Quote of the day—Robert A. Heinlein

An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.

Robert A. Heinlein
Beyond This Horizon
[I went looking for this quote when making a comment the other day and found I had never posted this on my blog. It’s such an important and famous quote for our culture I decided that I should include it even though it is going to be rare that someone reading my blog will have not seen or heard it before.

While I agree with the first sentence I’m not so sure about second. I think there is something else going on. I think the more significant changes that occur are in the armed person(s) rather than those around them. I have carried a gun nearly every day for nearly 20 years and while it is difficult to recall exactly how I felt and acted before I started carrying I think the mostly subconscious thought process goes something like the following.

I shouldn’t, and don’t need to, let my emotions dominate in a conflict with another person. I have a gun. If my emotions rule me I might use it when I should not. Should my adversary get so far out of line that I, or another innocent person, be in physical danger I can probably handle it because I have a gun. There is no need to “get back in their face” if they are getting all wound up. I can let them blow off their steam and coolly observe and be prepared to defend with decisive force rather than attempt to confront them early in their emotional escalation. Hence my response to conflict tends to be more subdued than unarmed people. This, in most cases, results in the other side deescalating or at least not getting completely out of control. When both parties are armed the response on the other side is also subdued and we arrive at the observed result of “an armed society is a polite society.”—Joe]


14 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Robert A. Heinlein

  1. I think that, at a possibly sub-conscious level of thought, the customary possession of an effective weapon on one’s person modifies the human autonomic fear response. I’ve noticed recently (when a temporary back ailment prevented me from carrying a firearm properly concealed) that I had an automatic assumption of security that I had to modify because I couldn’t carry my usual firearm or rely on my martial defense training. Thankfully that stage of debility has passed, but I still notice the adjustment back to my previous mental state.

    Probably just another way of saying what you did, but I do think there’s something psychologically (and maybe physiologically) more going on than simple “good manners”, all praise to RAH notwithstanding :).

  2. Since I have been carrying a for a lot less time than you I have fairly recent memories of my transition from unarmed to armed.

    The culminating incident was I was driving in Metro Boston and some dude was driving like a total asshole. I was still mostly in my old mind-frame I ended up getting past this guy, and decided to drive REALLY slow just to get his goat.

    My wife told me to quit it, and was concerned it might turn into a road rage incident.

    I mentioned that I was armed and could handle that….and then I thought.

    Well Jeeze I might be JUSTIFIED in shooting somebody who attempted to harm me because of a traffic dispute….but do I WANT that?

    Nope, not even a little bit. Even with the morality of taking another human life when it isn’t 100% necessary, or reasonable steps could have been taken before the event to avoid NEEDING to take a human life, the legal aftermath even in a 100% justified shooting is a royal PITA.

    I used to honk and give people the finger in traffic, I sure don’t do that stuff anymore either. Anything that might invite a violent confrontation I avoid like the plague.

    I don’t want to shoot ANYBODY, and don’t ever want it to come down to that.

    Still just like how not all victims of crime weren’t taking any unnecessary risks before they were attacked, I know that having a gun is always the best idea to have.

    Just before the gravity of a physical confrontation never occurred to me.

    De-escalate, De-escalate, De-escalate!

    • Rule #1 for CHL holders: Do all you can to avoid situations that might lead to needing to use your weapon. Also, the progressive use of force that *used* to be SOP for LEOs. Always start with the minimum force neccessary to resolve a situation. If that means avoiding a certain area, or swallowing your pride and walking away from an asswagon, then you do it. Hopefully the day never comes that needing your weapon is the first choice, but it might.

      Will, have you considered appendix carry? Helps with the back problem, not to mention the worry of someone coming behind you and going for it, easier access, and less risk of it showing accidentally when bending or kneeling.

      • Exactly. The #1 goal of CCW is to SURVIVE and perfectly acceptable methods of achieving that goal before you get to “shoot” are “avoid” and “retreat.” There are people who say by CCWing you’re looking for trouble. Well of course I’m looking for trouble, because if I can see it coming and avoid it, I’ve defended myself haven’t I?

        Like the guy above, due to my age, I’m a relatively new to CCW. When I started to CCW, it resulted in a lot calmer demeanor because I wanted to actively avoid any situation where I might have to shoot. Justified shoot or not, you inevitably invite police, judges and lawyers into your life by shooting, 3 groups of people that don’t make it better.

  3. Yup, sounds about right. Had a similar incident to Weer’d long ago, shortly after I had bought my first pistol and had a CPL. I was driving with a friend and her kid when a water-balloon came in through the window tossed by some HS-age punks driving by in a low-budget low-rider. Had that momentary anger-filled “yaarg!” reaction, then a “wait-a-flipp’n-second!” thought as I processed the mental equation of water balloons vs bullets. Been pretty mellow when carrying ever since. I suspect a lot of anti-gunners really just don’t get that, and because they can’t/don’t control themselves, the concept is beyond their ken.

  4. The two or three times in the 40 years I’ve been carrying wherein I was so angry I could just throttle someone, I nearly did. One time.
    But, I didn’t
    I had my hands around his throat, but didn’t apply pressure, and didn’t even think of shooting him!
    Why? Guns are for defense.


  5. I supect that Mr. Heilein was thinking about the days of code duello when he made that comment. There was a time when one could be called to defend an egregious insult he made against someone else.

  6. Heinlein had to be thinking of civilized countries.

    Somalia is armed.
    The Congo is armed.
    Afghanistan is armed.
    Not so polite.

    • Most of those places involve “honor cultures” (I recommend ‘Honor: A History’) where all involved accept that insults, as Heinlein notes, have to be backed up with the willingness to do violence.
      So insults are still considered actions, not given lightly.

      The massive blood-feud violence is the product of the honor codes not providing for easy retraction of insult, not that the insults are lightly given. If that makes sense.

      Heinlein was definitely talking about later Western culture’s deliberate sublimation of the clan fued into the individual code duello, where the violence ended with the aggrieved parties and formal face-saving methods of retracting insult were accepted.

      In any event, polite has never meant violence-free, just less of a certain kind of violence. The other motives never change.

      • I was about to say, those places don’t have the benefit of cultural niceties that result from several thousand years of continuous, organized western civilization.

    • That’s because they are (a) mostly illegally armed (that is to say, there are gun prohibition laws, so only members of gangs/clans/militia have them), and (b) tribal, where to injure/insult one is to “damage” them all, so you end up with a cycle of tribal, as opposed to individual, violence.

    • A couple of observations there:

      Most of the places where violence runs rampant have several things going for them. Tribalism is one, backed up by the aforementioned honor code (a very good example would be inner city gangs in the United States). The other is the fact that the most violent places are also the places where the typical person cannot get a gun for some reason, and so the people WITH guns use them with impunity and little consequence.

      For instance, gun control in Afghanistan for non-Taliban members was painfully tight. Only the Taliban had guns, so they were able to do pretty much what they wanted with little fear of retaliation.

      Guns in Somalia can only be afforded by the warlords, so only the warlords and their men had them, leaving the everyday citizen with no way to fight back. The situation was similar in the Congo.

      It is a tired old saw, but it is true. If the weak in Somalia and Congo had been armed, things would have gone much differently.

      Some would argue that another option would be to disarm the folks who HAVE guns rather than arm those who don’t, but history has more or less proven that would be impossible, and likely, even if successful, would have prevented very little violence, if any. The only way to combat evil is to kill it back. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  7. Joe – absolutely. When you carry on your side an obvious advantage, whether it is known or unknown, you carry the ability to diffuse the situation with quiet confidence.

    It doesn’t even have to be a gun. I’m a big dude. At my prime, I was 6’-4” tall and 270 pounds of bone, brain, and muscle, and little else. I was a contender in strongman competitions, a defensive lineman, and an unlimited class collegiate wrestler. 15 years later, I’m now 340 pounds of bone, brain, muscle, and flab, because I run construction work for a living, mostly from behind a desk or the wheel of a car, but that hasn’t changed the fact that I could physically destroy all but the most skilled fighters that I will ever encounter.

    As a result, I’ve never felt a need to prove myself, never felt a need to escalate, and realized the consequences of escalating if I were to ever stand before a jury judging my actions; a man of my size must be cautious about getting into physical altercation because it’s just blatantly obvious that it would not be a fair fight, and a jury would see that. Even a 6 foot, 200 pound man – a man that most would consider to be a big dude, is dwarfed by me.

    When you have a massive advantage, you also have a massive responsibility, and a gun is no exception. You must be the cooler head in every situation. If you can not be, then figure out how, or stop carrying a gun in situations where tempers may flare.

    The stereotype of the “gentle giant” exists for a reason. Big men must be smart enough to realize the responsibility that comes with being physically powerful. We’ve nothing to prove, and everything to lose.

  8. I’ve noticed something recently that bears on this — Senator Reid’s consistent use of the “Speech and Debate” clause to get away with out-and-out slander. After some thought, I realized the Founders had a remedy for such abuse — dueling.

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