Posted by hyperpat on September 13, 2006
Robert Heinlein wrote a story called Coventry (included in his Revolt in 2100) back in the early forties. In it, he envisioned a society in which everyone was free to do exactly what they pleased, unless such action either physically or financially injured someone else. Violators of this ‘damage’ restriction had a choice of either getting psychologically ‘readjusted’ or taking a hike to a special area set aside for such malcontents, where they could play Wild West to their heart’s content.
Unfortunately, real life is not so clear cut. First is the area generally labeled ‘self-defense’. When does it become justifiable to take action against someone whom you perceive to be a threat to you? If someone is walking towards you with a knife in their hand and body language that is screaming “I’m going to get you”, do you have to wait till he actually takes a swipe at you with that knife before you would be justified in hammering him with a judo chop? I don’t think so – but be careful, as our current court system can come up with some very strange interpretations of the law.
Then there is a thing called ‘verbal abuse’. In Heinlein’s story, you could call someone whatever you wanted, and it was not considered grounds for the offended person to take a swing at you. But sometimes verbal abuse can be just as painful, cause just as much damage as a left hook to the jaw. Many people are stuck in marriages where such abuse happens on a daily basis – and the end result is all too often spousal homicide when the abused person ‘snaps’. Is such abuse then justification for taking physical action? Perhaps not, perhaps ‘walking away’ is the only answer to such abuse, but I think there should be some way for the abused person to get redress (and once again, our current court system is highly inconsistent in this area).
Simplistic solutions to the problem of defining what rights you have versus those of others don’t work. And we need to see about making our courts more consistent in this area.