OSD 177: Permission culture vs. accountability culture
The saying goes that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Down the first road, you take action and are accountable for the consequences. Down the second, you defer to someone else. They’ll say yes or no, but their answer doesn’t need to matter to you — because if things go bad, then hey, it was out of your hands.
Last week the Texas Tribune ran an article titled “Uvalde officer asked permission to shoot gunman outside school but got no answer, report finds”. An excerpt:
An Uvalde police officer asked for a supervisor’s permission to shoot the gunman who would soon kill 21 people at Robb Elementary School in May before he entered the building, but the supervisor did not hear the request or responded too late, according to a report released Wednesday evaluating the law enforcement response to the shooting.
The request from the Uvalde officer, who was outside the school, about a minute before the gunman entered Robb Elementary had not been previously reported. The officer was reported to have been afraid of possibly shooting children while attempting to take out the gunman, according to the report released Wednesday by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, located at Texas State University in San Marcos.
The institutionally safe thing to do is to ask permission for everything. So inevitably, that’s what institutions trend towards. That’s the main driver of a phenomenon that Larry Summers (in a different context) called “the promiscuous distribution of the veto power”. Everyone in the institution asks for permission, and crucially, everyone can then say (quite genuinely!) that their ineffectiveness is somebody else’s fault.
Ironically, the fact that permission culture stopped an armed police officer from doing the right thing is an interesting lens into the culture of gun ownership. Because the concept of individual gun rights is a radical rejection of permission culture.
There’s even a gun-specific variation of the phrase that opened this newsletter. It goes, better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. That’s just a Hoppe’s #9–scented version of “better to ask forgiveness than permission”. Yeah, it’s a bit memey and provocative. But under that, what it means is that it’s better to be on the hook for taking the right course of action than to abdicate responsibility.
Accountability culture vs. permission culture. Goes to the heart of a recurring theme around here, decentralization vs. centralization. The decentralized accountability culture embodied by gun rights is the idea of that the world improves when people have the power to do the right thing, and accountability for discerning right from wrong.
In an article a while ago, we wrote about these two different mindsets from a slightly different angle:
On one hand, some people think of [guns] — the objects themselves — as fundamentally uncontrollable. That’s the frame that produces the term “gun deaths” or the idea that having a gun in the house increases your risk of death.
This is like saying that having a bottle of whiskey in the house increases your risk of cirrhosis. In a purely correlational sense, sure, yeah, I guess. But do you think about those statistics when you buy a bottle of Glenlivet? It’s a meaningless insight. Well, actually I should rephrase: whether it means anything depends entirely on whether you think you control the bottle, or the bottle controls you.
Psychologists call this an internal or external locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe they affect their outcomes. People with an external locus of control feel they’re run by uncontrollable external forces — fate, luck, other people, etc. It’s a question of focusing your mental energy on your own behavior versus burning it on external forces you can’t change.
In practice, each of us moves between internal and external loci depending on the situation. When we don’t understand what’s happening, we often lose that internal locus. Doubly so when we’re terrified. So it’s perfectly natural that when people who are unfamiliar with guns see panic-fuel media coverage, they freak out.
That’s an external locus of control. “Everything would be fine if [the outside force] would just [do x].” It’s a normal response. The point isn’t effectiveness, persuasion, or even necessarily rationality. The point is to hurt the scary external force in any available way. Run a few cycles of that, and today in California you can get three years in prison for having the wrong shape of grip on your rifle.
Compare this to how people who know about guns — who are familiar with the idea that you are in control of a gun — think about shootings in the news. More training, more concealed carry, media coverage that won’t spread shootings like a contagion, etc. This is all internal-locus-of-control stuff. Finding the levers you can personally pull to control an outcome, and then pulling them.
Permission culture is external locus of control. People tell you what to do (or not do), you do it (or don’t do it), and they own the consequences. Accountability culture is all internal. You make the decision, and you own the consequences.
This week’s links
Interesting read, and in a followup post he addresses the gun ownership spike as a potential cause. (Summary: he’s skeptical.)
From infomullet.com, our preferred source for all high-brow data analysis. (But actually, it’s a good read.)
If you take newbies out shooting (which you should!), it’s a good idea to search “first time shooting a gun” on YouTube every so often. See the vlogs people post, and get into their headspace. It’ll make you a better teacher. The headline link above will take you to the recent videos for that search.
OSD office hours
If you’re a new gun owner, thinking about becoming one, or know someone who is, come to OSD office hours. It’s a free 30-minute video call with an OSD team member to ask any and all your questions.
Like what we’re doing? You can support us at the link below.
And the best kind of support is to rock our merch and spread the word. Top-quality hats, t-shirts, and patches with a subtle OSD flair.
Thanks for reading Open Source Defense! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.