illiam of Occam was a friar in the 14th-century. He was known as a leading philosopher and theologian as well as an expert in logic and physicis. For 1320, he was pretty bright dude.
William was a pretty controversial figure in those days. He sparred with his Fransician order. He sparred with the Pope. He sparred with those who disagreed with his logic statements. The one he is most famous for has come to be know as Occam’s Razor. The “razor” portion of the principle is meant to “shave away” what is complicated and unnecessary from the problem.
The original translation of this problem solving principle is “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” It is commonly quoted today as “The simplest solution is most likely the right one.”
Regardless of the translation, William of Occam was on to something when he advised people to not make problems more complicated than they needed to be. If you’re wanting to cut down a tree, you don’t need to dig a ditch.
I’ve thought a lot about William of Occam this week as hours upon hours upon hours of talking heads on the news discuss the latest shooting tragedies in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. There is obviously never one cause for a person to shoot up a Wal-Mart. Issues in their youth, issues with their job, issues with their mental health, parenting, outside influences – these all likely contributed to the senseless crime of killing people.
The talk shows took that a step further. In one morning show, the following “causes” of the mass-shooting epidemic were put forth. Violent video games. Prayer in schools. Border protection. Parenting. Mental illness. Overmedication of children. Racism. Bigotry. The Internet. And that was just through an hour of watching.
So, here we’ve got a complex problem, with an obviously complex solution. But we’ve also got a very specific issue that makes it bigger. Two men were able to murder dozens of people in minutes. So, logically, you need to look at why these events seem to happen here more so than in other countries.
Other countries have video games. They allow for separation of church and state. Mental health problems exist around the country as do parenting problems and the Internet. What makes the United States unique?
To steal a phrase, it’s the guns, stupid. In Dayton, the shooter was able to mow down 30 people in under 60 seconds before being killed by police. That’s one person every two seconds. In every other country that has mental illness, video games, and the Internet, they also have gun laws that take weapons of mass destruction like assault rifles off the streets. This infringes on nobody’s Second Amendment rights. You can carry all the weapons of protection you feel your self-regulated militia needs. But you simply cannot have something that kills people at the rate of one person every two seconds. It is inhumane. It is wrong.
If you apply the foundation of Occam’s Razor to this problem, and shave away the complex and unnecessary, the simplest answer to the problem is to remove assault weapons from the streets. There will still be plenty of problems left to solve, obviously. But there will also be more people around to help solve them.
(For more of Chris Kamler, follow him on Twitter where he is known as @TheFakeNed or find him on Facebook and YouTube)