Accounting for culture

I had an American relative visit me awhile back, and he commented that the general calmness of people in Amsterdam really struck him. In the supermarkets you don’t ever hear raised voices, people patiently wait in traffic, and there’s simply a general chill vibe in Dutch culture. In contrast, Americans are always on edge. Social interactions are filled with tension, people fly off the handle in public.

This is something I’ve noticed more and more each time I visit the US, and I don’t think it was always like this. The media and politicians have been doing as much as possible to divide people, convince Americans that the other half of the population evil, and incite fear. Covid only exacerbated this as it limited social interactions that technology had already been encroaching upon and added another layer of tension. Did the person you were talking to have the latest five boosters and two masks on? If not, that’s a death sentence!

Culture isn’t given enough due when talking about social problems. I’ve been thinking about this a lot with guns, especially after watching Why the Swiss Love Their Guns (more than Americans).

The problem really isn’t the guns themselves. And I don’t mean this in the sleazy NRA non-sensical way. The problem is American gun culture.

No amount of laws is really going to change the fundamental flaws in American culture that causes young men to go off the rails and start killing people. That said, I do believe gun laws could be much saner in the US, but that’s not going to be the panacea people are hoping for.

The other point made about Swiss gun culture is that defense being a grassroots sort of thing, without a professional standing army, dramatically changes the trajectory of a country. You can’t have colonialism and endless wars if you don’t have a professional army at your beck and call.

Even for some of the today’s best professional armies, occupying Switzerland would be a nightmare. Guns everywhere and basically everyone is a potential sniper. As recent wars from Ukraine, to Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, holding a few key roads with high tech weapons is rather different than holding territory.

And this is why, despite having a deeply held belief in not killing, I’ve come to think pacifism is the worst way to actually prevent wars from happening. The Merkel era weakness of Europe is precisely that, which made the Ukrainian war possible.

I’m not pretending to know all the answers, but I believe something like the Swiss model could work for many countries. And I think that’s a much more realistic path to reducing war than some sort of naïve pacifism.