Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gun Violence And Numbers As A System Levrage Point

I put off writing this post, worried that I might be missing something. This one's supposed to be about Donella Meadows' least effective leverage point for intervening in a system, numbers, and numbers as a way of reducing mass shootings.

Meadows uses her bathtub analogy to illustrate the effect of numbers -- or parameters -- on systems. How far do you have to turn the handle to get how much water. Is the drain open or stopped. Then she switches to the national debt, which despite changes in taxation and spending, continues to rise. She includes personnel changes under the jheading "Numbers," as well. Bill Clinton had a slightly different effect from George Bush, but only slightly. (Meadows was writing during the Clinton administration, and much concerned with the effects of overshoot on the economy.)

In the case of mass shootings, proposed changes in the debate seem to be about numbers. How fast can a gun shoot, and how many rounds can it hold? Can we get more honest people to carry concealed weapons, and hire police to patrol all schools? Can we eliminate fire arms sales to criminals and the delusional?

Meadows writes, "If the system is chronically stagnant, parameter changes rarely kick start it. If it's wildly variable, they don't usually stabilize it. If it's growing out of control, they don't brake it." She uses the phrase "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

Prohibiting all firearms except, say, black-powder muzzle-loaders might have reduced the heartbreak at Sandy Hook by 96%, but that would have been twenty-five lives saved. The president says we can't eliminate the danger, but we shouldn't let that stop us from eliminating some.

Maybe we can do better, if we move up the list. The next post will be Daonella Meadows' eight-most effective leverage point, "Material stocks and flows."

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