What would it look like if a social scientist set out to study American gun culture, not from a criminological standpoint, and not as some deviant or deficient subculture, but as something worthy of honest study from the standpoint of intellectual curiosity?
It would look a lot like David Yamane’s Gun Culture 2.0. As far as we know, there have been a lot of academics in the gun culture, but never one that has studied the gun culture with an open mind a sociologist or anthropologist might bring to another culture somewhat foreign to him. Indeed, even the social scientists who have joined the gun culture have usually begun from a launching point of a priori opposition, and social science professional organizations often have positions on gun control that are not distinguishable from those practiced by 20th Century mass dictatorships, minus only death penalties for violations. Yamane says he is inspired by this quote from Baruch Spinoza1, the posthumously influential 17th-Century Dutch Enlightenment philosopher:
I have sedulously endeavored not to laugh at human actions, nor to lament them, nor to detest them, but to understand them.
This seems to make him the odd man out in today’s social sciences, almost as odd as if Spinoza himself in full 17th Century tradesman’s raiment descended upon today’s academy, declaiming in the Latin in which he published.
For example, here’s David’s commentary about why he goes to meetings of the American Criminological Society, even though he’s not a criminologist, and the gun culture he’s interested is that of the peaceable gun owners and users, not that of murderers and suicides:
I began attending these meetings when I started studying guns not because I am interested in criminology per se. To the contrary, I have been critical of the problems of studying guns only in connection with crime and social problems.
I attend because these are the only professional meetings where I can find with a large number of social scientists studying guns, even if their primary concerns are illegal activities with guns and mine is legal gun culture.
It’s a fascinating, literate, temperate site with interesting links to interesting ideas and research.
- Spinoza was far enough ahead of his time to have his books banned by both the Jewish authorities (who expelled him from the Jewish community as a youth) and the established Catholic Church, which slapped him on the Index Expurgatoris. He made a living as a skilled tradesman, a lens grinder. Both the Jewish and Calvinist traditions claim him, now! It is an interesting choice of champions.