'#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line', by David Hogg and Lauren Hogg

David Hogg and his sister (three years younger) Lauren Hogg have authored a minimalist book #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line, from Random House, which arrived by Amazon (inexpensive) on time yesterday.

Let me preface the review by saying I visited South Florida myself in November and spent some time in Wilton Manor, about 20 miles from the site of the Parkland shootings. Much more recently, I was in the Houston area, and was about 25 miles (in Sugarland) from the Santa Fe shooting incident.

The book, organized into seven chapters, 165 small pages (including an appendix listing the victims of other school shootings) starts with a detailed account of Valentine's Day, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Broward County). David and Lauren give their own separate accounts.

David then gives his own autobiography. I was surprised (given his confident public demeanor starting in his high school years) was dyslexic and, by his account, didn't learn to read text until fourth grade. He talks about special education classes (recalling my own days in the 2000's as a substitute teacher in northern Virginia). I also hadn't realized his life started in the Los Angeles area, and that his father (in the FBI) was present when a TSA agent was killed at LAX airport. He refers to the Christmas decorations in his boyhood neighborhood as creating a 'Cindy Cane' lane. It's interesting and true that many homes in southern California skimp on central heat, and baseboard systems are common

When his dad transferred to Florida, David's life seemed to take off. He became engaged in causes, and suddenly transformed himself into a consistent AP-course student. Biologically, this makes sense: some boys' learning skills enhance when they approach and hit puberty; testosterone actually helps (this gets into Leonard Sax's 'Why Gender Matters'), even though in verbal and reading skills girls usually outperform boys, especially before puberty.

David taught himself video, and developed a certain compassion and willingness to intervene in troublesome incidents, as with one involving a surfer in California (on a trip back), apparently the summer before his senior year. He also had made some interesting short film on travel.

Lauren offers another biographical chapter, 4, called 'Aftermath', dealing with the way students were counseled and handled after the shootings.

The book then moves on to the organizing of marches (especially March 24 in Washington, when David gave his infamous speech) and the evolution of a 'Parkland Manifesto'. As we know, 'manifesto' has gotten to be a bad word: my first DADT book was called that.

The policy proposals as regarding gun control in the book are reasonable: they mostly comprise closing loopholes, and it's hard to see legitimate objection to them. (Remember Piers Morgan covering the issue on CNN.)

My own concern would be, however, that moderation may not stop the school shootings or attacks on other soft targets. Many of these attacks have come from weapons that had been legally purchased (although not always stored and locked properly by owners or parents). The shear volume of weapons in the US makes protecting the public difficult. There has been partial success with gun control in Europe, the UK, and particularly Australia, with the buyback - but Australia has a smaller population.

Furthermore, the risk to different peoples is asymmetric - which brings us back to considering Nicholas Taleb's ideas in 'Skin in the Game'. Families and especially young men taunted by gangs in inner cities are obviously at the highest risk, and have been so for years. In Chicago, this was particularly embarrassing for former President Obama. (I recall how it was in the 1950s and 1960s, leading to the 1968 riots, but that is another matter.) In more recent times, the 'fat tail risk' (as Taleb calls it) for a 'Black Swan' incident has spread to more affluent and previous sheltered populations, and that can include students in higher income schools. This sounds a little mean to say, but at a moral sense, the risk reminds me of what young men faced during the era of the Vietnam draft - with many sheltered by student deferments. Privilege, and the building resentment for it, matters.

Furthermore, organized terrorism, often foreign, changes the risk assessment for weapons ownership. In the UK and especially Europe (France, Belgium and Germany), the relative 'disarmament' of citizens may have made them more vulnerable to incidents like 11/13 in Paris. (This sounds like the NRA's 'good guy with a gun' argument, which in this perspective gets some perspective, with me at least.) Likewise, organized terror, in the last two decades motivated in part by radical Islam, had led to some catastrophic incidents, most of all Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, in 2016. It is conceivable that white supremacy (from the extreme right), or North Korean interests (from the extreme Left) can present these kinds of risks from domestic and foreign enemies.

Another factor feeding the risk of unpredictable violence is inequality. Not so much just the usual arguments about workers and capitalism, but the hyperindividualism that leaves a lot of people out, and wondering if there is anyway to fit in. This may be mixed with issues of previous bullying, or even the incel problem, in the Florida and Texas incidents especially. Law enforcement and the court systems and attorneys have said very little about the motives of the defendants to date.

But inequality, hyperindividualism, and the ungated speech on the Internet, especially large scale social media (with cyberbullying), may feed some of these incidents in unpredictable 'fat tail' ways, which makes the 'skin in the game' idea so disturbing. Regulating amateur speech could (arguably) become as effective in curbing gun violence as gun control itself. That observation may relate to recent crackdowns by social media and hosting platforms on weapons-related content, for example (as well as white supremacist speech). Regulation of individual speech could, however, enable some kinds of group activism by forcing individuals to join groups to be heard - and that observation also bears on polarization and tribalism. So the speech issues cut both ways in David Hogg's success in organizing his movement.

In both First and Second Amendment settings, we have seen (post 9/11) an erosion of the libertarian concept that blame for criminal acts goes completely to the actor. People now sound offended by saying �guns don�t kill people, gunmen do.� What happens if you apply this paradigm to words themselves?

Hogg has also stressed participation in voting. On one level, he has gone after campaign contributions from gun lobbies (hence 'the NRA's worst nightmare'). Going after lobbies would seem to be good for individualized or grass-roots speech (previous paragraphs). But a logical extension of his ideas would be to encourage more people to volunteer in registering minority voters and to support political campaigns for the 'politically correct' (for Hogg, democratic) candidates. Another idea is to encourage more people who are normally loners and work as journalists and bloggers to run for office and get real people in life to support them (Taleb and 'skin' and 'do not talk' again). If Hogg puts off college for a year, will he run for some sort of office in Broward County? (That puts is off for more than a year.)

David Hogg has emerged as a truly charismatic figure, with unbelievable energy (added to quick wit, charisma, and articulation) of youth ('The Young People will win.') He easily pushed back right-wing claims that he was a hired crisis actor, but he does have a Hollywood-like personality. Imagine him playing himself in a Marvel Studios movie. The young people will prevail - but no one stays young forever - sorry, Oscar Wilde. Another joke: if the Constitution allowed years lived in past lives (reincarnations) to count toward the age requirement, Hogg could run for president now. I do like his paradoxical statement on turning white privilege around.

We can disagree with some of his occasional outlandish statements (like the end of net neutrality would be manipulated by big business to deny blacks voting rights - why would companies try to do this? Look at their sensitivity to Charlottesville.) I am not a parent, but had I been, I'd be proud to have the authors of this book as my own kids or grandkids. I'd have to earn that 'right'. We should learn we can 'love' and disagree at the same time. Isn't that part of the message of the group 'Better Angels'?

Hogg says that proceeds for the book will go to his causes. He will still need to 'pay for' college when he goes. Kudos also for his mention of the idea of seeing 'people as people' on p. 54; an idea that came up in a negative way during my own 'therapy' during my own dark days when coming of age, documented elsewhere.

A documentary movie for all the film festivals (maybe starting with SXSW in Texas) soon sounds inevitable. I would probably contribute to it.

Let me add, I do not intend to resume substitute teaching personally. When I did work (2004-2007) there were no drills and little concern (in northern Virginia) but I did have issues with discipline with a small minority of disruptive students, mostly disadvantaged or disabled. I simply am not personally prepared to defend people from a military assault. A few jurisdictions (like in Ohio and Texas) already have some armed teachers - it's 'voluntary', without extra pay (in Ohio at least), but it puts the other teachers on the spot. I will personally have no part of it. Skin in the game?

The title of the book has drawn some controversy since the hashtag applies to the 'real' Holocaust.

publication date 2018/6/19

ISBN 978-1-9848-0183-8

Publication: Random House, 165 pages, small, with appendix, 7 chapters; e-book also