So, where were we? Ah yes, Jack has been baited by Seedy Gang Member #1 …few better ways to ruffle a feller’s feathers, to by God chap his ass raw, than to insult both his girl AND his manhood simultaneously. Too true. And, reasonable guy that Jack is, somewhere in the back of his mind is the recognition of the truth of the principle proposed last time: “Uncontrolled violence is seldom the answer.” What courses of action are, in fact, open to Jack? Let’s peruse a few of them.
Perhaps (a) he reasons that there are times wherein (again proverbially) discretion is the better part of valor (how many goons are there about? Could he take them all? Would he need to do so? Is it worth it?), and thus he acquiesces to Gracie’s urgings and saunters casually towards the exit. Call this Rational Discretion.
Or, perhaps (b) he sees clearly that the thug/punk is drunker than Cooter Brown, and is obviously trying to bait him into a violent encounter; inasmuch as the entire performance is little more than a pathetic attempt to raise his ire, Jack theatrically rolls his eyes and turns with Gracie toward the door, expecting his reaction to irk Seedy Gang Member #1 as much (or more) than if he had let loose with the People’s Elbow. Call this Rational Dismissal.
Or, finally, perhaps (c) Jack realizes that (again) while violence is rarely an appropriate response to being hassled by a weasel attempting to pass as a human being, this is hardly one of those times. Mayhap he’s encountered this jackass before on numerous occasions, occasions wherein he has responded by way of Rational Discretion or Rational Dismissal. No long-term problems, apparently, have been resolved by such short-term maneuvers. And so, Jack reasons, it’s not gonna’ happen this time. Son-of-a-bitch must pay. Call this Rational Violence.
Now, (a)-(c) are obviously possibilities. The most interesting for our purposes, of course, is (c), Rational Violence. In the previous post, we saw Jack reflecting on the many ways in which he might go about acquiring some much-needed money, and we paid no small amount of attention to the fact that, during the course of his deliberations, he did not – nor would most persons – consider committing murder or thieving in order to acquire it. Why were these “options” absent? Well, because they are not in a relevant sense “options” at all, we saw. The law – some might even say morality itself – forbids considering these options as options when determining a course of action befitting a rational agent. And yet, interestingly, this is not so in the current circumstance. (Or so I say.) Rational Violence is a genuine option, and it is in certain circumstances a most appropriate response.
Suppose Jack acquiesces to the urgings of his conscience, and proceeds to act in accord with option (c). In the present day, what we have here then is the beginnings of a good ol’ fashioned barroom brawl, one (albeit preceded by an atypically fine case of practical reasoning) complete with broken pool cues flying, beer bottles crushing a few skulls, elbows twisted into inverted pretzels krav maga-style…Such are the ways of the world as we know it. But the question I’d like to address presently is this: need “the world” be this way? If the world has not, after a fashion, always been this way, why think it should be so now?
Let me be clear about what I’m suggesting here. Undoubtedly, barroom brawls, street fights, Royal Rumbles, and the like have been a part of human (predominantly male) interaction since the first Hebrew met the first Philistine, since the first Crip met the first Blood, since the first redneck met the first hippie, since the first drunk Irishman met…well, anybody. So I am not denying that such events have always occurred.
What I am suggesting, however, is that many such events in the past were avoided by a particular social practice – the practice of demanding satisfaction by rational violence.* This is The Duel. Such a practice, of course, involves both (a) the recognition that violence will (and in some sense must) inevitably occur in light of the nature of human beings, and (b) the recognition that violence can in many circumstances be constrained, controlled, and – all things considered – for the greater good.
- First, there is the need to ensure that violence on the part of the participants in the dispute doesn’t bleed over into the nearby populace. This is Constraint. Jack has been insulted by Seedy Gang Member #1. Rational Violence by Duel suggests that Jack’s animosity ought to be directed exclusively at the villain. Why involve bystanders unnecessarily? And why engage in an activity that may, likely will, destroy the very establishment in which it takes place? Escalation may be of the nature of war, but it need not be of the nature of Rational Violence at the private level.
- Second, there is the need to ensure that the violence on the part of the participants in the dispute is measured in certain respects. This is Control. After all, we’re talking about an insult here, not attempted murder or child molestation. Even if the insult has been perpetuated over time, even if it’s an insult casting aspersion not only at a lovely lady but at the very character and manhood of one Jack Burton…it’s still, for all of that, no more (and, importantly no less) than a personal affront or offense. Insults may require a reasonably violent response, but that’s just it – the response should be measured. No need for the nuclear option (e.g., a pool cue through the eye-socket, a jagged beer bottle severing a windpipe, or such shenanigans). Seedy Gang Member #1 deserves – retributive-style – an ass-whoopin’… no more and no less.
- Finally, Rational Violence by Duel may secure at least two aims, both of which are to the public benefit. The first aim is an assurance that even acts of violence must be procedurally circumscribed in order to count as a sanctioned social practice. This is just to say that not just any sort of retaliation meets the requirements of Rational Violence by Duel. No, like other acceptable social practices, Rational Violence by Duel is and must be a rule-governed activity. Secondly, there is the aim of teaching Seedy Gang Member #1 a lesson (don’t drink so much that you lose control of your senses; don’t publicly or privately abuse strangers by verbal insult; don’t piss off someone meaner than you are). Put simply: if Jack whoops some ass, it’s likely Seedy Gang Member #1 will hesitate before provoking others. Call these aims part & parcel of The Greater Good.
Why might this sort of practice be one endorsed by rational agents? While I have alluded to a variety of reasons in the above, I should like to be more precise. Such precision, I hope, will be on display in the post to follow.
(*) Actually, the demand was normally for a formal, public apology. But should satisfaction not be achieved in that way, so it would be achieved in a violent way. More on this later.
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part V) - February 27, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part IV) - February 4, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part III) - January 22, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part II) - January 6, 2017
- I Demand Satisfaction (Part I) - December 29, 2016
- The New Jim Crow: Introduction - October 20, 2016
- The (Oh Too) Common Assumption - October 9, 2016