Taking Sides in Other Peopleís Fights
by Mark R. Crovelli
by Mark R. Crovelli: If
Two Men Go Into the Woods Without a Police Officer, How Many Will
Come Out Alive?
I was walking
home from the bars in Boulder, Colorado one night in 2002 when I
saw a street fight about to occur. There was a large and boisterous
group of guys on one side of the street who looked like they were
about to pound the snot out of two guys who were standing in the
middle of the street. Everyone was screaming at one another, and
the situation looked to me like a mob of drunk hooligans trying
to stir up a fight with two random guys making their way home from
I watched the
situation escalate for a minute and then decided that I had better
jump in on the side of the two guys who looked like they were about
to get pounded. At the instant that I took sides in the fight, punches
started to be thrown, and I found myself in a full-fledged brawl
in the street.
The fight did
not play out as I had anticipated. The two guys I was trying to
help, and whom I thought were the victims of this large mob, turned
out to be almost expert fighters. The mob of screaming guys turned
out to be a just a group of drunk frat boys who didnít really want
to fight, and most of whom were screaming "what are you doing?"
when punches started flying.
After a few
minutes of vigorous fighting the group of frat boys took to their
heels, and I was left with the two guys that I thought were victims.
After talking with them for less than a minute, however, I could
tell that they were the ones who had actually started the fight,
and that they had set out to intentionally pick a fight with
someone that night.
disgusted with myself, I left them and resumed my walk home.
The next morning
I felt extremely guilty for what I had done, even though I had only
tried to do what I thought was right at the time. It did not make
me feel any better to think that I had acted with the right intentions,
however. I felt embarrassed for having gotten involved in such a
fight, guilty for having hurt blameless people, and, most of all,
just plain stupid for thinking that I could tell who was "right"
in a fight that did not involve me at all.
What I came
to realize as a result of this shameful episode in my life is that
human beings have an innate and almost always stupid desire to take
sides in fights. When other people are arguing with each other,
shooting at each other, or punching each other, we have an almost
pathological desire to turn one side into the "good" side
and the other side into the "bad" side. It rarely occurs
to people during a conflict to analyze whether the side they are
cheering on or joining is really the "good" side. Even
more rarely still does it occur to people to think that both
sides could be in the wrong. One side of a fight must be
"good" to our silly little minds.
There is an
obvious reason for this. We all find ourselves in conflicts with
other people from time to time, and we are quite naturally predisposed
to think that our own side of an argument or a fight is the "good"
or "right" one. Few indeed are the people who enter a
fight or an argument thinking that their side of the argument is
the "bad" or "wrong" one. Even the thugs I had
stupidly backed in the street fight thought that they were in the
right because smug little frat boys "deserve to get their asses
kicked from time to time." Our natural bias toward believing
we are in the right predisposes us to view conflicts involving other
people through the same black-white filter.
tendency would be less of a problem for us if all fights and arguments
between people were simple and clear-cut. If there was always an
obvious "good guy" and "bad guy" in every fight
or argument, we could easily take sides and fight for good (although
we would still have to question whether it is a good thing to expand
conflicts to involve more people).
is that conflicts and arguments between people are almost always
more nuanced and complicated than they initially appear. Some fights
involve groups of people that are fighting for a just cause but
are using immoral means to achieve it. Some fights involve groups
of people that have impeccable intentions but who are actually fighting
against the values they claim to support. Some fights even involve
two groups of people that are both "wrong" or "bad,"
such as the fight between the mass murderer Hitler and the mass
murderer Stalin. Our natural inclination to think that one side
of these types of fights is "good" or "right"
will necessarily get us into moral hot water.
to this natural inclination is just to think a little bit before
we join fights or arguments on one side or another. When real fighting
and killing is involved between people we donít even know, we should
obviously just keep out of it altogether. Our chances of picking
the "right" side of such a fight Ė if there even is
a "right" side Ė are extremely small, and the moral
hazard of accidentally backing people whose actions we deplore is
extremely high. It is not our moral responsibility to look into
every fight around the country or the world, try to pick a side
that looks "right," and pick up a rifle to start killing
people. Staying out of it keeps the casualties lower than they otherwise
would be if every nosy person in the world were arming himself to
pitch in with the killing. No one benefits by having armed conflicts
expanded and more people killed or maimed, and we are protected
from irrevocably staining our hands with the blood of people we
donít even know.
We are rarely
tempted as individuals to try to involve ourselves in conflicts
between groups of people we donít know, however, and it is rare
for us to be walking down the streets and witness a street fight
about to occur. Instead, we are usually tempted to get involved
in conflicts far removed from us by politicians who try to convince
us that one group of people in the world is "good" and
another group of people is "evil." The need for caution
and skepticism is even greater when other people are trying to convince
us to bloody our hands Ė especially when lying politicians are the
ones trying to convince us.
The moral problem
for us is all the more acute since people in other countries are
not all the same. Some of the "good guys" favored by politicians
can and often do turn out to be genocidal
racists, and even maniacal
terrorists. Some of the "bad guys" condemned by politicians
can turn out in retrospect to have been simply misunderstood or
or even peace
lovers. Worse still, the politicians who are agitating to get
us involved in conflicts are often operating behind the scenes in
ways that complicate
the situation at best, or are inherently
wrong at worst. If it is almost impossible to know if anyone
in a street fight is "right," how much harder is it to
judge the nature of people thousands of miles away that you will
never meet, and that may be completely misrepresented by politicians?
The answer is that it is almost impossible to judge them or their
of this is going to change anytime soon. All that we can do as morally
responsible people is to think a little bit. Recognize that there
is rarely a "good guy" to root for or arm in a fight you
know nothing about six thousand miles away. Recognize that you can
irrevocably stain your hands with blood if you unthinking back a
group of people who turn out to do unconscionable things. Most importantly,
recognize that you donít need to take sides in fights that donít
directly involve you.
will thank you for minding your business.
Crovelli [send him mail]
writes from Denver, Colorado.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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