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- In 2007, the nationally known Swedish politician Anna Lindh was gunned down in a Stockholm shopping mall by a gunman who then fled the scene. The place was busy. Several people observed the crime. But it didn’t occur to anybody to tackle the killer, and nobody rushed to stop him.
- The next year, on Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, a male model taking part in an outdoor fashion show just off of Rembrandt Square was pulled down from the catwalk and beaten severely by ten Muslim “youths.” Only one person – a friend of the model – tried to help him. The show’s organizer told me later that there had been a lot of people present – “and I mean a lot!” But none of them did anything.
- Some time after the slaughter last July of dozens of campers on an island near Oslo, accusations began to fly. The head of the youth group camping on the island, it emerged, had been the first to find a boat and make it to shore – leaving behind the kids in his charge, many of them much younger than himself. One witness noted that only a few campers had made an active effort to help others – and they were all foreigners.
Several years ago I wrote this about the Lindh killing: “People just stood there, waiting for somebody else to do something. Somebody whose job it was. Hayek was right: the capacity for resistance – the capacity of even conceiving of resistance – is bred out of people in social democracies.” Of course, that’s a generalization. Not everybody in Western Europe is a coward. Besides, who can say how any of us would act in such situations, when everything is happening fast and when it may seem unclear exactly what is the best thing to do?
Still, I couldn’t help thinking of those, and other, historic instances of human passivity when the details of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, began to come out. I am referring to the remarkable fact that not one, not two, but three of the people who died from gunfire that night were young men who lost their lives protecting their girlfriends from the spray of bullets.
Think of it. In one part of the theater, Jon Blunk, 25, a security guard who’d served on the U.S.S. Nimitz and wanted to become a Navy SEAL, pushed his girlfriend, Jansen Young, to the floor and under her seat, then covered her with his own body and held her tight. Elsewhere in the same theater, during the same terrifying moments, Alex Teves, 24, who’d just finished earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology, was pushing his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren, to the floor and shielding her with his body. Still elsewhere in the theater Matt McQuinn, 27, a clerk at Target, was doing the same thing for his girlfriend Samantha Yowler.
All three of these young men died; all three of these young women lived.
Of all the aspects of the horror at Aurora, this is the one I keep coming back to. Not only was I deeply moved by the fact of these three amazing acts of self-sacrifice; they raised a host of questions that are probably impossible to answer definitively but that I can’t stop asking.
Let’s begin with this one: what is the statistical probability that, in a sold-out movie theater faced with such a crisis, three such instances of apparently reflexive heroism would occur? To put it a bit differently: was this a fluke? Or not? How about this question: is such a thing more likely to happen in the U.S. than elsewhere in the developed world? Is it more likely to happen in a mountain state than in certain other regions of the country?
Further questions came to mind. Some of them clearly arose because I’ve spent much of the last couple of years working on a book about the role of ideology – including radical feminism – in the American academy and its effect on the broader culture. In the course of my research I’ve read books and attended lectures that were simply drenched in man-hatred. I’ve been exposed repeatedly to the mantra that every male is a potential rapist and every woman a potential victim – the argument that without men there would be no aggression, no murder, and no war (to say nothing of those ubiquitous evils, competition and capitalism). And in the last few days, as a result, I’ve wondered: since the horror at Aurora, how many professors of Women’s Studies and other such disciplines (not to mention high-school social-studies teachers and the like) have devoted classroom time to discussions of the “lesson” or “lessons” of Aurora?
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