OSD 186: Tyranny of small decisions
In 2005, a few years before he died, Edward Lorenz wrote this definition of what chaos theory is all about: “Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”
Colloquially, chaos is disorder. Formally, it’s actually deterministic, but extremely sensitive to initial conditions.
If we can abuse that metaphor a bit, let’s look at the example of Lloyd Muldrow, a 57-year-old retired Marine who stopped a pistol-whipping at a bar in Baltimore this summer. Muldrow has a Virginia concealed carry permit, which is not valid in Maryland.
When police arrived to the scene of the fight, they found Muldrow and the pistol-whipping victim holding the assailant on the ground. They asked Muldrow, “Where’s the gun?” — referring to the gun that the assailant had used. Muldrow replied, “It’s on my hip”, apparently thinking they were talking about his carry gun.
That split-second misunderstanding cost him. He’s now charged in a Baltimore court for a carry violation, punishable by up to one year in prison.
The interaction is on video at Muldrow’s GiveSendGo page.
There were other small-but-path-altering decisions, too. Per Muldrow’s lawyer, “Lloyd gets up and walks out and he‘s walking around a free man for a while, and you hear a bunch of cops lamenting the fact that their lieutenant has said, find out if that gun is legal.” Small decision from the lieutenant.
The pistol-whipping victim, Marshall Cullens, tries to intervene when he sees what’s happening. He tells the police, “If [Muldrow] hadn’t helped me, that guy would have killed me.” The polite, formally correct response from one of the officers: “I mean, look, the laws are the way they are in Maryland for handguns, right? So talk to City Council, talk to your congressman about open carry. Especially for a veteran who’s got a valid carry in another state.” Small decision.
A paramedic even pulls an officer aside to plead Muldrow’s case. They have a polite discussion and are both clearly disappointed about what’s happening. The officer ends it with, “I know. This guy probably saved somebody’s life, and he got arrested.” Then the arrest proceeds. Small decision.
A series of small decisions from all involved. Each decision probably seemed rational within its immediate scope. “I’ll just tell them about my gun to be safe”, “We’ll just run a quick check on this guy to keep the lieutenant happy”, “We’ll just take this guy in for processing, his carry is technically a crime after all”, etc. But they led to an outcome that nobody (at least nobody other than perhaps the aforementioned lieutenant) wanted.
A couple lessons from this.
First, making a bad decision in the recent past doesn’t mean you have to make a bad decision in the near future. Most people keep going with the bad-decision momentum, but that’s a choice, not a law of physics.
Second, principles (and real-world practice with them) help keep you safe from the tyranny of small decisions about gun stuff. Make sure your own house is in order: be trained, be skilled, and be good at not winding up in dangerous situations. (Yes, that last one is a skill. You know that friend who always has stories about getting into arguments? Be the opposite.) And if you have to interact with police in a dicey situation, you know what to do.
This week’s links
Reposting for anyone who hasn’t seen it. This is the same as the “shut the fuck up Friday” clip above, except it’s a 27-minute speech by a law professor. (Better than it sounds.)
Also worth mentioning: Massad Ayoob has a different take on this. Check that out too.
Cool annual event.
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