(Not) Learning from Experience

4 Sep

There are very few fields of study or training where one enters on the same level as a person who has been there for years. As a piece of advice to young would-be British soldiers has it, the people you meet in the recruiting office are actually quite senior and experienced soldiers and you do NOT know better than them. Maybe you think you’d immediately be streamlined into the SAS or the Paras would be so damn glad to have you they’ll snatch you out of Catterick ITC before you even get started. If you’re lucky, such conceits will be lost with only the minimal amount of sneering from the sergeant you meet.

(As an aside, there is at least one story (and probably more) about a young British recruit who turned up for training convinced that he had joined the SAS.)

My point is that the people who have been doing something for years, generally speaking, know what they’re doing. Someone completely new is unlikely to understand how the organisation works, at least without some experience of their own. In a sane world, that automatically makes their opinions less important than those of experienced men. The fact that the world is not sane is neither here nor there. <grin>.

It’s been a long path for me to become a writer and, along the way, I have had a LOT of people offer helpful and well-meaning advice. (I still have a long way to go.) Some of that advice came from writers, editors or people who were very knowledgeable about the field – people who, in short, could be assumed to know what they were talking about. And I discovered, as I went on, that many of them did know what they were talking about – and even most of those I disagreed with had good reason to tell me what they did.

Which, in a somewhat roundabout route, brings us back to Heidi Yewman. You may remember that I wrote about the whole My Month With A Gun affair here and here. Having lost her slot in Ms. Magazine, Ms. Yewman managed to convince The Daily Beast to carry the remaining three parts of her article – and, in addition, wrote a comment on the debate her article caused. Apparently, people were mean to her.

What she doesn’t seem to realise is that she thoroughly deserved it.

I said this before, so I’ll summarise. Despite being worried about guns, to the point where she actively campaigns to ban them, Ms. Yewman committed the cardinal sin of knowing almost nothing about the weapon she chose to carry. By her own admission, she was a completely unsafe pair of hands for a loaded gun – and her reactions to actually carrying a weapon are pricelessly funny. Why, I would like to ask, didn’t she bother to get any training – or even read the instruction manual?

Her actions were thoroughly idiotic. She was called on this – and, instead of realising that her detractors might have had a point, complained that people were being mean to her. No one had any obligation to refrain from pointing out how stupid she was being. I suspect that, no matter what she said, Ms. Magazine realised the depths of her misconduct and decided not to publish the rest of her work. Put off by online comments? Please! Even a simple internet magazine can turn off comments!

This idiocy pervades the rest of her article. She leaves the gun lying around carelessly, clearly (despite claiming to be hyperaware of its presence) forgetting that it was there (or, for that matter, that her son was nearby). Then she frets about telling her son how to get into the gun cabinet … worrying that her son (like the son of a nameless friend) will commit suicide with it.

I wouldn’t poke fun at suicidal thoughts. God knows I’ve had them myself. But really … do you think that a gun is necessary to commit suicide? There are no shortage of ways to kill yourself, ranging from jumping off a cliff to taking an overdose of pills. If you are genuinely worried about your son committing suicide, get him some professional help! Even a friendly ear can help someone on the brink of ending it all.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, a day or so later her son comes home, having forgotten his keys, and knocks on the door. And Ms. Yewman panics! Should she get the gun? And what good will it do her, she asks herself, if the gun is kept in a safe while repairmen are in the house?

The funny thing is … all of these risks were present before she got a gun. As I see it, the odds of a rapist repairman or a murdering salesman didn’t really change when the gun entered the house. All that really changed were the odds of either intimidating them into backing down or shooting them if they tried to rape her.

And she became scared when she went out and about with the gun.

The funny thing about that is that I have had similar reactions. But I didn’t have them to a gun. When I first started driving, I felt much the same as her; would a single mistake on my part kill someone? Or even crash my instructor’s car? My first trip out on a road was terrifying and I’m sure I gave the instructor more than a few gray hairs. But I grew more comfortable with it as I learned how to actually drive. I’m pretty sure that Ms. Yewman would have grown comfortable with the gun too, if she got some proper training and carried it for longer. But that would undermine the central point she is trying, however poorly, to make.

Ms. Yewman has successfully proven one thing – she is not competent to handle a gun. Her problem, however, is generalising this to everyone else; she is not competent, ergo everyone else is not competent either. I don’t think that one has to be mad about guns to see the flaws in this argument.

Nor has she bothered to provide many examples for her readers. Perhaps, the cynic in me wonders, the blogosphere dissected the first part of her article so thoroughly that she decided to stay away from specifics …

I could go on, but I think I will focus on a separate point that should be mentioned.

The world is not safe. Bad things can and do happen to good people. Ms. Yewman lived inside an invisible protective bubble that shielded her from the true nature of the human beast – and the animal waiting to be unleashed when civilisation falls. That bubble also shielded her from the simple truth that people who disagree with her don’t have to keep their mouths shut. This attitude does her no credit.

And the gun she carried was not dangerous. The mindset she carried with it, on the other hand, was extremely dangerous. It is the mindset of a sheep who wishes that all others were sheep too – and denies the existence of the wolf, while wearing down the resolve of the sheepdog to serve and protect. But reality cannot be wished out of existence, no matter how much one may try.

In many ways, that attitude is the most dangerous of all.

Let us imagine a gun-free world. God has ordained that guns may no longer fire. Any weapon that isn’t powered by muscle will simply not work. What would happen then?

Ms. Yewman might assume that it would be paradise. But it would be hell.

You see, the strong can beat the weak. Until the invention of the firearm – hence the old saying about Sam Colt making men equal – the strong kept the weak firmly in bondage. For every princess in a castle (and many of them had truly awful lives) there were at least 10’000 peasants working in the fields, slaves in all but name. You go up to one of the strong in such a world and start preaching about human dignity and the right to life and he will laugh at you. In such a world, might makes right.

Still want to get rid of guns?

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8 Responses to “(Not) Learning from Experience”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard September 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    The sad thing about the idea that a gunless world would be “paradise” are all the stories where a woman trained in martial arts routinely beats men twice her size and equally trained.

    Even if a woman is trained with the sword, men who are larger and stronger will the ones to bet on winning (assuming equal skill with the sword).

    Women warriors may have existed in the past but they were likely women who were greatly above average (for women) in size and strength.

    Before somebody brings up the Greek Amazons, in Greek legends they exist mostly to be beaten by the male heroes.

    • chrishanger September 5, 2013 at 2:39 am #

      At the risk of sounding like a terrible geek, one of the few Wonder Woman strips I could stomach involved a woman who had worked her way from rags to riches becoming her enemy – pointing out rather snidely that she’s the REAL wonder woman. No matter what WW’s followers do, they won’t end up like her – how can they? But the enemy was dumped because she had a point. Back to the gunless world, there’s also simple lack of experience. The same thing that gives us the ‘its never been done right.’ thingy. Chris > Date: Wed, 4 Sep 2013 12:22:38 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

  2. thelyniezian September 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I’m not too sure about that last part Chris. Are you suggesting that the subjugation of peasants, whose life basically involved lots of hard physical labour, were somehow deprived of strength? Perhaps your typical lord (along with the king above him), not having to do this, could devote himself more to the arts of combat, and might I suppose have had a much less meagre diet than those who worked for him, but most of what seems to have kept the hoi polloi in check was likely to have a lot more to do with ideas of divine right, or perhaps just the (if I dare use the term) “social contract” than anything else. At least to the point where those in power were able to command an army capable of crushing any would-be revolts, not so much anything to do with their own physical strength.

    • chrishanger September 7, 2013 at 5:53 am #

      To some extent, it depends on circumstance, but the nobles generally had a monopoly on weapons (swords and suchlike), armour and training. Learning to use a sword effectively took years. Peasant revolts did happen (notably Wat Tylers rebellion in England) but they rarely ended well. I dont think that there is any case of a peasant revolt actually achieving long-term change.

      The social contract you mention is actually a product of the status quo. Religion was largely enforced in Europe by the nobles/monarchs. (To the point where a lord switching religion was assumed to have switched it for his people too, as Henry VIII, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth of England suggest.)

      YMMV, of course.


      > Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2013 13:33:10 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

      • thelyniezian September 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

        What I was trying to suggest was primarily that whatever dominance the nobility had probably had little to do with physical strength in and of itself, but other factors- whether through the fact that the ruling classes had a monopoly on weapons, armour and training, as you state, or through the social conventions of the time which dictated a certain hierarchy.

        I suggest in the former case this is true even in the era of the gun. Of course guns require much less training that using a sword, bow or similar “muscle-powered” weapon but, as your article seems to hint, do require a certain amount of training and know-how to use properly. The powers that be even now tend to restrict the availability of weapons to the general populous, the types of guns you can have and how powerful they can be. Even in America I think you’re only allowed semi-automatic weapons at most. Look at modern rebellions- Libya only had Gaddafi overthrown once the West stepped in with airstrikes, for example, as the rebels weren’t as well-armed and were on the point of losing. Seemingly much the same with Syria at the moment.

        Which is where I think the idea that it is down to social understandings and norms. In the middle ages that probably would have been down to your whole “Chain of Being” concepts and the divine right of kings. Maybe your peasants’ revolts didn’t achieve much, but I’d bet if your nobility and other powerful people wanted to unseat the king, they could do so. (I also seem to recall Wat Tyler et al. were more interested in getting their demands met than overthrowing the monarch, managing to cause a fair amount of mayhem and nearly looking like they were going to force the king’s hand in the process.) Similarly, nowadays our idea of freedom, democracy and equality could easily be overthrown if someone got into power who was able to instigate tyrannical rule.

      • chrishanger September 10, 2013 at 11:37 am #


        Its never easy to say just which factors were important; as you suggest, the social hierarchy of the time was tilted in favour of the aristocrats, but at the same time it was difficult for non-aristocrats to master weapons guns, on the other hand, require little actual training (certainly when compared to the weapons they had on hand.) But that does assume that guns are available to the local population.

        My point was that guns do equalise matters between people who might have different levels of strength. George Zimmerman would have been killed by Martin if he hadn’t had a gun, as the physical evidence makes clear. A woman without a gun is rarely a match for a man, which is partly why physical domestic abuse is largely male-on-female instead of vice versa.

        This cannot always be applied on a larger scale, but I would note that Switzerland remained independent even with Hitler was at the height of his power and Finland deterred Stalin from taking it all in 1944. (What were the gun laws in Finland then and now?)

        In this particular case, all of the dangers she wrote about existed before owning a gun. (If nothing else, the whole affair improved her situational awareness.) The dangers would not vanish without her carrying the gun and, if she had some competence, it might make the difference between survival and death.


        > Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2013 19:58:07 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

  3. mark September 6, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Are you trying to tease us? Having a post with the same title as not one but two of your forthcoming books, and having it be about something else entirely.

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