To Defend Oneself….
Earlier this year I wrote a piece entitled Fear, The Philosophy and Politics Thereof. It was a pretty self-explanatory title, but in short the essay discussed the paranoia and, yes, revulsion that part of the population has against the idea of an armed citizenry. This is a topic I’ve covered before in the “violent-and-predatory” vs. “violent-but-protective” dichotomy illustrated in the Dangerous Victims trilogy.
In all of those pieces I described the problem as I saw it: an irrational fear of armed citizens – but I made no real effort to explain the why of that fear. For the purposes of those essays, illustrating that fear and showing its irrationality was enough.
But long-term it isn‘t enough. That fear is something I’ve been trying to grasp for some time. The first step in trying to bring someone over to your way of thinking is trying to understand their way of thinking. Then you can gently show them the really glaring logical flaws in their worldview and hopefully inspire an epiphany. (Thus one of the earliest posts here at TSM was Is the Government Responsible for Your Protection?) Of course, the further away they are from your position to start with the less likely your success, which is why I continually try to draw self-confessed “moderates” into debate. (Are you reading this, Alex?)
If you’ve been reading this blog long, you know that I recently finished LTC Dave Grossman’s book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. That book showed me some things that I hadn’t previously considered. For example, in Section II, Chapter 5, The Winds of Hate, Grossman states:
All of us have had to face hostile aggression. On the playground as children, in the impoliteness of strangers, in the malicious gossip and comments of acquaintances, and in the animosity of peers and superiors in the workplace. In all of those instances everyone has known hostily and the stress it can cause. Most avoid confrontations at all costs and to work ourselves up to an aggressive verbal action – let alone a physical confrontation – is extremely difficult.
Simply confronting the boss about a promotion or a raise is one of the most stressful and upsetting things most people can ever bring themselves to do, and many never get that far. Facing down the school bully or confronting a hostile acquaintance is something that most will avoid at all costs.
The ultimate fear and horror in most modern lives is to be raped or beaten, to be physically degraded in front of our loved ones, to have our family harmed and the sanctity of our homes invaded by aggressive and hateful intruders. Death and debilitation by disease or accident are statistically far more likely to occur than death and debilitation by malicious action, but the statistics do not calm our basically irrational fears. It is not fear of death and injury from disease or accident but rather acts of personal depredation and domination by our fellow human beings that strike terror and loathing into our hearts.
The average citizen resists engaging in aggressive and assertive activities and dreads facing the irrational aggression and hatred of others. The soldier in combat is no different: he resists the powerful obligation and coercion to engage in aggresive and assertive actions on the battlefield, and he dreads facing the irrational aggression and hostility embodied in the enemy
Indeed, history is full of tales of soldiers who have committed suicide or inflicted terrible wounds upon themselves to avoid combat. It isn’t fear of death that motivates these men to kill themselves. Like many of their civilian counterparts who commit suicide, these men would rather die or mutilate themselves than face the aggression and hostility of a very hostile world.
There’s a lot to think about in that excerpt. Yes, physical confrontations are, for the majority, very difficult to “work yourself up to.” Bullies tend to get what they want because most people would rather avoid than confront. Same for robbers. Yes, the greatest fear of most people is the fear of physical depredation, degradation, and domination at the hands of another. Is it “irrational” merely because the likelihood is low? I don’t think so. It just is. How you handle that fear (or not) I think is what defines ones rationality. Killing yourself or self-inflicting grievous wounds is not, I think, a rational response. Neither is ignoring the risk altogether. But weighing the risks, and making a decision based on them is perfectly rational. (See Is the Gov’t Responsible, Pt. II)
Further, because it is difficult to “work yourself up” to being aggressive, bullies and robbers, rapists and murderers are a (thankfully) pretty small portion of the population, thus making “death and debilitation by malicious action” a pretty rare thing. In the case of homicide, for instance, perpetrators usually have a long history of ever-increasing violent behavior before they finally “work themselves up to” murder.
Rare, yes, but not non-existant. Not by a long shot.
The thing that has bothered me the most in my study of history in general and the right to arms in particular is the tendency of societies to disarm themselves. I’ve had a hard time understanding that. As Robert Heinlein put it, “Roman matrons used to say to their sons: ‘Come back with your shield, or on it.’ Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome.”
In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time and betrayal.
Solzhenitsyn was speaking broadly about governments – Western governments particularly, but that statement I believe is equally applicable within the societies in question. It is true on the macro level because it is true on the micro level. Remember Tytler:
The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence
From bondage to spiritual faith
From spiritual faith to great courage
From courage to liberty
From liberty to abundance
From abundance to selfishness
From selfishness to complacency
From complacency to apathy
From apathy to dependency
From dependency back again into bondage
Solzhenitsyn seems to agree with this progression, since “abundance” seems to lead to a “cult of material well-being,” and apathy seems to meet his definition of “psychological weakness.” Or perhaps it’s dependency?
“The ultimate fear and horror” of the individual is “personal depredation and domination by our fellow human beings,” yet the reaction of society is to encourage disarmament?
And they call us irrational?
To the “psychologically weak,” anyone who is armed represents a threat of “personal depredation and domination” unless they believe that the possible predators are constrained by an outside force – in this case, government. That’s why there is an acceptance of state-sanctioned use of violence where there is only rejection of the individual exercise of force. It’s a coping mechanism. Solzhenitsyn is correct: to be willing to defend oneself, one must also be willing to risk ones death or debilitation at the hands of another, and “there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.” Such readiness is largely dependent on exposure to risk, and the “cult of material well-being” discourages such. Our very prosperity strips us of our willingness, if not our capacity, to resist. “No material thing is worth a human life” is a refrain we hear over and over again. Jeffery Snyder’s A Nation of Cowards hammers on this point.
OUR SOCIETY has reached a pinnacle of self-expression and respect for individuality rare or unmatched in history. Our entire popular culture — from fashion magazines to the cinema — positively screams the matchless worth of the individual, and glories in eccentricity, nonconformity, independent judgment, and self-determination. This enthusiasm is reflected in the prevalent notion that helping someone entails increasing that person’s “self-esteem”; that if a person properly values himself, he will naturally be a happy, productive, and, in some inexplicable fashion, responsible member of society.
And yet, while people are encouraged to revel in their individuality and incalculable self-worth, the media and the law enforcement establishment continually advise us that, when confronted with the threat of lethal violence, we should not resist, but simply give the attacker what he wants. If the crime under consideration is rape, there is some notable waffling on this point, and the discussion quickly moves to how the woman can change her behavior to minimize the risk of rape, and the various ridiculous, non-lethal weapons she may acceptably carry, such as whistles, keys, mace or, that weapon which really sends shivers down a rapist’s spine, the portable cellular phone.
Now how can this be? How can a person who values himself so highly calmly accept the indignity of a criminal assault? How can one who believes that the essence of his dignity lies in his self-determination passively accept the forcible deprivation of that self-determination? How can he, quietly, with great dignity and poise, simply hand over the goods?
The assumption, of course, is that there is no inconsistency. The advice not to resist a criminal assault and simply hand over the goods is founded on the notion that one’s life is of incalculable value, and that no amount of property is worth it. Put aside, for a moment, the outrageousness of the suggestion that a criminal who proffers lethal violence should be treated as if he has instituted a new social contract: “I will not hurt or kill you if you give me what I want.” For years, feminists have labored to educate people that rape is not about sex, but about domination, degradation, and control. Evidently, someone needs to inform the law enforcement establishment and the media that kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, and assault are not about property.
Crime is not only a complete disavowal of the social contract, but also a commandeering of the victim’s person and liberty. If the individual’s dignity lies in the fact that he is a moral agent engaging in actions of his own will, in free exchange with others, then crime always violates the victim’s dignity. It is, in fact, an act of enslavement. Your wallet, your purse, or your car may not be worth your life, but your dignity is; and if it is not worth fighting for, it can hardly be said to exist.
But until I read Solzhenitsyn’s words, it never really clicked for me. I saw it, I accepted the fact of it, but I didn’t really understand it. Denise at The Ten Ring did a two-part post last week on “Types of Anti-Gunnies,” which she broke down into “True Hoplophobes,” “Pacifists,” “Legal-Eagles,” “Victims,” “Opportunists,” “Elitists,” and “Statists.” I think that she’s largely correct in her categorizations (bearing in mind that there might be significant overlap of definition for any particular individual in question), but the characteristic “psychological weakness” described by Solzhenitsyn is primarily manifested in the Hoplophobes, Pacifists, and Victims. These are then used by the Legal-Eagles, Opportunitsts, Elitists and Statists, but each and every one of them to some has either not considered the risks, or rejected those risks not only for themselves, but for everyone else.