As the proverb goes, a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, but now we’re seeing liberals using their mugging as an opportunity to preach for social justice. Not long ago, Oliver Friedfeld wrote an article for The Hoya (Georgetown University’s student newspaper) called “I Was Mugged, and I Understand Why“. If a couple of the article’s many scathing commenters are correct, he was a sociology major.
Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. The entire incident lasted under a minute, as I was forced to the floor, handed over my phone and was patted down.
The “understanding why” part begins right after:
And yet, when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: “Not at all.” It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal. While we aren’t often confronted by this stark reality west of Rock Creek Park, the economic inequality is very real.
I too am alarmed about increasing disparities of wealth in today’s society, but that’s not a good reason to stick a gun in someone’s face. More followed concerning income inequality, and then…
What has been most startling to me, even more so than the incident itself, have been the reactions I’ve gotten. I kept hearing “thugs,” “criminals” and “bad people.” While I understand why one might jump to that conclusion, I don’t think this is fair.
Not once did I consider our attackers to be “bad people.” I trust that they weren’t trying to hurt me. In fact, if they knew me, I bet they’d think I was okay. They wanted my stuff, not me.
I’ll concur with Will Rogers that a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet (well, usually). Still, robbing people who might otherwise be your friends—or at least okay—is way not cool. More likely, they considered him and his housemate prey. In any event, the thieves certainly weren’t concerned about what was fair for their victims.
This illustrates an unfortunately common blind spot. Liberals (particularly moderates) tend to be gentle people and strongly prefer to associate with others like them. Thus, confirmation bias leads them to believe everyone is pretty much just like them. Regarding exceptions, they believe that damaged people must be caused by a damaged society.
As item 22 in Hammurabi’s Code puts it:
If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.
One could argue that the traditional penalty from the 18th century BC through the 18th century AD was a bit harsh. Still, the point is that theft has been illegal since forever. It made it into the Ten Commandments too. Thus, a thief is by definition a criminal. Committing armed robbery does, in fact, make someone a bad person. That involves the threat of lethal force, which will be more than just a threat if things turn ugly.
While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for, I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people.
Being familiar with many dope fiends and the extremes they go to for their insatiable cravings, I have some ideas.
I had never before seen a gun, let alone known where to get one. The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine.
Pro tip: there are stores where you can buy guns, quite helpful for self-defense. Anyway, it all comes down to choices. Mr. Friedfeld chose to pursue higher education; the punks who robbed him chose crime. So different universes is about right. Then after some hand-wringing over his background versus their assumed lack of privilege:
When I walk around at 2 a.m., nobody looks at me suspiciously, and police don’t ask me any questions. I wonder if our attackers could say the same.
Well, anyone regarding the two thieves suspiciously is correct. And then:
Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as “thugs?” It’s precisely this kind of “otherization” that fuels the problem.
Thug is as thug does. If those kids are concerned with “otherization”, they can find an honest way to make money. Finally, I’m afraid Mr. Friedfeld wasted $60K.
While speaking with a D.C. police officer after the incident, he explained that he too had come from difficult circumstances, and yet had made the decision not to get involved in crime. This is a very fair point—we all make decisions. Yet I’ve never had to decide whether or not to steal from people.
Here he’s close to making an epiphany, but it slips from his grasp. I’ve faced starvation before, first at 22 and again after the Superboy the CEO incident. I never stole groceries, but if death came too close, I might’ve swallowed my pride and applied for food stamps.
The conclusion, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse:
The millennial generation is taking over the reins of the world, and thus we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to right some of the wrongs of the past. As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.
I’ll just say one thing here. The words that freed my mind from liberalism so long ago were: “It’s not your fault.”
As Theodore Dalrymple put it:
The language of prisoners in particular teaches much about the dishonest fatalism with which people seek to explain themselves to others, especially when those others are in a position to help them in some way. As a doctor who sees patients in a prison once or twice a week, I am fascinated by prisoners’ use of the passive mood and other modes of speech that are supposed to indicate their helplessness. They describe themselves as the marionettes of happenstance. […]
As it happens, there are three stabbers (two of them unto death) at present in the prison who used precisely the same expression when describing to me what happened. “The knife went in,” they said when pressed to recover their allegedly lost memories of the deed.
The knife went in—unguided by human hand, apparently. That the long-hated victims were sought out, and the knives carried to the scene of the crimes, was as nothing compared with the willpower possessed by the inanimate knives themselves, which determined the unfortunate outcome.
Their evasions aren’t too different from the hamster logic that society (not criminal behavior) causes crime. The sociological rationalization removes free will and moral agency, regarding people as automatons.
We can choose good over evil—and indeed we should—but we’d better be aware that the world can be a harsh and unforgiving place. The instinct to defend ourselves and our kin is hard-wired into us biologically. If we’ve been attacked, it’s perfectly natural to feel anger, not guilt or bleeding-heart concern for the attackers. It’s difficult to imagine that ideology can short-circuit all this, but as we can see, it happens. The sociology professors are wrong: suicidalism is not righteousness, and they need to stop enabling criminals with these excuses.
Despite our different perspectives, I wish Mr. Friedfeld well, and earnestly hope that further reflection will clarify things and bring enlightenment.