anyway…objects are inanimate and neither good nor evil. The person who uses that object for good or evil is the moral actor. Even the Bible says that good or evil is in the heart of man…from which he speaks and acts. (The metaphorical heart, of course.)

    Another example. I live in Appalachia, which is mostly unchurched but most of the churches that are here got confused about the whole 19th century temperence movement and thought it was Christian doctrine mandated by the Bible. So in this region, alcohol itself is considered to be evil. Of course, these good church folks still use alcohol, so what you have is drive-through liquor stores with the drive-through covered. It’s like a steel warehouse with covered bridge attached. Took me a while to figure out this phenomenon…the good church people want to get away with buying their alcohol without being seen doing so by their neighbors. As a lukewarm, non-church attending Catholic, I proudly park in view of the road, walk in, buy what I want, and actually make eye contact and say hello. Shameless!

    News story recently…a 51 year old nurse came home from work and found a man in her home who was armed with a hammer. She killed him with her bare hands. She is a folk hero now! Of course, not all women can count on being bigger than their home invaders/attackers. Some realize the asymmetrical nature of the situation and how superior firepower is their best defense and equalizer. Read a recent blog entry collecting stories about women defending themselves with guns, too. Heartwarming.

  • Freeman

    Midwesterner: A brief response to your fair question, so as not to overstay my welcome with the samizdata editors.

    There is no predetermination or predestination involved. It’s just that we make the single perceived “best” move, from our imperfect point of view, from moment to moment. So, you are not normally going to thow yourself in front of a speeding truck — but it might be your best move if (say) you were being escorted to a torture chamber. Hope that extreme example makes some sense.

    If you really want to persue the subject, try:
    1. A useful introductory paper by the colorful Dr Susan Blackmore: http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Articles/psych01.htm
    2. A vast collection of on-line papers via Prof Chalmers:

    Have fun!

  • kentuckyliz makes a very good point (and one far easier to explain that why the very fabric of reality itself makes ‘free will’ a damn near certainty) … how do the brain-as-programmed-machine advocates explain the large numbers of women who just decide to buck the ‘conditioning’ of millenia and refuse to squeeze out kiddies because they have decided it does not suit their several purposes?

  • Richard Thomas

    Perry, determinism doesn’t mean that people have cookie-cutter predestinations, it simply means that the choices are not the result of free-will but pre-existing conditions. (Quantum physics is a bit of a wild card in the equation). Determinism also doesn’t answer the question of consciousness (something I am certain I possess though I am not sure about the rest of you 🙂 ). One can suggest that the consciousness is just an observer and that “free will” is a post-event rationalization but somehow, in this very post, my consciousness has apparently exerted enough influence to make my brain want to discuss it. This suggests consciousness as an emergent property. But by what mechanism?

    In any event, determinism is a null hypothesis. Even if everything, including all actions, are deterministic, it is predestined that we will treat these predetermined actions as free will.

    In short, the sane thing to do is to deal with the universe as best as we can, predetermined or not.


  • Perry, determinism doesn’t mean that people have cookie-cutter predestinations

    I know, but very large numbers of woman suddenly (in historical terms) deciding to ‘buck the conditioning’ does rather suggest those ‘pre-existing conditions did not mean much 🙂

    Quantum physics is a bit of a wild card in the equation

    I think ‘nail-in-the-coffin’ might be a better term.

    In short, the sane thing to do is to deal with the universe as best as we can, predetermined or not.

    Also true, but quite apart from that, it is the best theory regardless of the implications for sanity 🙂

  • Midwesterner


    I think you miss my point and question. For one thing, if you are basing pre-destiny on a human’s perceived best move, the whole concept falls flat.

    The way for predetermination to be true would be basing it on the foundation that thought is the process of matter and matter obeys precise laws, always. Quantum uncertainty may or may not be true, that’s not what I’m challanging.

    I say that a belief in a pre established destiny is survival negative if it leads the believer to behave in a fatalistic way. We must still make decisions and believe they matter. Even if a hypothetical observer could predict them with 100% accuracy.

  • Richard Thomas

    I know, but very large numbers of woman suddenly (in historical terms) deciding to ‘buck the conditioning’ does rather suggest those ‘pre-existing conditions did not mean much 🙂

    Not at all. It merely means the pre-existing conditions now are different than they were in the past. Deterministic does not imply easily predictable. The two are orthoganal.

    We must still make decisions and believe they matter. Even if a hypothetical observer could predict them with 100% accuracy.

    But if things are deterministic, we have no choice and whether we believe the decisions we make matter (or not) is not in our control. Determinism is not worth considering in the day-to-day process of life because of this intense circularism. Which is not to say it isn’t true, merely that it is irrelevant.

    To get back to the topic at hand, with regard to firearms, the issue isn’t whether a choice is made but that the object is capable of perfoming independent action. A gun that fired randomly would be unnaceptable as would an unbalanced or evil person regardless of the motivation.


  • Richard Thomas

    and for my money, the many-worlds theorum is about as unsatisfactory and the Copenhagen theorum and doesn’t do anything to increase our understanding. Not that it is especially bad, it just seems like another way of looking things. The way one person might describe a circle as a cone intersecting a plane and another as a cylinder intersecting that plane. If you are unable to look outside the plane, it doesn’t make much (any) difference.

    The last article I read on it, they were trying to equate the multi-worlds theorum to solipsism which would be nice (but also depressing that I would give myself this life) but which doesn’t follow in the slightest.


  • Paul Marks

    The “mind” is just another way of saying the agent (i.e. the being – the subject, as opposed to just an object), and the agent is that which has agency – free will. Basic object/subject distinction.

    Basically (“modern theory”, which actually goes back to some ancient thinkers, not withstanding) “the mind” is just another way of saying “free will”. The great stress on the difference between “reason” and “will” is a mistake.

    I say again, if I (or you) am an “illusion” who is having this illusion?

    As for free will (agency – my existance) not being compatible with materialism (i.e. “the mind is the brain”). Well first many famous athiest materialists say it is compatible (Ayn Rand, Antonyy Flew in his athiest days – and so on). And, of course, if free will really was not compatible with materialism this would simply prove that materialism is false (not that free will is false).

    It would be rather nice to prove the existance of the soul – so I wish you luck with your effort to prove that free will is not compatible with materalism.

    Free will (agency – my existance) is a self evident truth that can not be denied without contradiction (as in “I do not exist”). As Dr Johnson put it “we know our will is free, and there is an end to it”.

  • Midwesterner

    Richard Thomas,

    I think I’m still not being clear. As far as determinism is concerned, I’m agnostic. I don’t know if it’s correct or not.

    My point is that if one alters their course based on a belief in determinism, they are Darwinistically doomed. They may be pre-determined to be doomed (or genetically dead-ended), it doesn’t matter. I’m making an observation. I choose to behave as though I have free will. It’s the only rational choice. Even if I’m pre-determined to think so. 🙂

  • Paul Marks

    Of course if what people (or rather the human looking robots that they actually are according to determinism) do is really entirely determined by the condidions (which were in turn determined by prior condidtions, which in turn were determined by……. going back to the start of time) then there is no moral justifcation for punishment (although this is not important under determinism as there is no morality under this doctrine). Just as there is no moral justification for punishing a tree that happens to fall on someone due to the wind.

    If crime is really an “illness” which is to be “treated” (somehow the all wise experts who do the “treating” do not come under determinism – or act “as if” they do not), then just about anything may be done to human beings (or rather the non being – human looking robots), regardless of what they have done or not done – on the basis of what they might do.

    Some people (because of environmental and/or genetic factors) find it harder to choose to do right than other people – but they can still choose.

    To treat everyone as if they had lost their reason (indeed, under determinism, as if there were no such thing as reason – the capacity for understanding and choice) in order to go “beyond good and evil” is the road to Hell.

  • Midwesterner


    I think you are attributing some of the erronious conclusions reached by people who believe in determinism to the theory itself.

    It is a series of two questions.

    Does thought/soul/whatever obey the laws of physics?

    Do the laws of physics allow choice?

    You will find deep seated antagonism on the second question. Einstein went to his grave believing God does not play dice.

    I’m not at all convinced that the hidden variable theory has been proven wrong. I don’t care enough to study it more, either.

    I will exercise my free will, and if it can hypothetically predicted it with 100% precision, so what? The very act of telling me the predictions contaminates the calculations and would lead to an infinite feed back loop.

  • Paul Marks

    The laws of physics also say that if two objects are approaching each other each at three quarters of the speed of light, their combined (or collison) speed is NOT one and half times the speed of light. A viewer on either object will see space as shortened – and passing of time will be changed (and so on). One could go on with other examples from modern physics.

    Still such things are not a great interest of mine. But if you wish to appeal to physics – as I pointed out above the quantum people long ago won out against “God does not play dice with the universe” (I even gave the quote). Not that randomness is choice of course – the universe is not just determinism and randomness (let alone cause-and-effect determinism alone) there is also choice.

    On the theory of determinism itself:

    You are correct in thinking that some determinists do not draw the conclusions that others do. But the determinists who hold that moral responisbility is somehow “compatible” with determinism are simply wrong (even if David Hume was not simply playing games – which I suspect he was).

    One can make the two compatible – but only by saying “all things are determined, but I determine some of these things”, but this is not how most define determinism (indeed the concept of an “I” that can choose – i.e. is not totally controlled by previous events, is exactly what classical determinism attacks).

    However, I am pleased that people above are agreed that consciousness is a big problem for determinism. Efforts to “explain”, as in “explain away”, consciousness (or what Ludwig Von Mises once called the “unanalyseable I” – I am not calling in Mises to my support, I just like the phrase) are doomed to failure.

    There – that doomed bit might be called a bit of determinism from me.

  • Paul Marks

    Sorry for saying “simply” about David Hume’s games – I know that they are anything but simple.

    As for the “doomed bit” being determinism from me – I do not mean that seriously.

    Any more than saying efforts to prove that 1+1=3 are false (or “doomed to fail”) is determism.

    The J.S. Mill idea of freedom meaning that somewhere in the universe 1+1=2 might be false, shows a misunderstanding of freedom.

    Still it is late (at least in Britian) and J.S. Mill is one of my hate figures (which shocks some libertarians who only know him from a few quotes), so I will not give in to the temptation to go on about him now.

    On firearms: A gun is a tool that one needs to study and practice with to use well, and one needs to look after with care.

    I would hate anyone to get the idea that a firearm is something like a flag that one can just wave about to make a political point (although I do not deny its vital political importance).

    The man whose quote started this thread understood this well.