David R. Henderson  

Is Violence Against Women Ever OK?

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Read Scott Alexander... Emigration and Citizenism...

Of course, it is.

I'm glad that co-blogger Bryan Caplan has introduced us to Scott Alexander. I had never come across him before, but I found most of the long piece that Bryan referred to refreshingly thoughtful.

There is so much nonsense out there and so we have what my military officer students call a "target-rich environment." So now that Bryan and Scott Alexander have raised these issues, I want to discuss one piece of nonsense that has become commonplace.

After CNN reporter (I think she's a reporter although I'm not sure) Carol Costello did a disgusting segment in which she showed her glee at violence committed against Bristol Palin, CNN's Brian Stelter, to his credit, did a segment in which he pointed out implicitly how disgusting Costello had been. But, not content to leave it at that, he gave Bristol Palin the last word. And here's one of her statements: "Violence against women is never OK." Stelter doesn't challenge that.

But it should be challenged. Violence against women is often OK. A woman comes up to you with a gun. You have done nothing wrong. She starts firing at you. Fortunately, she's a bad shot, but you're not sure for how long she'll be a bad shot. I think you're justified in punching her lights out or even, if you have a gun, firing back. Does anyone care to say that punching someone or shooting someone is not violent?

This issue came up a few years at a meeting of the Peace Coalition of Monterey County, a coalition of groups, all of which purport to favor peace, and most of which do. I'm on the membership committee. One group--I've forgotten its name--applied to join. I asked someone at the meeting, someone who was supporting the group's application, what the group stood for. The answer: it was against violence against women. She went on to say that, of course, this was consistent with what we stood for because who could favor violence against women. Here's what followed.

DRH: I do in some circumstances. If a woman is coming at me with a gun, then I think violence is justified.
Woman supporting the application: Well, sure, but this group opposes violence against non-violent women.
DRH: But wouldn't it also oppose violence against non-violent men? Why single out men?

I don't remember what she said next.

By the way, as I've said on this blog a number of times, I am not a pacifist.

Possibly, at some point in the future, I'll discuss a time when I used violence against three women who were sexually attacking me. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.


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CATEGORIES: Economics of Crime




COMMENTS (31 to date)
ThomasH writes:

I have not heard anyone seriously dispute the the right of (violent) self defense does not depend on the gender of the attacker. My parents taught me "never hit a girl" and I have not but I did not and do not understand that admonition to mean that I should not defend myself if necessary even if the attacker is female.

I would dispute that violence against a woman is "often" OK. The circumstances when it would be justified are not actually very frequent.

David R. Henderson writes:

@ThomasH,
I have not heard anyone seriously dispute the the right of (violent) self defense does not depend on the gender of the attacker.
Good. I haven’t either. And notice that in the discussion I reported, the woman didn’t either. Good for her.
My parents taught me "never hit a girl" and I have not but I did not and do not understand that admonition to mean that I should not defend myself if necessary even if the attacker is female.
Then your parents shouldn’t have taught you that. Never means never.

kzndr writes:

David, do you think violence directed toward non-violent men (qua men) is a significant, pervasive social problem that is exacerbated by systematic factors connected to biology, law, and the traditional social structure of our society? Your position strikes me as akin to being against an organization devoted to anti-lynching efforts in the South because it ignores innocent whites who are murdered.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I am not sure "never means never" - language is a whole lot more contextual than that. The fact that you're talking about here seems to have any substantive disagreements with you at all seems like it's strongly indicative of that fact.

bradley writes:

You don't need to guess. 78.7% of homicide victims worldwide are male. That's certainly a pervasive systemic problem of some sort.
http://www.unodc.org/gsh/en/data.html

Daniel Kuehn writes:

*the fact that NO ONE you're talking about

Tom West writes:

Never means never.

Actually, given that, in general English usage, never almost *never* means never, I'd give up that fight.

It makes one look somewhat pedantic, and it doesn't advance one's arguments much.

(Yes, it drives me nuts, as I naturally tend towards pedantry. But I have to accept that if communication is the key, the vast majority is correct, simply by being the vast majority...)

Also, kzndr is correct. Issues like this are almost always part of a greater framework of problems, but if one insists on talking about the greater framework, you prevent the ability to meaningfully address any specific issue.

Or to put it another way, when you were campaigning against that local tax increase for schools (if I remember correctly), someone who thought you should be talking about all tax increases in California would probably not be considered as particularly helpful, either locally *or* globally. You *could* address that single issue meaningfully, and diluting your efforts would only have meant failure everywhere.

tom writes:

@kzndr

Yes- check out the war on drugs for a starting point.

kzndr writes:

@tom and @bradley: I tried to construct my question so that the phrase "non-violent men (qua men)" was doing a lot of work. I of course wouldn't deny that large numbers of men are the victims of violence. The question is whether the causes of that violence are heterogeneous and whether the main salient characteristic of the men falling victim to that violence is that they are men. For example, with regard to tom's example, I have no issue with a focused campaign that seeks to address the violence that is directed against individuals in the course of the war on drugs. And that particular issue may, on reflection, be more or less urgent than violence directed against women. What strikes me as nonsensical is David's contention that we can't distinguish between the violence directed at different groups and choose to see one of those forms as, perhaps, more urgently in need of addressing. To return to my example of the South: it may have been the case that more whites than blacks were murdered in any given year, but the causes of the murders of the whites were likely a whole range of things--personal disputes, criminal activity, etc.--not intrinsically connected to their race. Whereas the murder of many blacks was part of a systematic, state-supported campaign of terror directed against a specific population solely on the basis of the defining feature of that population. While it would have been laudable to have been working to prevent the murder of innocent people of all races, there would have been nothing blameworthy or morally inconsistent about choosing to focus on a specific category of murder that was directed against a specific group of people.

ted writes:

@kzndr

The question is whether the causes of that violence are heterogeneous and whether the main salient characteristic of the men falling victim to that violence is that they are men.

I am not sure what you mean by "heterogeneous causes", or anything to to do with "salient characteristics" - are you trying to say that's it's ok for men to be victims of violence because they brought it upon themselves?

David is right. I am sympathetic to the idea that women are probably getting the rough end of domestic violence, and that is not acceptable, but otherwise the whole "violence against women is never acceptable" meme is obviously false.

MG writes:

This statement is that it is too overbroad/absolute because it wants mandate the protection of a class of people without (a) raising the possibility that they are not all virtuous (thus out goes the non-violent qualifier) or (b) appealing to compassion (by a qualifier such as "disproportionate violence against a weaker opponent is never..."

Bob Murphy writes:

And now we have a new winner for the category of, "Paragraph in an EconLog post I was least expecting to read."

ThomasH writes:

@ David,

I assume that my parents were not stupid and probably would not have thought I was being disobedient to their teaching about not lying if I prevaricated in the "Where is my victim so that I can murder him?" question.

It's like gun control. The circumstances in which a gun is useful in self defense are so few and the likelihood of a person in that circumstance having the skill to use a gun for that purpose is so small, that to me "Ban Guns" is a good shorthand for my opinion even though in fact I support gun possession for people who might reasonably need and be able to use them.

"No" does not always mean "no" but it's still a good principle to follow.

Tom West writes:

@ted

I am not sure what you mean by "heterogeneous causes", or anything to to do with "salient characteristics" - are you trying to say that's it's ok for men to be victims of violence because they brought it upon themselves?

How on earth do you derive "ok for men to be victims of violence" from "heterogeneous causes", or anything to to do with "salient characteristics"? That makes no sense.

Let's try a less emotionally-fraught example.

"We need to come up with ways of preventing colon cancer."

"What about other cancers as well? Lot's of people are dying of them. Why concentrate on colon cancer?"

The answer should be obvious. For the most part, colon cancers all bear a number of similar ("salient") characteristics, and may well bear have similar successful preventions techniques.

Cancer in general has a huge number of different ("heterogeneous") causes. Trying to come up with a single program, or scattering each individual's efforts among all these different cancers will likely save no-one's life.

Similarly domestic violence against women has a number of similar characteristics which make it possible to direct specific efforts to prevent it.

(My apologies if your reply was shorthand for "I find it annoying when people direct their resources towards problems I personally don't care about.")

Andrew_FL writes:

@bradley-Is the fact that sharks are 9 times as likely to attack men as women "certainly a pervasive systemic problem of some sort"? How about the fact that men are 6 times as likely to be struck by lightning as women? That about 13 times as many men as women are fatally injured while working?

@ThomasH-

The circumstances in which a gun is useful in self defense are so few and the likelihood of a person in that circumstance having the skill to use a gun for that purpose is so small

What is your evidence for this claim, other than your own feelings on the matter? The facts don't support your assertion. According to a study commissioned by the CDC:

Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence[...]Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010).

Even low estimates would put defensive use at least a third as frequent as violent crimes involving guns. Does that seem like "so few" circumstances?

By the way, David, I sincerely doubt Bristol Palin would disagree you should be able to defend yourself from a violent woman. I could be wrong though and you could be right, that she meant what she said as literally as you've taken it.

Bob Knaus writes:

I grew up in a religiously pacifist home, but with rural Southern neighbors. Maybe I can help a little with the context needed to decipher the language.

"Don't hit girls" is a classic Red Tribe parenting rule. It's directed at boys, and what it really means is that it's OK to hit other boys. There are some other rules around when it's "fair" and "right" to hit other boys, suffice it to say that few schools would tolerate the resulting behavior these days.

Ideally, it trains boys to confine violence to their own gender, and hopefully continue this into adulthood. In reality... we see the dismal stats on domestic violence in the rural South.

"Violence against women is never justified" is a more sophisticated statement of the same idea. What it really means is that violence among men is OK... not that one has no recourse against a gun-toting Amazon.

ThomasH writes:

@ Andrew FL

If I'm wrong then many more people that I expect will be gun owners.

TMC writes:

ThomasH, I'll help you out. You're wrong.
Most of the time if one is willing to buy a gun, that person will know how to use it reasonably well enough to protect himself. Often just possessing it is enough to scare off an intruder. Most of the rest of times the offender is close enough it would be difficult to miss.

David, off topic, how'd you get kicked off of Marginal Revolution's log roll of favorite websites?

David R. Henderson writes:

@TMC,
I didn’t know that we had, which means I don’t know why.

David R. Henderson writes:

@kzndr,
David, do you think violence directed toward non-violent men (qua men) is a significant, pervasive social problem that is exacerbated by systematic factors connected to biology, law, and the traditional social structure of our society?
Yes.
While it would have been laudable to have been working to prevent the murder of innocent people of all races, there would have been nothing blameworthy or morally inconsistent about choosing to focus on a specific category of murder that was directed against a specific group of people.
I agree. And I don’t think they were blameworthy. I recommended that the group be admitted to the coalition.
@Bob Knaus,
Ideally, it trains boys to confine violence to their own gender, and hopefully continue this into adulthood. In reality... we see the dismal stats on domestic violence in the rural South.
I’m so glad that you made that point. That’s exactly the attitude I dislike.
"Violence against women is never justified" is a more sophisticated statement of the same idea. What it really means is that violence among men is OK... not that one has no recourse against a gun-toting Amazon.
Exactly. And I think violence against non-violent men is not OK.

David Condon writes:

Violence by women against men is the most underreported category. Although male violence is the most likely to result in physical harm, it's not clear in terms of emotional harm whether this remains the case.

"Women experience more intimate partner violence than do men: 22.1 percent of surveyed women, compared with 7.4 percent of surveyed men, reported they were physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, or date in their lifetime; 1.3 percent of surveyed women and 0.9 percent of surveyed men reported experiencing such violence in the previous 12 months. Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States."
https://www.ncjrs.gov/txtfiles1/nij/183781.txt

The difference between annual and lifetime outcomes strains at credibility.

Thomas Lee writes:

Google hits "violence against women" 15,400,000
"violence against men" 273,000

None of the top hits for the latter has anything about men being preferred targets in crime and war.

ted writes:

@Tom West

"We need to come up with ways of preventing colon cancer."

A more appropriate analogy would be "it's never OK to be abusive against gay employees". Stripping away the base tautology (I agree that it's not OK to be abusive against any employee), only the specific difference remains. So I'd ask what's special about gay people, and is the implication here that is OK to be abusive against heterosexual employees?

The whole "violence" meme seems unnecessary, pointless, and to me it smells of an ugly feminist us-vs-men mentality that I find distasteful.

John Smith writes:

I am not so sure that even the actual cause of fighting against domestic violence is worthy. Much less the implied cause of no violence towards women.

Women who do face domestic violence can simply choose not to consent to such violence by leaving. If the violence continues, then it is no longer domestic violence. By implicitly consenting to the violence, it is no longer an issue/crime.

Accordingly, I concur that domestic violence is almost never a issue. Not being ironic here. I don't get why so many people support anti-domestic violence. Just tell her to leave! [if she doesn't actually like the beating, since some people are into that sort of thing]

Angela Keaton writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness.--Econlib Ed.]

Matt Skene writes:

Wow, there are so many things wrong with the John Smith post, it's hard to know where to begin.

I suppose we can start with the fact that domestic violence isn't just directed against wives. It's also directed against children, who can't just leave. If it's directed against both, a wife can't simply leave unless she takes the kids, which would be quite difficult to do in a way that doesn't create an opportunity for the abuser to use more dramatic forms of violence to prevent it.

Second, leaving won't necessarily work. Where, exactly, is she supposed to go so he can't find her and continue or escalate the abuse? Family members would be known and he could go there. Even shelters would be temporary fixes, since people can't stay there forever, and presumably she would have to go to work, where he could wait for her. It's not always possible to simply walk away from people who want to hurt you, especially if (as is often the case) they would see your leaving as the sort of offense to their authority over you that would justify pursuing you to harm you even more.

Third, people who are victims of violence often feel trapped in their situation, especially if efforts to get help have failed in the past. People are often unwilling to get involved in domestic violence cases. In fact, women are often told that if they are attacked in public, it is important to loudly state that they don't know their attacker. The reason is that people are less willing to interfere in domestic situations. If no one is willing to help, it is far more costly to leave.

Finally, this simply isn't psychologically realistic. People who are abused by people they think are in a position of power over them naturally defer to the authority figure in question. Stockholm syndrome is a pervasive feature of human psychology. So is the more reasonable fear of escalation as a result of angering those who can hurt you. Suggesting that people just act contrary to these motives as if they're nothing is simply ridiculous, and shows such willful blindness to the realities of these situations that its hard to fathom.

Angela Keaton writes:

Appreciate what Mr. Skene said. It doesn't negate some of the ugliness that has been pervasive in libertarian comment threads including this one but it is step forward.

Tom West writes:

I'll admit when I saw "[Comment removed for rudeness.]", I laughed, figuring Ms. Keaton wrote what a lot of us were thinking when we read Mr. Smith's posting.

And yes, among some of the commenters, you can find the sort of ugly attitudes towards women that are common in any community with a highly skewed ratio of men to women. However, I find most of the commenters and all of the posters are quite reasonable.

It's true that one has to be very careful about addressing posts that are truly egregious, as one can get one's hand slapped for letting one's annoyance slip through. And in truth, it's probably a good policy. Such posts are probably better ignored than addressed, as it simply gives the writer another chance to expound.

John Smith writes:

To Matt Skene:

I forgot about the children. I now state that they are excluded from my earlier comment.

Sure, leaving may not stop the violence. But leaving will stop domestic violence because the violence is no longer domestic. The police should address all unwanted violence, subject to feasibility.

If they are not willing to man up and do what is necessary to stop the violence, we can quite reasonably conclude that they may well not object too much to the violence. Accordingly, we should not waste societal resources on such a minor problem when there are greater problems out there.

Mark V Anderson writes:

There was a lot of people talking past each other in these comments. One thing I like about this blog is that generally folks do not avoid the issues by pretending to misunderstand each other. We are close to that here. I will summarize what I think David is getting at, and see if there are disagreements then.

I think David's point is that many who emphasize violence against women, is that they imply that there is something special about that violence that makes it worse than other violence. I think David would agree that it is reasonable to work on violence against women in particular, but only because it is worth working on smaller problems sometimes, because you can't solve the world's problems all at once. But he would not agree that this violence has some special characteristics that make it more important.

I also think John Smith's comments were of a similar nature, if not thought out quite as well. It is true that escaping from domestic violence can be difficult sometimes, but the fight against domestic violence has become so politically correct that we usually give a pass to whoever is being violated to try to escape themselves. I suspect John is right quite frequently, where the woman could leave, but won't for emotional reasons.

John Smith writes:

To Mark V Anderson:

I object to your position that it is not well thought out. Your comment has quite correctly captured key aspects of my position.

(Some of) these women want the best of both worlds. They want the financial and physical/emotional support/protection of their men. And yet they protest that they object to being beaten.

What nonsense!!! These two comes together. If you want the benefits, then you must consent to being beaten. If you refuse to be beaten, then you don't get the benefits. Shame on them. Asking for a pay cheque and not wanting to do the job.

If they are not willing to accept this sad and horrible situation, then leave and find a better man. But don't expect society to subsidise your situation. Find the courage to do what is right (for you).

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