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Self defense and Parakeets: Culture and history speaking

Two stories uncovered today provide a lot of insight into who we are and how we got that way.

One is about The American Indian foundation of American gun culture by David Kopel. This is on Wapo in the Volokh Conspiracy, a lawyer’s blog so it’s got reader harassment and bias to watch out for. The essay is based in part on Nicholas J. Johnson, David B. Kopel, George A. Mocsary & Michael P. O’Shea, “Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy,” 2nd edition (Aspen Pub. 2017).

What today is called “American gun culture” is founded on American Indian arms culture. The convergence of Europeans and American Indians produced a new, hybrid arms culture. Although that culture has changed over the centuries, we can still find in 21st century arms culture the influence of the Anglo-Indian convergence along the 17th century Atlantic seaboard.
So one effect of the Anglo-Indian encounter was to foster a culture of widespread household gun ownership and widespread arms carrying. This was very different from conditions back in England, where the government was certainly not ordering people to always carry guns to the weekly (and mandatory) Church of England services.

The need for survival, both in protecting property and in obtaining food, were paramount concerns for the early settlers. Kopel notes a number of factors from history and tradition that evolved into what we see in the American variant of Western Culture today.

Parakeets, problem analysis and the beauty of inconvenience is about disruption for growth.

In his 2014 book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande tells the story of how Dr. Bill Thomas, a medical director at a nursing home in upstate New York, improved the experience of residents by challenging conventional elder care practices. Thomas believed that no matter how good the standard of medical care, the nursing home was failing its residents in three key areas: Boredom, Loneliness, Helplessness.

If they didn’t address these, the residents’ quality of life would suffer, with a knock-on effect on their physical health.

His solution started with 2 dogs, 4 cats and 100 parakeets.

This wasn’t a comfort pets introduction. It was an obligation disruption.

Residents were given the opportunity to adopt and name the parakeets. They could volunteer to walk the dogs and look after the cats. He followed up by encouraging staff to bring their children into the workplace and make noise. He replaced ‘safe’ and easy-to-maintain artificial plants with real ones that took more effort. He added vegetable gardens which needed tending.

Reading between the lines of Gawande’s account, it could be argued that Thomas wanted the introduction of these things to be difficult and disruptive. He did it in such a way that problems were inevitable, insisting that it happen all at once and with little warning. As a result, the staff and residents bonded together in solving the resulting challenges and a shared sense of humour over the temporary chaos.
The story inspired me to think about how breakthrough moments in product design often result from: Outside perspectives. New metrics. Shared purpose.

There’s a lot of insight there from many different directions. The Nursing Home management goal at its most basic is calm, order, and structure. That can conflict with its mission of patient health and vitality. The rewards for one are easy and comfortable; for the other difficult and challenging.