The Cornered Cat
Power and Consequences

Bad stuff happens in predictable places, at predictable times. The targets are predictable and you can simply not be one of the targets. But to follow this advice is to cede a certain part of the world to the predators. To give them some control over our behavior. To ‘give up freedom’ as Lt. Bullard phrases it.

“… We do the same thing in self defense: ‘Avoid, escape, de-escalate, only in the gravest extreme do you use your skills.’  This attitude (and it is not just self-defense instructors, society as a whole condones this, which is why we teach it) makes it extremely safe to be a criminal.  It should not be safe to be a criminal.”

Rory Miller


It has been a handful of years since Rory Miller wrote the above paragraphs on his blog, and it still hits me where I live in a lot of ways. Lots to think about with this one.

First, the top layer: I think the idea Rory expressed in this post is good and true and right, and I’m glad he said it. It should not be safe to be a criminal.

Next, the underlayer, the one that itched me for a few days before I figured it out. Another self-defense writer has often written scornfully about anti-rape activists who say they “should be able to walk naked into a biker bar.” What struck me when I read Rory’s post was that the people who say these things are expressing exactly the same sentiment that Rory did in his post.

When people say such things, they mean they won’t turn the world over to the rapists, to the bullies, to the violent, to the predators. They’re going to have a Night Out Against Crime. They’re going to Raise Awareness or have a Slut Walk or Take Back the Night. They aren’t willing to simply give up their personal freedom or allow the bullies and predators and criminals to have power over their behavior. They’re going to claim their power and their own place in the world.

Unfortunately, without teeth and claws to back it up, this kind of thing often ends badly. Especially when it’s done solo, without the suport of a group, just as a part of living your life and not as part of a formal protest. But the place it starts is something we can embrace, I think.

There’s a bunch more there, but … I guess what’s struck me is, there’s some very powerful common ground here, if people could find their way free to use it.

The problem is, people often want to do these things (walk naked into biker bars, or solo jog through urban parks, or stumble through the night half drunk and all alone) without any negative outcomes — and without admitting even to themselves that a negative outcome is possible. They want the thing, but they want that thing to happen without any potential whatsoever for a painful consequence — either for themselves, or for the predators who attack innocent people. They want to Take Back the Night, but they are not willing to fight (and if necessary, kill) the ghoul who has made the night unsafe.

Not even to save their own lives.

As if the predator’s life really is ultimately of more value than the life of an innocent person. Or as if a violent criminal assailant could not really exist, and is really just a made-up monster that hides under a toddler’s bed, and can be defeated with an offering of milk and cookies.

How do you claim your power in the world, if you’re not willing to work from a position where you have power?

That activist walking naked into a biker bar, the one who “should be” able to walk anywhere she wants to go, completely unmolested. Shouldn’t she also be willing to be the change she wants to see in the world, and be prepared to defend herself with whatever degree of force is necessary and reasonable?

Just some common ground to explore. And the chasm down the middle of it.


“Don’t go stupid places, with stupid people, doing stupid things.” — John Farnam

Another thought, maybe not as closely related to the above but veering off to my own tangent.

A person’s power in the world comes from making their own choices. None of us will ever be free of the consequences of our own choices. Freedom does not, therefore, come from lack of consequences for the choices we make. That’s a pipe dream.

Freedom comes from being able to predict the consequences and corollaries of our choices. It comes from the decision to accept the cost of the choice we want to make, or to reject that cost and make a different choice. In a very real sense, knowledge is power — because it helps people choose between outcomes, and not just between courses of action.

For example, my husband and I deliberately chose to raise our kids ourselves, which meant living on only one salary when the children were young. I chose to marry him, knowing that his salary would never be large. We chose to buy a big country farmhouse, and we chose to have a bunch of kids. Did we choose to be poor? Nope — but being poor was an absolutely foreseeable, even unavoidable, consequence of the series of choices that we deliberately made.

Knowing that would be the outcome, we freely accepted that consequence of a lower income  when we made the choices. This wasn’t some evil outside power manipulating us. We were free to make other choices, ones that led to a normal life in a normal neighborhood with normal income and outgo levels.

What we weren’t free to do — what no one is ever free to do in this world — was to make choices that had no corollaries and no consequences whatsoever.

Everything leads to something.

Whether it’s a choice as casual and mundane as whether to shop for groceries after dark or on the weekend, or if it’s a larger and more apparently-significant choice such as whether to take that job in another state, every choice leads somewhere. And every one of them has certain foreseeable potential costs as well as foreseeable benefits.

Power comes from seeing where your choices will most likely lead, in enough time to make another choice if that’s what you’d rather do. Power comes from choosing the path you will tread, and from having the kind of knowledge that lets you see as far down that path as you humanly can. Power comes from freely accepting the corollaries — the work and pain and joys — that go with the choices you make.

Powerlessness, and ultimately slavery, comes from not looking ahead. It comes from not making choices at all, just listlessly letting circumstances direct your path. It comes from letting others tell you where to go and what to do … and it comes from rejecting the corollaries of the choices you really want, which means rejecting the choices too, which leads round and round in a vicious ugly circle, over and over again, until you’ve ended up somewhere you never intended to go.

To embrace your power in the world, and your power over your life, means looking at the likely consequences of your choices. And then choosing wisely.

One Response to Power and Consequences

  1. dehavik says:

    It is sad to see the bewilderment–sometimes repeated bewilderment–of people who refuse to acknowledge their ownership. Observance, educating oneself, self-control, deliberate living, weighing choices and consequences, allowing the fact that choices and consequences are inexorably linked, owning decisions, and being totally honest with oneself are some of the skills that keep us from being blindsided. If we avoid accountability, chaos ensues, then an overwhelming confusion and surprise that bad things happened, even though we were “a really nice person”, as if being nice were a magical protection against anything we don’t want to happen. This can lead to a perpetual cycle of blaming others, and keeps us immature and immobile. Victimhood is not a good place to live.

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