Why The Gun Debate Will Never Be Resolved

Do you remember the Sneetches? In one of Dr. Seuss’s most popular books, he told about a society with Star-Belly Sneetches who had “bellies with stars” and Plain-Belly Sneetches who had “none upon thars.” The Star-Belly Sneetches were the privileged elite and the Plain-Belly Sneetches were discriminated against, not being invited to “frankfurter roasts, or picnics, or parties or marshmallow toasts.” Quite a predicament for the Plain-Belly Sneetches.

But then a stranger comes into town, Sylvester McMonkey McBean with a contraption to put stars on the bellies of the Plain-Belly Sneetches. Problem solved, right? Not so fast! Once all the Plain-Belly Sneetches had stars, the Star-Belly Sneetches felt like they needed to do something different to differentiate themselves, so they all had their stars removed. The society began to swing back and forth from putting stars on to taking them off until they were a mix of both again (right back where they started, except no one could remember “whether this one was that one or that one was this one. Or which one was what one or what one was who.”)

This story is usually used as a parable to teach the woes of discriminating against people for superficial reasons, but there is another lesson to be drawn here. Societies don’t tend to become homogenous, they tend to stabilize around an ideal level of diversity. If you push too far in one direction the scales will tip back the other way so that the point of stability is always achieved.

In the Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins describes this as “an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy.” In any community where you have some “Hawks” (aggressive and ready to fight to resolve their problems) and some “Doves” (more collaborative and more likely to retreat if things get violent) the community will eventually stabilize to a set ratio of Hawks vs. Doves.

Related: Guns: Why Everyone’s Arguments are Wrong

Why does this happen? Because when there are too many Hawks they become more likely to fight with one another and a small handful of Doves will begin to thrive and multiply by staying out of the fray. But if there are too many Doves, a small handful of Hawks can quickly take power by asserting themselves forcefully, stifling the Doves and increasing the ranks of the Hawks. Invariably, a stable ratio is ultimately found (usually with more Hawks than Doves, BTW.)

In other words, the gun control debate is as futile as the fight over stars on the beaches of the Sneetches. By all means, advocate for the policies that you would like to see–that is how a democracy works. But realize you may only be able to tip the scales so far before it swings back in the other direction. The Hawks will never convince all the Doves that their way is right and the Doves will never convince all the Hawks that their way is right. We are just going to have to learn to live with each other in spite of our differences . . . just like the Sneetches.

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One Response to Why The Gun Debate Will Never Be Resolved

  1. Daniel S. Bowling III March 16, 2018 at 6:11 pm #

    Wise counsel – the same week the student walkouts took place, my hometown paper (in Mississippi) published a courtesy picture of a proud father and son (8 years old) with a turkey the boy killed hunting with his first gun. Reconciling these cultures is futile – lets just oc-exist.

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