Gopnik urges the country to support sensible gun control laws:
Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” is a fine study of why societies persist in obviously irrational, sometimes suicidal, behavior, even when the reality of just how suicidal it is stares them in the face. Why do they continue to deforest in the face of floods, refuse to eat fish even at the price of starvation? Most of the time, he points out, the simple sunk cost of the irrationality helps it persist: we have always believed this, and to un-believe it is to lose our faith in ourselves.
Yet sometimes things change. Diamond cites the success story of the Tikopia chiefs who presided over the decision to eliminate pigs from their tiny island, despite an ancient chieftain’s attachment to the destructive animals, and to turn instead to eating shellfish. Passionately held irrational values, even when they are hugely destructive, deserve empathy from all of us, since we all have values that are just as irrational, and just as passionately held. But it’s our job as grownups, not to mention as citizens, to learn the price of our pet irrationality and, like the Tikopians, to undo the animal forces, on our island and in our head, before they finish undoing us.
(Photo: During a press conference at the U.S. Capitol calling for gun reform legislation, Kyra Murray holds a photo of victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. With the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this week, gun reform activists are renewing their call for gun control laws. By Win McNamee/Getty Images)