A Nation of Cowards - Introdution


Jeffrey R. Snyder

OUR SOCIETY has reached a pinnacle of self-expression and respect for individuality rare or unmatched in history. Our entire popular culture -- from fashion magazines to the cinema -- positively screams the matchless worth of the individual, and glories in eccentricity, nonconformity, independent judgment, and self-determination. This enthusiasm is reflected in the prevalent notion that helping someone entails increasing that person's "self-esteem"; that if a person properly values himself, he will naturally be a happy, productive, and, in some inexplicable fashion, responsible member of society.

And yet, while people are encouraged to revel in their individuality and incalculable self-worth, the media and the law enforcement establishment continually advise us that, when confronted with the threat of lethal violence, we should not resist, but simply give the attacker what he wants. If the crime under consideration is rape, there is some notable waffling on this point, and the discussion quickly moves to how the woman can change her behavior to minimize the risk of rape, and the various ridiculous, non-lethal weapons she may acceptably carry, such as whistles, keys, mace or, that weapon which really sends shivers down a rapist's spine, the portable cellular phone.

Now how can this be? How can a person who values himself so highly calmly accept the indignity of a criminal assault? How can one who believes that the essence of his dignity lies in his self-determination passively accept the forcible deprivation of that self-determination? How can he, quietly, with great dignity and poise, simply hand over the goods?

The assumption, of course, is that there is no inconsistency. The advice not to resist a criminal assault and simply hand over the goods is founded on the notion that one's life is of incalculable value, and that no amount of property is worth it. Put aside, for a moment, the outrageousness of the suggestion that a criminal who proffers lethal violence should be treated as if he has instituted a new social contract: "I will not hurt or kill you if you give me what I want." For years, feminists have labored to educate people that rape is not about sex, but about domination, degradation, and control. Evidently, someone needs to inform the law enforcement establishment and the media that kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, and assault are not about property.

Crime is not only a complete disavowal of the social contract, but also a commandeering of the victim's person and liberty. If the individual's dignity lies in the fact that he is a moral agent engaging in actions of his own will, in free exchange with others, then crime always violates the victim's dignity. It is, in fact, an act of enslavement. Your wallet, your purse, or your car may not be worth your life, but your dignity is; and if it is not worth fighting for, it can hardly be said to exist.

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