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Losing them at Self-Defense

Joe has an interesting article on outreach, when he was speaking of a former manager of his who is a foreign national. “Interesting about self defense being the place that I ‘lost him’.” That doesn’t surprise me, having spoken to a few non-American co-workers about the subject. The idea of the individual being responsible for their own security seems to be an American concept. That’s not to say they don’t believe in the morality of an act of self-defense — when you push them on it they accept that if some guy comes at you with a knife, you’re justified in using any means necessary to defend yourself.

What they don’t accept is the preparedness. In my experience there’s a view that security is a community function and not an individual function, so the job of going about prepared to defend oneself is in the view of a non-American an anti-social act. It is the usurpation of something that is supposed to be a community function. That’s a pretty fundamental difference of philosophy, and one that I think it’s hard to get past.

13 Responses to “Losing them at Self-Defense”

  1. Miguel says:

    You hit it right in the head. The defense of an individual is the sole purview of the state, that is the way that is drilled into the minds from day one. Self Defense is equated with the horrible “taking the law into your own hands you brute!” and frown upon to the ponit of illegality. I had to go through the detox program to accept that if somebody wants to kill me, i don’t have to wait for the Gov but kill him right there and then if necessary.

  2. Joe Huffman says:

    Shyam became a U.S. citizen about five years ago so he is no longer a foreign national.

    But yes, I think there is a fundamental difference of philosophy. I once touched upon that with an officemate of mine from India. She was an advocate of Jainism. She wouldn’t eat vegetables that came from the ground because it might have harmed life you could not see when the vegetable was harvested. Self-defense was completely against her religion, yet she readily admitted that if “a tiger were about to eat your child” you would defend against it. Theory versus practice.

    I dropped the conversation at that juncture even though I saw it as a form of insanity. I could see no advantage to pushing my points in a work environment. She was very tolerant and friendly toward me even though she knew about my interest in guns and explosives and I wanted to keep it that way.

    • Harold says:

      Errrr, like Quakers, Jains are special cases, I’m told the most observant ones wear a filter veil before their nose and mouth so they don’t accidentally inhale and kill insects, akin to the root vegetable thing you mention. I wouldn’t extrapolate from them to most other “fureigners”, e.g. the Sikhs are in principle a standout exception to this communitarian attitude towards self-defense.

  3. Richard says:

    The Supremes have repeatedly ruled against the notion that the police are responsible for protecting individuals based on the sensible notion that it creates an impossible duty for the police. I fail to see how it would be any more possible in India or France. I am sure that the statist foreign nationals would want to assign an impossible duty to the police.

  4. Harold says:

    How much of this is tied to populations that never had much access to effective self-defense? Or where (effective) self-defense is or was not a right, especially against higher classes than the bulk of the population?

    How many of us remember Dr. Watson slipping a revolver into his coat pocket before going out into the night where things might get dicey? The British ruling class made a concerted and largely successful effort to change that sort of thing, but it was once there, and we adopted a lot of those customs, like the colonial duty to raise a hue and cry (or so I’ve read in not much detail; that duty, BTW, was codified n 1285 says Wikipedia).

    The Swiss would be an interesting example to look at, given their “doesn’t have an army, it is an army” system. Israel’s waxing and waning gun control another.

    • Firehand says:

      From a article in the London Times a few years back:
      We are so self-congratulatory about our officially disarmed society, and so dismissive of colonial rednecks, that we have forgotten that within living memory British citizens could buy any gun – rifle, pistol, or machinegun – without any licence. When Dr Watson walked the streets of London with a revolver in his pocket, he was a perfectly ordinary Victorian or Edwardian. Charlotte Brontë recalled that her curate father fastened his watch and pocketed his pistol every morning when he got dressed; Beatrix Potter remarked on a Yorkshire country hotel where only one of the eight or nine guests was not carrying a revolver; in 1909, policemen in Tottenham borrowed at least four pistols from passers-by and were joined by other armed citizens) when they set off in pursuit of two anarchists unwise enough to attempt an armed robbery. We now are shocked that so many ordinary people should have been carrying guns in the street; the Edwardians were shocked rather by the idea of an armed
      robbery.

  5. Matthew Carberry says:

    I think Joe is right on track about fundamental differences in culture developed over time. We in the rationalist secular West tend to downplay religion’s formative role in culture even though it can instill basic understandings of the universe, how it is structured, and our place in it as individuals.

    Greek philosophy was unique in the ancient world, and the Judeo-Christian thought that interacted with it was as well. The Greeks gave us an ordered, knowable Cosmos with rules, we weren’t limited by the vagaries of ineluctable fate. There were gods but they were anthromorphized and by the end of the heroic age had lost ground to reason. Judeo-Christian thought interacted with Greek rationalism and gave that Cosmos a similarly knowable personal creator, to whom humans had individual, personal, not collective, responsibilities. Between the two we ended up early on with a universe you could grasp and positively effect and a conception of life as something you only had one of, so it was worth defending to ensure your opportunity to succeed and get salvation for yourself.

    The secular Western philosophies that followed removed the many of the religious aspects but kept the fundamental worldview of the necessity, and ultimate fruitfulness, of individual striving. To my mind, cultures which lack that combination of formative elements often see the world in very different ways at a level far more fundamental than simply growing up without good laws.

  6. asdf says:

    More than half of Americans hold the same view as Europeons (not a typo)these days. It’s only a matter of time until we “progress” to their level of enlightenment.

  7. Joe Huffman says:

    I didn’t really intend that my Jainist officemate be extrapolated to all non-western culture but I can see how I implied that. Sorry. I intended it to illustrate an extreme difference in culture that we find difficult to understand and relate to. This was to make the point that culture reference points can be so different as to make understanding essentially impossible. As a psychologist with the CIA once told me in regards to Islamic culture, “They think differently than we do. Perhaps more differently than we can think.”

    In the book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order the author makes a big deal out of the concept of the individual, as we know it, being unique to western culture. This probably has at least two different consequences in the present discussion. One is that of self-reliance and hence self-defense. The other is that it may foster a greater violent crime rate because an individual may view themselves is more important than society as a whole to the extent that “get what you can as long as you don’t get caught”.

    In other words the bonds of the social contract may be weaker in an individualist society and result in a more violent crime. On the other hand it may have advantages such as faster technological development.

    Other cultures may see the disadvantages of our culture and think we are barbarians while we see the disadvantages of theirs and think of them as repressive.

  8. Snowdog says:

    My greek father in law is the same way. He feels that it’s the police’s job to protect you, and anyone who would carry a gun is only looking for trouble as any criminal is obviously better with a gun than you could ever be. I just smile and nod (I’ve learned it’s pointless to try to debate him when he gets stubborn) while both his daughter and I sit across from them legally armed when we go out for dinner.

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