I Demand Satisfaction (Part I)

Son-of-a-bitch must pay!!!

Honor is, in our day, a forgotten virtue. Hell, some deny that it was ever really a virtue at all. But it behooves us to recognize this to be a fairly recent sentiment. Throughout history, East and West alike, a man’s honor was reckoned a considerably precious achievement. And should he be put into a position whereby he is forced to protect it, then well, he most certainly would do so.* Such was “the duel” amongst gentlemen. [Amongst non-gentlemen, “to step outside'” was probably the more appropriate title of the practice.] Strange how the official practice has disappeared, whatever we may call it. Why is it strange? Well, as Dr. Johnson aptly remarked to Boswell, “Indeed, we may observe what strained arguments are used to reconcile war with the Christian religion. But, in my opinion, it is exceedingly clear that dueling, having better reasons for its barbarous violence, is more justifiable than war in which thousands go forth without any personal quarrel, and massacre each other.” It is the reasons – or perhaps, the lack thereof – for dueling that I’d like to explore here, over the course of a few posts. Let’s begin by recognizing some facts about practical deliberation, and then moving on from there.

Jack Burton is a regular ol’ guy. And like many such guys, he’s often in the position wherein he thinks to himself something like this: “I need money.” Accordingly, he reflects on his predicament and begins to deliberate. He canvases various ways of obtaining money, weighing the reasons for or against each money-making option. Mayhap he asks for some money from his good friend, Wang the well-established restauranteur. Maybe  he takes on a second job, driving Egg Shen’s tour bus around Chinatown. Or, perhaps instead he floats a loan at the bank using his rig as collateral. Hell, he might even consider selling his rig.

As it is, nothing I’ve said in relation to Jack is even remotely interesting. Again, he’s just a regular ol’ guy. But what is interesting, I submit, is the absence of certain options in his deliberative reasoning. And in this, I believe, Jack is entirely in keeping with the greater populace of right-thinking adults. To wit, Jack does not consider killing Wang and taking the money from his cash register; nor does he consider cranking up his big rig (“6.9 on the Richter scale!”) and driving it through the front door of the local bank and absconding with several stacks of bills.

No, the law – if it does nothing else – reminds us that, at least in garden-variety circumstances, what is not an option for Jack is committing murder or robbing a bank. The law, by itself, is supposed to remove such options from rational consideration. For the lot of us, it’s fairly successful in this regard. Now, I think that this is interesting because the very fact that a course of action would enable Jack to acquire money that he needs would normally be one hell of a good reason to pursue that course of action. And yet, when that action constitutes murder or theft, it doesn’t even count as a weak reason for acting in that way. Indeed, such options are not even considered in our deliberations; they are not even really options at all.

As I said, I find this interesting. But why? Well, in order to see why, let me provide a scenario. Jack and his girlfriend Gracie Law are at a bar. A drunk member of the local seedy gang, the Lords of Death, walks up to the couple, completely ignores Jack, and loudly propositions Gracie for a one-time sexual escapade, an escapade that he promises (for all to hear) she will find more invigorating than perhaps she’s ever experienced. He even proudly – and again, loudly – offers to pay her for her services in the venture.

Gracie, cool and intelligently recognizing the nefarious intent, immediately grabs Jack’s arm and proceeds towards the door…

But we all know, don’t we dear reader, that Jack Burton has options? Plural. Options. Among his options, for sure, is leaving the bar. But we all know other possible courses of action exist. His first thought – indeed, the first thought of many a man – involves going all-out Steven Seagal, wrapping a nearby bar stool around both that hoodlum’s kneecaps. This is, without doubt, the first option, generally speaking: to open up that proverbial can of whoop-ass. Jack knows, of course, that the can, once opened, might spray whoop-ass in the wrong direction…but that doesn’t matter to Jack. What matters is that he respond. What matters is that his self-respect remain intact. What matters is that he attempt to achieve some sort of satisfaction. And this, ladies and gentlemen, makes perfect sense. Or so it seems to me. Why? Because of two indisputable facts: (a) human nature – in particular, the nature of a male human – is what it is, and (b) the “whoop-ass” course of action is undoubtedly one of the options that Jack, again like many a man, will whole-heartedly, earnestly, and reasonably consider (even if he ultimately does otherwise).

Now, I do not wish to enter into any sort of long digression on the ins-and-outs of the criminal law. There are probably some jurisdictions wherein rearranging the face of Seedy Gang Member #1 in such a circumstance would be legally acceptable. Unfortunately, that is not most jurisdictions in the west. No, Jack would be guilty of Disturbing the Peace at best, Assault & Battery at worst. High prices, to be sure, for avenging one’s honor. My question is this: why should this be?

Squeamish, whiny, self-righteous school marm answer: “Because violence is never the answer.”

As a moral principle, absolutely ridiculous. Insert argumentum ad hitlerum here, if it pleases. As reflecting anything like facts of human nature, patented hogwash. I am reminded of Orwell on Gandhi: “Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.” Forgive my blatant appeal to authority, but by God George is right (as is so often the case). So, by my lights, we have a moral fact: there are times wherein one ought to engage in violence. We also have a metaphysical fact: as currently constituted, human beings are inclined toward settling disputes, when they believe it necessary, by violent means.

With these facts in mind, we might qualify the above principle in such a way as to make it a trifle more digestible:

Uncontrolled violence is seldom the answer.”

There, that sounds better. No universal condemnation of violent activity per se, and ample recognition that violence may or may not be appropriate, depending on the occasion. Controlled violence can be – and often is – a good, and even if it is rarely the best course of action, there are times wherein it is. The question now becomes: what to make of Jack’s situation?

We shall have to investigate this further. In particular, we must explore more fully the first option before Jack’s mind, the option involving the deliverance of an ass-whoopin’ to Seedy Gang Member #1. We will do so at a later date.

(*) I make no attempt to define “honor.” Perhaps it approximates self-respect, integrity, what-have-you. Perhaps it is purely a self-regarding concept, though more likely there is some aspect of other-regardingness built into it as well. Nonetheless, pretend like you know what it is to this extent: you know it when you see it. [And don’t act like don’t: you do.]

Jack Burton

This is Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express, and I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there. When not doing historical philosophy, he’s fighting the forces of evil (i.e., Lo Pan, his minions, and leftists). To those who fear university bureaucrats, “social justice” activists, and anyone with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

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  1. I’ve thought about this very same issue! It is a puzzle, because people can sue and press charges over anything these days even if they’re in the wrong. I’ve always felt that in some cases violence is certainly called for. Especially when one’s female significant other is disrespected. If someone propositioned my (hypothetical) girl-friend or wife in the above manner, I’m not sure what I would do. Depends on the scenario. But if someone physically grabbed my girl-friend’s ass or something like this, right in front of me, I would certainly resort to violence, regardless of the consequences for myself. I think any man who would allow his woman to be physically groped in front of him, and do nothing, is no man at all.

  2. I am surprised you don’t mention Plato’s tripartite theory of the soul.
    Spirit or “thymos” seems to be closely associated with dignity or honor in Plato. Is punching the lout who propositions your girl the mark of a disordered soul or a perfectly rational and appropriate response? Looking forward to part II.

  3. The disappearance of honor, and correspondingly the reasonableness of defending one’s or another’s honor with measured violence is no doubt due in part to the increased feminization of men. Machines and technology evens, at least to unprecedented degrees, the working field among men and women. Physical aptitude among men is less necessary and prized. And with the rise of militant feminism with its exaggerated and over-promotion of feminine virtues came the suppression of traditionally masculine virtues. Fast forward fifty years or so and we’re harangued about ‘toxic masculinity,’ preached a pacifist Jesus, and told virtuous parents let their boys play with Barbie dolls and wear skirts into adulthood. For those who are further interested in how and the politics of why this happened, check out Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, The War on Boys.

  4. Besides, every woman knows, deep down, they want to be with the kind of man who will defend her honor at a bar. No woman really wants to be with a soft-palmed, violence-is-never-the-answer, pusillanimous little bitch. There are important lessons about our culture to draw from that fact.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself, Fed. Reminds me of a personal story. My father – all 5’8”, 175 lbs of him – was helping my sister build her house (her husband was away at work for weeks at a time). Anyhow, she had ordered some counter tops that were supposed to be delivered and installed at time x. Weeks after time x, my sister was (though sad) resigned to their being even later. My old man did not like her being EITHER sad OR resigned. He called the store, ate out some asses over the phone, told them to expect a visit from him within the hour. He grabbed my sister, and they drove to the store. My father told me what then transpired:

      “Son, we walked into the store…I was so pissed, was ready to light into the first s.o.b. I saw…and then out from behind the counter came quite possibly the biggest bastard I’ve ever seen. Had to be 6’6”, 275 lbs. easy. He, apparently, was the owner. I immediately thought to myself: ‘My baby girl is about to see her old man get his ass handed to him. Oh this is going to be soooo ugly…But OH WELL!’ I walked up to that feller and went off on general incompetence, disrespect, and everything else I could think to say by way of complaint. Thank God he was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Your sister did not get to see me get my ass tore up that day. Thankfully.”

      The lesson I took from that: it’s manly not only to provide an ass-whoopin’ when necessary, but by God to be prepared to take one as well.

  5. Jack Burton,

    I think there are in many cases good reasons to ban the use of violence in many cases in which it would be reasonable to think about using it. There are possible circumstances in which allowing physical retaliation or duels would be the best choices, but there are possible circumstances (perhaps more common these days) in which it would be a terrible one, and the pros and cons need to be assessed carefully.

    For instance, just as Jack might reasonably be thinking about using force in your example, many people may reasonably think about using force to exact retribution for all sort of offenses, and even pick the form of the retribution. Similarly, he may reasonably think about using force to, say, recover something that was stolen from him, or from a friend, family member, etc.

    But in places in which the use of violence in acts of private retribution is allowed – legally or in practice -, people may and often do choose to exact retribution for the wrong reasons, there are long-lasting feuds between families, groups, etc., with retribution after retribution, etc.; the result is overall a much more unjust situation, where many people – males and females – are unjustly targeted, and many people – mostly males – are pressured into taking part in a feud in which they may well end up dead or seriously wounded, even if they are on the right side.

    Something along the same lines can be said about the use of violence not in a retributive fashion, but in order to recover something that was stolen from a person, or money that is owed, etc.

    As for duels, when there was allowed, a significant problem was how unjust the system was. In fact, being on the right does not give a person any greater chances of winning a duel, but people – males – were socially pressured into either accepting challenges, or even challenging others who hurt their honor to a duel. The result was not justice, overall. A villain who was better with guns or swords than the man he wronged was likely to win, and the offended man not only end up offended and humiliated, but also either dead or seriously wounded, scarred for life, etc.

    Consider, for example, your scenario. Seedy Gang Member #1 has all of the advantages: he can choose whom to offend and provoke, and whom to leave alone. Jack Burton is not going to attack him without provocation. So, Seedy Gang Member #1 will provoke Jack Burton after assessing each other’s chances of success. While gang members are fallible – especially if they’re drunk -, but in the majority of cases, they’ll probably win – they have the numbers and/or the strength and /or the weapons. But if Jack’s reply were allowed, he would be pressured into reacting in that fashion, even to a greater extent that he is seriously pressured anyway – both by males and by females.

    Will allowing duels and other kinds of use of force result in a greater amount of freedom?
    Freedom from state coercion, sure. But overall? I do not know, given the pressure on males to actually use force. Coercion does not come from the state only.

    Moreover, in addition to the matter of freedom, there are other considerations at play, when it comes to considering whether to ban a behavior. One of them is the matter of the grave injustice of good people suffering the consequences of stronger/better armed/better organized villains. Many good men would be killed, maimed, irreparably injured, etc.; both men and women would have to suffer as their male loved ones are killed, maimed, irreparably injured, etc. That’s not good.

    If you think the defense of honor is important, perhaps there are alternatives to allowing duels or similar behavior. For example, you could make the behavior of Seedy Gang Member #1 illegal, and impose some punishment for trying to provoke a physical confrontation. Granted, in practice, in many cases that will not work, since there will be no good evidence…though in the future, with more cameras everywhere (phones, etc.), maybe that will in fact work more often. But regardless, the lack of effectiveness of a potential response has to be weighed against the potential consequences of the alternatives, which also depend on a lot of local variables (e.g., how much pressure to retaliate would there be?).

    • Angra, You make several interesting (and inter-related) points, not all of which I will address here (primary reason being: this is “Part I” of a several-post series). But, I will note that at no point do I believe that one ought to abandon prudence when assessing the reasons for/against demanding satisfaction. Now, it is a fact that duels can result in – cosmically considered – an injustice. That is, there is little in the way of the result that Seedy Gang Member #1 come out “on top” of a confrontation, excepting either good luck on Jack’s part or (possibly) Jack’s just happening to being the better fighter. And that is as it may be. However, this has always been recognized by those who take part in such practices.

      Indeed, the precursor to The Duel was “trial by battle.” In earlier days, it was believed that God would take the side of justice, and insure that the man “in the right” would prevail. Alas, God’s mysteriousness precludes our taking this idea seriously. However, “justice” is not so much the point. The point is one of honor, self-respect, and integrity.

      True story: in 1613, two gentlemen who (genuinely) hated one another fought a duel. The man who – to all appearances, at least – had the more just cause, was defeated. Though both parties refused to have seconds present, they both had personal surgeons on hand. The party who lost, and was indeed dying on the field of battle, witnessed his surgeon take up his sword and attempt to best the champion. Lying prone, near to death, he is said to have screamed at his surgeon, “Rascal, hold thy hand!”

      The matter concerns honor, not justice. And, as I have said, it may be the case that one gets one’s ass whipped in a just cause. Such is life, say I. What matters is not the result.

      In any event, I do appreciate your critical comments. And I should add that this series of posts is largely exploratory. I am not sure, even myself, that such practices are wholly justified. We shall see. But I do hope that you will continue to read and, if you think it necessary, to bring more criticism to the table. I welcome it. As an exploration, I hope to learn. Thanks again for the well-thought-out comments!

  6. Jack,

    Thanks for your reply as well.

    It seems to me that the outcome should matter usually to the man taking part in the confrontation. Even if he does not care about his life, he may very well be have other people partly or totally in charge – e.g., children -, loved ones who would suffer gravely if he is killed or irreparably wounded by the villain who previously offended him, etc., and he should take that into consideration, as well as whether his opponent deserves to be injured or killed, etc.

    That aside, I would say that the considerations the lawmaker should have in mind need not be the same that the duelist probably has or should have in mind.
    In particular, in my view, when a lawmaker is considering whether to vote in favor of banning duels, or private retribution in general (i.e., not necessarily within the specific rules of duels), or of lifting a ban on some of those behaviors, they should generally consider matters such as the justice of the present system vs. the alternative, even if those considerations do not play a role in the mind of a man deciding whether to challenge another man to a duel, or accept one, etc.

  7. QUOTE: “Squeamish, whiny, self-righteous school marm answer: “Because violence is never the answer.””

    Just as an aside, the only reason that people can give that idiotic answer–which they so often do–is because there are people who do violence on their behalf so that they can continue foolishly intoning that violence is never the answer (and I speak from experience, having been one of those people doing violence on the behalf of others).

    In fact, it is amazing how few people realize that not only is violence often the answer, but it is, at times, the only answer.


  8. Jack,

    Was the Apostle Paul a “school marm”?


    Was Jesus Christ an intoning fool who was able to do what he did only because others committed violence for Him?

    Nietzsche, who we know was far from a Christian, rightly pointed out that the ability to endure suffering is a mark of strength. Exercising self-control and not resorting to violence takes more strengjt than indulging one’s passions.

    Yes, sometimes cowards will hide behind platitudes, condemning violence simply because they’re scared. But it doesn’t follow that the principle itself is false. There are many men who are anything but cowards who have come to learn that violence isn’t the answer.

    • With one question, I have thus been refuted. Wow, that was an impressive display of argumentative muscle, TSI. Are you a prick in person, or just online? It’s more than a tad insulting to an author who spends time and intellectual energy constructing a post to read a childish response that takes all of the intellectual energy of a rotting fish. Provide something substantive, or be gone.

      And as to the nonsense in your reply to both me and the other gentleman: (a) St. Paul was among the manliest of men, but if you’d like to get a rise out of me, you’ll have to do more than (rhetorically) ask a question and, you know, provide something like an argument; and (b) the very point of the post ridiculed the notion that, just because X responds violently to Y, X’s “passions” are somehow over-riding X’s reason. Again, engage with something like an argument, or get outta’ here.

    • I think TSI may have a valid point to make, but perhaps he’s struggling to articulate it properly in the current context.

      For instance, there seems to be an inability to register the elementary moral distinction between protecting yourself and protecting another. Between putting others at risk and putting oneself at risk to protect others. The concept of a Christian man defending his wife (and/or children) isn’t obviously unbiblical or un-Christian. To the contrary, that’s endangering (orchestra might say “sacrificing”) oneself to defend their well-being.

      That’s one of the essences of the cross. Clearly various situations would warrant various responses or yield various options, but not all might be non-violent.

      There’s much to be said about Christians overlooking personal insults, slights, etc., but that’s not what this article addresses on my reading.

      It’s also worth noting that this article doesn’t attempt to address its topic from a Christian perspective for a Christian audience in a covenant community setting, so it’s not an intramural debate about Christian conduct anyway, hence there are underlying worldview conflicts that can’t be resolved at the outset. This would need a lot of unpacking first.

    • Well said, CRD, well said. I intend to discuss self-defense and how it relates to said situations in a later post.

  9. That Single Individual said:

    “Was Jesus Christ an intoning fool who was able to do what he did only because others committed violence for Him?”

    Now, note that I was arguing against essentially this claim: Violence is never the answer.

    Now, note this:

    “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” (John 2:13-15, ESV)

    So Jesus literally made a weapon, and then used it to attack people and drive them out of the temple, along with the animals, and then engaged in some righteous property damage. Ergo, Jesus obviously thinks that sometimes, violence is indeed the answer. Thus, Jesus was not a fool, because he knew the need for violence, and sometimes engaged in it Himself.

    As a side-note, it is amazing how often the ‘Jesus-was-just-meek-and-mild’ people forget the aforementioned episode, where Jesus was anything but meek or mild.



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