“Men do not rise to the level of their expectation, but default to their level of training.”
Gun sales and the demand for personal security training typically increase in the aftermath of a high-profile event like terrorist attacks, mass shootings, or a particularly gruesome homicide. We can expect this week’s latest episode in Orlando to provoke the same. That is quite likely a very normal characteristic of the human condition; that we perceive what is current or popular as more pressing or threatening than those events with less notoriety. Sadly, these waves of popularity do very little to increase the safety and security of our society. Much like fitness, health or being good at your job, protective and defensive skills require commitment, consistency and a solid progression.
When it comes to security, the culture of our society has changed significantly. Historically, our approach to controlling or managing violence was the citizen soldier who bore the responsibility for the peacekeeping and defense of our communities. Greece is the probably the best known (but far from the first) example of standing armies of dedicated soldiers, being supported by the city-states from which they hailed. While some societies like Sparta placed more emphasis on military skills than other Greek societies of their time, the Spartan citizen was still a landowner, a farmer, a hunter and when the city-state required it – a soldier. Military skill was an integral part of his life, but it was not his full-time job. With few exceptions, nearly every Spartan, Viking, and American colonist fell into that category.
As we move into the modern era, we see a deepening division between citizens and warriors regarding the use of force. This division has a profound impact on both our values and our security. In the past, the ability to use force may have been widely differentiated based on skill, but baseline experience was common across the community. Advances in technology have made the development of relevant skill sets easier and less intensive than in the past, which we would expect to enhance the experience of the community as a whole.
In practice, we see quite the opposite. Modern America has shifted to a model where most of the protective experience in our society is resident in a very small proportion of the population. That same proportion also happens to retain the lion’s share of the capability. Much like long-term welfare, the result of inability coupled with a lack of responsibility is incapacity, dependence, and frustration. This is not the natural human condition.
Societies across the Middle East and Africa are reaping the rewards of dependence based, patronage structured societies in which a small proportion of “Haves”, doll out scraps to the “Have Nots”. Eventually, the “Have Nots” pick up a rock and take from the “Haves”. As it plays out, again and again, we see the frustration with dependence transform to violence perpetrated against both the establishment and each other on a previously unprecedented scale. While this instability in the past has been troubling, it was something “other” people could deal with. This is the future of terrorism in the 21st century, and we will continue to see increasing aggression directed at perceived soft targets.
The reality is that America as a whole is less prepared to deal with this new reality than we were a century ago. The progressive agenda of reducing violence is, unfortunately, a dependence based approach. Most notable are “zero tolerance policies” of our education systems under which any participant in a violent action is punished. While it makes the adjudication of a violent action simple, it eliminates the ability to teach children to discern when and if violence is unavoidable, necessary or ultimately acceptable and when it is not.
In addition to a capability gap, we have a false assumption that has grown to become a part of our daily life. Many in our nation believe that the solution to a violent threat is “Call 911”. The reality is that calling 911 is a reaction to violence that has already occurred in most cases, and it is typically far too late to prevent. Regardless of how many police we put on the street, the first opportunity for intervention is always with the person who identifies the problem first. Unfortunately, the capability gap in most cases leads to inaction.
Zero tolerance and the concept that we can outsource protection have the very real consequence of filling our society with future generations who are ever more unsuspecting and dependent. The safety and security of our society are simply the sum-total of the ability of the individuals that make up our neighborhoods and communities, to predict, prevent and respond to potential acts of violence. Without dedicating extraordinary resources, no person can be effectively segregated from the risks that the community faces.
Like most human behavior, the mechanism by which the level of violence is determined is largely driven by the economic theory of supply and demand. Where there is a large population of potential victims, we can and do see increased criminal activity. As the volume of victims in a society rises, so does the proportion of that society’s citizens that will turn to crime vice other potential opportunities. The real safety and security of our society does not reside in a gun, a stick or in any one individual’s skill. It resides in raising the collective ability of every member of our community to predict, prevent and respond more effectively. While simplified, that is what the laws of supply and demand and substitution theory tells us about human behavior.
That is the reality of America today. Video games, Hollywood, and the media have provided many with the fantasy that they will rise to the occasion when presented with violence. Every person who has experienced violence in any significant capacity will tell you that people do not rise to the occasion, but default to their level of training. If your training is dictated by the whims of media reporting, then you are quite unlikely to develop sufficient experience to be effective should you need to act.
There is no shame in inability, lack of talent or a lack of experience; the only shame is in a lack of effort. Fortunately, a small increase in your personal ability has a profound impact on the safety and security of our society as a whole. Now is not the time to rush out and buy a gun for protection. Now is the time to develop a program that will result in the lifelong ability to recognize and avoid, intercede and confidently and responsibly use force should that unfortunate reality manifest itself.
~ Patrick Henry