(First part, written very early this morning before going to work)
A rough day to be an American, for most Americans. And if the outcome had been different, it would have been a rough day to be an American, for most Americans. I am rather less of a loser this morning than I could have been, but still, Donald Trump as President-Elect is a pretty terrible birthday present to me from America.
(sigh) In the meantime, if you are one of my liberal friends or relatives: (1) love ya, really, no fingers crossed, and I know today is going to be awful and I feel for you, really and truly. (2) You and I are united in our desire to see America become a country where someone like Donald Trump is not a serious candidate for President. (3) This is so, so very important if we’re ever going to get back to where people like Donald Trump are not serious candidates: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU SAY WHEN EXPLAINING HOW THIS HAPPENED. Because the only reason we are now stuck with Donald Trump, is the way liberals have spent the last thirty years behaving.
(Full disclosure: I voted for Johnson, despite the fact that he seems to have a more or less room-temperature IQ, not being able to stomach voting for either Trump or Herself.)
Let me explain by first giving you an awesome counterexample, of somebody doing liberalism right (so far as liberalism can be done right). One of my daughters is about as liberal as they come; as far as I can tell the only problem she had with Bernie Sanders is that she suspected that he might be a touch too right-wing. (For those of you who don’t know her, that was comic hyperbole.) But she has gone out of her way to try to talk to me about my political views — and to do so respectfully — because, quoting her as accurately as I can from memory, “I sit around with my friends and they mostly hate conservatives. But I don’t want to hate conservatives. I want to understand them. You, Dad — pretty much everything you believe I think is evil, but I want to know how it’s possible for you to think that way.” Now let me tell you guys something and promise you I will never be more serious, or more certain, of anything in my life: if every True-Believer Liberal had that attitude, Donald Trump would never have gotten even 1% in any primary.
Watch what happens over the next few days, or actually over the next four years. Most liberals are going to say that Trump won because the people who voted for him are racist. A great many liberals, most of whom have been bragging for months about how excited they were to vote for Hillary precisely because she is a woman (so excited to Be A Part Of History!) will loudly proclaim (a) that there were lots of people who voted against Hillary because she was a woman and (b) that this was a Bad Thing and these people are evil and sexist because it is okay to allow gender to influence your vote but only if you are pro-vagina otherwise you are an Evil Person. (The ordinary run-of-the-mill liberal is many things but self-aware is not one of them.) All but unanimously liberals will ascribe Trump’s victory to “hate” of one form or another. Explanation after explanation after explanation is going to come from liberals in public and private life, and all of the people who aren’t True Believer liberals will be listening to you guys, and what they are going to hear overwhelmingly is, “My side didn’t win because the other side is Evil People and what we discovered today is that America has more Evil People than Good People Like Me.” There will be an incessant shrieking chorus insisting that it simply is not possible for any Decent Person to disagree with liberal orthodoxy. There will be little or no attempt to really understand what is going on in the minds of the people who disagree with doctrinaire liberals. There will be little or no attempt to really understand what is going on in the minds of people who find it odd to claim that it is evil to vote for a p***y-grabber who has been known to call women fat but fine to vote for someone who has for fifty years been the primary enabler of a serial predator and rapist and repeated guest of a sexual exploiter of underaged girls on said exploiter’s expeditions to the foreign jurisdiction that catered to his particular brand of evil. There will be little or no attempt to really understand what is going on in the minds of those who find it very strange when an acquaintance gets deeply upset at the possibility that Trump might have not paid his fair share of taxes but is not in the slightest troubled by the Clintons’ amassing of a $100 million fortune by influence-peddling and the shameless use of a “nonprofit” foundation for personal enrichment. That is to say, there will be little or no attempt to really understand what is going on in the minds of considerably more than half of the American people, who did not necessarily vote for Trump but who definitely refused to vote for Hillary. There will simply be an even more heightened primal scream of contempt for people who have committed the unforgivable crime of disagreeing with liberals and not letting liberals get their way. For the dominant perception that American non-liberals have of American liberals, is that American liberals deal with not getting their own way with about as tolerance for disagreement as Cardinal Ximenez and about as much maturity as the average two-year-old – but that American liberals can already do WAY more harm to people who disagree with them than the average two-year-old can, and that their open ambition is to be able to go full-Ximenez on the racist homophobic cisgenderist sexist fascist masses.
Essentially, the majority of liberals behave for all the world as though they hold the same attitude towards people who dare to disagree with liberals about morality and ethics and freedom that New England Puritans held toward people whom they had decided were witches, combined with the attitude two-year-olds have toward other two-year-olds who don’t hand over that toy on demand. Now there is nothing wrong with Social Justice Warriors’ thinking they are right; as far as that goes I think I’m right in most of my opinions; and the Puritans in Salem and the Calvinists in Geneva and the Inquisitors in Spain were all sure they were right in theirs. And of course Social Justice Warriors want to win and get things their own way, as do we all. To think that you are right is simply to be a human being who has an opinion; there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, nor is wanting to have things go the way you think they should go. But so far as I can tell, in the set of “Social Justice Warriors, the Peril, the Salem Puritans, the Geneva Calvinists, and the Spanish Inquisitors,” I’m the only member of the set who is capable of imagining the possibility that my views of what are right and wrong, could be in error. And so far as I can tell I’m also the only person in that set who doesn’t think the people who dare to disagree with me are Evil Persons Who Should Be Persecuted By Official Government Violence Until They Recant.
And what you guys have to understand is that THIS IS PRECISELY THE REASON WE ARE NOW STUCK WITH DONALD TRUMP AS PRESIDENT. (That, and the fact that the Democratic Party chose to run one of the most thoroughly contemptible people America managed to produce in the entire twentieth century, probably the only person in America who could have managed to lose to Donald Frickin’ Trump.) Liberals in public life unanimously, and liberals in private life often enough to have a definitely chilling effect on discussion, treat people who disagree with them as either morons or as something slightly worse than Nazis or most often both at once. As David Burge put it, “If you think Donald Trump says bad things about immigrants, you should see what MSNBC says about midwesterners.” And all the people liberals have been pouring contempt on for the last twenty years, just stood up and gave liberals the biggest Eff You of the twenty-first century so far. Donald Trump is not President-Elect today because of his political philosophy or his foreign-policy positions or because of his domestic policy platform. He is President-Elect today because of how liberals in general treat people who disagree with them. If you join in the chorus insisting that anybody who voted for Trump is a racist sexist homophobic white supremacist hate-filled deplorable fascist…(sigh) I take it you want him to be re-elected four years from now?
Look, it’s really pretty simple. Treat people with whom you disagree with respect and humility. Try to understand rather than hate. You ought to be doing that simply because it’s the right thing to do, both morally and prudentially. But if “it’s the right thing to do” and “I don’t want to make a fool of myself” isn’t reason enough for you, then for heaven’s sake do that simply because otherwise you will be treating people with contempt and arrogance. And once people figure out that you are contemptuous and arrogant and that you hate them without troubling to understand them…well, if you insist on making enemies, then you ought not be shocked when your enemies take delight in the lamentations of your women.
I’ll give you just one specific example. You remember when Donald Trump talked about putting a freeze on Muslim immigration? And when you all were horrified about how Donald was playing to people’s hatred of Muslims? Well, go back and look at the actual quote — he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” And you are right, he was playing to hatred. But he wasn’t playing to hatred of Muslims. He was playing to hatred of “our country’s representatives.” He was playing to Flyover Country’s increasing resentment and hatred of the self-perceived elites who dismiss anything said by somebody who wears overalls or likes to barbecue as being “[fill-in-the-blank]ist.” And the overwhelming majority of liberals took the bait: he made a statement that was very clearly a slam at the incompetence of the people who lord it over the rest of us as if they were some sort of superior race when actually they couldn’t find their own butts with a GPS, an entire barbershop’s worth of mirrors and a pair of high-powered binoculars, but who respond to any criticism of their incompetence by calling those who criticise them “racist.” And how did liberalism respond? Why, by screaming about what a racist Islamophobe Trump and his supporters were — THEREBY PROVING HIS POINT.
Donald Trump figured out ahead of anybody other that Ted Cruz that at least half the country is very, very tired of being hated and sneered at by people whom they perceive as arrogant, self-righteous twits. His entire campaign strategy consisted, fundamentally, of getting liberals to prove that they hate him as much as they hate the more than half the country that dares to disagree with them on pretty much any political issue whatsoever. You find it mysterious, do you not, that tons of poor blue-collar workers looked at this brash inherited-wealth tool of a person who has never done a day’s worth of honest manual labor in his life, and said, “That guy is one of us”? But it’s really quite simply why they felt like Donald Trump was one of them. The people who hate them, also hate Donald Trump. The people who have been at great pains to make it clear that they hate and despise half of the American people, went to equally great pains to make it clear that they hate and despise Donald Trump, and the half of the American people they hate, noticed. At every opportunity Trump baited the liberal neo-Puritans and the Chamber-of-Commerce-owned Republican Party leaders to scream about how racist and sexist and hate-filled he was. Every time he said, “Please don’t throw me into that briar patch,” the militantly self-righteous elite obligingly said, “Hey, everybody, come watch us throw Donald Trump into the briar patch!” And what was the effect on the people who have learned by painful experience that no matter how politely they try to express their legitimate concerns about what is happening to their families and communities, they get called racist and sexist? Surprise, surprise, every time liberals and the Republican establishment screamed, “Racist! Sexist!” those voters said, “Hey, brother, welcome to the club.” The sad thing is that I think Donald Trump probably is actually a racist and I haven’t the least doubt in the world that he is a sexist pig whom I would never in a million years allow in the same room as any female relative of mine; but since your team’s visible representatives call literally everybody on earth who disagrees with them racist and sexist, hundreds of thousands of people who know they themselves get lied about by you guys more or less constantly, naturally assumed you were lying about Trump as well. Someday it’s possible that you might run across a story about a boy who cried wolf. It would do you good to read that story and ponder its lessons.
Your side (not you personally, my Facebook friend, for my Facebook friends list is pretty well-vetted and is largely a nasty-person-free zone) are well and truly hated by something close to half the country, who elected Donald Trump almost entirely because it was the most satisfying way they could think of to give liberals and establishment Republicans (but I repeat myself) a great big thumping raised-to-the-sky double bird. But you are not hated because you are women and they are sexist. You are not hated because you support LGBT rights and they are homophobic. You are not hated because you are a whatever-the-politically-correct-term-du-jour-for-not-white is and they are racist. They hate liberals because for most of my lifetime liberals have been treating them with contempt and arrogance and malice and abuse and venom. They hate liberals because it was precisely 0% of a surprise whatsoever to hear that Hillary Clinton thinks them “deplorable” and assumes that all her supporters agree with her. The dominant voices in the liberal community have incessantly accused these Americans of hatred whenever they have dared to voice disagreement with liberalism, usually with no evidence whatsoever that they were actually motivated by hate; and liberal voices dissenting with those accusations have been few and far between. The dominant voices in the liberal community have insisted that it is not possible for these Americans to disagree with liberal opinions or disapprove of the behavior of groups whom it happened to be socially fashionable at the time for liberals to defend, for any reason other than that they hate the people whose behavior and opinions they criticize. And that can only imply that those liberals cannot themselves imagine disagreeing with somebody’s opinion (as liberals clearly disagree with non-liberals) or disapproving of their behavior (as liberals clearly disapprove of non-liberals’) without hating them. Liberals have then done everything in their power to validate the implication that they hate anyone who is Not Their Kind, by seizing every opportunity to call anyone who dares disagree with them the nastiest names in the English language, and by spending the last thirty years making it clear that they hate and detest non-liberals and consider them subhumans who are, not just by implication but by open liberal accusation, in the same class as Nazis. Because, after all, you know, disagreeing with a liberal about the proper function of marriage in society…or about what God thinks of homosexuality…or about the degree of threat posed by global warming and the maximally prudent response to that threat…or about whether Obamacare does more harm to non-rich people in need of medical care than good…or about whether the nation’s police, as a factual matter, are generally a positive or negative force for the safety of innocent black people…or about whether INS bureaucrats are sufficiently capable of discerning between good and bad Muslims for it to be wise to allow tens of thousands of immigrants into America from a region of the world where an outright majority of the inhabitants think America is a bigger problem than ISIS…or about whether letting all men whether transvestite or not enter the same bathrooms as women will do more good to the 1% of the country who are transvestite men than it will do harm to the 50% of the country who are women vulnerable to exploitation by the considerably more than 1% of the country’s men who are aggressively heterosexual and eager for opportunities to sexually prey on vulnerable women, much less to women who have already gone through the trauma of sexual assault and find that trauma re-triggered whenever they or their daughters find themselves alone in a bathroom with a male stranger…clearly – clearly!! – disagreeing with liberal orthodoxy on any of these points is the moral equivalent of making lampshades out of human skin.
In the end, basically, they have decided they hate you back. So they took Donald Trump, who is one stolen bad toupee away from looking as much like a middle finger as it is very well possible for a grown man to look, and used him to be as obscenely rude to you as it is very well possible to be, and then yelled, “Take that, b****es!” Only, they weren’t just doing that to the liberals who hate them. They were doing it to the rest of us, too, even though we never did anything to them to deserve THAT.
And now I get four years with Donald Trump as President. So, you know, thanks for that.
I wrote the preceding this morning and then stopped because it was time to go to work. So far today my Facebook feed is largely proving my point. I have some liberal friends whose posts have been models of peacemaking and fairness, such as this one:
I supported Sec. Clinton over Trump simply because I believe that the President serves as an example to the rest of the country. Trump’s defects are so much more easily imitated than her arcane and high level transgressions (if indeed accusations are correct; I have my doubts). Anybody can be crude. Anybody can bully. Anybody can commit adultery and brag about it. Anybody can humiliate the disabled. His sins are so eminently replicable. (And, really, I would like to know how many abortions Trump has paid for over the years.)
Yet I know many good people who voted for him. I respect their motives and their judgment.
But the majority have been more like this one (who is usually a very nice person but was obviously very upset last night and said some things out of character, which is precisely why I am not sharing my friend’s name):
I am sick of people who spout hatred and find pleasure in the pain of others. I guess that is what white conservatives are all about…I do not want to have a single one of them show concern when my health falters because their votes causes me to lose my Healthcare because for the short time I had the ACA Healthcare, I was starting to think I might one day be back in a place of living. I hope that the Social Security system crumbles when they need it! You bitched because you didn’t have insurance, you told me it wasn’t fair that I got help and you couldn’t afford your policy. Well, I hope you are happy now.
There is no apparent comprehension of the fact that people might be distressed by the pain of persons who have chronic and severe illnesses and who had good coverage before Obamacare and have since lost it, or by the pain of people who can’t find decent jobs since Obamacare has driven huge numbers of employers to convert full-time jobs into part-time jobs. There is no appreciation of the fact that absolutely any approach to health care that can be devised will cause some people to gain coverage and others to lose it, or that a person could feel very deep compassion for my friend’s pain and yet consider that Obamacare does more harm than good. There are literally millions of losers under Obamacare, and their pain is just as real as my friend’s, and it is entirely possible that a person would support the abolition of Obamacare because they think overall the abolition of Obamacare would reduce the amount of pain Americans feel today from the difficulty of getting quality health care, in which case they would be trying to abolish Obamacare precisely because it distresses them to see the pain of others. But that’s not a possibility even to be introduced – oh, no, it’s that “white conservatives like seeing other people in pain.” What a deeply, deeply contemptible thing to say about another person simply because he disagrees with you on a question of political policy…but 100% of the people in this country who are not themselves doctrinaire liberals are resigned to the fact that if you disagree with the average liberal, he will feel not the slightest twinge in conscience in accusing you of being a monstrous and evil human being, the kind of person who “enjoys seeing other people’s pain.” My friend happens to be a nice person who ordinarily wouldn’t say such a vicious and nasty thing, who posted a first reaction to deep and bitter disappointment, and I neither hold it against her nor think anybody else should. But tens of millions of Americans have lots of experience with liberals who would say such things without the slightest twinge of conscience half a dozen times before breakfast…and that’s on days when the liberals woke up in a good mood.
Or take this article, which is a perfect example of the standard liberal combination of smugness, self-righteousness, contempt for those who disagree with them, and jackasinine unselfawareness. This idiot wants to explain to all of us who are not liberals that we do not understand why liberals are upset. We are, you see, very stupid and can never understand anything unless a liberal explains it to us. Now, the moment he says this, anybody in America who isn’t a liberal says, “Let me guess: you are upset because Evil People Won, and because YOUR political views, unlike those of the Evil persons who disagree with you, are not merely political views; they are Divinely Inspired Moral Imperatives that only Evil people could possibly disagree with, and whatever you have to do in your Crusade to impose them upon the unwashed infidels who dare to commit heresy against the One True liberal faith, is simply The Cause Of Justice, not politics; for politics, like hate, is What Those Other People Do. Are you telling me that this is not in fact why you are upset, and that there’s some other reason, which we have not hitherto suspected?” And then you read…
…in which he proceeds to tell us that the reason he is upset is that this is Not Just About Politics But Is Instead About The Fact That Hell Has Descended Upon America Because The Evil People Won. Um…dude, believe me, we already knew that’s how you felt. You’ve spent the last thirty years making that unmistakably clear. The fact that roughly half the country knows that you consider them to be on the intellectual level of goldfish and the moral level of Hitler is precisely why Trump got elected. It’s why Trump, not Cruz, won the Republican nomination despite the fact that Cruz was, clearly, a safer bet to make massive actual changes in Washington than Trump: Trump is and always was going to be a bigger Eff You than Cruz could ever have been. So you believe that all your political views represent The Triumph Of Good Over Evil and you despise all those who disagree with you as Evil? Dude, believe me, you didn’t need to tell us THAT. You and your kind made that clear long, long ago.
(If ever there was a single-digit-IQ article that begged to be Fisked, that article is one; but I have spent far too much time on this post already.)
If you are a liberal, then I suggest that you spend the next week stepping back from the fray and just watching how liberals talk about the rest of America. If you do that, and you are honest about what you hear and about what kind of impression the incessantly self-righteous and contemptuous and hostilely sneering droning of the liberal community is likely to make upon the 150 million or so Americans who are not themselves members of that community…well, then I don’t think you’ll have to be asking me any more, “How did this happen?”
P.S. After writing this I ran across this article. Obviously the folks at Reason have come to the same conclusion as myself. And I had to chuckle at Sally Kohn’s definition of political correctness as “being polite and having good manners,” given (a) my previous conversation with my son Kegan about what the term “political correctness” denotes in the overwhelming majority of conversations in which it is used, and (b) Sally Kohn’s ever-so-polite and ever-so-well-mannered tweets equating conservative Christians with the Muslim guy who shot up the gay nightclub in Orlando. Ah, yes, the polite and well-mannered liberal…the Donald Trump phenomenon was created primarily by people just like Sally Kohn, who I’m sure genuinely believes that she is polite and well-mannered and it’s all the other people who are full of hate.
Essie Summers, in her autobiography, relates what the Matron (note to Americans: this is the head nurse in a British hospital) said to Summers’s husband Bill after the birth of their daughter Elizabeth:
“What an odd couple you are. Quarter of an hour before the baby was born, your wife asked for pencil and paper. I told her there was no need to make her last will and testament, I wasn’t going to let a neighbour slip through my fingers, but she said she’d just thought of the last line of a poem she’s been having trouble with.” She shook her head. “I’ve heard some quaint things said in the course of labour, but I’ve never had a poem composed during it, before.” — The Essie Summers Story, p. 43.
In what follows, I will talking about things we feel very strongly about; and it is hard to think clearly when we feel strongly. So let me first lay out five kinds of decisions in an area that we can think about reasonably calmly (assuming nobody we love has died in a plane crash).
1. Some decisions are good decisions made by good people and they turn out well. The movie Sully is all about the question of whether Sully’s decision to land on the Hudson, which obviously turned out well, was a good one (I think everybody agrees it was).
2. Some decisions are bad decisions and they turn out well anyway just because the person who made them got lucky. If a pilot gets on a plane after have a couple of quick ones, and he flies the plane successfully and lands safely, that was still a bad decision, and he ought to be suspended even though nothing bad happened.
3. Some decisions are evil decisions made by evil people. The pilot who flew his plane straight into a mountain a couple of years ago, because he didn’t just want to commit suicide but wanted to kill lots of other people too, is an example. If the other pilot had somehow managed to break in and save the plane, then it would been entirely just to hang the would-be murder-suicide dude for attempted murder.
4. Some decisions are hard decisions where a good person just gets it wrong, but you can’t really blame him because it was too hard a choice and not enough time to make it. If Sully had tried to make it back to La Guardia, nobody would blame him, but lots of people would have died. These are tragedies where nobody is to blame. If that had been the situation and somebody had tried to sue Sully for “murdering my mom,” that person would have been a jerk because you really couldn’t have blamed Sully. In the movie the NTSB people are trying to say that Sully made a bad choice because (a) most people would have gone back to the airport, and (b) that would have been the right decision. They change their mind when he proves that the decision most people would have made, would have been the wrong one. If he had tried to go back to La Guardia and failed, and the NTSB had tried to blame him, he could have tried to show that most people would have tried to go back to La Guardia (for example, that’s what the air traffic controller was telling him to do); and if he had, then they would have said, “It turned out to be the wrong decision, but we can’t blame you for making it.”
5. Some decisions are terrible and inexcusable decisions made by good people who are either generally incompetent and have no business being in that job in the first place, or else who are in a moment of high stress and made an uncharacteristic, but disastrous, mistake. The Air France pilot who inexplicably tried to fly the plane straight up until it stalled and fell into the middle of the Atlantic would be an example of this. He wasn’t trying to kill anybody but if he had survived miraculously then we probably would have put him in jail for manslaughter – manslaughter being the crime of killing a person when you weren’t being malicious but also your behavior was, even under the circumstances, inexcusable, and as a result some innocent person died.
In the last case, there can be an argument about whether the person who made the decision should be blamed, or whether instead the people who put him in the job without making sure he was competent should be blamed. Thus we can either blame the Air France pilot for being incompetent, or we can blame Air France for not training him carefully and not making sure he was competent before they let him fly a plane through a mid-Atlantic thunderstorm in the middle of the night.
So the challenge in evaluating decisions is that we tend to say a decision is a good or bad one based on results. But this is foolish. Some people make good decisions, or at least decisions that you can’t reasonably blame them for, and they turn out badly. Some people make bad decisions and they turn out fine. (There was a famous case years ago where a customer called his broker and told him to buy stock, and the broker sold it instead, which is literally the worst mistake a broker can make. But right after the broker sold the stock, and before there was time for the mistake to be corrected, the stock market collapsed in the Black Monday 1987, and the customer made millions. So the customer made the worst decision he could make, and the broker then made the worst decision HE could make, and the result of these two bad decisions was that the customer got rich. C’est la vie, sometimes.) You have to judge decisions based on the information that was available to the person at the time, and also how much time they had to make the decision, and also how much stress they were under; and then you have to compare it to what most reasonable and well-meaning people would have decided in the same situation.
In the case of cops faced with having to decide whether a suspect is about to try to kill them, and whether therefore they need to resort to deadly force, I think we have to keep in mind the peculiar difficulty of the decision – but without forgetting that even though in the abstract the decision may be difficult, there can be situations where in that specific situation the decision is easy enough that there is no excuse for getting the wrong answer. (In other words, you have to recognize that cops have to make decisions few other people can understand; but you cannot say that whenever a cop shoots a suspect he should be able to go free if he just says, “Hey, I thought he was going to shoot me.”) So: there are cases where it would take ten seconds to decide whether a suspect was likely to shoot you or not, but if you wait ten seconds and he is a bad guy, you’ll already be dead because it will only take him four seconds to kill you. You WILL decide in less than ten seconds, because the decision is, “Will I wait too long to decide to shoot?” and if you don’t decide to shoot in ten seconds then you have already decided to wait too long. In such cases two of the four possible outcomes are tragic: (1) The cop shoots the suspect before the suspect can shoot him, and it turns out the suspect was innocent. Tragic outcome; the suspect was an innocent person who just died. (2) The cop doesn’t shoot in time, and it turns out the suspect is a cop-killer, which the cop finds out when he gets fatally shot. Tragic outcome, because the cop is an innocent guy who just died. (3) The cop gambles on innocence and the guy is innocent; nobody dies. Good outcome; we all breathe a sigh of relief. (4) The cop shoots first and it turns out that it’s a good thing because the suspect was pulling a gun. Good outcome, frankly, IMHO; because no innocent person has died and I am fine with having people who are trying to kill innocent people getting killed themselves.
With that background: I think the following things are generally true.
1. Most cops are good cops.
2. There are bad cops – most of whom are more incompetent than malicious but some of whom are downright bad dudes.
3. Good people sometimes do bad things. In particular, good people under high stress sometimes make terrible decisions. Most of all, good people under high stress who perceive themselves to be in mortal danger, sometimes do terrible things. And sometimes, as a result, innocent people die.
4. Good people sometimes make decisions that aren’t bad decisions but that turn out tragically.
5. Until a person is actually put into a perceived life-and-death situation, there is no way to know how he or she will react. This is true even with good training – it is not possible to provide better training than the American military does, and yet there are soldiers who, the first time they face live fire, panic under the pressure. No police force can have the budget to provide training that comes up to the military standard, and therefore a certain number of cops who are good people in general are going to make disastrous decisions the first time they find themselves making life-and-death choices. (If I were ever put into that situation I might be one of the people who panic and do things they spend the rest of their life regretting and being ashamed of, and so might you – which does NOT mean it’s okay, only that a certain amount of humility is called for when judging people who have failed in situations we ourselves have never been tested in.)
6. People who do bad things have to be held accountable even when they are generally good people. It is wrong to treat them as if they were bad people; but it is also wrong to behave as if they had not done a bad thing. (This is the whole point of the crime of manslaughter: we recognize that the person who caused the death was not malicious or evil, but we also recognize that what they did was a bad thing that caused the death of an innocent person.)
7. People sometimes die as a result of tragic misunderstandings where it is nobody’s fault – nobody has done anything bad, but somebody dies anyway. The mere fact that an innocent person has died does not mean that somebody has to be punished; in the case of tragic misunderstandings, if you punish somebody, then you do not create “justice” – you simply ensure that TWO innocent people suffer rather than one.
8. The line between “tragic misunderstanding” and “culpably bad decision” is bloody hard to draw, and borderline cases are hard on everybody simply because there is room for genuine disagreement and no matter where the decision comes down somebody will feel that justice has not been done.
9. Where we have strong loyalties, we have a hard time with borderline cases, because whenever there is doubt we tend to come down on the side of our loyalties. Then, when somebody whose loyalties are on the other side does the same thing, we accuse them of being “biased” and of “ignoring the facts.” This is human nature, and we need not feel guilty about having natural loyalties and natural biases; that is tantamount to feeling guilty for being human beings rather than angels. However, each of us has a moral duty to recognize and acknowledge our own biases as clearly as we recognize and call out the biases of those who disagree with us. Thus, in the case of a cop who kills a suspect who turns out to have not been a threat (such as the cop who killed Dillon Taylor “for trying to turn off his iPod”), the young man’s family and friends will tend to be too ready to call the cop a murderer, and the cop’s brothers in blue will tend to be too ready to say the cop did nothing wrong. It is fine for the family to say, “The cops are biased,” as long as they are ALSO willing to say, “And so are we.”
Note that all of this is true without respect to race. (Dillon Taylor, like most people killed every year by cops, was white.) This is especially the case since, despite the grotesque disparity in news coverage, cops kill white people far more frequently than black people, and sometimes in outrageous circumstances. (Though, given that there are 800,000 cops in 300,000,000-person America and only 987 of them killed anybody at all last year, including people who shot at them first, “frequently” is an entirely relative, and quite misleading, term. People who speak of “epidemics” of killings by cops…you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Though I think we certainly do have an epidemic of ruthlessly hyped news coverage of killings of black people by cops.)
Now let us talk about this with regard to the interaction of black men with cops.
1. It is all but impossible for people not to generalize from their own experiences to at least some degree, especially when their experiences are correlated by statistical fact (or by the illusion of statistical fact created by incessantly one-sided news coverage). It is hard for cops not to generalize from their experiences with black men and it is hard for black men not to generalize from their experiences with cops.
2. Perfectly-trained and impartial cops would generally kill people who were genuine threats to the lives of innocents and not generally kill people who were not. Therefore the first question to be asked when trying to determine whether cops treat members of some races differently than others in fatal encounters, is to compare the rate at which cops kill members of any given race to the rate at which cops are killed by members of that race. Cops who were making decisions purely on accurate assessment of threats would kill suspects in racial proportions that matched the racial proportions of people who actually kill cops; significant variations from this rule, whether to the high side or the low side, call for explanation.
3. Black men commit crimes at a significantly higher rate than do members of any other identifiable-on-sight demographic. In particular, a significantly disproportionate number of the people who kill cops are black. The percentage of people killed by cops who are black is quite a bit lower than the percentage of cop-killers who are black. This implies that, if anything, cops in general are more reluctant to kill black people than they are people of any other race, a result that is probably surprising at first glance but that actually is readily explainable even if cops in general are racist, as we will see shortly.
4. There are plenty of black men who are not criminals, just as there are plenty of good cops who are willing to risk their own lives every day to protect the innocent, including innocent black people. The stereotype, “Black men are criminals” grossly overgeneralizes; black men are criminals at a higher rate than members of other demographics are criminals, but that doesn’t mean most black men are criminals. Similarly the stereotype, “America’s cops kill innocent black men,” grossly overgeneralizes; there were at most 50 cops last year who killed innocent black men, while 800,000 cops did not. It is as evil to talk as though all cops are racist black-haters as it is to talk as though all black men were violent criminals.
5. The victims of black criminals are overwhelmingly black people. While I am not particularly worried about a homicide in which two criminals have a shootout and one of them loses, one assumes that the majority of the victims of black criminals are innocent black people and therefore tragic victims.
6. Especially in high-crime cities with extreme gun control laws (e.g. Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit), the only defense innocent black people have against black criminals is the police, and therefore the lives and safety of innocent black people depend on effective cooperation between innocent black people and good cops.
7. The media can be counted on to crucify any cop who kills a black man, quite possibly even if the black man killed is killed in the act of setting up a machine gun for the purpose of spray-shooting a mall food court full of innocent black people — and the cops know it. (If Crutcher had been white, nobody outside of his friends and family would ever have heard his name. Dillon Taylor is an example of what I mean. On August 11, 2014, Dillon Taylor was walking with a couple of buddies down the street listening to music. A 9-1-1 caller called in their description and added the completely false information that the boys had “flashed a gun” (they did not have guns with them; the caller made that part up). “Non-white” cop Bron Cruz, acting on that information, shot Taylor dead when Taylor was turning around and took his hands out of his pockets to raise them. Everyone knows Michael Brown’s name. How many people know Dillon Taylor’s? Yet they were shot only two days apart. And there seem to have been only three real differences between the two cases. 1. Taylor had not just robbed a store and assaulted the owner; instead a 9-1-1 caller had said he “looked like” a gangbanger who was out to cause trouble. In that respect Taylor was more of a victim than Brown. 2. Nobody contends that Taylor attacked Cruz, while multiple black eyewitnesses told the grand jury that Brown attacked the cop who ultimately shot him. Unless those eyewitnesses were lying, Taylor was more of an innocent victim than Brown. 3. Brown’s story could be portrayed in the media as white-cop-shoots-unarmed-black-kid, while Taylor’s story was “non-white”-cop-shoots-unarmed-white-kid – wrong narrative; so bury the story.)
8. Cops, being human, generalize from their experience (which is amply backed up by statistical reality), and disproportionately suspect innocent black men of being criminals. However they also do not want to be the subject of witch hunts and therefore are generally reluctant to go so far as pulling the trigger on a black man. As a result…
9. …cops KILL black people at an abnormally low rate (as pointed out above), yet they naturally QUESTION black men, and show suspicion of black men, at an abnormally high rate. Thus you see how it could be true both that cops are racist and that they are reluctant to kill black people: self-preservation makes even a racist reluctant to be subject to a witch-hunt. However, in actual fact cops’ suspicion of black men is not because they are “racist” but because they are human beings who generalize from experience — we can be confident that it is not racism simply because black cops’ attitude toward black men parallels white cops’ attitude, in the same way that black cab drivers discriminate against young black men late at night just as much as white cab drivers do. Cops in general do not “hate black people;” insofar as they hate anybody, it is criminals that they hate; and the more they care about innocent black people the more anger they will feel toward the criminals (overwhelmingly black) who prey upon them. And their experience tells them that criminals are much more likely to be black men than any other demographic.
10. Black men who are NOT criminals get harassed by suspicious cops at a rate they KNOW to be abnormally high, and they KNOW it is because of their race. They therefore generalize from their experience and tend to be suspicious of cops in general, just as cops tend to generalize from their experience and tend to be suspicious of young black men in general. This does not make them “anti-cop” any more than it makes cops “racist” — the experience, and the generalizations drawn therefrom, are real.
11. The root of the distrust between cops and innocent black people is neither “anti-cop” black attitudes nor “racism” on the part of the cops — it is the behavior of black criminals, without whom the whole dynamic would not exist. It is the behavior of black criminals that makes it a true statement to say that black men are criminals at a higher rate than any other demographic, and it is the fact that that generalization is true that makes it a true statement to say that black men are treated with suspicion by cops more frequently than are members of any other demographic. If the first generalization were not true there is no good reason to think the second would be true (since the second holds equally for black and white cops and is therefore not a function of any desire to keep the Black Man down or any similar form of racial animus).
12. The following things need to happen if innocent black people are going to be protected from criminals (of any color, but since the criminals who prey on black people are overwhelmingly black, this is close to being the same thing as “to be protected from black criminals”):
12a. Young black men who are the victims of what we will call “profiling” need to understand that they are probably dealing with well-meaning cops who want to protect innocent black people, and while they obviously will see and feel the unfairness of their being suspected at sight because of their skin color, they should remind themselves that the people at fault for the unfairness are the black men whose behavior makes it TRUE that black men are a high-crime demographic, not the cops who are responding to that reality.
12b. Any time a cop stops and questions a black man, unless he has some specific reason to think this particular black man is a bad dude, he should go in reminding himself that most likely he is talking to an innocent man deserving protection rather than to a criminal.
12c. And any time the black guy does in fact turn out not to be a bad guy, the cop needs to go out of his way to express regret for the inconvenience and to thank the young man for his cooperation and his good character – for the cop needs to recognize that it is not that young man’s fault that he belongs to a demographic that disproportionately produces violent criminals. And innocent black people, such as the one he just questioned and treated with suspicion, need to know that good cops are on the side of innocent black people.
13. The best predictor of whether an innocent man will get killed by a cop is not the race of the man killed — it’s the degree to which the cops were primed to believe the man killed was a threat; and the way in which the initial report was phrased has more impact than the race of the suspect. (If people call 9-1-1 and say there’s a guy waving a gun, then you can get shot while standing in line at Wal-Mart to buy an air rifle and you can get shot while trying to turn off the iPod you have in your pocket, and that can happen whether you’re a black guy in Wal-Mart or a white guy listening to iTunes. Obviously I am referring to the two real cases of John Crawford and Dillon Taylor.)
14. If a cop really does turn out to have killed an innocent man with no reasonable grounds for having thought him a threat, then it is critically important for justice to be done. (It appears that the D.A. in Tulsa thinks that Officer Neels did not in fact have reasonable grounds for thinking Mr. Crutcher posed an imminent lethal threat; hence the manslaughter charge. Another case that seems to me to fall into this category is the killing of Philando Castile, which to me is considerably more outrageous than the Tulsa tragedy.)
15. Anybody conservative who tries to exaggerate either the degree to which black men commit crimes, or the degree to which black men hate cops, or any liberal who tries to exaggerate the degree to which cops turn out to be bad guys who want to hurt black people rather than protect them, is morally contemptible. This is obviously the case with the media, where every case in which a black guy is killed by the cops gets a week’s worth of coverage slanted to make the black guy look as innocent as possible, while the far more frequent cases in which white people are killed by the cops are suppressed in the news, thus creating the entirely false impression that cops kill black people at a far higher rate than they kill white people.
16. Whenever an incident such as this one takes place, everybody on both sides ought to take a deep breath and say, “I will NOT be part of a mob,” and suspend judgment (other than a highly tentative first-take-that-I’m-ready-to-change) while waiting for ALL the facts to come in.
17. Anybody who believes anything the media say in the first 24 hours after a black man is killed by a cop, is a moron.
18. The rational self-preservation strategy of cops in an environment where the media will treat them as murderers from the jump any time they find themselves forced to kill a black man no matter what the facts of the situation are, is to start avoiding situations in which they might encounter black criminals — which is to say, to back away from protecting innocent black people. Thus the result of the media / BLM approach to any situation in which a cop is killed by the police (the black guy is always an innocent deeply-loved family man who would never hurt a fly, even if he has sixteen assault convictions including domestic abuse and is killed while resisting arrest and carrying an illegal firearm with which he was threatening homeless black men just before the police arrived) could not possibly be ANYTHING other than to have the police withdraw to some degree their protection of innocent black people from black criminals.
19. You will never achieve perfect justice; so wise people try to make the best tradeoff to minimize injustice. Last year a maximum of 50 innocent black people were killed by cops (I’m taking this from the Washington Post’s database of all people killed by cops in 2015, most of whom were not in fact black). Meanwhile literally thousands of black people were murdered by black criminals. So say that in order to save those 50 lives you cause the police to withdraw their protection from innocent black people, and the result is that hundreds of additional innocent black people are murdered by the black criminals who are already killing thousands even with the police fully engaged. If that is the case, then either you are very stupid or else you are only pretending to care about innocent black people. And in fact the “Ferguson effect” is at this point far too well documented to be deniable — to the point that Shaun King himself has recognized it and has actually COMPLAINED THAT THE POLICE ARE NOT DOING THEIR JOBS…even though the tactics of Black Lives Matter could not possibly be expected to have any effect at all other than to force cops to stop doing their job of protecting innocent black people. (I am NOT saying that protesting injustice when cops kill innocent people inexcusably could not have any other effect; I am saying that the way BLM specifically goes about their protests cannot possibly have any other effect. It is possible to protest injustice responsibly and usefully; Dr. King is one of my heroes and I have read every book he ever published and most of his published short articles and sermons. But BLM appears to be attempting to provide a real-life practical course on How To Protest As Irresponsibly As Can Be Imagined While Causing As Much Damage To Your Own Community As Possible.)
20. Black Lives Matter and the media may (though in the case of the media I seriously doubt it) have good intentions; but if they have good intentions then they are very very stupid.
So that’s my overall take on the whole messy situation.
Our friend David, in Beijing, is a relatively new Christian and the only one in his family’s history; so he is learning as he goes with relatively little support — unlike those of us who grew up not just in Christian families, but in a largely Christian culture. The older gentleman who was his primary mentor in the faith just died, and David naturally was deeply grieved. But, much as was Helen when she went to her first Pierce family funeral a couple of years ago, he found himself taken aback by how little apparent grief the family members seemed to feel, and couldn’t help but perceive it (as practically any culturally Chinese person would without long training in Christianity) as a deficiency of love: how can you claim to love somebody if you are not distressed by his death?
He asked Helen about it, and she asked me to write a response; so here it is.
There are several critical verses from Paul’s letters we should start with.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” – Philippians 1:21-24
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope….we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with those words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 17b-18
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” – 1 Corinthians 15:54-55
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:6-8, some of the last words Paul wrote before he died.
And finally, some of what Jesus said to His disciples the night before He was crucified:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – John 14:1-3
Christianity says certain things about death and eternity, and the only reason to be a Christian is because you believe this is actually true – and that is precisely why I am a Christian, is because the evidence has convinced me that this is actually and eternally true. Paul is not 阿Q; he is not finding ways to lie to himself so that he can feel better – in fact he explicitly says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But Jesus did rise from the dead, and death has been swallowed up in victory.
So here is what Christianity says is true about death:
1. Those who die with their faith in Jesus, will live with Him forever.
2. Heaven is infinitely better than this present life.
3. This life is less than an instant in comparison with eternity, and so the only real purpose of this life is to prepare us for heaven and to give us a chance to help other people prepare for heaven.
4. Therefore the very best thing that can happen to a Christian, is when God says, “Your work is done; come home; enter into my joy that has been prepared for you.”
I will say again: no matter how many wonderful things happen to a Christian in this life, none of them are as good as dying; dying is the best thing that happens to us in our whole lives. But, that is on condition that we do our job while we are here, including not leaving our post until Jesus calls us home. So dying is the best thing that can happen to a Christian, but suicide is so deeply non-Christian that there have been many Christian theologians who have believed that anyone who committed suicide would go to Hell, and in many parts of Europe for a long time nobody who committed suicide could be buried in the church graveyard where all the Christians were buried.
So while the death of a Christian is partly a time for grief for those who love him and are left behind, that grief is both entirely selfish (not in a sinful sense, just in the sense that we feel sorry for ourselves rather than for the person who died), and entirely temporary; and underneath it all lies a constant song of joy.
It is “selfish,” because we are feeling sorry for ourselves – the last person in the world anybody should feel sorry for is the dead Christian, for he has been relieved of duty and allowed to go home. For him, we have nothing but joy; we are happy for him, and the better we know Jesus, the more we look forward to the day when we too are told by Jesus, “OK, your work is done; you can come home now.” But of course for those of us who aren’t yet allowed to go home, life is worse now, because until our own time comes we will never again get to hear the loved one’s voice, or share our happiness with him; we will never get to show him our newborn children or call him with wonderful news; we can never again get his advice when we don’t know what to do. Our life just got worse, and so it is natural for us to feel some grief for ourselves.
But this grief is tempered, because:
1. We know we will see him again, in heaven. So our grief is temporary, and we know that it is. It is not, “Farewell;” it is, “See you later.”
2. We know that time heals grief without destroying memories: if we allow ourselves to grieve, we will heal, and the day will come when looking back on all the good memories we have with him will still bring us joy, but the grief will be gone.
3. Most of all, we are very, very happy for the Christian who died, as today is the first day of true freedom and joy for him. He has finished the race; he has fought the good fight; and we know that he has been greeted by his Savior with the crown of life. This is especially true for loved ones who have bravely suffered through painful illness; they are released from their suffering into joy. How could we not rejoice on their behalf? Why would we want to see them linger on in pain and suffering when unimaginable joy is waiting for them on the other side?
Does that help you see why, when a Christian dies, the more his fellow Christians loved him, the more joy they feel on his behalf?
I’ll close with some extracts from the Anglican burial service, starting with a prayer addressed to God just before the congregation leaves the church to accompany the body to the graveyard:
“You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!’”
And at the very end, out at the graveyard (not infrequently in a pouring rain as it is God who gets to decide the weather for every funeral), literally as the dirt begins to be thrown onto the coffin, the priest says:
“In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother [or sister], and we commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
And the very last thing said before the congregation turns and leaves the body to its rest is this:
PRIEST: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
PEOPLE: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
PRIEST: Let us go forth in the name of Christ.
PEOPLE: Thanks be to God.
Every Christian funeral, you see, takes place in the glory and the eternal sunrise of resurrection. Every Christian death is the beginning of our true life; every Christian death is more life than death; every Christian who dies is more alive after his death than he was before it. And therefore even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Note: The reference to 阿Q (pronounced “Ah Cue”) is a reference to a character that literally every educated person in China knows; he is more or less the Chinese equivalent of Polyanna, except that the creator of 阿Q had a much bleaker outlook on life than did the creator of Polyanna. You can read about 阿Q here.
Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the country’s civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defense is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership. — The Guardian, 2016 September 19
One of the advantages of understanding rhetorical tricks is in watching how people of strong opinions and limited intellectual integrity rephrase their narratives of reality to shield themselves from the unpleasantness of feedback from empirical reality.
The quote above comes from the Guardian (one of the world’s most reliable sources of nasty-minded stupidity). Now the Guardian believes many things passionately (none of which, so far as I can tell, are true), and one of them is that guns and gun owners are E V I L and that Guns Kill People. They are, that is to say, emphatically on the side of the gun controllers in the gun-lobby-versus-gun-controller debate.
Now let’s remind ourselves of the background to this quotation, indeed to the whole article. The primary explicit battleground of the debate has for many years been simple. The gun lobby says that guns in the hands of good people are a powerful tool for stopping bad people intent on violence, and therefore the more guns the good people have, the safer everybody is. (They also, of course, have additional arguments that are important to them but these, being unlikely to convince the general middle-of-the-road public, are of less significance.) The gun controllers say that the more guns there are, the more violence there will be. Furthermore, over the past few decades, a massive empirical test of the two competing assertions has been underway: the laws in a significant number of American states have changed, and statistics on violent crime have been tracked both before and after the legal changes. The changes have taken place at different times (making it less likely that some major societal change happened to coincide with the changes and swamped the effect of the legal changes themselves), and they have not all been in the same direction. Overall, however, the legislative changes (to the fury of gun controllers in general and the Guardian in particular) have had the general effect of giving the gun lobbyists what they want: the overall trend has clearly been to relax gun control and allow more guns into the hands of the general public.
And during this same period, rates of violent crime have dropped significantly. Furthermore, places where gun control laws have been tightened have seen violence generally increase, bucking the general trend. This does not mean that the gun lobby’s case has been proved; this shows only correlation, not cause. But it does come very close, at least to disproving the core contention of gun controllers: more guns does not, clearly, as a general rule produce more violence.
Gun controllers have spent the last decade or so trying to disguise this unmistakable empirical fact by sleight of hand: they incessantly quote, not statistics about violent crime, but statistics about gun violence. I have written in some detail about the intellectual and moral malpractice of using statistics about “gun violence” rather than simple violence here. In the present post I think it suffices to point out three things that those who resort to “gun violence” statistics must believe, unless they are complete idiots (always, of course, a distinct possibility).
1. It is sad that Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were stabbed to death; but that is better than having Nicole pull out a gun and kill O.J. – because the murders of two innocent people by stabbing is preferable to the killing of one would-be murderer by a gun used successfully in self-defense. Anyone who uses the “gun deaths” statistics instead of statistics about homicide in general is committed to this preference.
2. If there were a country that had no guns at all and where 10,000 people were murdered every year (but there were no gun deaths), and then all of the non-criminals in that country were given weapons with the result that only 500 murders were attempted the next year and in all 500 cases the would-be murderer was shot to death, thus replacing the deaths of 10,000 innocent victims with the deaths of 500 would-be murderers, this would be an terrible outcome proving that guns should be taken away again and the murderers’ domination over their victims restored. For introducing guns would have caused “gun deaths” to shoot up to 500 from 0, an increase of infinity percent.
3. If a woman buys a handgun to protect herself from rape, and a home invader breaks into her house with the intention of raping her and her eight-year-old daughter, and she shoots him and kills him, this is a bad outcome – because it increases “gun deaths.”
The Guardian, however, is here trying a different strategy. Instead of trying to pretend that violence has gone up wherever gun control has been relaxed by the dishonest practice of substituting “gun deaths” for “violence,” it admits that in fact the massive increase in U.S. gun ownership has been accompanied by a dramatic drop in violence. (In fact it actually says that “gun violence rates have plummeted,” which I think is probably a misprint: rates of violence have plummeted, but I imagine that rates of gun violence have gone up. I suspect the Guardian is so used to using the trick of referring to “gun violence” statistics that it has done so here out of sheer force of habit and thereby accidentally implied that the more guns you have, the fewer people get shot…a statement that might be true but I rather doubt it, and even if it is I’m sure the Guardian didn’t mean to admit it.) But of course the Guardian is not about to admit that the gun lobby is correct in saying that if you give the good people guns the bad people are way less likely to try to do bad things to good people, and less likely to succeed when they try. Instead the Guardian points to the fact that violent crime has dropped – and says that this proves that there was no need for private citizens to equip themselves for self-defense since crime rates were going to fall anyway.
And they do this with a rhetorical trick. Note how they start the paragraph: “Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted…” The whole point of starting the sentence with “Even as” is to imply, without openly stating, three propositions. “Even as Thing A happened, Group B did Thing C,” is the rhetorical form employed, and in English the use of this structure implies the following:
1. Thing A was not a result of Thing C.
2. Thing A rendered Thing C unnecessary.
3. Therefore the people in Group B are stupid.
Imagine that the same two facts are laid out this way: “As handguns have become a greater proportion of the country’s civilian gun stock, the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted.” Note that this sentence structure clearly implies cause and effect, while the Guardian’s version clearly implies a denial thereof. The facts have not changed; all that has changed is the implication the speaker wishes to insinuate.
Note, again, the facts that are conceded by the Guardian. They concede that when people choose to buy handguns rather than other types of guns, they are primarily buying for the purpose of self-defense. They concede that the American public in general has been pursuing for many years a strategy of acquiring handguns for the purpose of defending itself against the American criminal – they draw that conclusion themselves, without prompting by the gun lobby, from the fact that the proportion of handguns in the nation’s private stock has been steadily rising, and therefore that the majority of gun purchases during this time have been handgun purchases motivated by a need for self-defense. They further concede that ever since the American public has been employing this strategy, the rates at which the American public has been victimized by violent crime have consistently gone down.
And from this they conclude that the American public didn’t need those nasty old handguns after all.
Obviously in order to reach this conclusion they have to convince their readers that the drop in violent crime was not the result of Americans’ being better equipped to defend themselves. But imagine the effect that would have been created had they come right out and say, “We know the gun lobbyists have said that private American citizens have a right to buy handguns in order to defend themselves, and have further claimed that the more law-abiding citizens there were carrying handguns, the less violent crime there would be. And we can see here that Americans have been listening to the gun lobby and following the gun lobby’s suggestion; and we can also see that what has happened has been exactly what the gun lobby predicted, and exactly the opposite of what we and our fellow gun control advocates predicted. However, this fall in violent crime has nothing to do with the increase in the American public’s ability to defend itself against violent criminals with handguns. And the reason we know that this is true, is because…because…because we say so.”
That would not be persuasive at all. Well, that’s what rhetoric is for if you are dishonest: if your argument is so weak that everyone would be able to tell it is stupid if you actually made it openly, then you try to sneak it by using rhetoric and counting on having a not-very-bright subscriber base, something that the Guardian has the luxury of knowing is, in its particular case, a sure thing. So they don’t say, “The fall in violent crime has nothing to do with the success in our opponent’s use of handguns as a tactic to reduce violent crime, and it is totally a coincidence that exactly what they predicted would happen, has actually happened.” Instead they imply it by employing the “Even as…” structure.
And thus the fact that exactly the result the gun lobby predicted has come about precisely as the American public has adopted specifically the strategy the gun lobby suggested, is proof to the Guardian’s readers that gun lobbyists are way stupider than the Guardian’s readers.
This is a response to a Facebook post from a young man of my acquaintance who posted a video of women who physically assault men under the assumption, which in this particular video always turns out to be invalid, that the men will not hit back. My young friend, of whom I happen to have a very high opinion in general, is not happy about the violence but is even more unhappy about the idea that women should be able to hit men without men’s being able to hit back, which he perceives as a “double standard” — and he doesn’t think double standards are acceptable. I generally agree that double standards are bad, but not in this particular case, and this is my attempt to help him see why I don’t wind up in the same place he does.
I express myself rather freely on the issue of how liberals go astray by way of category errors; but that is because the difference between my view and my friend’s view arises precisely from category errors and specifically from his having accepted the liberal way of framing the question. You needn’t agree with my view of liberalism as a whole to accept that in this particular case “strong/weak” is a more relevant moral classification than “male/female.”
I’m not with you on this one, buddy; I think the double standard is good. This is because I believe that chivalry is a good thing — something I say with some reluctance as I am practically certain to be misunderstood by the historically illiterate, especially feminists.
Generally speaking, the primary point of chivalry is that the strong should defend, rather than exploit, the weak, and that those who are overwhelmingly stronger than others should be generous enough to tolerate bad behavior directed at them by people who are not able to do them real harm. Ignore the feminist carryings-on about chivalry’s being a patriarchal plot; chivalry was not primarily about roles of men and women, but was about the role of the strong versus the weak — it just happens that, given that we are a sexually dimorphic species of primate, the strong have always been overwhelmingly men, and women have always fallen overwhelmingly in the category of the (physically) weak and exploitable. You note that I do NOT say that the weak have always been overwhelmingly women:practically any unarmed men is hopelessly weak in comparison to a young and professionally trained knight in armor; and the social function of chivalry was as much the regulation of the behavior of strong men toward weak men as it was the regulation of the behavior of strong men toward weak women. The behavior I would hope to see from the men in these videos is directly analogous to the behavior of Don Pedro and Claudio (young and vigorous soldiers at their peak of physical ability) when they are attacked in Much Ado About Nothing by the enraged Leonato and Antonio (old men who no doubt were strong in their day but now clearly would be no match for the youngsters).
And the principle is wider than chivalry, for chivalry had to do only with physical force; but there are many different kinds of strengths and weaknesses. In most marriages, for example, it is true that in a fistfight, the wife will be no match for the husband. But it is also true that in the majority of marriages, in a purely verbal argument the husband will be no match for the wife. The principle of “the strong do not take advantage of the weak, and indeed the strong tolerate a certain amount of clumsy bad behavior on the part of persons too weak to be a real threat,” applies to husband’s not beating their wives in fistfights; but then it also applies to wives’ not humiliating their husbands in argument. I grew up in a world where only the trashiest of white trash men beat their wives, and where if it became known that a man had hit his wife, no decent man would have anything to do with him. But if this had been the only rule, then it would have shifted power entirely to the wives in most cases, who would have been free to take full advantage of their superiority in verbal facility to make their husband lives’ miserable, secure in the knowledge that they could win every argument and never have to fear their husbands would in frustration resort to beating them into silence. (“The husband is the head. But the woman is the neck. And the neck can turn the head any way it wants.”) And so decent women had as little respect for a woman who “henpecked” her husband, or who went around insulting and ridiculing her husband to family and friends, as decent men had for husbands who beat their wives. Now, there are people who consider that these “decent” women were traitors to their sex and were on the side of the patriarchy; but those people are overwhelmingly liberals who, thanks to their own loyalties and to their abject conformity to the acceptable patterns of thought in their social circles, automatically assign people into categories of gender and race as the first step in any analysis of social causality or in the choosing of sides in controversies. But what “decent men” and “decent women” had in common, in the world I grew up in, was that they did NOT form their primary loyalties on the basis of gender and race. My father and I had no loyalty to any “brotherhood” of men, and my mother and sister had no loyalty (to the fury of the feminists of the Seventies and Eighties) to any “sisterhood” of women. We based our loyalties on moral character, and the classification of strong and weak mattered much more than that of male and female – precisely because, when it comes to moral character, men and women ARE equal in virtue, or from a different perspective equal in nastiness, to any reasonable degree of precision. We had a great deal of respect for the physically strong who were gentle with the physically weak, which would generally include men who were gentle with women and children and certainly with their wives and offspring. And we had a great deal of respect for the verbally strong and intelligent who were emotionally generous and who could disagree without belittlement and could persuade without verbal abuse; this meant that we admired wives who, though capable of winning any argument they might have with their husbands, were always careful to be gentle with said husbands’ egos and feelings.
In short, one of the fundamental ways in which you measure a person’s character – whether male or female – is simply this: where they have an overwhelming natural superiority over another person in some respect, do they take advantage of that superiority to dominate the other person? Or do they show generosity and tolerance to those who pose no serious threat to them?
So I think you are falling into a very common intellectual trap. Very often the issue is not so much that someone has answered a question wrong, as it is that they have ASKED the question wrong; they have framed the question to begin with in a way that makes it impossible to get a right answer. You are accepting the liberal premise that moral analysis should always work from classifications based on gender and race, and are taking feminists seriously when they say that women and men should be treated “equally.” And therefore you object to a “double standard” based on gender. You start, that is, from a premise of equality. But when it comes to physical strength and the capacity to do harm with one’s bare fists, men and women are NOT equal; the liberal premise is in this case (as in so many others) a hypothesis contrary to fact. When a woman punches a man in the face and his head barely moves, and then he responds with a right cross to the jaw that knocks her backwards through a plate-glass window…frankly I think a double standard is absolutely called for.
Strong versus weak, my man. Not man versus woman. Strong versus weak. The single most important step in any social analysis is choosing the categories in terms of which the analysis will be framed. Don’t get it wrong, and don’t let the obsessions that Millennials have been socially conditioned to be dominated by (gender! race! privilege!) constrain your thinking. Strong versus weak. That is the moral category that is relevant here.
And I should say, as a final note, that when it comes to men who are physically attacked by women intending, and trying, to do them physical harm, I have rather extensive personal experience; this has not always been, for me, a theoretical academic exercise. If being physically attacked by a women who intends to hurt you gives you the right to hit back, then I have had more than my share of opportunities to beat a woman silly and claim self-defense as a justification. But all the same I never have hit a woman, and I would not think much of myself if I ever had. For the strong must be generous to the weak.
Originally I stopped here, because my posts tend to be too long, and while I had several more points I felt like making, each point took me further from the original Facebook post. But then I got some constructive criticism from a friend who read that post and who specifically noted the lack of…a point I had decided not to make because I thought it was off-topic. So maybe it wasn’t so off-topic after all — at any rate, I’ve decided to go ahead and add the rest.
Now if you recognize that the issue is strong-versus-weak rather than man-versus-woman, this allows you to recognize exceptional cases where the roles are reversed. If I, for example, with my perfect 800 verbal SAT score, were to marry Ronda Rousey, then rather obviously it would be my task not to humiliate the lady in verbal arguments and it would be her task not to kick my butt into next week every time I sassed her.
Not all of the implications, however, are so obvious; and some of the consequences of framing the question as a gender question rather than a strength/weakness question are actually both quite subtle and quite destructive. Consider what follows from the following true statements:
- For any randomly selected man and woman, it is overwhelmingly true that the man will win if things come down to a fistfight.
- For any randomly selected man and woman, it is true more often than not — but not overwhelmingly true — that the woman will win a verbal argument.
Do you see that it follows, just statistically speaking, that (a) in many marriages one of the partners will be able to abuse the other both physically and verbally, and (b) when that happens, it will overwhelmingly be the man who is in a position to abuse the woman? This is so, not because men are more evil than women (they are not), but simply because the generalization, “Men are able to physically dominate women,” is a significantly more valid generalization than is the generalization, “Women are able to verbally dominate men.”
Furthermore, marriage is a special case among human relationships in general, because even emotionally healthy adults are vulnerable to emotional abuse within marriage. A wife who constantly torments her husband verbally is not as damaging to her husband as a husband who beats his wife…but she’s not that far behind, and if the husband feels any meaningful cultural or moral constraint on indiscriminate wife-beating she frequently can more than hold her own. But as I say, the words of spouses and parents and siblings possess greatly amplified destructive power because of the peculiar intimacy of the relationship. Under ordinary circumstances, however, among the emotionally mature in less intimate relationships, the fact that women are typically more verbally adept while men are more physically powerful would leave women at a serious disadvantage, barring social constraints on men’s use of violence against women. So the power disparity of men’s greater facility in violence would not be cancelled out by women’s greater verbal facility even if the two generalizations were perfectly equally valid.
This is another point that is obscured by modern liberalism, actually, because modern liberalism is doing everything in its power to obscure the critical distinction between actual violence and verbal abuse. Terms such as “verbal violence” are deeply dishonest terms, which exist precisely and solely to disguise the dramatic and critical distinction between insults (much less mere disapproval) and assault.
Every child used to be told, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Then in the Sixties you started getting psychologists saying, “This is stupid; words do too hurt.” Alas, there was indeed stupidity involved, but the locus of the stupidity was slightly misidentified by the pop psychologists, who merely were proving that they did not understand the point of the saying. Of course words hurt — if you are a five-year-old child, or if you have suffered severe emotional trauma that keeps you from being able to function as an emotionally stable and independent adult, or if the words are coming from somebody (like a father or wife) whose relationship to you makes their opinion of you deeply fundamental to your self-esteem, or if you are a Special Snowflake of a spoiled Millennial brat whose parents failed dramatically to raise a grown-up. But one of the most fundamental, essential prerequisites of becoming an adult is learning to ignore the opinions of idiots. We teach children to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” not because it is true for the children at the time, but because they have to learn not to care what other people think…with three exceptions that I will detail in a moment.
This is one of the things that to me is quite striking about the approach that schools have started taking to “bullying” in the last few years. The world has, and always will have, bullies; and children, until they can acquire the maturity and self-confidence to be able to say quite truthfully, “Words will never hurt me,” are peculiarly vulnerable. This means that schools and parents have two main jobs. (1) They must, as much as they can, raise their own children to be kind and generous and honorable, and not to be bullies. (2) They must raise children up to be able to deal with the bullies that they are inevitably going to meet in life — which includes knowing how to stand up to physical bullies, and also how simply to ignore verbal bullies.
As far as I can tell, in modern schools the focus has in the past few years shifted rapidly in two ways. First, when I was a child we knew perfectly well the difference between the kind of bully who waited for you after school and bloodied your nose, and the kind of nasty person who insulted you and said bad things about you. Usually we reserved the word “bully” for violent bullies; verbal bullies were “vicious” or “nasty” but not usually “bullies.” The fact that “bullying” now means almost always “saying hurtful things” is a linguistic shift that goes along with the eradication of the distinction between insult and violence.
But secondly, as far as I can tell we have largely abandoned any idea of instilling in children the idea that they need to learn to ignore nasty people who insult them. It is as if the schools think that the only possible solution is to ensure that the world has no bullies in it, which is likely to happen…well, never; we’ll overcome the law of gravity before we universally overcome the part of human nature that produces bullies, especially since, no matter what rules we put in place to stop bullies, the smarter bullies will figure out how to manipulate the rules so that the rules themselves become the bullying tools of choice. Now, do you need to stand up for other people who are being insulted? Sure. But should you allow yourself to be butt-hurt because of what the Mean Girls say about you? Absolutely not — or, well, when you are five, you are going to be hurt; but the grownups need to be coming along beside you and holding your hand, emotionally speaking, helping you to learn not to care the same way they help you learn to ride a bicycle. So by the time you’re in high school you ought to be getting the hang of it, and if you go to college as a person so emotionally weak that if you hear a speaker utter a political opinion with which you disagree you have to flee to the campus counseling office in search of a safe space, then your parents are abject failures, and your school’s anti-bullying program is not exactly covered in glory. For an “anti-bullying” program that does not help people learn how to deal with bullies effectively, as emotionally full-grown adults, is an anti-bullying program that is not worth much.
And one of the very first conditions of dealing effectively with bullies, is learning to tell the difference between the kind of bully who can actually hurt you, and the kind of bully who is only going to revile and insult you. Because the guy who reviles and insults you does not actually do you any harm, at least not if you’re an emotionally stable and healthy grown-up. Verbal violence is not violence, and a person who can beat you up with impunity is in a completely different position than is a person who can insult you with impunity but can do no more than that.
I have been banging on Americal leftists for most of this post, because this whole question is an area in which the liberal presuppositions and analytical categories are peculiarly destructive, both rationally and morally. But I don’t want you to imagine, therefore, that this is a liberal/conservative issue, merely because that is how it presents itself in America. Part of the definition of a “face” culture such as the Chinese culture or the neo-Scottish-highlander Appalachian culture that gave us the Hatfields and the McCoys, is precisely that in a “face” culture a purely verbal insult is perceived as being the full equivalent of a physical assault; and this blindness has recurrently catastrophic effects.
Here, for example, is Arthur Smith, imagining what would have happened had George Washington and his father been 19th-century Chinese villagers (from Village Life in China, published in 1899):
Mr. Hua Hsing-tun was a well-to-do farmer, who had in his courtyard a handsome pomegranate tree of which he was very proud. His youngest son one day got hold of a sickle, which had been sharpened ready to cut wheat the next morning. With this implement he chopped at everything he saw, and among the rest, at the pomegranate tree, which fell at the third blow. Seeing what mischief he had done, he ran to the other end of the village where he played with some boys whom he told that a cousin (the third son of his fourth uncle) had done the deed. This was overheard by a neighbor who passed on to the other end of the village just in time to hear Mr. Hua angrily roaring out the inquiry who had spoiled his pet tree. During a lull in the storm the neighbour, who had stepped into the courtyard to see what was the matter, confided to another neighbour that it was the nephew who had done the mischief. The neighbours soon depart. As no one in the yard knows anything about the tree, Mr. Hua, white with rage, continues his bawling upon the village street, denouncing the individual who has killed his tree. An older son who has just come up, having heard the story of the two neighbours, repeats it to his father, who gaining at last a clue, rushes to his fourth brother’s yard, only to find no one at home but his sister-in-law, whom he begins to revile in the most outrageous manner. For an instant only she is surprised, then takes in the situation and screams at her brother-in-law, returning his revilings with compound interest added. He retreats into the alley and thence to the street, whither she follows him, shrieking at the top of her voice.
At this junction the unfortunate nephew alleged to be the author of the mischief attracted by the clamour comes home, when the infuriated uncle administers a great deal of abusive language relative to his illegitimate descent from a base ancestry, as well as a stunning blow with a stick. This drives the mother of the child to frenzy, and she attacks her brother-in-law by seizing his queue, being immediately pulled off by the second brother, and some neighbours, there being now fifty or more spectators. The fourth sister-in-law is forcibly dragged back to her own yard by several other women, screaming defiance as she goes, and ends by scratching her own face in long furrows with her sharp nails, being presently covered in blood. Her husband has now come in furious at the insult to his family, reviles the elder brother (and his ancestry) declaring that he will immediately go to the yamen [police headquarters] and lodge a complaint. He takes a string of cash and departs on this errand, but is subsequently followed several miles by six men, who spend two hours in trying to get him to return, with the promise that they will “talk peace.” About midnight they all reach home. Most of the next five days is spent in interviews between third parties, who in turn have other conferences with the principals. At the expiration of this period all is settled. Mr. Hua the elder is to make a feast at an expense of not less than ten strings of cash, at which he shall admit that he was in error in reviling this sister-in-law at that time; the younger brother is to accept the apology in the presence of fourteen other men who have become involved in the matter at some of its stages. When the feast has been eaten, “harmony” is restored. But what about the author of all this mischief? Oh, “he is only a child.” With which observation the whole affair is dismissed, and forgotten.
It is extremely important to have a strong sense of honor — in the sense that there should be things that you refuse to do because you would be ashamed of yourself if you were to do them. But this has primarily to do with your own ability to look yourself in the mirror, and it cannot be affected by the insults of the foolish and malicious. In a “face” culture, tragically, “honor” is defined not by what you know about yourself, but by what other people say about you — “honor” becomes “reputation,” and all too often “honor” comes to mean not, “I will ensure that nobody can truthfully speak ill of me,” but instead, “I will ensure that nobody dares to speak ill of me.” When it is culturally acceptable to respond to insults with violence, the result is tragedy. That is the case with “face” cultures such as the Chinese or what Thomas Sowell labels “redneck” (unfortunate terminology on his part since by “redneck” he clearly means “white trash”), and it has become a characteristic of the Far Left as well. I realize that to most of the white liberal elite there could be no greater insult than to say, “You’re just like a redneck,” but in this respect — namely, the inability to distinguish between insults and actual violence — it is true. Witness Sally Kohn, who responded to the Orlando nightclub shootings by insisting that it was as much the fault of evangelical Christians as it was of Islam: “Islamic extremists kill LGBT people. Christian and Jewish extremists [such as, say, Mike Huckabee] just drive us to commit suicide.” And I think that she was quite serious; that she genuinely cannot perceive any difference between on the one hand saying to somebody, “I think what you are doing is immoral and displeasing to God,” and on the other hand shooting that somebody in the head.
But once you have reached the point of not being able to see that difference, you are in a genuinely pathological state; and when you have an entire culture or subculture that cannot see that difference, very bad things begin to happen.
Now I said above that there are three exceptions to the rule that children should learn not to care what other people think, and promised to explain them, which promise I now proceed to keep.
First, you should care about the opinions of wise people who know you well and mean you well, because those opinions stand a good chance of being right, and if you deserve the criticism then you need to pay attention to it and make the necessary personal changes. Indeed, even when an enemy criticizes you, if you have some spare time on your hands, you should ignore the fact that his criticism proceeds from malice and examine yourself to see whether it is justified; but this is black-belt adulthood, so to speak. Given that time is our most precious commodity, the prudent person builds a list of people whose opinions are valuable; he pays attention to those people’s opinions; and he wastes no time on others. This is simply the practical application of the principle that there are two kinds of people, those who want to be good people and those who want to feel good about themselves — and you should be the first kind of person. (Note, by the way, that the most valuable opinions come from people who are wise, and who know you well, and who mean you well, and who disagree with you about practically everything. These are the people from whom you learn the most.)
Second, you should care about the opinions of the people in your family (and similar intimate and at least semi-permanent associations such as your church), because conflict within the family is peculiarly destructive to the emotional health of the members thereof. This is also why a wife who ridicules her husband, or a father who ridicules his child, does more damage than a customer who insults a shopkeeper or an old fart who makes sarcastic remarks about spoiled Millennial brats.
Lastly, you should care about the opinions of people if they have the power to actually hurt you — if they are not merely insulting, but potentially violent; or if there is a serious chance that they could make a false accusation stick in court (thus getting the court to inflict violence on you); or if there is a significant chance that they could turn against you other people who have the power to hurt you (your boss, who could fire you, or your fiancee, who could call off the engagement, or your daughter, who could refuse to speak to you for years). The proverb can be turned around: “Words can never hurt me, but sticks and stones may break my bones.” That proverb encapsulates a distinction that is critically important, both in your personal life and in social and political analysis: violence is a separate category from insult, and verbal violence is not, you know, actually violence. When I openly disapprove of your sexual preference (but threaten no violence), and you respond by calling in the Canadian government to have me thrown into jail for “hate speech,” your response is disproportionate (not to mention childishly immature), because you have resorted to violence. The term “verbal violence” exists for no other purpose than to blur this distinction, in service of various personal and political agendas.
But distinctions are real even if stupid people can’t see them or disingenuous people pretend they are not there, and you must never lose sight of that distinction. Women are generally better at verbal “violence,” while men are better at violence; but that does not mean that men are better at one kind of violence and women are better at a different kind of violence. It means that men are better at violence, period. And that represents a fundamental inequity in natural fact between men and women, which any society needs to adjust for. By far the best way to adjust for it is simply to ensure that children in general are raised to know that it is the task of the strong to protect, rather than to exploit, the weak — to raise all children to have a sense of true honor that is founded on their own behavior rather than on the opinions of others, and to feel to the depths of their soul that it is dishonorable for the strong to dominate the weak.
And if a society chooses this path, then given the natural advantages almost all men have over all women when it comes to violent conflict, it will inevitably wind up with what looks like a double standard in which it is shameful for men to hit women, even, in almost all cases, when a woman hits them first. To me, the existence of such a double standard is not a sign of “inequity” and is most certainly not an evidence of “patriarchal microaggression.” The existence of that particular double standard is a sign that a society is not yet completely lost to sanity.
(By the way: one of the things you do when helping someone learn to deal with the kind of bully that can actually hurt them, is to empower them to be able to defend themselves against the bully. I have never been able even for the tiniest moment to understand why people who are aware of the tremendous damage abusive men do to wives and girlfriends and exes by physical violence, are in favor of gun control — for most women, the only thing that will equalize the violence disparity between them and their abuser, is a weapon. Men do not need guns in order to kill the women they abuse. I just don’t at all grasp why people who are advocates for women who suffer from domestic violence can support laws that deny to those women their only likely effective means of self-defense.)
Now I’m going to cover one more topic (but in this case very briefly, leaving you to draw out the full implications yourself) and then quit. It would be easy to look at the generalization that men are more effective at violence, or that men tend to depend on violence rather than verbal facility, and decide that men are “more violent” than women and therefore men are generally bad people. (I remember years ago reading a list that some especially wounded feminists had drawn up of ten reasons lesbian couples should not use sperm donors to have children, and one of them was, “There is a fifty-fifty chance that the child will be a boy, and then, no matter what you do, the odds are overwhelming that he will grow up to rape and abuse women.”) It would also be easy to look at other statistics and conclude that women are actually more prone to violence than are men — they’re just not nearly as good at it. From this one could draw the conclusion that women are doubly inferior to men — they are morally inferior because they want to hurt people more than men do, but fortunately they are so incompetent that they don’t do nearly as much harm as they mean to.
I have up until now mostly taken the field against liberalism; here I will turn around to point out common fallacies in certain strains of conservative analysis. When it comes to domestic violence there are a couple of statistics that are dear to the hearts of certain conservative factions; but their apparent utility for conservatives in debate depends upon conservatives’ making the same male/female-instead-of-strong/weak category error. On the other hand, there is one aspect in which the male/female distinction is potentially relevant — but I haven’t seen it brought up.
You will hear some conservatives quote these statistics as fact. They are, I would imagine, vulnerable to challenge on statistical grounds; but because my intention is to show how these particular conservatives mishandle the statistics, I will for the purposes of this post pretend that the statistics are perfectly valid.
First, although men do more damage by physically abusing women than vice versa, it is commonly claimed that on a quantitative basis alone, the actual majority of cases of reported domestic abuse involve women attacking men.
Secondly, there is one kind of romantic relationship that very disproportionately results in violence. The rates at which heterosexual relationships result in domestic violence are very similar to the rates at which gay relationships result in domestic violence — but the rates at which lesbian relationships result in domestic violence are dramatically higher than either. A woman who decides to become a lesbian because she is afraid that a man would beat her, is at least at first glance pursuing a strategy that is, shall we say, contraindicated by the facts.
Taking these two together, it seems obvious that women actually resort to violence against their lovers much more readily than do men; and from this we draw the conclusion that women are actually more disposed to violence than men, but fortunately for society are not very good at it.
Take a moment to set aside the moral conclusion and ask yourself what is missing from this analysis, before you go on.
Done? OK. Here’s you a couple of examples; you may well have come up with other things I didn’t take the time to think of.
- Women may resort to violence against men, not because they are more naturally prone to violence, but simply because in a society that has norms by which men are punished more severely than women are for violence, the upside/downside ratio for resorting to violence is more favorable for women than for men. Since it is widely believed (I think quite correctly) by conservatives that the family courts are grotesquely stacked against men, you would expect conservatives to be arguing that women would be expected to resort to violence more freely because they can get away with it more easily. At any rate, there still are many husbands who were trained not to hit back at women, and if a woman knows herself to be married to such a husband she can take full advantage of the fact. In short, the conservative could be confusing opportunity with disposition.
- Women are different from men in a very significant respect that feminists have tried to render unmentionable: once a month, they get hormone-addled. Obviously the effect is stronger in some women than in others; but anger is first and foremost a physical state, and one of the undoubted effects of the hormonal changes that happen during a woman’s period is that they become much more irritable and prone to anger, through no moral failure of their own.
Now, any man who has grown up with women (such as, for example, a mother) has learned from experience (and also, if he has decent male role models, from the guidance of his elders), that wives and girlfriends require lots of grace at certain times of the month. Thus, periodically, from a purely biological standpoint it becomes more likely that a woman will act out rage; and this doesn’t happen with men, who are likely not to respond in kind. That is not a point of moral superiority in the case of men — but it is likely to have some effect on the statistics. Do the conservatives who use those statistics suggest any way to quantify and control for the impact of this monthly effect?
- Furthermore, consider the fact that if two women are living in shared quarters, it is usually the case that their monthly cycles will come into synch with each other. Now think what this means about the difference between gay relationships, heterosexual relationships, and lesbian relationships. In the gay relationships, nobody ever has a period. In the heterosexual relationships, there is always one person who is not having a period, and usually that person has been socially conditioned to discount the other person’s behavior during That Time of the Month. (I suspect that this is just doubly infuriating to most women; but on the bright side it keeps lots of them from getting their butts kicked every four weeks or so.) But in most long-term live-in lesbian relationships, once a month there are two people having periods and nobody quite 100% sane. What do you think the chances are that the huge statistical discrepancy would shrink dramatically if you excluded instances of lesbian domestic violence where both partners were having their period?
I didn’t research any of that, of course, because my point was to show that if you proceed from the assumptions that “male/female” is the critical-path bucket set, and that inequity between the male bucket and the female bucket is a priori presumed to reveal some sort of moral failure or systemic injustice, then you can rationalize your way in to believing some pretty uncharitable things that do not even have the excuse of being true — such as that men are nastier people than women, or that women are more vicious than men.
But the twofold truth is that (a) men and women are systematically different in many ways (such as facility in violence, facility in verbal conflict, capacity to endure pain, personal impact of conception, personal impact of failure to conceive, reproductive utility of taking multiple partners simultaneously, etc.), because we are a sexually dimorphic species; but (b) there is no moral advantage on either side. The first rule of morality, for cultures as well as individuals, is Get Your Facts Straight. One of the facts of the human condition is that men are systematically stronger than women; in this respect the sexes simply are not equal. God help the women in a culture that does not teach the strong to protect, rather than exploit, the weak, or that imposes a social fiction that men and women are equally strong with respect to physical violence. God help the men, though to a lesser degree, in a culture that demands that the physically strong practice rigorous self-restraint while the malice and spleen of the verbally facile are given free rein. And God help everyone in a society that is insane enough to confuse the physical superiority of men over women with an utterly nonexistent moral superiority of women over men — or vice versa.