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Kids these days
On the schoolyard fights of the 1990s, people arming up when they feel threatened, and the need for just-force thinking
In 1991, 42% of high school students had been in a physical fight in the preceding 12 months. That number decreased a bit, but was still above 35% by the end of the 1990s. By 2019, the figure had fallen dramatically -- all the way down to 21.9%.
■ Any reasonable person should be perfectly happy to see that number fade to zero. The decline in fighting is a cultural improvement and a clearly self-evident good. There are better ways to solve the petty disputes of adolescence than by engaging in fistfights.
■ But no small number of people have been on the receiving end of bullying or schoolyard aggression and have consequently been motivated to study one of the many available arts of self-defense.
■ In adulthood, everyone with self-defense training and a sense of decency is (almost certainly) a net asset to the society around them. The ability to apply just and necessary force to protect one's self or others from harm is an important one to cultivate.
■ Ideally, people would be motivated to undertake those studies without the world forcing the issue. But self-defense is a lot like donating blood: Many people get into it because they've been exposed to a crisis of some sort. They learn first-hand that they can do something to keep from feeling helpless.
■ So how do we motivate people to do the work required to learn how to defend themselves and others if the risk doesn't seem real? In general, it's great if there isn't as much casual fighting going on in high schools as there was a generation ago -- but the adult world is still often dangerous. Violent crime in general is, like teenage fighting, down by something like half since the early 1990s, but it's still not at zero. There is still considerable value in knowing how to fight back.
■ More consequentially, we need to ask: How do we ingrain in young people a sense that force, strength, and power have to be coupled to duty and responsibility? And how do we ensure that they learn that sometimes duty calls for using force in a just and responsible manner?
■ If these things aren't taught together, we risk ending up with a world where people overreact to perceived threats and panic because they haven't been indoctrinated in the principles of proportional response and don't feel equipped to protect themselves.
■ It's indisputably good to see routine schoolyard fighting becoming much less routine. But when part of the culture changes for the better while other problems remain, it calls for a conscious approach to ensuring that important lessons don't get lost along the way.
Fisticuffs are overrated, but training is not (Library of Congress/public domain)