Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Connecticut School Shooting Musings

December 19, 2012

Or, Sh!t Concerned Citizens Say (that don’t make no sense, yo).

On December 14th, 2012, an armed gunman entered an elementary school and shot twenty kids and six adults to death before turning the gun on himself. I think enough of my friends/acquaintances/people-who-will-probably-no-longer-be-friends-after-reading-this have posted their outpourings of grief and support.

I myself prefer to analyze the problem and attempt solutions. As well as attacking argumentfail because that’s fun too.

1. Arm the teachers! Arm all the teachers!

Arming the teachers – defined as giving them all guns is hella stupid. While guns dominated the battlefield despite their individual inferiority compared to other weapons due to requiring much less training time, training time is still necessary to operate them properly. Even in a state like Texas you would have a decent amount of teachers who have not handled guns. Basis common sense tells you that the risk of accident in this case far outweighs the risk of another shooting, given that shootings occur relatively rarely.

However, this just means you need to control for firearms proficiency when deciding who to arm. It is known that CHL holders generally can be just as if not more proficient than actual police/military personnel, depending on how much range time the CHL holder has and what the cop/soldier actually did (obviously an Army mechanic isn’t going to have too much combat experience). There is no reason why teachers who already have CHLs should not be allowed to carry. At my high school we had a cop who was armed. If we trust him to not have misfires that would scare the kiddies or to go on a shooting rampage of his own due to a bad day, why do we not trust teachers to do the same, especially when we trust said teachers to practically mold our kids minds anyway?

According to this seemingly neutral website, there were 613 fatal firearms accidents and 15,698 nonfatals. There are 300 million guns in the US total, owned by roughly 70-80 million adults, or a quarter of the US population (roughly 300 mllion). This is an accident rate of less than .007% (using 20K/300 mill) per gun, or .027% (20K/75 mill) per adult owning a gun. There are 7.2 million teachers in the US and roughly 300 million people in the US. Thus, an extremely basic analysis makes for 1.8 million teachers who own guns, having 480 misfires/year. This number, however, needs be further modified to account for school days, which the Dept of Education says is on average 180, bringing us to 236 teacher misfires per year. Divide this again by the number of teachers and multiply by 13 (number of grades, K-12), and this gives you a .04261% chance of your child being in the classroom when a misfire happens. This is not accounting for the fact that it must be lower, since not everyone who has a CHL will carry, and the liberal slant in higher education means that the percentage of CHL holders among teachers will be lower than the national average. In contrast, you have a 1.19% of being hit by a car, a .84% chance of committing suicide, .518% chance of accidental poisoning, and .089% chance of drowning.

1a. Hello Kitty guns for the kiddies!

The reductio ad absurdum argument of “well maybe we should give the kids guns too” also does not work because no one said that, so it is a strawman. As well as being absurd. The difference is that I am saying people who are already trained in firearm use and safety and are already trusted by society to be in a position of authority over children should be allowed to carry if they so choose. This is, again, not nearly the same thing as arming all the teachers or arming any of the students.

2. Control the guns! Control all the guns!

I was initially very against the idea of gun control. Since then, I have come to realize it does work to a limited extent because the situation actually not as simple as “if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns”. There are actually three sets of guns here – guns owned by reasonable people which are not used to commit crimes, guns owned by bad people which are used to commit crimes, and guns owned by reasonable people or were initially obtained legally that a bad person eventually gets their hands on and uses to commit crimes (such as the case in the Connecticut shooting). If it is “more difficult” – and by that I mean the standards as to who is legally allowed to own a gun is more stringent, possibly in terms of sales to family with mentally ill people or something – to obtain guns, then the third subset will decrease. This can be coupled with a gun buyback program.

However, it is highly important to recognize that these measures do nothing to the second subset of guns. Bad guys do not surrender their guns, thus it is still necessary for good guys to have them. And no, only allowing police to have them does not cut it.

I was an Orientation Adviser for the University of Texas, which has its own police department. The official statistic that we inform incoming students is that average response time for UTPD is roughly two minutes. Two minutes is a VERY – and I cannot emphasize this enough – a VERY long time for an active shooter to do a lot of damage. And keep in mind, UT is a mere 40 acres in size. If you are somewhere with an active shooter, it will almost certainly take longer for the police to arrive.

Gun control is only relevant in controlling the numbers of guns obtained legally by normal people who just happen to, say, live in the same house with mentally unstable people. It does not affect guns already in the hands of criminals or mentally unstable people, because criminals do not follow laws and guns are non-perishable products.

3. Ermahgerd, semi-automatics!? WTF Y U NEED THOSE

The reporting around this and my Facebook friends’ statuses reveal to me that despite having not shot a gun in my life, apparently I know much more about guns than most of the media. Yay for Texas I guess?

Semi-automatic is a word that sounds scary because it has many syllables. It really only refers to a gun that gets you one shot per trigger pull. It is not quite a “weapon of war”, as military-use weapons are selective fire – that is, in addition to semi-auto, you can also select full auto (hold the trigger to spray), or burst. A cowboy’s six-shooter is technically not a semi-auto, but in terms of rapidity of shots is the exact same thing, differing only in shots required before reloading. The bolt-action rifles that were used in WWII would be the next step down, but those are still only marginally slower than semi-auto. To make any perceptible difference, you would pretty much reduce law-abiding folks to toting around muskets and flintlock. If you think “good” at that, you obviously have never been home invaded. Or considered that again, such laws do not affect criminals.

There is a blogger who I follow who posted an account in which there was a doctor who lived in the same neighborhood as he did who got home invaded. Doctor grabbed his revolver and shot one of the invaders, but he ran out and had to reload and that’s when the other invader shot him dead.

So to answer “why do you even need semi-automatics”, it’s because the bad guys already have them. Banning them only puts all the good guys at a disadvantage.

3a. Assault Weapons Ban

Dianne Feinstein wants to reintroduce the Federal Assault Weapons Ban to “get weapons of war off the streets”. This merely proves that Dianne Feinstein doesn’t know shit about guns or war. First off, the term “assault weapon” does not exist. There is such a thing as an “assault rifle”, but that just means a rifle that is magazine fed and can be set to semi-auto, full-auto, or burst, but those are already illegal for civilians to own anyway. The Federal Assault Weapons ban to which Feinstein refer is but a laundry list of features guns aren’t allowed to have selected mostly on the basis on how scary they look. From wiki, the banned features are:

For semi-automatics, the ability to have a detachable magazine and two or more of the following

  • Folding or telescoping stock – of marginal use when shooting. Only makes them take up somewhat less room when transporting. If you remember the scene from Jurassic Park, the warden had one of these that he was using to hunt the escaped velociraptors before they went “clever girl” on him. Man, that assault weapon feature worked out real well for him, huh?
  • Pistol grip – slightly improved ergonomics, nothing more.
  • Bayonet mount – I think everyone who supports the Federal Assault Weapons Ban also cheered when Obama did that “we also have less horses and bayonets” retort to Romney during the debate.
  • Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one – all this does is reduce the muzzle flash so that the enemy cannot pinpoint your location using that. Yes, it helps the crazed gunman doing hit and run like the DC sniper a while back. It also helps homeowners defending their homes against invasion because they are not blinded when firing their gun defensively.
  • Grenade launcher – this one I actually kind of agree with, but then I thought about how useful they might be in case you had a home invasion or an active shooter and you shot some smoke grenades off. Since you know the terrain much better than the shooter, I am thinking this should really only benefit you, and as such I’m inclined to say don’t ban the launcher, ban the actual explosive grenade.

Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  • Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip – this seems like it was meant to limit magazine capacity. But, according to same blogger I paraphrased above, hi-cap mags are prone to jamming because too many bullets aren’t good for the springs. In the hands of the Lawful Good guns group, it only helps. In the hands of the Chaotic Evil group, banning these don’t help because the Chaotic Evils will just hang on to them. Whether or not the Adam Lanzas of the world have access to these would not impact the damage they can do, because there is very little difference between killing twenty unarmed children with a normal gun that you maybe swap out a magazine for and killing twenty unarmed children without swapping.
  • Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor – another one of those things that benefit defenders as well as attackers. Suppressors make it hard for someone to hear you shoot (but they do not, contrary to what movies suggest, silence a gunshot). They also reduce recoil and prevent hearing damage.
  • Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold – most ridiculous item on this whole list. Barrel shrouds are a safety feature. They make it so you don’t burn yourself if you ever need to grab the barrel because shooting guns tend to make the barrel very hot.
  • Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more – neutral.
  • A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm – I guess this is just to ban the possibility of you converting it to be full auto?

Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

  • Folding or telescoping stock – covered above
  • Pistol grip – covered above
  • Fixed capacity of more than 5 rounds – helps only criminals.
  • Detachable magazine – helps only criminals.

Most of these things are features that help someone defending their homes from invasion just as much as they help the criminals. And in a situation where the criminals have access to these things already, preventing normal people from getting access to them only helps the criminals.

3b. Well, other countries have good gun laws and few shootings!

Many also cite the absence of gun crimes in other parts of the world, to which I say: confounding variable. One must realize that violent crime is achieved by the criminal being able to bring about more force than any prospective victim is able to respond with. In other countries, where most civilians are likely to be armed with nothing but their bare hands and harsh language, it only takes a knife to get them to part with their wallet. Here in the US, where a good amount of civilians are armed anyway, it requires heavier firepower along with the advantage of initiative for a criminal to make good with their loot. Now, if you are okay with this, fine. Just realize that this is in effect paying off criminals so they don’t do worse things to you.

The problem with any kind of firearms or firearms feature ban in the US is that there are already a lot of guns at large that will not be turned in because they belong to criminals. This is vastly different from other parts of the world where there was never widespread public ownership of firearms, thus one can’t simply say “look at Australia, they banned all their guns” or “look at Britain, they banned all their guns” and expect it to work for the US. It also does nothing to make schools safer  the real problem is that a school is a public land that isn’t fenced off and has many possible attack points for someone wanting to enter violently. Being that we don’t want to turn schools into fortresses, the only thing to do is to realize that there’s next to no way to prevent an active shooter from entering. Any countermeasures must necessarily be from the perspective of what to do when the next one happens (since even if mental illnesses did not exist, criminals still do).

Oh I guess there’s that thing where rights aren’t supposed to get taken away just because a small number of lawbreakers have their goals achieved somewhat easier because that right exists.

4. Silly gun nut, the Second Amendment is for militias!

There are two ways this argument goes. One is that the Second Amendment is for militias, not random-ass people getting access to guns. It should, however, be noted that you cannot have a militia without civilians owning and training with guns. We do have an army, but regular military and militias are not the same thing, and the Founding Fathers most certainly did intend for the United States to have both, given their mistrust of centralization of governmental power and their experiences in fighting off a regular army due to a well-maintained militia. They wanted a militia to overthrow the government in case the government ever became tyrannical and to provide one last line of defense in case the United States does become attacked and the regular military alone isn’t enough to handle it. Private ownership of guns goes hand in hand with having a militia.

Faced with this, the common counterargument is that given the mismatch in power between the regular US military and any grass-roots armed resistance efforts, such measures would be useless anyway. Or that the US government simply isn’t tyrannical enough to warrant the continued presence of an armed militia. The former belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the art of war, namely, that it is not necessary to actually be stronger to deter. During the Cold War, the US and NATO were, objectively, stronger than the Soviet Union. There was not an attempt to attack and defeat the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union would have been able to destroy the world in its last moments. On a more personal level, back in middle school there was this bunch of kids who would pick on me all the time because i was a fat unathletic Chinese kid with delusions of kung fu mastery. And I would fight back, all the time, but objectively speaking, if we were counting damage dealt against damage taken, I lost all the fights. However, they stopped picking on me when this continued and they decided it was not worth it when the assistant principal took notice and gave us both detentions due to Zero Tolerance. All that really needs to happen is the ability to cause enough damage to deter, to escalate the situation to one the enemy finds intolerable. And if a bunch of third-world insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan can give pause to the mighty American war machine, the chances can only improve for American insurgents who would have had superior training and insight into the American psyche, as well as being far more difficult to other-ize and dehumanize as the enemy.

Which brings me to the other counterargument, that our government is wonderful and fuzzy and what do you mean “overthrow tyranny” or “defend against invasion”, that can’t happen here in the US! The problem with this is that it’s purely an emotional and sentimental argument unsupported by fact. The world has seen plenty of warm and fuzzy governments that eventually went despotic. Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire comes to mind. As does Sparta’s transition to the relatively normal city-state of myth (Helen of Troy’s first husband was a king of Sparta, mind) to what in modern terms would be a slave-owning military autocracy. And let’s not forget that Hitler was voted into power, or that North Korea started out ruled by Kim Il-Sung, hero of WWII who was a major leader of the anti-Japanese resistance, in contrast to South Korea, ruled by an authoritarian strongman who spent most of his years in the US apart from the people he was supposedly leading. Similarly, history is filled with nation-states that were once strong but then declined and got conquered by others – again, Rome, Sparta, every single interation of the Chinese dynastic cycle, etc. So the US being the same, starting off nice and free but turning despotic, or currently being strong but eventually declining in power or having more powerful neighbors and gradually getting Red Dawned is not impossible, merely improbable. And, to borrow a quote from the aforementioned blogger – low probability is not a risk management strategy. It is not impossible but merely improbable that your house will flood, so you get flood insurance because if it ever happens the results would be catastrophic. Is there any reason to not apply the same reasoning to governments?

5. God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost! Repent, for tomorrow you die!

There seems to be a somewhat vocal minority saying that apparently all these shootings and crimes is because we took God and prayer out of schools. To this I say, betch please. The lack of God did not cause this to happen any more than his existence prevented it. Takes some goddamn (har, c wut i did thar) responsibility for childrearing instead of using religion as a crutch. Seriously, the corollary to this idea is that the all-knowing, omnipotent, benevolent God let this happen because we stopped paying homage to him. Or he’s just “testing” us…for what, really? Our resolve? Our sympathy? And he could not find some way to do this that did not involve having a crazed gunman kill twenty kids? Why the hell would you follow a God like that? Zeus may be a prick who can’t keep his prick to himself, but at least with him you know where you stand. Plus you are also ignoring the millions (AND MILLIONS!) of atheists who don’t go out and decide to kill children.

On a side note, Deism is all kinds of awesome and it’s what the Founding Fathers believed. If you have religion, and it inspires you to be a better person, awesome. Don’t push it on others, and don’t push it as panacea.

Besides, there is no god but Tzeentch, Khorne, Nurgle, and Slaanesh- *BLAM! Heresy!*

6. The solution to guns isn’t more guns!

I am a martial artist. Let’s say someone is trying to physically assault me. Would you say that the solution to fist isn’t more fist? Or would you say that the correct measure is to use my kung fu to defend myself? If the solution to guns isn’t more guns, police would not carry guns.

As has been covered many times, the situation now is that many do have guns, and there is no way to prevent them from instigating a shooting. Yes, we can have all the mental health counseling programs we want. Yes, we can have less violent tv shows or at least more tv shows that deal with nuances in terms of how to use violence responsibly. Yes, we have have a host of things. All of that is useless if a criminal decides he wants to shoot up a mall unless they give him money.

As a martial artist, I believe strongly in the idea that self-defense is a human right. Because while we have laws, there exists that gap in time between when a breach in the law occurs and when law enforcement can show up, and I find the idea that we are obligated to remain docile in that meantime reprehensible. You cannot have self-defense if the defenders are not allowed to match the attackers in combat capability. That leads to the aforementioned situation in which the doctor was shot dead because the home invaders had more ammo capacity than he did.

The TV show Revolution, written by J. J. Abrams, is a godawful show filled with plot holes and protagonist centered morality and characters being artificially dumbed down so the plot can be moved forward and many other sins of writing. But the early episodes did have some good moments, including a monologue by the side character Aaron. See, Aaron is a fat and unathletic nerd who always got picked on by the jocks at his school. But then he graduated, went to college, studied computers, and went to work for Google in a tech job while his former tormentors ended up flipping burgers at McD’s. And then the Blackout happened, all electronics stopped working, militias confiscated all the guns, and right when his life was good, he went right back to living in an entire country ruled by the jerk jocks who tormented him. There is some truth in the saying “God created man, but Sam Colt made him equal.” An unarmed jock easily outclasses an unarmed nerd. A jock with a gun is only marginally more dangerous than a nerd with a gun. Historically, the samurai never enacted a gun ban due to guns allowing lowly peasants to easily kill the flower of Japan’s fighting men. But the fact this myth persists indicates we all accept at a basic level the gun’s ability to equalize defense. Life with no guns does not mean no crime, it merely means criminals just have to have bigger muscles and sharper knives than their victims.

Solutions

Currently, the solutions being bandied about – gun control, improved mental health, permitting concealed carry in more places, etc – are being suggested in opposition to each other. They are presented as being mutually exclusive, and that is a mistake.

As stated before, there are three groups of guns – 1. guns belonging to criminals used used for crime, 2. guns belonging to law-abiding citizens not being used for crime, 3. guns belonging to law-abiding citizens being used for crime. There is also a time constraint – any solution will require time to implement fully, and it is important to maintain public safety in the interim.

Obviously, we don’t have to do anything about Group 2. Gun control does work for Group 3. But this can only be controls that increase the penalties for when something goes wrong. Thus, I would propose some kind of national gun registry, where every gun sold gets a serial number and a “seller” and “current owner” data field that logs who owns it at any point, be it a storefront or a customer. If a guncrime is committed, the popos look at the serial number, find who the gun belongs to, and punishes them. This gives incentive for gun-owners to lock up their guns and prevent others from using them improperly and gun-sellers to actually do background checks. In addition, a national mental health database would be good too. If you live in the same household as a mentally ill person, you are responsible for whether they use their guns for ill.

In the meantime, better mental health services would be pretty awesome as well. As I am not nearly as well versed on mental health as I am in strategery and tactics, I’m not going to spend time talking about something I don’t understand – a virtue that many who do comment on these topics should keep in mind.

In addition, as a friend of mine pointed out, the fact that so many of these shootings end in suicide for the shooter indicate that these are really a combination of a glorification of violence as the solution to problems as well as a failure to instill the idea of personal responsibility in the youth. Suicide here is very much the easy way out when you don’t want to deal with the consequences of murdering a boatload of people. Obviously something within the culture must change. However, what cannot happen is a cultural shift to make violence in and of itself bad. As long as evil exist in the world, pacifism is an ideology that only helps the bad guys. Better would be more series like Game of Thrones, in which while there is conflict, all of the factions have at least a decent reason for why they are fighting, or Macross, in which while violence is useful for self-defense and buying time, ultimately conflict resolution is achieved by finding common ground and convincing the other side you have more in common with each other than differences, or Fearless, in which violence is bad when you are using it for your own ego, but good if you are using it to defend the weak from being preyed upon.

However, improving controls and mental health services and culture are somewhat long processes, and again only takes care of one of the subgroups of guns being used for crime. As previously mentioned, America’s situation is different from other countries in that there are already massive numbers of guns floating in circulation, many of which have features that would be banned if their owners would actually follow gun laws (which I hope is obvious to everyone that they don’t). It must also be recognized that in places where shootings do happen, there is nothing preventing an active shooter from entering and doing their business – most schools have open campuses which mean anyone can walk in, and the cops can’t be everywhere at once.

We all know the ideal solution to any problem is prevention. However, here prevention is not an option available to us. Just think about all the ways you might keep an invader out of your home – lock the doors? Schools can’t do that because people come in and out all the time. Fence it up? Same thing. Metal detectors? That would slow student inflow to class to an unreasonable crawl. Limit the number of entrances? Same thing. The fact stands that schools (and most public places in general, such as malls or department stores or parks or coffee shops) are open areas meant to facilitate the inflow of large numbers of people. There is nothing you can do to prevent an active shooter from entering these areas. The only meaningful discussion is how we can stop a shooting after it occurs, and I have yet to see any better alternative to allowing people who the law already permits to carry their guns everywhere else to do so at schools too.

From a tactical standpoint, an active shooter entering his chosen location has the advantages of firepower, surprise, and initiative. Normally, the defenders have a terrain and numbers advantage, but because they have no way to fight back, this is nullified. The shooter is obviously better armed, his presence causes an initial panic, the interim before police arrive and get their bearings gives him time to run wild.

If you arm even only one or two of the defenders, however, things change dramatically. The shooter now loses all of his advantages – he loses the firepower advantage because firepower is now roughly equal, he loses his surprise advantage because the defenders can actually react, and he loses his initiative advantage because someone shooting back now forces him to react. In addition, the defenders now get to bring their advantages to bear. Numbers turn at worst even (since it’s usually only one or two active shooters), and usually it’s the better case of turning against the shooter since even one or two defenders with guns can, at the least, keep the shooter pinned for someone else to close to melee. The defenders now also get to use their terrain advantage, since they generally know the layout of the locale better than the shooter, and it should be noted that this is also an advantage they have over actual police.

It should be noted that when CHL holders were present at shootings, the shootings ended very quickly. Leaving the handling of active shooter situations when they happen (and they will happen, because even if the kind of gun control measures I or even the Left propose worked, they will not eliminate all shootings and we still need some kind of countermeasure) to the police is a reactive strategy. Allowing at least some people to be armed is still reactive, but at the very least it greatly reduces the reaction time.

Senator Feinstein speaks of getting weapons of war off our streets. This is funny because it’s clear she does not understand the art of war at all.

Now, are there risks? Yes. Misfires do happen. But very rarely guns just go off on their own out of the blue when they’re holstered and the safety is on. The proper course of action is then to perform data analytics more sophisticated than what I’ve already done to determine what would cause less deaths, an increase in misfires or accidents due to allowing teachers to go armed on campus, or the current situation where everyone is at the mercy of the shooter until police arrive. Whichever one causes less death is the one we ought to opt for.

Closing remarks

The shooting happened on December 14, 2012. Just a day prior was the 75th anniversary of the Rape of Nanjing, an event in the early stages of the Chinese theater of World War II in which, following the surrender of the Chinese garrison in Nanjing after a several-day battle, the invading Japanese army then proceeded to engage in a six-week massacre and mass rape of the Chinese civilian population. 300000 people were killed – that is, one dead every 12 seconds – with more being dragged off into slave labor camps or “comfort women” stations. And it must be restated that these were either disarmed POWs or civilians who, due to China’s relatively low tech level at the time, had no guns.

Contrast this quote from Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto about what would end a war with the United States.

“Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians, among whom armchair arguments about war are being glibly bandied about in the name of state politics, have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.”

There is another quote that is often misattributed to him that runs like this:

“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

Made up, yes. But what does it say about the reasonableness of the idea behind the quote when so many can pass it around without any doubt of whether he actually said it?

I bet the citizens of Nanjing wished they had guns when the devils showed up on their doorstep.

My right to bear arms may end at your right to feel safe. But your right to feel safe ends at my right to be safe.

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The Real China-Tibet Story

August 3, 2011

I visited Lhasa from the 24th to the 29th of June, seeing the city as well as Namtso Lake, and conversed with a friend who has been working there since May. The previous post was about the unique and interesting things I saw, but now I feel the need to post something serious.

 

This post is about the extraordinarily skewed account of the history between China and Tibet presented by Western media, one brought about due to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan independence movement’s ability to tell a story that resonates deep within the Western psyche, such that any counterargument is readily dismissed as Chinese propaganda. I myself have first started paying attention to the issue back during the March 14th 2008 riots that brought Tibet to the center stage of international affairs. Doing research of my own, comparing sources from both China and the West, I had reason to doubt much of the accounts of the Free Tibet movement, as well as the fact-reporting methodology of the western media in this case (note to any prospective journalists reading this: if there are two sides to a story, and one side refuses to comment, the proper response is not to present the other side’s account as fact). But it was visiting the area that allowed me to see just how badly the media failed at presenting a fair and balanced account in favor of a good story, one that sounds like:

 

“Tibet was its own country, an idyllic utopian Shangri-La before the Chinese invaded in 1951. Now the Tibetan people’s culture is being erased, they are not allowed to practice their religion, and the influx of Han migrants is forcing them to become second-class citizens in their own homeland, oppressed by the government.”

 

Allow me to deconstruct this line by line.

 

Caveat: the facts I present below are either a matter of public record, received from my friend who works there, or derived from my own observations, and the conclusions drawn from these facts. As this is not a scholarly article, I’m not exactly going to go all MLA citations up in here; a good chunk of them will consist of “talked to this guy” or “visited this place” anyway, and you can Google the rest for yourself.

 

“Tibet was an independent country before the Chinese invaded”

 

Technically true…back in the 7th century, when the Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo entered in a political alliance via marriage to the Tang Dynasty. Move forward in the timeline to the Qing (1644-1911), and you will find this was not the case. After the dynasty of Tibetan kings fell Tibet entered a period of disunity that ended when the 5th Dalai Lama, with military support from the Qing emperor Shunzhi, consolidated control over the region of U-Tsang, which is what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region. In fact, the title of “Dalai Lama” was one bestowed upon the 5th by the Qing emperor. This is why there is very little heard about the 1st-4th Dalai Lamas, because the title was applied retroactively to them, back when they were just one of several holy men and not The Holy Man of Tibet. In addition, the central Qing government in Beijing has always had the power to “confirm” candidates for reincarnation of Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and the Snow Lion flag that the current Free Tibet movement uses was originally the army flag of the Qing garrison in Tibet. A free Tibet nation-state has not existed since the Qing.

 

All in the past, right? Who cares? Sure, I’ve established that Tibet used to be part of China, but the US also used to be part of Britain, and we all know that it’d just be plain silly for Britain to claim ownership of the US now, right?

 

The PRC bases its claim to Tibet not just on a simplistic “this used to be ours, so it should still be ours” as the Free-Tibet movement likes to claim; rather, it is on the established principle of the Succession of States, which basically means that when a country changes governments, all land that belonged to the old government by default is transferred to the new government to do with as it sees fit. This is why the map of the United States does not change with every presidential election; just because we switched from Bush to Obama does not mean Texas is no longer part of the Union due to it voting for McCain. As for what determines land ownership, that is a mite fuzzier, but a good rule of thumb is international recognition. If a hostile nation recognizes a piece of land as belonging to you, then there’s little ground for a third party to argue that it isn’t.

 

One can find many foreign maps of the Qing that put Tibet squarely within its borders (the Perry-Casteneda Library at the University of Texas has one, last I checked). When Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the Qing and established the Republic of China, ownership was transferred to the RoC, as can also be established by foreign maps of the era. Thus, when Mao Zedong overthrew the RoC and established the PRC, ownership legally speaking transferred to the PRC. The key here is an unbroken line of internationally recognized ownership. The US may have been part of Britain, but the US also successfully launched a war for independence against Britain resulting in international recognition of the US as a sovereign nation. Nothing similar ever happened in Tibet.

 

One can bring up Younghusband’s expedition that seemingly repudiated Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, but that opens up another can of worms. First off, Younghusband’s expedition was undoubtedly one of imperialist shenanigans. The fact that he (and by extension the British) had to launch an expedition confirms that Tibet rightfully belonged to the Qing as a matter of international law. Second, if we are to hold the results of imperialist intervention by a foreign power as valid, then we must also hold the subsequent Communist invasion of Tibet as equally valid – possibly more so, as the CCP can be argued to be reclaiming territory taken from China, while Younghusband’s expedition was more or less naked imperialist aggression. You cannot have it both ways; if Younghusband’s expedition was valid, then so is Mao Zedong’s; if it is not, then Tibet still belonged to China by the succession of states.

 

One can argue that Tibet enjoyed de facto independence under the Qing or the RoC. One may also argue that territories should have the right to secede. These are all irrelevant to the fact that, as a matter of international law, Tibet has been a part of China since the 1600s and is legally part of the PRC.

 

“Tibet was an idyllic Shangri-La”

 

There is a trope in fiction called the “Noble Savage”. It refers to the tendency in modern humans to look at primitive peoples and romanticize what they perceive to be the positive aspects (freedom, the idea of living by the strength of one’s own arms, spiritualism) and downplay or ignore the negative ones (short lifespan, little to no medicine, horrid sanitation). This has been very much applied to Tibet. Nowhere can this best be seen than in the sheer amount of mineral resources used in construction and still available for mining.

 

The “spirit tower” for the 5th Dalai Lama (tower under which he is buried) is constructed out of 3721 jin (half that number in kg) of gold, with many precious stones (turquoise, coral fossils, amber, etc) inlaid. The towers for the other Dalai Lamas are of similar construction, along with the many temples and Buddha statues, all of gold and precious stones. The paints used for wall paintings and thangkas are also made of such materials, gold from gold dust, blue and green from ground turquoise, red from powdered coral fossils, etc. To this day, there are still mineral deposits sitting on the surface, visible to passer-by.

 

What does this mean?

 

The presence of so much gold being used for nothing but religion indicates they have no trade, and that their production possibilities frontier is extraordinarily skewed and extraordinarily small. They enjoy none of the benefits of trade that one learns about in high school economics, none of the opportunities that trade and a diversified economy brings. This includes things like consumer goods that are not yak or barley products. This also includes things like widespread education and medicine – the average life expectancy for Tibetan commoners was somewhere around the mid-thirties, compared to the mid-sixties for Tibetan nobles or religious figures. Tibet was highly isolated before the CCP came in 1951, and their holy men did very little to fix that.

 

Speaking of which, there is very little to indicate that these people were any good at ruling. Consider a theocracy in which the method of succession was finding the child who happened to fit the signs of being the reincarnation of the previous leader. Consider all the political intrigue that would surround any succession. Now consider the fact that the 9th-11th Dalai Lamas all died extremely young, in their teens or twenties, all due to “ill health” and that it was around this time that silver became very popular among Tibetans due to their supposed poison-detecting properties (in actuality, silver is highly reactive with arsenic, and has properties that inhibit bacterial growth). Also consider that, while those in power were sitting on their vast lodes of gold and silver and stones, there were very few attempts to use that to build roads and infrastructure to expand the domestic economy and create more opportunities for the Tibetan people. What conclusions might one draw from these trends?

 

Tiny PPF and theocratic rule aside, were the Tibetan people happy? Perhaps, but it is doubtful whether they knew a better life was possible, especially given a Buddhist culture that reinforces the idea of a bad current life is punishment for sins of the previous life, while performing according to one’s station in this life leads to reincarnation into a better next life. Other sources – and not just CCP ones – describe them as serfs. It is not my objective to argue the truth of this; merely to demonstrate that life before the CCP was not sunshine and bunnies under the enlightened rule of the Dalai Lamas.

 

“Tibetan culture is being erased, and the people are not allowed to practice their religion”

 

It really doesn’t take actually going there to figure the falsehood of this one. Currently, Tibet is a money sinkhole for Beijing. Tourism, comprised largely of people who want to see Tibetan Buddhism and people who are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, is a major part of Tibet’s economy. More tourism = less of a money sinkhole = financial incentive for Beijing to help preserve Tibetan culture. Yes, some things are gone, but mainly the theocratic parts and the parts that naturally go away due to modernization (for example, yak butter churned by machine rather than by hand). The essence, the art forms, the prayers, the principles for living life, they still remain for those who want them.

 

Going there, though, really helps hit it home. Temples all over the place. Yak butter for Buddha lights all over the place. Worshippers all over the place – and from what I understand, it’s hard to avoid accidentally stepping on them during religious days. Lots of praying people. And lots of shrines dedicated to Dalai Lamas 5-13.

 

Wait, what? Dalai Lamas? Aren’t they not allowed to worship that guy?

 

Well, not exactly. It is only the current Dalai Lama, the 14th incarnation, who is not allowed to be worshipped. And even then, it is purely a political issue, not a religious one, centered on China perceives to be the current Dalai Lama’s separatist agenda. The 14th claims to have shifted from wanting Tibetan independence to “greater autonomy for the area of Greater Tibet” – however, Greater Tibet is an area that encompasses the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as significant portions of Qinghai and Sichuan (Amdo and Cham). The problem with the latter two areas is that those were never under his jurisdiction in the first place. The Dalai Lama traditionally had control over U-Tsang, and the Panchen Lama control over Amdo and Cham, which makes the desire for “Greater Tibet” seem less like altruism and more like a land grab. The rationale for outlawing worship of the 14th Dalai Lama has everything to do with policy (anti-separatism, secularism in government) and very little if at all to do with religion.

 

The other problem is that he and his supporters make claims that are either patently untrue or intellectually dishonest. He claims “cultural genocide” – however, the Tibetan population has been climbing steadily since CCP rule, and Tibetans themselves are exempt from the One-Child Policy; if this is genocide, then it is quite the most unsuccessful genocide in history. Their culture – minus the parts that says Tibetans are supposed to live in a theocracy – isn’t so much being eroded as changed over time as all cultures do. Yes, the Cultural Revolution did happen, but that was an act that harmed all Chinese, Han, Mongol, Hui, Uyghur, Bai, Tibetan, and otherwise; Tibetans were not singled out which makes the “genocide” label untrue. The 14th Dalai Lama makes promises of democracy and laughs at the idea that he might reimpose religious rule – but it is the CCP coming in with their modernizations and technology and trade that showed Tibetans the possibility of a different life and made it impossible for them to go back to theocracy. A promise of democracy costs the Dalai Lama nothing, and it is a promise he could make only because of the CCP.

 

If the Dalai Lama was to come back and take up his role as simply a religious leader, China would be fine with him. As he and his supporters seem unwilling to give up their political power, reconciliation is unlikely – but to blame only China for this is nought but favoritism.

 

“Influx of Han migrants causing Tibetans to become second-class citizens”

 

There is an influx of Han migrants, as is generally the case when large development projects occur. However, the “second-class citizens” part is not true. From my friend, I learned that of the landowners – by which I mean the people who hold the 30/50/70 year leases on land meant as a temporary measure until the CCP figures out how to reconcile private land ownership with socialism – most are Tibetan. Sure, there are still plenty of impoverished Tibetans, but there are also plenty of impoverished Han Chinese. The important part is that Tibetans do not seem to form a disproportionately large subset of “poor people”, but they do form a significant proportion of “holders of capital”.

 

In addition, having already established that Tibet is legally part of China (again, unrelated to whether you personally think Succession of States is valid or secession is a right), it also follows that there is nothing inherently wrong for a Chinese citizen to move legally within China’s borders. Lots of Sichuanese workers moving in and undercutting Tibetans? That’s merely a market economy at work. In the US states are not allowed to enact protectionist policies against other states, so why should China further restrict Chinese movement from other provinces into Tibet?

 

“Tibetans are being oppressed.”

 

Are they?

 

For the most part, given a little thought, they do not seem like an oppressed people.

 

It would be easy to think that, especially if you had a camera and took pictures of military police stationed around Lhasa, especially if you went to get all the right angles and the right lighting and the right caption. Such a photo might win you a Pulitzer – the Chinese soldier, armed and impassive, staring intently into the masses of Tibetans he is supposed to oversee, looking for any sign of discontent, be it a Snow Lion flag or a small photo of the 14th Dalai Lama, while Tibetan beggar children pray in front of their collection bowls – and it would have been worthy an award named after man who started a war between the US and Spain based on utter lies.

 

Based on personal experience, both my own and my friend’s, the MPs are easy to ignore. My friend adds that they are also very good about giving road directions.

 

Based on the general experience of past rulers of all empires in the world, quashing the local culture in an area where you are the minority has never worked out well. The CCP is many things, but retarded isn’t one of them.

 

According to my friend, among the older generation of Tibetans – the ones who grew up when the Dalai Lamas were still in power – many do have the feeling that they were invaded and conquered by the CCP. And there are some who view Han Chinese with hostility, even enmity. But the younger generations generally do not care so much, as they know life is much better now than it once was. Their society is much more mobile, they are finally connected with the world, they can have fruits and vegetables grown in the plateau, their culture and experiences are now more diverse, they have opportunities beyond herding yak and growing barley – all in all, they can do so much more than their ancestors did.

 

My tour guide to Namtso was in Lhasa when the March 14th 2008 riots started. People were not allowed out into the streets while the military police maintained order. He and his non-Tibetan neighbors soon ran out of food in their apartments. Their Tibetan neighbors saw this, boiled their rice into gruel, and shared it with their Han neighbors. They did not have to do this, and it would have been perfectly justifiable for them not to do it, yet they did anyway.

 

Does this seem like the behavior of a recently conquered people to their oppressors?

 

One of the restaurants I went to, Accordion Bakery, is owned by a Tibetan-Han couple, and while it is somewhat noteworthy, there is no stigma attached to it. Consider their example, and consider the look that, say, a mixed black-white couple might still get in the US today.

 

In what oppressive society does the dominant class marry into the dominated class?

———————–

Conclusions

 

Again, as I must mention once more, set aside your notions of whether succession of states is valid or whether secession is a right or whether the Dalai Lama is really all that important to Tibetan Buddhism or whether all facets of an ancient culture must be preserved at whatever cost or any of the other values-based arguments you may have. I aim not to change anyone’s worldview. I do aim, however, to possibly change the conclusions you may have drawn about Tibet by adding new information to the fact pattern.

 

The conclusions I have drawn, aside from confirmation that the PRC has a legal basis for its claim of ownership over the Tibet region, is that objectively speaking, life for Tibetans as a whole have improved under Chinese rule. If, at some point in the future, the Dalai Lama comes back, or if Tibet manages to become independent and a successful nation-state, most if not all of the credit must go to the PRC in its efforts to develop the region from nothing. Imagine the mountains of gold and silver not being used to build infrastructure, but solely for religious icons. My tour guide to Namtso was an ethnic Hui who one day asked his Tibetan friend “who do you believe in more, the Dalai Lama or the Chinese Communist Party?” His friend thought for a while and replied, “I believe in the Dalai Lama, but life is better now.” Due to Chinese rule, the Tibetan people now know to separate church and state.

 

I personally find it distasteful that when the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” it is “separation of church and state,” but when China does the same, it’s oppression. With regards to free exercise, my observations lead me to the conclusion that limits to the free exercise of Tibetan Buddhism are little more than similar limits on the free exercise of Hinduism’s caste system or Christianity’s stoning punishments. It seems less important whether they are allowed to worship the 14th Dalai Lama and more important whether they have choice in to what degree they allow the traditional Tibetan Buddhist ways to influence their lives.

 

I welcome intellectually honest and well-thought-out debate and critique of my facts or logic. Arguments based on values (basically, anything with a “should”) will be ignored and occasionally mocked in private to my friends.

 

A good site for “intellectually dishonest debate tactics”. http://www.johntreed.com/debate.html Use this checklist if you wish to opine. I do realize that technically “I heard it from a friend who works there” counts as hearsay, in which case your burden of proof rests on disproving my friend’s credibility, not simply shouting “hearsay!” and denying everything else in this post.