I haven't reversed cause and effect. I have only observed that there is a negative feedback loop in the US that does not exist everywhere else (although I would guess it isn't exclusive to the US). Not only that, but I am not trying to say every individual behaves the same way or can be painted with the same brush. Certainly there are muggings, but I would hesitate to say that there are "muggers".
Actually, what I am saying is not so foreign to the "Slashdot mind". I mentioned this in another part of this thread: Slashdotters commonly bring up the idea of DRM as an anti-feature on [software|music|movies] that perpetuates "pirating". In other words, the environment of distrust on the part of producers and distributors of digital content creates a higher likelihood of bad/illegal behavior on the part of potential users of that content. This is not so difficult an example for people in the US to understand because it is very specific and falls within the American cultural norms of rebellion against authority. The example that we started with, a street attack, is not so obvious because that environment of distrust is not as specific nor as directly connected to the behavior. Nevertheless, my observation is that _any_ environment of distrust breeds bad behavior, and any environment of trust encourages good behavior. The boundary conditions are what is interesting: in an environment of trust, if someone breaks that trust, how do people in the environment respond to that breech? Do they then start to distrust (and put in place policies, procedures, institutions, etc. that formalize that distrust)? Or do they continue to work within a culture of trust (and put in place all the things that can help to recover from the breech)?
Why didn't you defend yourself? And why score others who do?
I didn't defend myself because, fundamentally, it was not a developed habitual reaction. I can't claim that in the moment of attack I did a deep rational analysis of the situation. Instead, I simply lacked a defensive response habit and so I didn't defend myself. As it turns out, the situation defused itself and I lost nothing in the exchange. I believe that it was simply time passing that allowed the situation to become defused: the attacker lost energy. (I'm guessing there. I don't really know what was going on inside the person chemically, emotionally, etc.) I also want to point out that I am not naive enough to believe this would always "work". Certainly some attacks conclude with death, rape etc. even with passive response on the part of the attacked person.
And to repeat, I don't scorn others who do defend themselves. What I am concerned about is perhaps over-reaction or escalation. Honestly, I haven't thought it through to make _any_ generalizations and I suspect that I could only respond on a case-by-case basis to such things.
This complete debasement of the individual is incomprehensible to my American mind...
Actually, I feel that in America the individual is almost completely debased. Consumerism, culture of fear and distrust, breakdown of the extended family and the neighbourhood all lead to individuals behaving more like animals and less like noble, social beings. Individuals can certainly become excellent through their own hard work and choices, but there seems to be a real lack of recognition that "the individual is organic with their environment": there isn't simple first cause (individual merit) and then lots of effects (success in life). Instead, there are complex feedback systems where the environment limits, changes or empowers an individual and individuals make choices that in turn limit, change or expand their environment. Since the environment includes other people who are also making choices, we need to recognize both our liberty and our responsibility: through our choices, no matter how personal, we limit, change or empower other people.
"violence," and not "harm"
Hmm. Not tolerating violence against innocents... this is certainly an important foundation of society. No argument there. But one individual self-defending is not the only way (nor in my opinion the best way) of a society not tolerating violence against innocents. I don't consider self-defense reprehensible! I am actually often impressed by people who are able to defend themselves... and even more impressed by people who are able to defend themselves and at the same time transform a violent environment/encounter to a non-violent environment/encounter... and _even_ more impressed when that transformation goes from violence to forgiveness, love and the mending of hearts. (I'm not good at this, fwiw.)
I would like to use an analogy with healthcare. There are preventative techniques and healing techniques. Both are important. American society seems to prefer institutionalizing healing techniques and leaving preventative techniques mostly up to the individual. This is partly because of the question of freedom (I guess). But it has the consequence that it is much easier for people to become unhealthy due to lack of institutional support for preventative techniques.
The same could be said about violence. There are certainly both preventative and reactive techniques. Again, American society seems to prefer reactive techniques (the justice system, self defence) rather than preventative techniques. I've already mentioned some reasons I believe this to be the case, but most of it is rooted in a history of British colonialism and subsequent rebellion. In Canada we never had that. In fact, Canada is one of very few countries that gained independence without any bloodshed. That deeply effects our respective cultures.