Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fight, Flight or Force

I’ve already described myself as a martial pacifist, one who does not go looking for fights, but nonetheless advocates preparedness and self defense in pressing circumstances and this topic will reflect that. I could bring up various incidents that no doubt have actually happened, but the general circumstances are better to explain what the overall theme here is. An assailant is killed by someone who defends themselves with a weapon, a rapist is killed by the victim’s father after they catch them attempting or in the act, a burglar is shot dead by a homeowner after they break in. These are just a few of the somewhat unique situations that complicate homicide law and jurisprudence and I think that this sort of distinction is not splitting hairs at all. But we shouldn’t see this as purely retribution or restitution but strive for equity and fairness in all situations as much as possible.

We tend to have two common options in our head when a combat situation arises directly: fight or flight. This is based in a biological response triggered by neurochemical reactions in the brain. In order to preserve ourselves, humans will run in order to save themselves as opposed to fighting what may be an opponent too great for us unless we are adequately equipped. A fairly recent event comes to mind when talking about the fight or flight response and it’s not pleasant. Whether Trayvon Martin provoked his attacker or Zimmerman acted on a degree of racial bias against Martin and shot him thinking that he was in immediate danger, the severity of the action reflects something that has become acceptable in society: shoot first, ask questions later. I’m not against the use of guns for self defense in a responsible manner, but viewing them simply as tools for killing instead of waging war in defense of justice and others reduces the gravity of their existence and function. We use the gun for the primary purpose of defense, of course, but the violent nature of it also necessitates that it be used with a great deal of discipline and training. This is why gun permits are a good even if they also limit the legality of higher grade weapons. There is a whole other issue with the military having access to such powerful weapons and potentially abusing the public’s trust in them by turning those things used to protect their rights into objects that suppress those rights in the form of martial law or a totalitarian state. Even the use of martial arts to defend oneself demand a responsibility many people don’t think of when enjoying the brutality of MMA on pay per view or the like. Of course there are rules involved, but a sense of honor or discipline is not there as much when martial arts are used in a sport context. It is very much an individual sort of sport, not something you can share with a team to the same extent. You can have similar goals, but not the same degree of individual will, training, and such. That aside, either way, using weapons of any kind: guns, swords, knives, blunt objects, or fighting with your body as a weapon, you should not take it to excess and view any threat to you as an immediate or direct threat to your life at that moment. Of course a mugger may just want your wallet, but they may want to take your life to do so. But this does not mean you should kill them to stop this act. Incapacitation or use of basic force can alleviate the situation just as well. Diplomacy and negotiation can do the same for international conflicts. Of course, these don’t always work, but the use of violence should be a last resort, morally and ethically speaking.
There is such a thing as justice without sinking to levels of vengeance and the violence associated with it. Martial pacifism is a good buffer to temper out what can be otherwise excessively emotional incidents that could lead to manslaughter. There are nuances in talking about justifiable homicide or imperfect self defense? Not all homicide is justifiable, unless we talk about fear of imminent danger to oneself or others. And immediate threats do not always imply death, though humans are not so tough that we can’t be killed in ways we think we could survive. And there is also the distinction between life and wellbeing. Being raped is certainly a terrible scar on one’s psyche, but one can reasonably get through it with therapy and support. To say a person can kill another because they are going to rape someone or even have been caught in the act seems to take it too far. This is not to say that I condone rape at all or see it as a lesser crime, but killing someone takes away any possibility of redemption or real justice in mediating differences and punishing those who have done wrong in appropriate and humane ways. Rape does damage a person, but does not take away their future entirely as death does. Imperfect self defense is similar to the justifiable homicide concept in that the reasoning behind using deadly force is not always justified. Bare fists are not as much of a threat as a knife which is not as dangerous as a gun. This sort of relationship of risks is part of imperfect self defense’s somewhat slippery slope. Imperfect self defense does not reduce culpability, but only the liability of one’s crimes.

I’m not saying one can’t use force to defend others or oneself. That’s justified in many forms of pacifism to the extent that you don’t use violence. Non resistant pacifism is an exception to this in that it says even use of force is unethical because we should be able to always resolve problems with words and not our hands to hurt others. Or there is a notion that love always prevails as a virtue even if you have to die to prove it. Both of these are unrealistic and idealistic in their approach to the real world where this doesn’t always work. But we also shouldn’t resort to violent force to solve problems that could be solved in forceful ways without the potential for death or mortal injuries. If moderation in all good things is necessary for moral behavior, as Aristotle at least implied, then protecting others should not be taken to excess or deficit and use appropriate force for the situation. As vile and contemptible as people may be, killing them does not take away their crimes, nor vindicate those who have been victimized by them. I must emphasize the idea of appropriate force, because it varies by situation. Experience can dictate this, but without that, a dual principle of restraint and assertiveness is key. You shouldn’t let your emotions overtake you. If a criminal is raping your family member, it is not a justification for you to kill them on account of the closeness you have with the person being violated. And even someone being killed does not mean you should exact the same thing against the one who did it. It doesn’t solve the problem of murderers overall, nor does it really vindicate the one who was killed. Incapacitation, knocking the person unconscious or otherwise keeping them under control should be the first goal in neutralizing a tense and dangerous situation such as the ones I brought up at the beginning. You should not simply eliminate the person, since this negates a principle in justice that each crime is different and should be judged by the evidence and nature of the individual who committed the offense.

As much as force can solve problems, violence should never be our first impulse, unless the situation absolutely demands it. This sort of discernment is difficult to gain, but can be done over time and experience. Peace should be a goal, but we should not be opposed to fighting for it when it is necessary. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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