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It's difficult to explain the realities of a situation
to people who are not only looking for simple answers,
but answers that support their paradigm of 'Down deep,
we all want the same thing.' Unless 'down deep' they
want to kill, rape, rob and slaughter anyone NOT of their
tribe, then 'everyone' wanting the same isn't true.*

Judeo/Christian Morality Meets the Criminal Mind

On this page:
A Brief History: Judeo/Christian Ethics meet Humanism | When Paradigms Collide | When Humanism Turns Against You | It's NOT Forever

 Western thinking is different than any other form of thought on the planet.

We hold dear certain assumptions about the value of life, the rights and freedoms of the individual. To Western thought the individual has value. These assumptions serve as a basis for a way of thinking, which by extension, directs our actions and dealings with others in our daily lives.

From these assumptions arise a sense of cooperation. It is this cooperation that has allowed Western society to develop to the level it has. These considerations are why -- despite popular perception --Western culture is far less violent than it has ever been in history(1).

Having grown up with these assumptions we see them as 'normal' and 'right.' As such, we not only don't question these assumptions, but we rely on them. That is to say we assume any person we encounter will also be operating within this same paradigm -- and we act accordingly.

This is a dangerous assumption, because criminals aren't playing by the same rules. This page is an in-depth look at where what most Westerners believe came from and how it can effect your efforts at self defense.

A Brief History: Judeo/Christian Ethics meet Humanism
Many people believe modern Western civilization is based on Judeo/Christian ethics and morals. This is only partially true. Modern society has many contributing factors guiding its behavior, but religion is only one of them. Another very strong influence on society is Humanistic philosophy. These two ideologies have melded together to form the basis of how we think and view life in modern Western society.

Yet very few people realize that these assumptions are, historically speaking, a 'new' phenomenon. Specifically how strongly influenced they are by the 18th century version of Humanist philosophical/political movement. Or how strongly a modified version of that contributes to modern 'enlightened' thinking.

The 18th century humanist movement with both its emphasis on human rights and freedoms  -- as well as its agnostic stance -- flourished after the devastating religious wars that had racked Europe in the 17th century(2). Until this philosophy became widely accepted the individual only had the rights that the Church and the nobility granted him. Those 'rights' were subject to the whims and self-interest of same sources. Also, since the emphasis in Medieval Europe was on the afterlife, the life of the individual had little value.

Humanism changed that. By acknowledging citizens had equal rights it changed how Western society looks at the individual. Realize though that Humanistic philosophy, extolling the value of the individual and rights had some successes, but it also some failures. While it gave us the founding principles of the United States, it also gave us the French 'Terror'(3). The last 250 years has seen many struggles over this philosophy; both social unrest over 'who' has these rights and outright wars against those who would deny these rights to others.

But overall, the effects of Humanism have been good.

While originally Humanism was very radical (and occasionally it's still taken to extremes) over the next few hundred years it both mellowed and blended with Judeo/Christian morality. Humanism -- which was originally agnostic -- began to use Judeo/Christian ideas like "Thou Shalt Not Kill" for its moral and ethical standards. But instead of ascribing Divine Will as the source of authority, not killing someone is the right thing to do (i.e. if you respect human rights then killing is 'wrong').

Whereas religions -- that had been butchering each other a few hundred years earlier  -- not only began to peacefully co-exist by integrating humanistic philosophy, but applied many of the tenets of Humanism to their interpretation of Judeo/Christian morals and ethics. Prior to this integration many of the tenets we believe are cornerstones to Western religion were viewed with slightly more 'selective' interpretation. For example, "Thou shalt not kill" was functionally ignored under the constant threat of Viking incursion that threatened Europe for 400 years. (You fight them off or they'll kill you). Then that creed was functionally modified into "Thou shalt not kill, except those we send you on a Crusade against" (i.e. killing Christians is bad, but non-Christians is alright). That lead to a few centuries of butchery in the name of religion. During the 30 Years War it was functionally modified into "Thou shalt not kill those of the same faith,  (i.e. if you are a either a  Protestant or a Catholic you don't kill your own, but those other guys are okay). Eventually these selective interpretations were phased out of official Christian doctrine. This occurred largely in response to the influence of humanism and the realization that those 'other guys' weren't that easy to slaughter. Although residual 'except as convenient or profitable' lasted well into the end of Imperialism. It is only within the last 100 years that this concept was applied with any equality regardless of race, creed or color (Although it is interesting to note that the slave trade was put out of business by what today would be considered the Religious Right -- both in the US and England).

What we are trying to say here are these hybrid ideas are not exclusively Christian or Philosophical. What's more they have become so ingrained in our thinking that we neither separate them or question them(4). This, whether we are religious or not.

We give you this brief history lesson to point out this is how most people in modern Western society think. These are unconscious assumptions -- that even though we live by them -- they are not always clear to us. Until they are explained, it is like trying to look at our own ear. You need a mirror to see it. This history lesson is such a mirror on your own personal philosophy about not using violence.

When Paradigms Collide
A psychologist friend of ours often says "There is an assumption of sanity in this culture." That is to say upon meeting someone in an everyday setting, we grant them the courtesy of assuming that they are sane. This really is a courtesy. Imagine how difficult it would be if you had to prove you were sane to every person you met -- and demanded the same proof from them.

In the same vein, there is the assumption is that in your dealings with people that you are dealing with a reasonable person. Someone who respects your rights, value and needs. But what other assumptions arise from these assumptions?

    We assume, if you extend this courtesy, they'll reciprocate.

    Another popular assumption is that you will cooperate with each other.
    (You do this so you both can get what you want).

    We assume -- within the idea of cooperation -- we'll be treated fairly with
    regards to our needs and wants

    Some other popular assumptions are that if there is a conflict, we will be
    able to negotiate it out using reasonable means that work with the first set
    of assumptions. Failing that, we assume that we can walk away from the

These are all assumptions based on mutual respect of the rights, values and worth of the other person. What's more is, usually, it works as a very good social and behavioral guideline ...

That is until you run into someone who has a different paradigm.

A very good example of how this paradigm normally works is standing in line. When faced with a limited resource (tellers, entrances, cashiers, toilets, etc.) and more people than can be dealt with at one time, instead of fighting over who gets first access, we line up. We do this so everyone can have a turn to conduct their business.

Recognize, these assumptions are so intrinsic to most people's way of thinking that it is a shock when we encounter someone who is operating using another paradigm. In fact, we are often so shocked that we are at a loss as to what to do. Let's go back to waiting in line as an example.

When someone 'cuts' into the line, we are outraged and offended. By doing this, the person is negating our value by putting his/her needs/wants before ours. More specifically he is not cooperating so every one can get what they need in a timely manner. This insult is made worse if the person doesn't even acknowledge your existence. This is a violation of the basic assumptions of humanism.

That person is putting his wants and desires above everyone else's. That denies the equality of all and places him or her as someone who is so special that the rules don't apply.

And yet, there is something interesting about that person ignoring you. That person is relying on you following the rules. This, even though he has violated them. You, out of respect for his feelings (and those of others), are expected to refrain from making a scene over his rude violation of the rules. If you do say something, he expects it to be minor and tolerable (that is to say that he can either ignore it or not feel threatened by it). He is expecting you to tolerate his bad behavior. He isn't expecting you to make too much of a scene over his behavior.

He especially isn't expecting you to pick up a crowbar and crack his skull open.

That last statement may seem extreme over such a small infraction. But, is not an unheard of response in cultures/social levels where humanism is not well regarded or even heard of. In fact, in pre-humanistic Europe such intentional rudeness would warrant a fight or even a duel. Yes, you could die over insulting a man's honor. Much in the same way you could die today for dissin' (disrespecting) someone today. In circles where humanistic thinking is not the norm, if you aren't prepared to fight (and possibly die) over it, don't do it.

Now contrast that with the attitude of 'be polite' because 'it's the right thing to do.' Such an attitude, whether or not you follow it can leave you unprepared to adapt quickly enough to dealing with the threat of violence. Most people

We give you this example to show you how a humanistic paradigm can be turned against you by someone who does not share the idea of the value of others. Your humanistic, philosophy is what the criminal is going to be relying on to keep him safe while he is attacking you.

When Humanism Turns Against You
We would like to point out two things. First is that you have been trained and conditioned to assume that the person you are dealing with respects your rights, respects your 'personal space,' respects your property and, most of all, recognizes your intrinsic value as a human. You offer these to another and you assume the same will be returned. When this proves not to be the case, you are often at a loss as to what to do. You have no 'social script' to follow outside these paradigms.

Second, is that Humanism is a GROUP philosophy. Specifically it is a philosophy that works best when a majority of society subscribes to its tenets. In those circumstances those willing to cooperate outnumber the selfish(6) and peace can prevail.

Recognizing humanism gains its power from group think is an important consideration. Such thinking defines the social contract among civilized people. However, such ideology doesn't always trickle down from the general to the specific.

What we are saying is, that in a one-on-one situation, your humanistic assumptions give someone who doesn't subscribe the same philosophy a distinct advantage over you.

While you're trying to be reasonable and work things out, he's moving into attack position. Often under the guise of being reasonable, if not innocent. In the Five Stages of Violent Crime we discuss the process of crime and how a violent and selfish person will often pretend to be innocent while developing the situation so he can immediately overwhelm you with his attack (e.g. asking for directions while closing the distance).

Realize that at the very best, all you are to a criminal is a resource. In the criminal paradigm it is all about him. If there is any consideration about your value, it is in the context of what can he get from you. He doesn't care about your feelings, he doesn't care about what you think and in many cases, he doesn't even care if you live or die as a result of his actions. Furthermore, once the conditions are developed, he is going to act with blinding speed and overwhelming violence. He does this so you cannot effectively resist.

This is why we say we say Humanistic thinking puts you at a disadvantage in a one-on-one situation with such a person. That guy coming at you in the parking lot, is playing by an entirely different rule book. A play book that you had better be able to recognize and either play by those rules or extract yourself from the situation before the conditions for him to attack are developed. If you cannot drop your humanistic philosophy in time to deal with this level of threat, then you are best advised to take a course of crime avoidance.

Fortunately, there are many non-violent practices you can implement in order to render the criminal ineffective. If, on the other hand, your humanistic philosophy doesn't extend so far to you being willing to be a martyr to it, you might want to consider self-defense options.

It's NOT Forever
Often, when we discuss setting aside one's humanistic paradigms to meet the 'needs of the moment,' people get nervous.

The simple truth is that your life and the lives of others are a whole lot better when everyone lives by humanistic principles. The world really is a better place.

However, life often requires us to step outside our comfort zones.

And when it comes to dealing with someone coming at you in a dark and lonely place, humanism isn't what needs to be first and foremost on your mind. In those circumstances, there are very few  humanistic solutions that will ensure your safety or your possessions remaining with you. As much as you might cherish and value these ideals, you're going to have to set them aside ... for the moment.

And that right there, is perhaps the most important idea that you can hold about your ideals. That is: When circumstances have temporarily changed, then you must temporarily set aside those standards in order to remain safe.

The keyword here is 'temporarily.'

That doesn't mean you forever abandon being a caring, compassionate and compromising individual. After this situation is resolved you can can return to being that person.

But realize this: Compromise requires both parties being willing to do so. If the other person not only isn't interested in compromise, but is actively attempting to achieve his ends through violence, you are under no moral or ethical obligation to attempt to compromise.

While it is a wonderful ideology, humanism only goes so far. If the guy coming at you has no regard for your value as a human, your rights or even your life, then then clinging to an ideology that won't let you respond appropriately isn't just martyrdom, it's stupidity.

While that may sound harsh, realize that every year countless people are victimized by those who have no regard for humanistic concepts. A great deal of those who are victimized undergo this suffering because, instead of reacting to the degree of the threat, they were instead desperately casting about for a solution that worked within humanistic paradigms.

As much as we respect humanism, every now and then you have to drop that way of thinking faster than an annoyed scorpion and deal with the reality of the situation before you. But that doesn't mean that you have now and forever abandoned your ethics, it simply means that in some circumstances a different mindset is required to survive. Once you're past that rough spot, then you can return to living your life in that manner.

 Return to top

1) Steve Pinker, speaking at the TED convention discussing the points we've made here. Note, this clip is about 20 minutes long. Return to Text

2) Until the 20th Century, no other wars had killed so many in Western history. The rise of science -- with its demands of proof -- was a way to combat the fanaticism of the religious as well as the 'divine' powerbase of both the nobility and the church. The machinations of the nobility and the Church having brought about the 30 Years War. The Reformation within the Church and the "Protest-ant" movement (both protesting and rejecting the corruption and political practices within the Church) brought huge social change to Europe. During that time fanaticism over who had the "True Church" ran rampant on both sides. After butchering each other for decades in the name of God, Western society had had enough. Return to Text

3) It is also arguable that, even if not directly, Humanism contributed to the rise of nationalism (which has given us some awfully big wars). Until the French Revolution, dynasties not nations, were the ruling powers. The populace, people did not think of themselves in terms of national identity, but rather ethnic identity (and that was further complicated by social class). An example of this kind of thinking was while one thought of oneself as ethnically French, the ruling of the country was was the monarchy's concern ... not yours. What we think of as nationalism, occurred during the French Revolution and the resulting regimes. This attitude arose from the French populace deciding that it was their job to run the country and the army. Not since Roman times had European armies represented the State and not the nobility. With Louis XVI deposed it was no longer just the king and his private army, it was the entire nation pouring resources into the military. The European monarchies and their private armies, were incapable of withstanding what was, in essence, an army on steroids. These countries also ended up adopting the idea of nationalism as one of the ways to mobilize enough resources to withstand the superior force of the French Revolutionary Army. Although, one of the bigger ironies of history is the French invading other countries while yelling "Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood!" Despite their humanistic ideals, both the French Revolutionary Army and the various regimes that followed the revolution did a fine job of putting other countries under French rule -- including Napoleon Bonaparte. Return to Text

4) In fact, many people believe that these tenants are the original Judeo/Christian ideals. This is not true, both humanism and Western religion have strongly influenced each other. Return to Text

5) Even if we do not have the time and energy to invest into interacting with a person, Humanism is still coming into play. We respect that person's space by not intruding on it and forcing them to interact with us. For example when we step into an elevator with strangers, everyone stands quietly watching the doors or the floor indicator. Return to Text

6) When enough people subscribe to an idea, there will be enough people to enforce peace -- including those who will fight to protect the more pacifistic from predators. One of the dirty little secrets of Humanism is that it needs 'muscle' in order to operate. It needs people who will stand the wall and say "Nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch." These are the people who take the responsibility to deal with predators and monsters with violence in order to protect those who believe in non-violence  Unfortunately, these protectors are often scorned by the very people they protect. Return to Text

*) The rest of the quote at the top of the page goes: ....'everyone' wanting the same isn't true. There are a lot of folks in this world who believe, if you aren't of their tribe, then it's open season on you and yours.
Can you negotiate with these people? Sure. But you have to be willing to kill them, their families and their entire tribe if they break the deal ...because, if you aren't, they will break it. Why shouldn't they? If you aren't willing to do this, then you are too weak for them to deal with as equals.

This occurred during a lecture about what I call "Cultural sensitivity out at the sharp end." Return to Text

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