Self-Defense as a Moral Imperitive? Maybe…


In America we have the right to defend ourselves or another innocent person. We can even escalate to deadly force if need be. But should we? After all, is the few bucks and the credit cards in your wallet worth your life? Of course not- but there is perhaps a larger issue in play here.

A lot of people say that if someone tries to rob you with a weapon you should give them whatever they want. From a purely selfish standpoint that makes good sense. But think about it- your robber is willing to threaten your life on the off chance you’ve got more than a couple bucks on you, and thinks the risk of spending years in prison is worth it.  That’s not a very rational thing to do; is it wise to trust someone that would do this to simply take whatever they get and leave you alone? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Odds are they’ll take what you’ve got and go- but what if they don’t? That’s probably going to be a judgement call you need to make in the moment. I hope that you guess right. But there is a bigger issue.

So, you give your robber your wallet. He’s happy and leaves without hurting you. Congratulations, you have just survived the situation… and guaranteed that someone else will have to go through what you just did. You have just reinforced to your robber that his tactics are effective and will get him what he wants, and that means that he will repeat this behavior. Maybe his next victim will be as lucky as you were, but maybe they won’t. Maybe next time he’ll be high, or scared, or desperate. Maybe next time he’ll pull the trigger and an innocent person’s life will change forever… or end.

When you are training a dog you do not tolerate bad behavior. You sure as hell don’t reward it. Doing so simply guarantees that the bad behavior will be repeated. You’re in the supermarket. Your child wants something and you say no. They launch into a tantrum, and you give them what they want to stop it. Now that they know they can get what they want by throwing a tantrum guess what happens next time? We’re all people,  whether we’re victims or victimizers, and we want what we want. Show us a way to get that and we’ll keep doing it.

In this sense self-defense is a moral imperative, whether we are talking about a school-yard bully or a car-jacker. We need, if at all possible, to demonstrate that we will not reward their bad behavior. That it is not effective and will not work. People that rob someone do it because they believe it will work. If their first experience is unsuccessful they are likely to try something else next time- hopefully something less violent. Yes, there are incorrigibles, people who will simply use the experience to refine their technique. But most people will reconsider if their plan goes south.

The downside is that it’s risky. You could get hurt, even killed. I am not, and would never tell someone that they should always resist a violent criminal. People are different; different physical capabilities, different mental and emotional conditions. No two violent encounters are the same, either. It’s all well and good to talk about moral imperatives, but this is your life.  If you think that resisting will cost you that it would be stupid to do so. The few bucks in your wallet, a watch or ring is definitely not worth dying over. Maybe you feel a moral principle is, but that is entirely up to you and I’m not going to second-guess your choice from the sidelines.

I will say this– if you decide that, given a chance, you will fight then prepare to fight. Stack the odds in your favor. This isn’t a boxing match or a tournament; you aren’t looking for a ‘fair fight.’ Whether your weapon of choice is a knife, pepper-spray, a handgun or just the weapons God gave you you need to train to be effective. You also need to be mentally prepared not just to employ the weapons at your disposal but to judge whether you should use them.  Sure, fighting against overwhelming odds can be heroic. On the other hand there’s a reason that so many heroes are awarded their honors post mortem.



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