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Violent Social Self-Organization
Working It Out On The Taqueria Scale
With adequate reference to reality, I think, it’s been observed that there are only two basic ways for people to interact: reason or force. The margins at the line between the two can be thin. Arguably; the turn of mind that rejects reality for a lie, a willful overthrow of reality, is at least an offensive act fairly prone to force when it’s turned against another person and their values rely on the truth between them. A street crackpot can stand on a corner and rant lies at passersby all day long without harm, but when one person attempts to extract a value from another with deceit, then that’s a different matter. It’s an offense of wonder: “I wonder what he’ll do next?”
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When the margin between reason and force gets that narrow, it can be crossed at the speed of thought, or just emotion if the capacity for thought is exhausted. An unresolved dispute between two people can lapse into force even when one of them is still grasping the reality of events (words and actions), integrating percepts into concepts, and concluding that he is acting morally while the other hasn’t even thought about any of it and might not even know what morals are. Just because one person is reasoning does not mean that it can’t come to force and violence, when the other one isn’t.
Once the matter crosses from reason to force, the deadliness of the encounter depends a lot on the combatants’ commitments to their values at stake. Sometimes (often, I would wager), they even mistake what’s at stake. The personal video age is rife with examples of deaths or life-changing injuries in street fights over things that make no sense to me, but that only illustrates one complicating factor in all this: subjective values. Is it worthwhile to risk that over an insult on the street? I don’t think so, but if you do, then it’ll be easy to get into a fight over it.
If you’re really committed to it, then you might or might not have to kill someone while you’re at it, and that’s where skill works with commitment. Your opponent might be smart enough to see that in you and try to get away with his own life if he doesn’t think that he could kill you, first. If you can flex force that hard, then you’ll probably get an apology on the street. Some people of naturally evil bent would even take up the idea of making a living at it.
Lots of people do try that. Like anything else in human life, some are better at it than others. And, a thing about combat is that it can instantly turn on all kinds of known and unknown variables. What sometimes looks like commanding control of a situation by force can conceal an instant reversal of fortunes.
Combat, in action, knows no real limits except the self-determination of each individual (often only dimly grasped). Although street fights can be deadly, it’s hard to imagine that most people who get into them do it with the intent to kill. If the casual hand-to-hand contest is determined enough, it’s usually to the point of just dominating a threat of attack; to knock an opponent out of consciousness. (It’s true, however, that even casual viewing of available videos shows a rotten tendency, now, to continue beating on unconscious people. This constitutes a separate ethical study, I think.)
There is another class of force in violation of reason that shows determination beyond the trivialities concerning most street fights, and that’s armed robbery.
It’s an age in which the word “threat” has been (like lots of words, so far, and more all the time) so washed-away from reality that it now includes things like saying mean things to people on the internet. What’s been diffused in that washy soup is consideration of facts and what they mean. At the same time when people are “threatened” by distasteful language, rising social tensions and their vastly increased visibility present boundless opportunity for public comment on incidents of deadly violence. With facts visible in countless videos of indisputable credibility, it’s not difficult to find the same dissolution of the word, “threat,” and the concept that it denotes.
In cases of deadly defenses against armed robbery, social media comments will almost always include questions of or protest against “the level of force” (or some similar mushy compound) that caused the death of a robber. The poor “Can’t You Just Shoot Them In The Leg?” trope is familiar with most interested in this subject. Sociologists can trace its origins if they care. The ethic of its longing to preserve human life is admirable enough, to me, to grant it an honorable chair at the argument, but it must be honest.
If people who say things like that can be brought to the facts of how handgun combat really works, then they’ll give up the “Shoot ‘Em In The Leg” argument before they even take the chair. My handgun experience is what many would fairly call “limited,” with certainly never any sort of of shot (pistol, shotgun, or rifle) fired in anger. I can, however, figure out the implications of handgun combat, and understand that SEITL is literally fantastic, which is why they write into movies.
Part of it comes from bits of handgun fighting history distilled for fictional accounts of men facing each other with hipshots and paragons of the practice able to place bullets like that. Believe it or not, it was not a small account of honor that was often attached to gunfights in the traditions from which the SEITL ethic is derived. Various bushwhackers and backshooters are not accounted in this but the “honor” among men who faced each-other with guns really consisted in last-margin attempts at reason, with agreement to settle matters in deadly combat.
This is an important contrast with a time in which the “drive-by shooting” has been a notable style for decades, already. That whole style of gunfighting was once the outrageous domain of the mad mob killer, memorialized in films. Now, it’s virtually daily and certainly weekly across America; a coward’s style of attack against unwitting victims and often taking random ones.
There are certainly honest people who implore “SEITL!”, I’m sure, but these are some of the implications that they have to face, from principles, with honest logic. Gunfighting ain’t what they think it is, when they think about it at all. I don’t mean to condescend unduly. I mean it: I wonder how deeply they think about it. By now, here, I might have someone thinking about the concrete idea of a “drive-by shooting,” and they might start to work out a “scenario” (effectively; a script) of what that might look like. It would be informed by what they might know about firearms, but no more, which is crucial to how their thinking might conclude. In any case, it would probably be vivid in imagination, as it is today with such preponderance of imagery — real and fictional — on which to draw.
Someone really thinking hard about a drive-by shooting might come away with a conclusion at such great effort — possibly even giving-up a general appeal to SEITL — that they might not ever realize that they had not thought the matter deeply enough to reach principles equipping them to analyze this:
I begin with the idea that this was a political event.
I take “politics” as the branch of philosophy that studies human social organization, and this event is obvious to me as a glaring problem of human social organization. In their most general dimensions, the immediate political questions are something a lot like: “How to organize human life around people who can’t produce the values to sustain it but, instead, attempt to steal the sustenance of other people’s lives? How long can that go on before all their prey are dead? Who has to tolerate that, and why?”
Human history runs from one end (as far back as we know) to the other (right now) with exactly this sort of thing as rationale for government. Here is an example of a politics — a demonstration of human social organization — beyond the ethical scope of government. That seems, at least (although I take it as given fact), evident in reports that local “authorities” are curious about the taqueria shooter’s motive when he killed the armed robber.
“One of the reasons that law enforcement is seeking out this individual is to find out whether he was in fear for his life or the lives of the people around him because that’s absolutely essential to a self-defense claim under the law," KHOU Legal Analyst Carmen Roe said.
Understanding what politics is and what this ex post facto interest of the state has to do with the event, it’s not unduly simplified or complicated for me to score the thing:
Ethically: strictly none of my business, but interesting as a matter of values in action.
Practically: adept at dealing with the combat challenge.
Politically: admirably self-organized.
In the first category, I merely observe from a distance that the two main characters in the event are acting for values. I am not doing that, except in valuing my own judgments of the event. That’s very different: it’s not the ultimate value of my life at stake as I do that at my leisure. More: who prevails in a combat like that is of no real concern to me, beyond moral contemplation of its resolution. This is of great political importance to me when the state titles its criminal indictments as, “The People vs …” It has no right to arbitrarily include me in something like that without knowledge of my interest, which I always implicitly disclaim.
On the evidence available, which I take as immutable: even if lived in Houston, or even if I had been in the same room when this happened, I would not regard the man who shot that robber as a general threat at-large. Everything reported about this demands my opposite judgement. He even returned the robbed money to the other victims before he left the scene. It’s a crabbed view of any proceeding toward “justice” that would want to question an ethic like that, and I reserve my right to stay out of it.
In the second category, the shooter demonstrated aptitude with his pistol and the mental fortitude required for its intended use in that situation.
Right away: I dismiss the fact that the robber brandished a “fake” weapon. Certainly, this cannot be known to prospective victims. That’s the whole point of the deceit: if they know it’s not real, then they just won’t do what he’s trying to force them to do. Nobody would. To anyone with intent and ability to defend against a handgun threat, that threat is absolutely real at the instant it appears, and then: the narrow margin between reason and force can be crossed at the speed of thought.
In close-quarters handgun combat, this can happen with a flick-of-the-wrist and about 800 feet-per-second when the shot goes off. I bear in mind that we’re not talking about any of the “honor” images of two men squaring-off for a gunfight, now. It’s explosive flashing mayhem possible as fast as a barrel can line-up from any angle at any instant, with every possibility of deception with motion or words to conceal it. This robber was manifestly in mental distress, evidence by his frantic and aimless course around the room, fumbling with cash and — most important — casual & reckless handling of his weapon. (Yes; that’s what it was.)
Given these facts, the only rational conclusion (certainly to me and that’s good enough for me), is that whatever is wrong with the robber is bad enough that he can’t be trusted with any doubt that he’ll just start shooting with full intent, nevermind negligent discharge. The Taqueria Defender (yes, that’s what he was) showed admirable grasp of this principle. He can been seen constantly observing tactical facts and implications and preparing to exploit an opportunity to attack the robber with force equal to the deadliness of the threat. I understand that there can be no, “Hey! Stop!” or even “Shoot ‘Em In The Leg” about it. That’s because the flick-of-a-wrist, split-second dynamics of this kind of fight just don’t safely permit that. The concealed weapon must be brought to bear with full commitment to its purpose: to compound the application of force toward success, with surprise.
With all these facts in mind (the “context”), I must applaud The Defender’s actions to save lives from an obvious deadly threat, with clear thinking and commitment.
In the third category, my political considerations rest on my ethics, nothing of which that’s mine is at stake in this event. Over a thousand miles away, I handily managed to avoid harm in the affair. This is where I’ll put The Matter of The Final Shot.
The Defender is seen firing a final shot into (apparently) the head of the robber lying on the floor. Contentions that he may or may not have been a continuing threat at that point do not interest me, principally because I don’t think that’s what was at stake for The Defender, at that moment. I’ll risk conjecture, from available observation and reports of his actions and what certain of those facts must necesarily mean, that The Defender’s stake in that last shot was just good versus evil. It was the difference between a man who could reason-out what’s good for human life and one who could or would not, brought to deadly conflict.
When I consider that ethical complex of premises, I require no further political aspect of the story than that The Defender rides away in his pickup truck. Politics is the branch of philosophy that studies human social organization, and I find this episode of self-organization of good against evil eminently satisfying and conclusive.
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