There is a reason why most police officers dress differently than civilians, wearing a uniform with a bright badge and many symbols upon it: it signals to the populace that they have different authorizations. They are officially allowed to do different things. They have had these rights bestowed upon them by the powers that be.
In other words – there is a very clear reason why, when you see the SWAT team, your first instinct is not to pull out a gun and go help.
And this idea might be what galls Americans so: the idea that the right to do violence is not one we are born with, but something that must be earned from a government authority. This disputes our own mythology: that, when given a weapon and proper courage, each American is transformed into a rugged, veteran frontiersmen, the indisputable authority of their own land, free and independent of any government oversight.
But we are, on the whole, frontiersmen no more. We’ve specialized labor to free ourselves from all the miserable labor that goes with such a person. We do not draw our own water or farm our own vegetables or kill our own meat or build our own houses or treat our own wounds. We have people for that.
And, by and large, we no longer violently defend ourselves and our property.
We have people for that. And though we might dream otherwise, when it matters, we step out of the way and allow those people to do their jobs.
Robert Jackson Bennett on mythology.
For the record, most of the rest of the world has well-and-truly abandoned the mythology of the individual right to violence.
I remember when I was in university, we had an American roommate who fancied himself some kind of, I dunno, ninja or something (needless to say, he was about as Japanese as deep dish pizza). We heard rumors that some women had been assaulted on campus, near our dorm, and Mr. Roommate got it into his head to try and persuade my (female) friend to go walking “alone” at night up and down our street. The idea was that Mr. Roommate would be lurking in the bushes nearby, and would leap out and apply his Ninja Skillz™ to any would-be-assailant.
To say that the Australians in the room thought this plan was ridiculous would be an understatement. Not only ridiculous, but illegal; we had a great deal of difficulty trying to explain to Mr. Roommate that beating people up in the street is actually, yanno. A crime.
“So what do you do if, like, someone breaks into your house?” says Mr. Roommate.
“Dude,” we said, or something similar. “You call the cops. What the fuck else would you do?”
“But what if they don’t get there fast enough?”
As someone who has, in fact, been present and awake1 in their home while it’s been robbed, I find conversations like these extremely tedious. What do you do if the cops don’t show up “fast enough”? You hide, let the intruder leave, then claim losses on your insurance. Because, yanno. We live in the twenty-first fucking century, not the twelfth.
Australians, on the whole, get this. So does pretty much everyone else from pretty much anywhere else… except Americans.
- I was playing King’s Quest with my dad, in fact, about five meters from where the intruder was. [↩]