Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Mantra for the Day

As seen on this message board (post #31):
Don't preach to me [just] because I obey the law and am easier to reach.

This encapsulates an idea I've been kicking around for a long time. Why do we attack a friend within reach, instead of an enemy further away?

Because we're lazy, that's why. It is often easier to address the person in front of you -- who may have nothing to do with the problem at hand -- instead of seeking out the real address for your grievances.

It's a very human failing, I think; I suspect all of us have fallen prey to it at one time or another. But it's still a failing, and it's still wrong.
So there he was, searching the streetcorner with a magnifying glass for his car keys. He'd been at it for hours. "Are you sure you lost them there?" I asked. "No", he answered, "I lost them three blocks away." "Well then", I replied, "why don't you look for them there?" He answered, "because the light's much better here."
That's why a child, frustrated about a bad experience with a teacher at school, might take it out on a friend, or a sibling, or a parent, or whomever else is convenient. That's why a man who just lost his job might walk out onto the street and kick a cat. That's why people who are frustrated about crime often address law-abiding citizens, instead of criminals; they at least know where to find the law-abiding citizens!

And that's one reason why, given a choice between blaming the terrorists who commit a brutal attack, or blaming the wounded victims who respond, some people choose to blame the victims.

(There are other reasons, of course. I've written elsewhere about what a powerful motivator fear can be. I have less respect for that reason when I see it; that's the action of a bully who deliberately fights only with the ones he knows won't fight back. We see this, for example, in the lunatic-fringe demonstrators who scream "police state" -- who either don't know or don't care that, in a real police state, they would not be free to hold such demonstrations. But they feel free to hurl abuse at the American government, confident that there will be no penalty against them for their words... except, perhaps, for the penalty of not being taken seriously.)

The context, of the thread I cited above, was a discussion of gun-control. Why not register your weapons with the authorities, one commenter asked; what do you have to hide? Because that penalizes the law-abiding, was the answer, while leaving criminals alone.

No doubt many advocates of gun-control in the United States are genuinely confused about the issue, and don't understand why anyone would want to keep a lethal firearm in the house. (The answer is simple: as my mother used to say, a criminal at my door will be armed with the weapon of his choice. I want to have the option of confronting him with the weapon of my choice.) But other people, I'm certain, are simply horrified at the quantity of guns on the loose... and want to alleviate the problem by at least getting rid of the guns they can reach.

After all, if a town has an estimated 10,000 guns in a population of 20,000, getting rid of half of the guns is a step in the right direction, isn't it? No, it is not... if you've just disarmed the law-abiding citizens, and left the only guns in the hands of criminals.
"Where guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns."
I feel the same way about protesters who criticize the American government for invading Iraq, but never criticize the Iraqi behavior that made that invasion necessary. Ditto for the people who castigate Israel for fighting terrorism, but never have a bad word to say about the terrorists that caused the terror in the first place.

And then there are the extreme cases, such as the cowards who went to Iraq in early 2003 to be "peace demonstrators" and "human shields". (As I recall, they were upset and disillusioned when Saddam cheerfully sent them to "defend" legitimate military targets, not pre-schools and milk factories.) Yes, I call them cowards... because they knew all too well that the United States would not kill them, except by accident. But they never volunteered to protect people against genuine tyrants or terrorists, did they? Were there any "human shield" volunteers to ride Israeli buses all day, or to stand between Iraqi civilians and Saddam's secret police? No, there were none... because, as cowards always do, they only stood up to the ones who would not harm them.

(Such volunteering would have been ridiculous, of course. Had an American pacifist tried to stand between Saddam and a terrified Iraqi destined for the shredders, Saddam would simply have shredded them both. And no Palestinian terrorist is liable to care if the bus he blows up contains sweet-minded "volunteer human shields", any more than they care if their own people die in the carnage. But on a moral level, none of that matters. Fighting those who will not fight back, while refusing to fight those who will, is rank cowardice, nothing more.)

Fighting the fights that need fighting, as the saying goes, instead of the fights that are convenient, is hard work. Overcoming our own innate laziness is hard work. But it is no less a moral imperative for being hard.


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