Playing the Odds


This has been a disturbing few days.

First there was a slaughter of customers in a Chicago-area clothing store that included a victim my oldest son knew in college. Coincidentally, the young woman he knew was a graduate of Northern Illinois University, as is my oldest son.


Yes, that NIU.

It gets even better. My middle son is an engineering student at NIU. Only the fact that he is in a co-op program with an aerospace manufacturer and in the "work phase" this semester saved him from personally participating in the chaos that was NIU on February 14th when the latest school shooter played copycat.

Then there’s my oldest son’s girlfriend, who is a graduate student at NIU and was near Cole Hall when the shooting erupted. Despite the size of the student population, both of my older sons know people who were wounded in the crime.

I’ve been to NIU’s campus many times over the past six years. One notable fact was the ubiquity of armed campus police officers. For a person who attended a small Midwestern university thirty years ago where the three campus policemen didn’t even carry guns during the school year, it took some getting used to, having armed cops hanging around in every dorm and seemingly on half the street corners I drove past.

The head of NIU’s Campus Police stated that officers arrived at the lecture hall within two minutes of the shooting. By then the shooter had killed himself, leaving an obvious tragedy in his wake (six dead victims as of this writing). As Greg Perry noted in an earlier LRC column, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away."

What is there to make of these events?

The first thought I consider of course, is that a halfway decent shooter (someone like me) with an accurate and easy-to-shoot-accurately-gun like a 1911 (here’s a fine example) would have a good probability of stopping such an event while the body count was significantly lower. If there had been one or two of such people in the room…

Oh, wait.

This is Illinois. There are no approved ways for a citizen to legally carry a gun…period. Further, that’s about as likely to change as pigs growing wings and flying out Chicago mayor Daley’s lower gastro-intestinal tract. While the knowledge that someone in the "intended victim population" might be armed appears to deter suicidal shooters from attempting such acts, the consensus remains that it’s better to accept these occasional spasms of horror and teach us all to run and hide than to let motivated people see to their own and the common defense. We’re told to leave it to the professionals (tax-paid to a man) because we’re too unstable to be entrusted with such power.

This is a form of utilitarianism, where a few random people are sacrificed in order to promote the overall welfare of the herd (presumably by limiting the carrying of guns to people who work for certain government agencies, a dubious, irrational and illogical proposition with which we’re nauseatingly familiar). This view is collectivism at its worst, viewing people not as individuals with unique worth but as interchangeable sheep grazing a pasture. It’s sickening to accept this, and calls to mind la Botie’s view “that all servitude is voluntary and the slave is more despicable than the tyrant is hateful.”

I don’t want to be a despicable slave. What do I do?

When my son goes back to NIU next fall for his next academic semester, I suppose I could hand him that 1911 and encourage him to carry concealed…but the odds of another shooting like this occurring there, much less involving him, are next to nothing while the odds of getting caught with a handgun, expelled, prosecuted, and jailed (thus obviously ruining his life) would be several orders of magnitude greater. If he wishes to continue his studies at NIU (and he does) then he’ll have no choice but to accept the small but very real chance that he’ll be a sitting duck for a nut case or common criminal. I don’t like it, and I truly do blame my fellow citizens for demanding we share their folly.

Like paying taxes (extortion by any honest view), this is yet another time that self-preservation requires us to play by the contemptible rules dictated by the slaves who surround us. It may be an inevitable part of the human condition (la Botie’s observation was made over five centuries ago and nothing’s changed), but I don’t have to like it.

I may have to knuckle under, but I’ll still name this for what it is.

One last thought: The examples of waxing sickness in our society are legion, with the wide popularity and official sanction of torturing people and bombing a nation’s citizens into the freedom of liberal democracy topping the list. I subscribe to a theory that posits a connection between social conditions (fashion, economic activity, crime, etc.) and what is measured by the main stock market averages. Given that this theory forecasts a high probability of major market declines in coming years and the commensurate growth of social ills, I fear that the small probability that violence will touch any of us is likely to rise, regardless of the steps we take to mitigate such a chance.

A heightened state of awareness is clearly in order. Don’t volunteer to be a victim.

February 16, 2008

David Calderwood [send him mail] a businessman, artist, and author of the novel Revolutionary Language, selected January 2000 Freedom Book of the Month at