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Burma, ‘gun control’ and David Hume

Burma is a good example of ‘gun control’, i.e. a state of affairs where firearms are a legal monopoly of the government forces. One side has good intentions and the other side has loaded rifles, and the result (so far) has been the same as it was in 1988 – or even back in 1962 when the late General Ne Win first set up his socialist administration.

However, me being a cold hearted man whose mind starts to wander even when shown scenes of murder and other horror, the situation reminds me of the philosophy of David Hume. This mid 18th century Scottish philosopher claimed that government was not based on force – but rather that it was based on opinion. Hume did this to mock the claim that there was a great difference between the ‘constitutional’ government of Britain and the ‘tyranny’ of France – under the skin both sides are basically the same, was his point.

This was part of David Hume’s love of attacking what his opponents (such as Thomas Reid) were to call “Common Sense”. David Hume was involved in what are now called ‘counter intuitive’ positions. Hume claimed (at times) that there was no objective reality – that the physical universe was just sense impressions in the mind. This did not stop him also claiming (at times) that the mind did not exist, in the sense of a thinking being, that a thought did not mean a thinker – that there was no agent and thus no free willed being.

Whether David Hume actually believed any of this – or whether he was just saying to people “you do not have any strong arguments for your most basic beliefs – see how weak reason is”… is not the point here. The point is that many people. including many people who have never heard his name, have been influenced by the ideas of David Hume.

For example, Louis XVI of France did not actively resist his enemies, going so far as ordering others, such as the Swiss Guard, not to resist, because he had read David Hume’s History of England – it was his favourite book. In his history Hume claimed that Charles the First did not get killed because he lost the Civil War (as a simple minded ordinary man might think) – but because he had fought back against his enemies at all. If he had not resisted his enemies, they would have seen no need to kill him (a clever counter intuitive position).

So Louis XVI did not resist. It is possible that he was given cause to doubt Hume’s wisdom right before his enemies murdered him, and so many others, but we will never know the answer to that I suppose.

In Burma, as in so many other places, many people seem to have thought that opinion, namely the good intentions of the majority, were more important than firepower – they appear to be mistaken.

“You are showing lack of respect for the dead” – perhaps, but I am warning people not to stand against men with rifles when you are unarmed. Get the firepower, one way or another, and learn how to use it, then you may have a chance at liberty – you can not have it, or keep it, without firepower. And that remains true even if you win some soldiers over to your side with appeals to their reason.

2 comments to Burma, ‘gun control’ and David Hume

  • Dear President Hu Jintao and Interested Parties,

    I am writing to you in your capacity as Chinese President, as China has been Burma’s main trading partner and arms supplier. I am writing to urge you to compel Burma towards valid national reconciliation.

    Burma’s military regime has been showing its true colors, firing automatic weapons at peaceful demonstrators and raiding monasteries, brutally attacking the monks and people, killing many. But the regime’s criminal disdain for human rights has also cast a harsh light on China, the principal commercial partner, strategic ally, and diplomatic protector of the junta. The regime has ignored pleas for restraint and responded with a brutal crackdown, reportedly killing hundreds.

    The Chinese government must act immediately and impose tough economic sanctions on the regime. I urge you, as Chinese President, to ensure the government of China imposes a ban on new investment, a ban on financial transactions, an asset freeze of the regime and the generals and a ban on key imports.
    Despite threats, arrests, intimidation and beatings, people in Burma continue to take to the streets in defiance of the regime. They need and deserve international support, not only in word, but also practical action. Any delay in imposing sanctions will be seen by the regime as a green light to continue killing. The Chinese government should take an action against the regime to prevent it from killing the Burmese people, monks, and the ethnic Karens, Rohingyas and Shans.

    Burma is home to the world’s longest-running war. The regime has been engaged in protracted war, close to 60 years, against the ethnics Karens, Rohingyas, Shans and the junta has been targeting unarmed civilian communities. I ask you particularly to consider the immediate situation of ethnic minority civilians in eastern and western Burma who are currently facing massive regime attacks. I urge you to support a resolution from the UN Security Council that would, among other things, call for an end to attacks on these civilians, and unfettered access for humanitarian aid.

    It is past time for the issue of Burma to be addressed by the UN’s most powerful body, the Security Council. A resolution on Burma must be passed at the UN Security Council today because the situation in Burma has deteriorated to the point where its political instability, widespread human rights violations, creation of over 3 million refugees, displacement of millions internally in Burma, tolerance of the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics, and indifference to the transmission of HIV/AIDS from Burma to other parts of Asia, all pose a legitimate threat to international peace and security.

    I urge you to continue to make clear to the regime that the National Convention, as currently constituted, does not represent legitimate, meaningful progress. I urge you to call on the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo, Hkun Htun Oo, and all other political prisoners, to initiate a credible and inclusive political process.

    Respectfully yours,

    Rafi Dwatt

    Director, Head of the Burma Democracy Network

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