Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mass Shootings and Systems Theory: Materials Stocks And Flows

Material stocks and flows have to do with how things are arranged. Meadows uses her bath tub analogy, the idea being that the faucet's adding water at the same rate to a huge tub doesn't make the same difference as it does to a small tub. It's the same with the drain. If you don't have the drain stopped, you can probably get a bath in a big tub before the water runs out. If you're sitting in two inches of water, you'd better hurry.

Other examples are:

The effect of Hungarian road system, in which you have to go through Budapest to get from one side of the country to the other, on pollution and congestion;

Large commercial inventories, which allow for supply interruptions, and just-in-time inventories which make a business more flexible;

The baby-boom swell in US population;

The rates at which the environment removes pollutants (CFCs, acid rain, sewage, etc.);

Flooding in rivers, as opposed to lakes.

Meadows refers to large stocks as "buffers," and notes that correcting problems may be difficult because of the investment that went into the stocks, and what it would take to replace it. She says a dam (or a Hungarian highway)  is literally "cast in concrete."

In terms of mass shootings, the stocks and flows are:

The inventory of firearms in the American private arsenal;

The inventory of ammunition in the American private arsenal;

Industrial capacity for producing weapons and ammo;

The population that is likely to murder groups of strangers.

There have been buy-back programs, but these have been few in relation to the size of the arsenal.

Gun control advocates have suggested that cities, universities and pension funds divest their investment portfolios of weapons manufacturers' stocks, a la the anti-Arpartheid movement of twenty years ago. I think there are candidates for this kind of campaign that will save more lives, and I'd like to keep my powder dry. Also, I'd like to preserve the firearms industry.

Who knows why people kill strangers. From the Associated Press: "Oakdale police said Tuesday they are still trying to determine why a 34-year-old man apparently began randomly shooting at vehicles, killing a 9-year-old boy and injuring two women." This was a couple of weeks ago in the suburban Twin Cities. The guy has a Hmong name, and at 34, he might have been born in Laos. My imagination cooks up a story for him, pretty quickly: Family disoriented and dysfunctional because of circumstances, kid picked on for being a "slope" or a "gook." Wishes he could have stayed in Indochina, sees his people as betrayed by their allies (the US) during the Vietnam War. Can't get a date, loses his job, sees his suburban neighbors as privileged, smug, and ignorant. Decides to teach them a lesson. Note that I'm pulling this stuff out of my ass. Tran's story could be entierly different. The thing is that it describes dozens of other guys in this one's milieu, and only one goes on a rampage.

The Aurora Batman-movie shooter sounds like a schizophrenic to me, but I've known two schizophrenics, and I've never known a murderer.

Same thing for bullying victims, and kids with stupid parents. There are millions of us.

I feel like the answer to this kind of violence probably lies in the human part of the system. "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." But, you know, we're stuck with each other, and we can't say, "I think it's the nuts. Let's lock 'em all up, and medicate the shit out of 'em."

Next post will be about systems within systems.

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