“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”
~ Napoleon Bonaparte
As is my recent and sometimes unfortunate habit, I’ve been actively involved in or passively listening to, debates between libertarians, statists, anarchists talking like statists, statists pretending to be anarchists, self-proclaimed pacifists, libertarian consequentialists, died-in-the-wool might-makes-right psychos and (seemingly) everyone in between. If they’ve had time to kill and a high-speed Internet link they’ve been involved, or so it seems. (Clearly, I’ve got too much time on my hands as well, but enough about me.)
One of the sharper and recurring disagreements I’ve witnessed has been around the justification for self-defense, and why such a justification is vital. This premise–the absolute necessity–and dare-I-say God-given right to defend oneself, has been offered as a proverbial nail in the coffin as to why an ultimate belief in non-violence, otherwise known as pacifism, is doomed. I guess it’s no surprise that gun lovers of every stripe find themselves drawn to libertarianism, and frankly, I cannot fault anyone who seeks to defend himself and his possessions.
When one sees the carnage that can occurs when the normal citizen is left unarmed and encounters a madman, as was the case during the 1993 L.I.R.R. massacre, generally one of two responses occurs. One, people openly wonder how a madman could have obtained a gun. Two, people wonder why everyone doesn’t have a gun, and thereby at least a fighting chance if and when they encounter the (hopefully) very small percentage of pschos that exist. About the L.I.R.R. massacre, one news service said:
It is almost impossible to make sense of the acts of a madman. Psychiatrists and historians try. But most often it is left to the survivors and their families to salvage some vestige of meaning from the carnage of a loner like Jeffrey Dahmer or a leader like Pol Pot, or a paranoid gunman like Colin Ferguson, who got on a packed homebound Long Island Rail Road train on Dec. 7, 1993, and shot 25 people at point blank range to settle his imaginary scores with the world.
No matter one’s response to tragic events such as the one mentioned above, the Columbine shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings, or any other scenario, one thing seems certain. One cannot expect someone else to protect him. Such a belief system might work for little children, but even in the wild, there comes a point when the mother of the cubs won’t be around. It should be obvious that when intelligent adults adopt the position of helpless wards of the state, it is only because violence is so rare that such a condition seems even remotely reasonable. One finds it incredibly ironic that many massacres occur in areas that are designated “gun free zones.” If only those intent on taking the life of innocents listened to rules.
My concern though, and the train of thought that drove this essay out of me, is more about the line that separates self-defense and aggression, and how it can be accurately found. In other words, “What is aggression and who gets to decide?” It seems possible to justify almost any aggression and call it self-defense if one tries hard enough. For that reason alone, I don’t think the specific topic of self-defense warrants any hallowed space in the discussion of market anarchism and why it leads to an improved societal construct vis-à-vis the statist norm within which we now all live.
As an aside, that statement — that we live in a statist society — is not quite correct. In fact, we live within a society where most routine daily activities are an anarchistic expression. We are simply governed by a statist paradigm and many, although not all, of the governed actually think they need that government. (This of course, is directly countered by fact that our routine daily activities are anarchistic.)
If one has to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if an action was aggressive or justified, then it was probably aggressive.
I guess what I’m saying, or trying to say, is this. If one has to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if an action was aggressive or justified, then it was probably aggressive. When someone defends themselves from an unwarranted attack, as could be said about the young lady who was mugged recently, their justification is both clear and obvious. When a country invades another country because of the threat said country offers, based upon some Twister-gone-wild, mutated, mangled version of the future, well, not so much.
It strikes me that the arguments used by people overly interested in justifying their right to kill someone–anyone–who they think is aggressing against them could easily morph into justifications for pre-emptive invasion, holy war, and frankly, pretty much any of the heinous activity by which the state has drawn breath for many, many years. Here’s to hoping that libertarian purity, and the obvious right everyone has to arm himself with any weapon he chooses while maintaining a firm grip on the non-aggression principle, wins that battle of ideas.