Fear and Dignity

I’m probably as ambivalent as Reihan regarding the Joe Horn shootings in (natch) Texas, but I also enjoyed the bracing treatise on crime and self-protection. The bit about crime being an assault not only on property but also on dignity reminded me of a recent incident in my neighborhood, and the psychological guidance offered by the local intelligentsia.

A young woman, living alone about two blocks from me, was robbed in her home by two strangers, one of whom shot her in the forehead as she wept on her couch.

Naturally, the neighborhood went through a brief convulsion of fear before the suspects were caught. To mitigate the “irrational” response, and to preempt any anti-urban sentiment that might arise, one of our stalwart alt weeklies interviewed a local authority:

Well known UVA prof and urban planner Bill Lucy says even if crime does increase, city dwellers are statistically less likely to die suddenly than their country counterparts because traffic fatalities– far more common on winding country roads– are 2.6 times more likely than homicides.

Homicide by a stranger is even rarer, says Lucy, who believes it’s the randomness of the crime that inspires such fear.

“Those are scariest because they could happen to anyone at any time,” he says.

After reading this vapid equivalence between human predation and an auto accident, Jeffrey Snyder’s purple prose about the “tyranny of the elite” seems less hyperbolic. As A Nation of Cowards argues, homicide by a stranger is not “scarier” than a car crash because it’s “random.” People don’t fear crime more than country roads because it is more likely — they fear (and hopefully prevent) crime because it is categorically worse than an accident, both in the event and in prior contemplation. Being a victim of crime is categorically more worthy of dread because it entails enslavement to another human’s ill will.

There is a reasonable and humane way to understand the danger of violent crime, but it does not involve flinging oneself upon the mercy of statistics.