the wages of sin?

I'm a 56 year old man who sometimes enjoys contemplating the beauty of ruins. I don't want to say that I "celebrate the beauty of decay" because that might sound decadent and distract from my purpose here, which is to stick to an activity considered normal and wholesome. Contemplating the beauty of ruins is certainly normal enough that entire industries have grown up around it. It's so mundane that most of the people who contemplate ruins are called "tourists."

However, in my case, I don't have get into all-out tourist mode and travel all the way to Rome or Athens to contemplate beautiful ruins. In Philadelphia I used to enjoy visiting the crumbling ruins of the ancient Eastern State Penitentiary (just as I used to enjoy Alcatraz in San Francisco). And I have gotten quite a kick out of visiting the beautiful ruins of once-lovely Detroit. How "normal" an activity that is, I don't know. But let's suppose that during a hypothetical visit to an awful neighborhood in Detroit, I was set upon by a pack of thugs and robbed and beaten. That such a thing might happen would certainly be a possibility, but here's my question.

Would it be my fault?

Would I be said to have asked for it? Would people condemn my interest in photographing ruins as an immoral activity which invited the assault? And would an attack on me be considered occasion for sermons against the evils of taking pictures of old buildings? I doubt it.

So why is it that if a twenty-something woman wearing a short skirt were to go into the very same neighborhoods surrounding the crumbling buildings, many people would consider an attack on her to be her fault?

M. Simon's earlier post about blaming rape victims for being slutty reminded me of the many things that can be seen as triggers for criminal behavior. People who run around wearing Ipods, driving nice cars, or just wearing business suits in the "wrong" neighborhoods might be just as likely to be targeted by criminals as a young woman deemed slutty looking. So why is there more of a tendency to blame "sluttiness" (or hedonism) for criminal conduct than, say "conspicuous consumption"?

And the more I think about it, a guy wearing a nice suit might be more likely to become a crime victim than a slutty-looking girl. So why is the latter more blameworthy?

There was a local Detroit case I blogged about not long ago involving a 12 year old who was charged with shooting a 24 year old woman to death. My post drew commenters who went out of their way to blame the victim by making an unsubstantiated claim that she was a "stripper" -- something which in their mind made her blameworthy.

As I pointed out in response to the comments, a victim's occupation is irrelevant to a murder charge.

...I don't see the relevance of the victim's career choices to this discussion -- any more than the make and model of her car. Whether she was a stripper or not (and I have not seen that in the news accounts), murder is still murder.


...bad things can happen whether you engage in "dangerous activity" or not. But even assuming Ms. Babcock sought work as a stripper (and I have not seen any story confirming that hypothesis), by what standard is "stripping" a dangerous activity? This woman was not naked when she was shot, nor was she on stage. Unless you can show some tie-in between her alleged occupation and the shooting, it's no different than if she had beem shot while at home, and her occupation is irrelevant.


....even if she was killed for being a stripper, how would that make her any more worthy of blame than a gay man killed for being gay?

The latter reminds me of this video:

In the minds of these thugs and their culture, anything that might happen to that gay man would be his fault, and not theirs.

Most Americans aren't like that. But not all. Consider some of shocking stuff that has been said about the murdered Detroit woman elsewhere which I will not quote. (That last link is so appalling that I should probably warn readers not to visit the site if you are upset by vicious racist profanity. I should probably consider myself lucky to have such civilized commenters.)

This is not to say that it isn't advisable to use common sense in avoiding potential dangers, but I think that once we start blaming victims for the actions of their attackers, it is a short step to letting the criminals completely off the hook. Or worse yet, allowing them to become a perverse sort of free ranging morality police.

I do not want to live in a society where women have to cover themselves in order to feel safe. I'll take the Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! culture any day.

However, freedom is not without its risks, as I often acknowledge.

It isn't free.

posted by Eric on 12.02.10 at 12:40 PM


"Would it be my fault?

Would I be said to have asked for it?"

I wouldn't say 'you asked for it', but I wouldn't shed a tear either.

When I see a base jumper face-plant into the side of a cliff and hit the ground groaning I think the same thing - you took the risks, you lost.

If you choose to enter a known high crime area as a leisure activity you're taking an unnecessary risk. If you're assaulted, your assailant should be hunted, caught and tried for his crimes, but I'm not going to give you a lot of sympathy.

Actually in my mind that is one difference between your scenario and the base jumper. You shouldn't have to pay extra for the police to hunt down your assailant. You were going about your business and another intelligent being imposed on you. The base jumper was playing with gravity and lost. Since he was messing with an unchanging force of nature, not an intelligent being he gets to pay for his rescue and treatment.

guy   ·  December 2, 2010 1:24 PM

If you choose to enter a known high crime area as a leisure activity you're taking an unnecessary risk.

So, would I be deserving of sympathy if, say, my car broke down as I was driving through Detroit on my way to a leisure activity elsewhere and I was set upon? Are people who live in bad neighborhoods they like more blameworthy than people who live in good neighborhoods they like?

Is leisure a moral issue? Why would I be more blameworthy going to Detroit to take pictures of old buildings than if I obeyed a federal jury summons?

Or suppose I played golf and got a skull fracture by being hit by a stray golf ball. Is my blame to be determined by whether I love or hate golf? It just so happens that I hate golf. So would that let me "off the hook"?

Eric Scheie   ·  December 2, 2010 1:34 PM

If you lived in the area or your car broke down there or you were ordered to go you wouldn't be there on a whim, so yes in my mind it you would be more deserving of sympathy.

If you are on a golf course and get beaned, not much sympathy, if you you are roofing a house two blocks away from the course and get hit, you have my sympathy.

It not your opinion of the game I'm judging, but the reason you were in the position to be harmed.

guy   ·  December 2, 2010 1:58 PM

But see, I like roofing more than golfing! Which means if I on the roof because I enjoy roofing, I don't get as much sympathy from you as would the roofing contractor who does it for the money.

OK, so I guess you would consider a caddy who got beaned to be more deserving of sympathy than a golfer whose clubs he was carrying for money. Well, what about golfers who do it for the money? Are they less blameworthy than unpaid golfers?

Is a raped prostitute less blameworthy than a raped slut?

Eric Scheie   ·  December 2, 2010 2:55 PM

Just to be clear my "deserves sympathy" has ZERO legal bearing. If you are attacked your attacker commits a crime and should be punished.

I have ZERO interest in turning this into a legal definition.

What pisses me off is when I am expected to feel sorry for people who in my opinion were taking risks they shouldn't have.

Dale Earnhardt smashed his car into the wall at Daytona. Tragedy? He was racing a car in circles next to a cement wall. I don't want to make racing illegal, but don't try to tell me I should feel sorry for him.

But on to your examples of the golf course. A golf course is a hazardous area. Whether you are a golfer or a caddy, whether you like golf or hate it doesn't change the fact that little white balls are zinging all over the place.

I haven't used the word 'blame' because to me that carries a feeling of legal weight.

If we were to meet at a restaurant one afternoon and you came in with a big goose egg on your forehead and told me that you got hit in the head while playing golf, what would you want from me?

guy   ·  December 2, 2010 3:12 PM

I don't blame the victim, but I will tell you that I blame myself. Everybody thinks differently so my deal is my deal and your deal is your deal.

If I walk across the street in a crosswalk at a stop sign without looking and someone runs the stop sign and hits me, it's his fault, but if I had looked, as I was supposed to and knew it, I could have avoided the whole thing.
My life is my responsibility.

There's a street in the town where I grew up that goes up a hill and meets another road at an angle of about 30 degrees -\-
a little sharper than that, with the angled one coming up a hill from right to left and ending at the dashes with a stop sign.
The road to the right is a one-way. I always looked right, craning my neck to see down that street even though it was one-way going left to right, not right to left.
One New Year's Eve I didn't look. Once in my life I didn't look. Some car came flying out the wrong way with his lights off, nearly wrecking both our cars.
You know who I was mad at? Me. I got sloppy and nearly got killed. On New Year's Eve no less, Amateur Night on the roads as we called it at the time.

I often end up in high-risk situations, when bad things happen I've tried to minimize the possible damage, but I blame myself.

I used to go to NYC in the early 80s, pre-Benito Giuliani. So one time a couple of us were waiting for a friend and got mugged. I always carried one dollar in one pocket for muggers so they got my dollar and that's it.
But it was my fault, we were looking like tourists in Times Square at 9pm. That was begging for trouble and I knew it.

I wouldn't blame you, I don't live your life and your life is your deal, but I do blame myself when I get sloppy.
My life is my responsibility. I prefer it like that, that way, I can actually get at the fool who causes the problems in my life.

Veeshir   ·  December 2, 2010 3:24 PM

If we were to meet at a restaurant one afternoon and you came in with a big goose egg on your forehead and told me that you got hit in the head while playing golf, what would you want from me?

I would not want anything, but what I would not want is a lecture on the immorality of golf! Especially if I had been hit on the head deliberately by someone who believed golfers were so immoral that he had a right to hit them on the head and teach them a lesson.

Veeshir when I take risks I accept my responsibility to a certain extent, but I don't think that I have to accept this attitude I see so often that being attacked by criminals is the fault of the victim. An unprovoked criminal act by a third person is independent of whatever the victim was doing -- in both the legal and moral sense. Otherwise, the wealth of a victim vis-a-vis his attacker becomes relevant -- and his or her attire and property can be considered provocations. You have an absolute right to walk down the street with hundreds of thousands of dollars in your pocket. That might be stupid, but it does not mean you deserve to be robbed.

And why should the timid taxpayers who wisely stay at home be forced to pay for what happens to those who are so foolhardy as to walk down the street? (I don't think that, but I can imagine someone might....)

Eric Scheie   ·  December 2, 2010 4:51 PM

"You have an absolute right to walk down the street with hundreds of thousands of dollars in your pocket. That might be stupid, but it does not mean you deserve to be robbed."

Didn't you just make moral judgment?

guy   ·  December 2, 2010 7:52 PM

Calling the man stupid, I mean.

guy   ·  December 2, 2010 7:56 PM

Didn't you just make moral judgment?

If stupidity is immoral, I guess so. Not wearing seatbelts is stupid (as is believing the earth is 10,000 years old), but it never occurred to me that stupidity was immoral.

Are retards immoral?

Eric Scheie   ·  December 3, 2010 12:24 AM

but I don't think that I have to accept this attitude I see so often that being attacked by criminals is the fault of the victim.

I tried to make it clear that I don't feel this way.
I'm generally against that attitude, the criminal is in the wrong.
The guy who ran the stop sign and killed me is in the wrong even as I'm sitting in Hell saying, "Damn, I should have looked."

I treat myself differently from others. I hold myself to a higher standard.

Because it's my life and my responsibility.

Veeshir   ·  December 3, 2010 9:45 AM

in that video, a cop walked by as the gay dude was being harassed by the black guys, and he did nothing.

Daniel Fielding Smith   ·  December 4, 2010 11:50 AM

Veeshir I agree.

Daniel, you raise an interesting point. I bet that had the same gay victim been treated this way by white teens, not only would the cop have done something, but the video would have provoked huge nationwide outrage.

Eric Scheie   ·  December 4, 2010 10:58 PM

Hey, Eric, if you are ever in Southern California, you should check out the Salton Sea -- it sounds like it would be right up your alley.

The Salton Sea is a huge Salt Lake in California (2nd biggest lake west of the Mississippi). In the 50s and 60s it was a huge tourist attraction, but has been a semi ghost town for the last 25+ years. The shore is scattered with with decaying/ abandoned buildings, many bearing the distinct mark of modernist architecture. Half of Bombay Beach was flooded and abandoned. Plus you have the sea itself, which spits out so many dead fish their bones cover the seashore.

One other thing: aside from the random squatter/tweakers, the people who live there are basically alright and have long resigned themselves to the tourists (so long as you aren't insulting or patronizing), so your chance of getting "jumped" is pretty remote.

Sean P   ·  December 8, 2010 8:35 PM

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