Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What happened to the rugged individualist?

For hundreds of years people in the English colonies, and then later the Untied States, had a strong culture of self reliance. Many of the heroes in popular literature were the rugged individualist who struggled against society to do what was right. I think more than in Europe, at least until recently, we admired Don Quixote. He may have been a bit crazy titling at windmills, but at least he was trying to do something.

Joanne Jacobs writes about a recent tragic episode in California - Six-and-a-half minutes:

"For six-and-a-half minutes, motorists in central California watched a crazed man beat and kick his toddler son to death by the side of the road. Three people called 911. Two men tried to persuade the man to stop. According to the San Jose Mercury News, they grappled with him but were pushed away. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, nobody intervened physically. He kept beating the two-year-old boy till a police officer landed in a helicopter and shot him to death. It was too late to save the child’s life. The passers-by weren’t trained to deal with a madman, say police. Their hesitation was understandable. Was it?"

The "Wild West" has a reputation of being lawless. Movies show desperados almost any where you turn. Yet the truth is from the 1850s to 1900s the West was more law abiding than big cities in the East. Pretty much anyone who survived on the frontier learned to take care of problems, not to shrink and hope someone else would protect them. The lawless knew that riding into a farm intent on stealing the little wealth tat existed, was a very risky business. Pretty much anyone over ten knew about guns. The risk to reward ratio was bad enough that most farms and ranches were left alone. Small towns had a similar ratio, there may have been more wealth in a local bank, but there could be a hundred armed men in town, carrying guns, and ready to use them.

These people were classic rugged individualist.

Today we have a paternalistic society, where many have been taught to let others protect them. We're taught that the government will provide social security as we age, that the government will protect us from shoddy products, and in all ways the government will protect us. Society goes father and discourages people to take care of problems.

The comments on Joanne's post are interesting. There were six adults who watched for six and a half minutes as a crazed man beat a two-year-old to death. The adults were a volunteer firefighter, two other men, and three women. They made a little effort to stop the tragedy, but didn't really go after the deranged man. Several people commented that the adults may have hesitated because they were afraid of being sued. Others wondered if the adults didn't feel capable of stopping the man. Some said the adults may have been paralyzed by the shock.

I wonder what six adults from the West in 1870 would have done? Would they have stood there and watched? Would they have just walked away? Or would they quickly decided to stop this man, recognizing there was some risk to themselves?

I am afraid our society today teaches too many people to play it safe, to let others be responsible, and not to stand up for what is right. As parents we have a responsibility to teach our children to be capable and to take initiative. I hope that if my daughters are ever faced with a similar situation they would be proactive and look for ways to stop such a tragedy.

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Sebastian said...

This has been a talking point in Hawaii this year. Two Good Samaritans were killed in May.

In January, an older man, who stepped in to try to stop a man from beating his ex-girlfriend to death, was attacked himself. Other neighbors watched both the attack of the woman and the man who tried to stop the beating, but did not step in.

NerdMom said...

This is where my violent tendencies come out. They were "pushed away"? I have a car jack and lug wrench in the back of my cars. Those will disable someone. Yes, I am aware that I could get sued but I couldn't, in good conscience, stand by and let that violence happen to someone else. I would be willing to risk that consequence.

Anonymous said...

Criticism of the bystanders gets my dander up a bit. I've worked in public safety, and those workers are thoroughly trained on how to intervene effectively. They practice it. They mentally prepare by distributing anecdotes and "training bulletins" among themselves. They rehearse various situations in their minds. It takes a lot of psychological preparation to be able to intervene effectively during a critical incident.

I still rehearse critical incidents in my mind so I will have a better chance of defending myself, my family, and others if necessary. What would I do if a vicious dog ran towards us as we're taking a walk? What would I do if someone tried to carjack me? What would I do if I were held hostage in a car as either driver or passenger? Now I can add, What would I do if someone were killing another person right before my eyes?

I won't be so arrogant as to say that I would be "the hero" in a situation. I like to think I would be able to handle myself. But if it catches you by surprise, you hardly have a prayer. All the "armchair quarterbacks" should take that to heart.

Anonymous said...

OMW, man I know my husband and I would have grabbed at least the metal crowbar and tire jack from the van and seriously did some damage to the man. How sick is society?

Henry Cate said...

Ginkgo100 - There are some people who will try to do what is right, even when it is dangerous. My point in this post is I think our society is encouraing people to be sheep.

I agree that there are times when we should not rush into danger. We should evaluate the situation. The government can not be there to handle every problem.

Anonymous said...

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh
at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the
geldings be fruitful" - C. S. Lewis