Human beings are generally social creatures. Most of the higher order mammals tend to have some sort of social structure where groups of individuals work cooperatively to boost the odds of survival for everyone in the group. You see fairly complex social orders developed even among primates like chimpanzees and gorillas that scientists study to understand some human dynamics. It’s a safe bet that for however long human beings have existed on planet Earth, they formed at least small bands that were critical to survival. If someone was separated from the group either by some sort of unforeseen event or because of transgression against the standards of behavior for the group it was roughly equivalent to a death sentence…hence the reluctance many have to even disagree with people in a meeting room when nothing life-threatening is at stake. It’s ingrained that deeply to stick with the group.
Society as we know it is a very recent invention and in the long expanse of human history it represents but a tiny fraction of the human experience. We’re all inclined to think of the world in terms of our own experience, but stop and ponder for a second how many people in this world can make a phone call and have a pizza show up less than 30 minutes later. When you live in a society where you can make dinner appear at your door in 30 minutes or less, stream the latest episode of your favorite TV show to your flat screen, and re-schedule meetings all in just a couple of minutes using a little device that fits in your pocket…well…you can develop a rather warped sense of reality. When you combine our ingrained social expectations that there will be other members of the group (society at large) there to help us, and the “Hot and fresh in 30 minutes or less!” culture we grow up in, it leads to some pretty fruity conclusions.
Caleb commented earlier in the week on a report the FBI released about active shooter situations. If you haven’t read the report I urge you to do so, because it’s got some very useful information in it. Most striking to me in everything that is presented at that link is the mention of police response time. In some of the active shooter incidents police have arrived on scene in as little as three minutes, which is quite a feat when you consider the logistics of getting officers who can be anywhere in a particular geographic area to the exact spot where the shooting is happening. You can probably bank on three minutes being about as good as it gets for police/EMS response time for an act of violence unless they just happen to be right around the corner when the trouble starts.
Unfortunately the people calling the police in an active shooter event (or an armed robbery, or a home invasion, etc) don’t have three minutes. Lethal violence typically happens in seconds, not minutes. The bad guys do not announce their presence or intentions ten minutes before they start the fireworks. The police are almost always going to be reacting to an act of violence that is ongoing, meaning they are going to be rushing to the scene where people are already bleeding in a valiant effort to limit the carnage. Not to prevent it. To quote from the report: “Approximately half of the events (49 percent) ended before law enforcement arrived on scene. This points to the phenomenal speed with which these incidents occur.”
The FBI report is acknowledging a simple, inescapable truth: You are on your own.
This is to be commended, as so many times when law enforcement agencies talk to the public they urge people to call 911 and let the police handle it. Worries about liability and, of course, politics leads police chiefs and public spokesmen to get in front of TV cameras and tell people that dealing with bad guys is something the cops are supposed to do. Leave it to the professionals, they say. Maybe if Justin Bieber is egging your house you have time to let the police handle it. If there’s a dude trying to kill you, waiting isn’t an option.
We don’t like being on our own. We don’t like the thought that it’s just little ol’ us vs. the bad man. The primary reason people fear such a situation is because they feel helpless. Thankfully helplessness is easily dealt with.
When folks come to the realization that it’s up to them, they don’t sit helplessly and wait for doom…they act. The process of tackling the problem head-on does something remarkable to the human psyche. There’s something almost magical about acknowledging that it’s up to you to handle the problem. It brings focus and clarity to the issues at hand, and a sense of determination displaces the helplessness and sense of paralyzing fear that accompanies it. Toss in some reasonable equipment and training relevant to the event beforehand and that action is often pretty effective to boot. Just look at the aftermath of the bombing in Boston. People there who had some training saw the bloody carnage and in the midst of horror focused on doing something useful to fix as much of it as they could. The iconic image in my mind is the picture of a gravely injured man being wheeled to an ambulance by someone who used his belt as a makeshift tourniquet. Whether it’s rendering aid in the Boston bombing aftermath, a volunteer security guard at the New Life Church in Colorado engaging an active shooter with her concealed weapon, or passengers on a hijacked airliner rushing the cockpit to keep their jet from being used like a missile, the situation is always improved by people who figure out that they’re on their own and act on that motivation.
We don’t have to exist in the state of learned helplessness that the Dianne Fiensteins and Bloombergs of the world promote as the natural order. It’s most certainly not natural, and our ancestors would have laughed at anyone who thought that calling somebody to come save you from peril was a better solution than taking reasonable action yourself. Our ancestors formed societies and worked cooperatively to achieve goals, certainly…but they also made friends with the knowledge that when it comes right down to it, they were on their own.
There is liberty in facing The Bad Thing and making yourself more competent at handling it should it appear. Having a gun is a good start, but getting some training in how to use it effectively should be at a high priority. Expand past the kinetic side of things and look into getting yourself a decent emergency trauma kit from someone like Dark Angel Medical or Cleer Medical. Get some decent training to go with the kit. It could make all the difference to you, someone you love, or someone you’ve never even met before.
You’re on your own. It’s up to you…but don’t be afraid of that realization. Embrace it. Use it as motivation. I’ll use something Jack Baruth wrote on his blog because I think it works marvelously here:
“you are fundamentally a bio-machine shaped by 17,000 ‘stupendous bad-asses’, as Neal Stephenson once said. Seventeen thousand times, your ancestor survived the famine that killed his neighbor, survived the wolf attack, survived the battle, survived the fall, the injury, the disease, the conflict. Seventeen thousand times, your ancestors survived to reproduce. You may feel like a weakling as you sit in your bean bag chair and play Candy Crush Saga, but you are an apex predator by birth.”
Having police, fire, and emergency medical response a few minutes away is a good thing and we’re better for having them…but it’s never going to be a substitute for a person at ground zero who has a plan and some useful tools.