27 May 2014
Amoklaufs and entitlement
The young man who last weekend murdered three men in his Isla Vista CA apartment building, attempted to shoot up a sorority house and then shot three women standing outside, two fatally, before going on a final murderous joyride in his BMW, killing one more and wounding others before killing himself, is certain to go down as one of the most despised of the sad crew of rampage murderers, if only because he was so upfront about his motivation. As everyone now knows, in YouTube videos and a written manifesto this wretch made clear that people deserved to die because he could not get sex. All women shared in the sins of those who spurned him, while men deserved to suffer for showing him up. He reportedly contemplated killing his younger brother because he couldn't bear the thought of the boy growing up to score when he couldn't. The sense of entitlement expressed here is sickening. We supposedly live in an "entitlement culture" but I'm sure that, across the political spectrum, no one would endorse the idea that individuals have a right to sex, denial of which would justify a personal insurrection like that waged last weekend. Since this story inevitably bleeds into the gun-control debate -- a point emphasized vehemently by the father of one of the Isla Vista victims -- we should note that concepts of entitlement are embedded inextricably in the debate. On the simplest level, many Americans believe they are literally entitled to carry firearms and use them in self-defense by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, though they arguably read into the document an assumption of natural entitlement. That ambiguity matters. How do we know what we're entitled to? Positive law is one answer, but what if law hasn't spoken on a specific subject? Just about everyone will agree that the Isla Vista amoklaufer was not entitled to sex -- but on what basis do we agree? There are at least two grounds for rejecting such a sweeping entitlement claim. The conservative argument against entitlement is that certain goods can only be had when they are earned, and that it's wrong to appeal to politics above a law of nature. This seems applicable to the present case: if this relatively privileged and not superficially repulsive looking creep can't persuade a woman to go out with him and consent to sex, he's SOL. But you don't need to appeal to nature to refute his sense of entitlement. In a democratic polity, it should suffice that we the people have not conferred upon him or anyone a right to sex, even if he should claim a natural right to it. When the subject is sex the solution looks easy. But there are times when the will of the people clashes with a sense of natural right and the Constitution is vague. That's an undercurrent of the gun-rights debate. It should be obvious that people on the left fear that people on the right (militias, etc.) will start shooting someday from a sense of violated entitlement -- a belief that otherwise legitimate legislation violates their rights as they are inferred from the Constitution on an assumption of natural rights. On a perhaps cruder level, people on the right fear that poor people are already shooting from a false sense of entitlement (e.g. "I got to survive"). Their remedy is their own entitlement to self-defense -- and their remedy when democracy disputes that entitlement is to reassert it, in the worst case by an appeal to force. There isn't necessarily a consensus in the U.S. against a personal right to lethal self-defense, but in light of a widespread refusal to recognize such a right in the language of the Second Amendment, or to defer to those jurists whose reading of the language seems biased by natural-rights assumptions, have those people convinced of their entitlement a right to appeal to force should that entitlement be denied? What would make them any better than the Isla Vista amoklaufer other than their disputed claim that the Constitution vindicates them? Who is the ultimate judge of entitlement claims? We have judged one murderer easily enough. Perhaps that'll inspire us to assert our authority more often.