I guess it is never good practice to try to play the Devil’s advocate for someones profoundly stupid remark – it would have been smarter for Mr. Bell to have donned full Yankee regalia and strolled the Boston Commons at night – but I just finished reading Jared Diamond’s (most recent) excellent book, and I think it sheds some light on the situation. Among other topics, the book discusses the sharp transitions that marked the evolution of human societies from a Band, to Tribe, to Chiefdom, finally State, in order of increasing population. In a great example of “more is different,” each classification represents a marked “regime change” (in the physics sense, as well as political). For example, a band is made up of about one or two dozen families, so it is still small enough for everyone to know everyone, decisions to be made by group consensus, and there is no need (or surplus resources to spend on) non-food-producing bureaucrats. In such a world, there is no need to legislate conduct between strangers, since the only strangers are hostile outsiders. In contrast, States and Chiefdom need to have some centralized executives, tax collectors and other officials, as well as laws for dealing with disputes among citizens. The increase population makes it possible for some of the members to be specialists in something other than food production.

In any case, it seems to me that a large part (but not all) of the Blue-State/Red-State divide in the US can be explained simply as a matter of population density. In Boston, the population is large enough that when a dangerous terrorist is on the loose, it is simply prudent to order all civilians to stay indoors, and let a specially trained squad of police with infrared-sensing helicopters apprehend the bad guy. Maintaining such a well-equipped force is only practicable for large cities with high population densities that produce enough surplus to be able to afford such things. Suppose instead that the suspect was at large somewhere in rural Arkansas. In that case, it might actually make sense to gather up a posse of AR-15 wielding citizens.

This extends to matters beyond guns, of course. Should the government take a more active role in supporting the poor? In cities, the job of taking care of so many (unknown) people in need seems like something only a centralized government could manage. In contrast, people in rural areas might prefer to take care of there own, since their needs are known to them – much more so than a distant bureaucrat. Having spent time in places like Mobile, Alabama and Manhattan, Kansas, I can say for sure than these problems look differently than they do in New York or Miami. The biggest proponents of gun control are, not surprisingly  the mayor of big cities, who see guns as implements of crime. In rural areas, guns may be in only protection if the nearest police station is many miles away.

Author: lnemzer

Associate Professor Nova Southeastern University

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