Armed Societies
Talin
22

I would argue (and bear in mind this is all speculation and dangerously theoretical) that Heinlein’s principle could only ever operate in a justice-based society. In a revenge-based society, arming people does not lead to distributed accountability but rather distributed warfare.

If you’ll humor me for a moment, I’ll play devil’s advocate here and say that your argument misses the mark.

But there’s another failure mode that I think is more interesting: Imagine that the bank robber has a brother who is out for revenge against the vigilante hero. And this brother pays a visit to the local crime boss or warlord and says “I demand justice for my brother and my family! I want this meddling ‘hero’ to pay for what he’s done!” And the warlord says, “Sure, I’ll put my people on it. But you owe me one.”
Now rewind the tape again. Our hero, knowing that there are in fact warlords in the neighborhood and that the enterprising young bank robber is likely to have connections, thinks twice about pulling out his weapon, and instead lets the robbery proceed without his interference. Result: Politeness fail, intimidation for the win!

Ok. So let’s extend this scenario one more step. The robber goes to the warlord and the warlord agrees to “take care of” the vigilante hero. But in doing so, the warloard’s assassins find that the vigilante hero is actually an assassin for another (and more powerful) warlord. Do they risk all out, full scale war? Or do they “politely” back down?

Result: Politeness fail, intimidation for the win!

Isn’t that really what “politeness” is? Isn’t politeness just a set of social norms that are enforced by a culture by intimidation?

In a justice-based society, ordinary citizens believe that criminals will eventually be caught and punished. In such a society, people may get into gun fights, but eventually justice will prevail — there is some agency or authority that ensures that the good guys will win in the long run.

OK. But doesn’t the dominant culture within a given society decide for themselves what is or isn’t “justice”? “He who wins makes the rules”? There are various cultures that develop within the prison systems that each set their own rules for what is or isn’t “justice”, for example. None of them are what people outside of the prison systems would call “polite”.

Generally speaking, “justice” is whatever a given culture decides will advance their cause or chosen way of life. This would at least partially explain the differences in the use of violence in black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods in the U.S.. Black culture isn’t the dominant culture in the U.S.. It would appear (if one pays attention to the BlackLivesMatter movement) that many blacks don’t see the U.S. system of laws that were created by European whites as an adequate system of “justice”.

In a revenge-based society, however, there’s no such guarantee. In fact, there aren’t really any “good guys” or criminals, there are only opposing sides. The side that wins is the side that can gain tactical advantage — the strong will overcome the weak.

In effect, it’s the same thing as a justice-based society, no? The dominant culture wins in both cases.

I would argue (and bear in mind this is all speculation and dangerously theoretical) that Heinlein’s principle could only ever operate in a justice-based society. In a revenge-based society, arming people does not lead to distributed accountability but rather distributed warfare.

I would modify that and say that Heinlein’s principle works when there are multiple equally powerful cultures within a given society. Just as two individual guys that each have a gun are equals, two cultures that each have equal strength within a given society are equal.

Just to back up for a second:

…societies which are polite (Japan) yet have virtually no gun ownership, and heavily armed societies (Somalia) which we Westerners would in no way regard as “polite”.

Japan spent hundreds of years isolated and developed into a completely mono-cultural society. In many ways, it still maintains that. Individualism and diversity aren’t accepted or wanted. If you don’t fit into their defined roles and concepts of society and “justice”, they shun you and refuse to allow you to participate in their society. They may not kill you and they may very well be polite as they escort you back out of the country, but I don’t know that that being thrown out of a country for expressing a different point of view would fit the overall concept of “justice”. Mind you, the people of Korea, China, etc… didn’t think the Japanese were very polite when they came to visit during World War II.

Somalia on the other hand, has numerous warlords each controlling small bands of followers. They are each trying to fight for their clan’s culture place in society. They will continue to fight and shoot each other until some final number of clans achieve parity.

If we set aside those with mental health issues, in diverse cultures we kill either those that are very close to us or “others” from out-groups.

In mono-cultural societies, they kill those that are very close to themselves or they just kill themselves. This is why you have things like honor killings in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.. and Seppuku (ritual suicide) in Japan.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.