Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Men are scum

A visitor asks whether it might be more appropriate to attribute the problem of gun violence in the U.S. to the male of the species, than to the weapons.

Our friend is certainly reality based when it comes to numbers. Men are about four times as likely to kill themselves as are women. (Although, of considerable interest and puzzlement, women are more likely to think about it, and to make unsuccessful attempts, or at least gestures.) Men are also about four times as likely to kill other people than are women, and women who do kill often kill an abusive partner, just as women who are murdered are likely victims of intimate partner violence.

So yep, men are more violent than women, and this is pretty much true throughout history and across cultures, as far as I know. People engage in a great deal of feckless (in my view) argumentation about the extent to which this may be an innate human trait, or subject to cultural modification. To me this is a false dichotomy -- all phenotypes result from the interaction of genetic inheritance with environments. The greater proclivity of the male of the species to violence exists in just about every culture we know of, so in that pragmatic sense it is as innate as the tendency for men to be taller, and to die sooner, than women.

On the other hand, the absolute level of violence, perpetrated by males or otherwise, varies a lot among cultures and, as Steven Pinker argues, has generally been declining in recent centuries. The greater lethality of available technology, including firearms, cuts against this trend, but I'm nevertheless fairly convinced that it is real.

So I would say our friend introduces another false dichotomy. Whatever the demographic profile of the killers of self or others, they'll succeed less often if the available means are less effective. Furthermore, a culture that glorifies or condones violence and fetishises weapons is going to have more violent deaths given a specified prevalence of effective means. In other words, the strategies are not mutually exclusive.

Seems like an easy question.

1 comment:

kathy a. said...

bottom line: nobody can do so much damage with less lethal weapons.

i really hate guns. they are just tools, and the wrong ones to have at hand when a person is in a certain state of mind.