The Poor Starving, Burglaring Father And Other Fantasy Tales – a blast from the past from May 2013
So, yesterday Glenn Reynolds linked to this story at Hot Air about a home invader (IN TEXAS!) who was so unfortunate (as well as stupid) as to lock the son of the homeowner in the gun closet… Hilarity ensued.
Only, as I was getting ready to go out and unable to work in those ten minutes or so, I thought it would be a good idea to read the comments. Which was fine too, except…
Except that I came across something that made me sit down and think. In fact, I thought all the way in the car to Denver (business) and all the way back, and decided this must be written about.
For those of you not inclined to click on that link, let me summarize. Story goes something like this: a house in Texas was broken into by three home invaders (a completely different thing from burglars. Growing up I was always told that the real danger from burglars was to interrupt them in the commission of the crime – please keep in mind that I grew up in a country where gun ownership is not allowed – and so was instructed that, if coming home and suspecting the house was being burgled, I should run next door the neighbors and call the police. Home invaders are burglars who PURPOSELY go into occupied houses, which is a completely different ball of wax. In fact, often – from what I read, though I confess I didn’t look at statistics – they’re there for a bit of bizarre sexual assault or other acts of random sadism, as well as property.)
After wrestling with the occupant of the house in residence, i.e. the son of the homeowner, they locked him in the closet. He got his gun, broke out of the closet, exchanged fire with one of the invaders, the other two fled. The one who was shot (shoulder and leg. Cut the homeowner’s kid some slack. He was probably agitated. I would be) tried to run, collapsed, was captured.
So far so good and a fairly straight forward story. And then I hit the comments.
Before I report on this comment I want to point out that from the replies other people made him, he might be a “regular troll” on the blog. (AFAICT we’re the only blog with active commenters without a resident troll. This is probably because I’m testy and an overheated Latina. Deal. I know it would give us great cache and also that I never let you guys have any fun, but you can MOST ASSUREDLY deal.)
However, the comment bears mentioning because a) if you tell this type of a story at a party, this is almost sure to come back as a talking point. b) because when I was in college – or high school – while I would PROBABLY not have made this point myself, I would have bought it, hook like and sinker. c) because not only it’s not a valid “counterpoint” but it’s not even a sane one. d) because nine times out of ten someone not politically involved will buy it sight unseen. e) the reason people will buy it.
So, now that you are ready – the comment was made by someone named “nonpartisan” and while I can’t find the comment itself (you can search!) it was quoted enough for me to get the gist of it. Apparently this critter opened with a gambit that he didn’t think burglars deserve death. And either in this comment, or in another, he identified himself as a Harvard Law graduate. The commenters make much fun of this last. They shouldn’t. Having received an excellent liberal (!) education in Europe, this seems perfectly plausible to me.
But here’s the part of the comment I could find:
what if you know for a fact that the burglar is unarmed, would you kill him?
a burglar could be a father who is unemployed and at his wits end at finding options to provide for his starving family. Not every burglar is a violent, armed psychotic rapist.
nonpartisan on May 18, 2013 at 9:01 AM
This is exactly the type of story my text books, from middle school on were full of. The criminal was a misunderstood soul, an exploited worker, down on his last dime. We were hammered with comparisons to medieval people stealing a loaf of bread and being hanged for it. (Suburbanshee will know better than I, but I’ve come to doubt those stories too. The Arab world might punish first-time thieves, but I sort of doubt western civilization did.)
When someone brings up a story like that, I’ve been conditioned to feel a pang and go “well, what if…”
Why have I been conditioned to do this? Well, because that’s a plot for a Hollywood movie, and, beyond my text books, it’s been tossed at us a thousand times in movies and mysteries. (Did any of you watch Boogie Nights? Might be one of the worst movies ever made. We watched it for the same reason we watched a lot of cr*p. It was in the dollar theater. Unfortunately once we paid for it, we had to sit and watch it, because Dan feels wasteful otherwise. No, don’t ask. It’s a thing. Anyway, from what I dimly remember, Boogie Nights has that type of thing, where they decide to rob a store, because they’re desperate and stuff. More on that later.)
We all know about the honest-but-desperate father who goes and robs someone for money to feed his starving brood.
We all know of him – but does he exist? I’ll remind you that we all also know of Santa Claus.
Right now, off the top of my head, I’m going to say that not only doesn’t he exist, but that if he ever existed, in history, it was probably before the eighteenth century.
Look, in normal human beings there’s a huge stop before “commit crime to solve my problems.” There just is. It might “simply” be fear of retribution, but it’s there. And when one thinks of “committing crime” and is desperate enough to break that taboo, there are a bunch of things a normal human being would do LONG before burglary, let alone home invasion (which as we said, is a different animal.) There’s swindling someone. If you don’t have the brains for that, there’s credit card number theft. There’s even, up the scale, mugging. (You get your loot in money.) Further, burglary, let alone home invasion, is a fairly sophisticated crime. You have to know how to break and enter. This might have been easy in a medieval hovel, but these days it’s not so much (Okay, I can break into a house in five minutes. I never claimed to be nice. What? Mostly to not be grounded for coming home late. “But mom, I was in bed all along. Maybe I was in the bathroom and you missed me?”)
Second, once you break into a house, your chances of walking off with a bundle of untraceable bank notes are slim. Most people simply don’t sew money into the mattress. So, if you’re breaking in for money to feed your children (snort) you’re going to have to convert whatever you find into cash. (I’ll note that I have never heard of ANYONE breaking into a house and making off with the contents of the freezer, so if it’s food they want, they’re going about it the wrong way.) This means you need to know fences, or you’re going to be a one-time burglar.
But before that let’s look at how an otherwise law-abiding person could get desperate enough to become a burglar in order to feed his chil’uns.
Kids, I’ve been broke. I’ve been so broke that merely being broke would be a relief. At one point twenty years ago we spent six months paying our Visa with our Mastercard and vice versa. Twice, we parked in front of soup kitchens, then decided we were NOT desperate enough to go in and went home hungry.
The idea of robbing another person NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME. In that situation, the hierarchy would go something like this: charities/soup kitchens. This by itself, might be enough to hold us, until we could get back on our feet. (who was that guy who moved to a town with his girlfriend and found he couldn’t starve even if he tried to?) Friends and relatives. No, I don’t care how broke your friends are, you can usually sleep on the sofa. Unemployment/Federal/State assistance. (This might come first for most people. Even for us, unemployment would.) If you exhaust all of these, if you lose your home, there’s still the charity of strangers. Look, our city supports a large (!) and colorful (dirt is a color!) population of homeless which I GUARANTEE haven’t done a lick of work in years. NONE OF THEM IS STARVING. (And most of them are also not burglars or even muggers.) There’s soup kitchens. There’s informal soup kitchens (college students host a dinner for the homeless near my house every weekend. No. Don’t get me started.) There’s begging on the street.
And if you’re not going “but all of those are demeaning.” Yes, they are, but they’re not VIOLENT crime. And which would you rather be? A beggar or a burglar?
Neither, right? But begging is at least honest, and I’d bet you most NORMAL people would do that.
It turns out, weirdly enough, that a small percentage of the population commits 90% of the violent (or potentially violent) crime. It’s not need. It’s something broken in them.
A lot of these people are heavy drug users or mentally ill.
That said, I’m the first to say our mental health system is broken.
IOW you’re unlikely to find a starving father of four in your home unless he’s also mentally ill and POSSIBLY also an acid dropper.
The problem is that someone with that combination and willing to commit a violent crime has no breaks. (A lot of mentally ill drug users just want to sit in a corner and talk to the lizards because they’re awesome and stuff. The ones who get violent are inherently very dangerous.)
So, should you shoot someone who breaks into your house? Yep. What are the chances of your killing an otherwise innocent man? Next to none. What are the chances of you getting killed otherwise? VERY high.
So, how come that comment, or the gist of it would have got even me to hesitate when I was much younger?
Because in a million stories, movies, novels, we’ve been sold the story of a creature that if he ever existed is vanishingly rare – so rare that his sightings are more scarce than those of Bigfoot. – the “poor but honest, desperate father, driven to crime to feed his brood.”
And people tend to think of stories as things they’ve lived. They “experienced” it. So, of course, it’s true.
It’s a great story, of course, but I bet you it was much rarer in Victorian times. (And if you read the bios of Victorian criminals, the being it depicts was almost as rare. People would go to the workhouse, horrible as it was, rather than commit crimes. Unless they were one of the few who PREFERRED crime over anything else.) And it was even rarer before that.
What it comes down to is people have to be told these stories, and be told them over and over again, before they will be scared of defending themselves lest they hurt others.
Civilizations don’t commit suicide unless they’re brainwashed into it. And destroying a civilization starts with corrupting its story tellers.
Go you, look closely at the stories you tell and make sure you do no harm.
Oh, yeah, and be not afraid.