Steel Forks & Plastic Knives

Anyone who has spent time in an American airport in the last 13 years knows all too well the absurdity that can come from an unchecked desire for security. There is something about the way we treat security that feels a bit misguided.

I was struck by an amusing little metaphor as I sat to eat before my flight. While I was entrusted with a small trident otherwise known as a fork, a butter knife would have been far too dangerous. As though the state of "being a fork" somehow renders the cold steel spears incapable of piercing skin in the way that its flat cousin can.

Staring at my steel fork and plastic knife, I took a moment to reflect on the fundamental concept of a "knife". 

Knife, n. A usually sharp blade attached to a handle that is used for cutting or as a weapon.

Knife, n. A usually sharp blade attached to a handle that is used for cutting or as a weapon.

I don't believe that it is the "sharp blade attached to a handle" that scares us so much as the "used for cutting or as a weapon" bit. 

We tell ourselves that if we could only eliminate the tools used for violence, then we could all live safely.  But the truth is that we can never ban the most dangerous weapon that we have. Humans are very clever creatures. Our ability to create new uses for things is not only our greatest asset but also our worst enemy. 

But where does that leave us? Of course we can't stop the human imagination (nor would we want to) but how should we proceed? I believe that we must take note of both the capacity and desire for ill will. 

Humans are immensely capable of any number of evils but those whose needs are well cared for tend not to have the desire. It is hard to deny that there is a correlation between violence and prosperity. Compare the regions of global prosperity with those of greatest violence and while there are some interesting outliers, it is apparent that the two go hand in hand.

I don't mean to say that we should stop regulating weapons. On the contrary, statistics show a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths and I support stricter regulation on violent weapons. Humans may be clever but we are also lazy. Barriers to access do work to some extent.

That said, I believe that we must put equal energy toward the minimization of our desire for violence as we do toward minimizing our capacity for violence.

Statistically, those who commit violence are those who have both the capacity to do so as well as the desire. Again, there are always outliers but we must direct our focus where we can aim.

Let me say this again because I think it is important. We must put equal energy toward the minimization of our desire for violence as we do toward minimizing our capacity for violence. 

To minimize violence, is to minimize access to weapons while maximizing prosperity of all people. Until we can address the fundamental human needs of every human being we interact with, our security rests with steel forks and plastic knives.