Dec 152015

I’ve never seen this movie, or even heard of it before 5 minutes ago. I have no opinion on it.


I prefer to be around self-identified Aspiring Rationalists. I feel like a fraud when I’m around them, because I am not nearly as smart or as rigorous as the Rationalists I read. But I just can’t stand how most people talk about reality, because most people DON’T EVEN TRY to talk about reality. And the thing I really love about Rationalists is that they at least really freakin’ try to talk about reality itself when they discuss the world.


I was linked to an article that asserted in the first sentence that a woman “fired wildly at a crowd in the parking lot of an Auburn Hills Home Depot” in an attempt stop fleeing shoplifters. A bit later it says “[the shoplifters] were not in any way threatening anyone.” The article then stated that the woman received 18 months of probation on one count of “reckless discharge”, and lost her concealed-carry permit.

This immediately set off my “I am confused” alarm at the volume of an air raid siren. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I couldn’t believe that an action as depraved as firing wildly into a crowd would result in probation on a minor charge and the loss of a license. Our justice system is not THAT fucked up. Right?

More careful Googling shows that the parking lot was as empty as you’d expect a Home Dept parking lot to be. There was no one near her target. And that the woman wasn’t trying to execute anyone, she was shooting at the tires. And she only fired two rounds. And that, as her attorney claims, she’s actually a pretty good shot, because she managed to blow out the rear tire on an SUV with only two shots.


As far as I can tell, the right-leaning segment of this country wants to return to a more civic-duty minded system. One where the populace actively intervenes in crimes-in-progress. A historical model would be law enforcement in medieval Europe, where typically if someone cries for help (to stop a theft or assault, perhaps) it is the duty of all bystanders to mob the assailant. In this article debunking the myth of a “town watch” (in standard medieval European fantasy settings) the author cites several sources, and admiringly tells us that our ancestors were unbelievably tough.

The gold standard of this civic-duty nowadays is Flight 93. Terrorists hijacked a plane, the passengers rushed them, and though they lost their lives, they saved hundreds or thousands more. It’s hard to say they’re anything but heroes.

If I may speak for the left-leaning, we think this is in general a bad idea. There are exceptional circumstances, yes… but in almost all situations that ever actually occur, people should de-escalate and/or flee, and let the professionals handle it. To be honest, we generally don’t trust you guys. Not just because sometimes you’re ill-trained and end up shooting the people you were trying to help. Or because we see some of you stalking innocent people you don’t like and then murdering them, claiming it’s self-defense.

No, in large part it’s because we don’t trust the justice of the mob to actually be just. In medieval towns “there’s a tradition of lynch justice and nobody gets into trouble for string-up a thief caught red-handed.” We’re really not OK with that. We think it makes it far too easy for someone to claim that a person they don’t like (for whatever reason) is committing a crime. We like our due process with a bit more process.


But the Duva-Rodriguez case (the woman attempting to stop the shoplifters in part II) makes for a very interesting edge case. She saw a man running from security, and she had just heard screaming from inside. For all she knows, this could be a murderer fleeing the scene. She didn’t try to kill or wound anyone – she attempted to disable the getaway vehicle, in order to make it easier for the proper authorities to apprehend the suspects. Once they are in custody, due process could proceed duly. Her success in blowing out a tire suggests she’s decently trained. Honestly, this is a situation worth discussing. (Based on the judge’s ruling though, the consensus seems to have settled on “We want less of this sort of thing”)

In a group of rationalists, this could be an actual discussion. Perhaps people would attempt to quantify how many murders are prevented by Uber drivers intervening when someone actually shoots into a crowd, versus how many taxi drivers are nearly murdered by people thinking they’re fighting ISIS. Can we put numbers on lives saved by sane civic-duty-minded citizens versus lives lost by unhinged civic-duty-minded citizens? Should we push society to encourage more direct involvement by bystanders, or encourage less?

But unless I’m talking with rationalists, I can’t even bring this up. Because everyone else will make up the most unbelievable bullshit to support their side. Instead of discussing reality, they will claim this woman shot wildly into a crowd! Or they will claim that gun control will result in Syria.

I want a world in which the facts matter. More than anything else, I wish I knew of a way to make people actually care about the truth. I’ve long said that there’s no need to convince people religion is false. All you need to do is make someone love the truth enough, and eventually they’ll reach that position on their own. I just don’t know how to make anyone actually love the truth.

  6 Responses to “Civic Duty vs Civility”

  1. This article made me curious, so I tried to find some actual statistics related to vigilantism, and then actual statistics related to citizen’s arrests. After a while of seeing pages with anecdotes but little data, I eventually came across the Bureau of Justice Statistics website. However, the specific link was dead and I couldn’t figure out how to extract the data I wanted.

    Without these statistics, the best I can do is say “the current citizen’s arrest laws look reasonable but I’m not an expert and don’t know how they work in practice” and “the value of more actual information is probably not worth figuring out the BJS website”.

  2. I was intrigued to find you citing my article! The main source for the section that interests you is an academic text called The Martial Ethic of Early Modern Germany.

    What that book also covers – a topic I’ll get to in due course – is that there was a lot of citizen-on-citizen violence including ad hoc and formal duels. There were laws against this sort of thing, but the cultural values overrode them: as long as it was perceived as a fair fight, a court would be unlikely to find you guilty of murder if you killed somebody in a duel. So though I admire the toughness of our forbears, I don’t rate them as particularly wise.

    What does impress me is the ethic of civic duty. In the middle ages, people don’t just stand around watching during muggings, thefts, or lethal fights. However, we have to remember that medieval communities were *real* communities. People lived where they worked, knew their neighbours, and really belonged to their village, burgh or city. If they were German, they also trained side-by-side in the militia where the local community leaders were also the officers.

    I suspect that this all comes as an indivisible package. So now I am curious* as to whether you could build anything like this in a modern society?

    *Because, “writer” – as a Brit I have no horse in this race.

  3. This is real thought provoking. I wish I had answers.
    I live near several hyper conservative (Rush and Beck loving, Evolution and Climate change denying, etc) who I see fairly often at family functions. I generally think they are good people, but when political discussions inevitably come up, I shut down. I am outnumbered, and feel I don’t have enough facts memorized to back up my points. I do speak up when I know something for a fact and will defend it, but it rarely makes a lasting point, and never changes any minds.
    I wish I could have intelligent conversations with them, and show them the joy of being open minded to seemingly unpleasant ideas.

  4. One problem is that if someone thinks that some particular claim is true, caring about that claim feels like caring about the truth, even though these are different things. So people don’t notice that they don’t care about the truth in the way that you’re talking about.

    People can in fact start to care more about truth by getting into the habit of noticing the distinction between caring about a particular claim that they believe to be true, and caring about the truth. But overall I agree with you: even given that someone acknowledges the difference, most people simply do not care that much, and probably never will.

  5. I totally get the hesitation for mob justice, and any right-thinking person should. We’ve seen too many good people harmed in a rush to judgement by normally scrupulous individuals.

    Take care though in setting up that dichotomy though, that the professional forces and police you suggest to oppose civic mindedness with aren’t a cure worse than the disease. I worry with the civil asset forfeitures, skyrocketing nonviolent felon populations, increasing police presence during a time of plummeting violent crime, eminent domain enforcement, and unjust law enforcement that the police forces proposed as the diametric opposing force to civic defense aren’t causing their fair share of what would be called crime by any other name. I hear the opposition now (thanks Sir Strawman for that quick reply) shouting about how those are problems they also want to solve. I would entreat Sir Strawman to consider that their opponents would also claim that a civic model also has its problems that they are working to solve. If we can use this home depot parking lot case as a point against civilian justice, we must be even handed and include police misconduct.

    That’s beside the point, there is not only a spectrum between every-person for themselves and total police deferrence, but also plenty of positions outside of the spectrum. I can cite some interesting anarchist perspectives on justice and defense if anyone is interested in reading outside their comfort zone (as I would welcome authority/government friendly links to push me outside mine).

    I very much appreciate the “Town Watch Myth” link. I knew that modern police are just that, but it never really clicked in my mind that its a weird anachronism we port into our fantasy books. I guess that makes my anarchist towns in D&D less weird for not having dedicated town watches.

  6. Since you called me out directly, I’ll offer this lovely tidbit on how government operates.

    Briefly, in addition to direct and warrant-less surveillance of all kinds both electronic and by camera, as well as Facebook/Twitter etc. searches, the City of Fresno is now employing a private, third-party company to generate a “Threat Score” whenever they get a call for police to do something.

    I worry about a city police department with that much access to data and that much money to spend. I worry more when the State of California leads the USA in efforts to curtail gun ownership. If I lived there, I could end up with a Condition Red threat score by having a piece of software “read” a short story with my name on it. I wouldn’t even have to be the author.

    That’s a lot more terrifying than some woman thinking she’s doing a good thing by shooting the tires out of a fleeing car.

    You have hit exactly on the divide between Left and Right in the West. You said: “There are exceptional circumstances, yes… but in almost all situations that ever actually occur, people should de-escalate and/or flee, and let the professionals handle it.”

    Letting the professionals handle it is not a free country. That’s pretty much the whole conversation in a nutshell. Leftists have decided that they are smarter than everyone else, and we all need to do it their way. Because we’re not to be trusted. We’re not to be ALLOWED to intervene because police have superior training and blah blah blah.

    Or as I like to say, the foundation of your reality is that people are stupid and have to be controlled. Given that ground state, you can’t tolerate the idea of an armed civilian. It doesn’t actually matter at all what police or government do, so long as the stupid people, aka everyone who isn’t in your social stratum, are controlled.

    My comment on this model of society is found here:

    Bashar Assad is another guy who thought he could control the stupid. Look how that’s working out for him. As models go, this one sucks. It fails every time it’s tried.

    On a related note, did you know the USA is the oldest free government on Earth after Britain? Every other country has had a civil
    war, invasion or what have you since 1776. The USA has a longer running continuous government than ANY European country. That Second Amendment, eh? What the hell were they thinking?

    As you may have guessed, Righties (aka people Leftists think of as Fascists, which is in itself hilarious) believe the opposite. People are not stupid. They -can’t- be controlled.

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