Travel Journal April 9, 1999
Dublin: Loose Ends.

From the mail inbox:

Mike Jittlov writes in: "Take more pictures of people!" As you'll see in today's installment, I've attempted to comply with this request.

Anselm Hook notes that as he reads the journal, he finds himself wanting to say "turn left!" or "go straight!". Unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem with lag time here...


Today was my last full day in Dublin before setting out to explore the rest of the island, so finding myself somewhat at loose ends, I decided to see a few sights that I had bypassed earlier, as well as take a few more photos of interesting areas of the city.

Here's a group of jazz musicians busking:

Starting to get crowded in Dublin

Moore Street is known for it's street market.

Here's the Temple Bar area, where all of the young tourists spend their evenings, and a shot of the Temple Bar proper.

After wandering around, I went looking for someplace that would have some form of entertainment that involved Irish dancing. Unfortunately, the only place that I could find was a pub that only had dancing on certain days, and then only late at night.

Then I went to the "Dublinia" exhibition (a history of Dublin), which turned out to be equivalent to Jorvik Viking Center in York, except without the ride. In other words, a walk-through gallery featuring dioramas of historic events. I've never found these to be particularly entertaining or interesting.

However, with Dublinia you also get a free entry into Christchurch cathedral, next door.

Unlike most places, they actually let you take photos inside!

Some of the photos are a little blurry. I still haven't quite got the hang of taking photos in dim lighting conditions yet, although I'm getting better at it.

The Crypt:

Mummified cat and mouse, found trapped behind the organ I believe.

The tomb of Strongbow; Actually, this is a centuries-old replacement for the original tomb which wore out because it was used as a collection point for dues.

Here's some people that I met at the Planet Cyber Cafe. The person on the right is Robert, one of the sysops who helps run the place. The one in the middle is Katherine, who is a Linux power user, and on the left is her brother Moe who works for Ireland Online.

Later, we went to a pub to get some dinner, and had a long and interesting conversation. It was great.

Afterwards, I went back to the room.

Here's a picture of Sheila (on the left), who owns the B&B at Custom Hall. (Not Custom House, that's something different). On the right is Meenagh, a visitor from Northern Ireland. After having watched Gerry Adams speak, I started asking questions about Northern Ireland (and Sheila kept trying to discretely change the subject, since she doesn't like political talk, or so I found out later.)

Today's essay is going to be on firearms. The essay doesn't actually have anything to do with my trip, except for the fact that it was one of the subjects of conversation that was brought up in conversation with the folks that I met.

Robert Heinlein once stated that "An armed society is a polite society", and various libertarians have used this as a justification for owning various sorts of weapons. I personally think that this statement is a mistake, but it's a very interesting mistake. A lot of people confuse correlation with causation - they assume that because two things appear together, one must be the cause of the other. Heinlein's mistake was just the opposite - having identified a mechanism whereby an armed populace could promote civil virtues, he assumed that the two conditions must correlate in reality. And in fact, if you pick a particular small sample (i.e. the society in which Heinlein grew up) they do in fact correlate.

However, other people have used different samples to prove exactly the opposite. There are polite, unarmed societies (Japan for example), and societies which are heavily armed yet lacking in what we would call basic civility or even safety.

There are also societies in which only a small segment of the populace has access to weapons; In some cases, this segment justifies its access to arms based on its moral authority, and in other cases it derives its authority from its access to weapons. This last is the worst possible case, of course.

It is my feeling, however, that in general the owning of weapons and the level of safety and civility in a society do not correlate, at least not in any simplistic manner. There are simply too many other factors involved. In an armed society, the ways in which arms are employed is influenced greatly by cultural factors, such as education, training, "revenge" and "feuds" as an accepted motive for killing, the legitemacy of "war" and who has the authority to declare it, the attitude towards the sanctity of life, what methods of accountability are available, competence of local police forces, and so on. Arming everyone in Somalia or Yugoslavia, for example, would likely cause (to put it mildly) a major drop in the region's population.

Another argument that is often put forth by libertarians is that an armed populace is an insurance against tyranny. I would predict that most of the people in Ireland or Britain would not be terribly sympathetic to such an argument, and in fact might find it a little bit insulting, since it implies that their governments are tyrannies, or are in dire danger of becoming such. On the contrary, the average citizen in those parts enjoys far more civil liberties today than even a few decades ago.

And yet...some of those increased liberties can be traced to cultural waves emanating from the United States. Certainly the mass export of American culture and values via the mechanism of Hollywood has had a profound effect on the other western nations, not to mention the fact that the U.S. is also the economic 800-pound gorilla. There are a number of clear examples of nations adopting the principles of American democracy because of the percieved economic and competitive benefits.

To my mind, then, the really interesting question (and one that I am not able to answer) is: What effect does ownership of firearms in the United States have upon the culture and liberties of people in non-firearm-owning countries? That is, if you believe that an armed populace has an effect upon the culture of the U.S., as well as the policies of its government, and you also believe that the U.S. has a powerful effect on other nations, especially close trading partners, then it becomes an interesting issue as to exactly who's liberty the U.S. gun owner is guarding.