Dr. Shermer, thank you for this article. I remember seeing this enjoying the moral play (and the play between Wayne, Stewart and scary Lee Marvin). 40+ years on, I'd say that the moral story is more subtle, both in the movie and in reality. The establishment and maintenance of law and order is dependent on lawful society having the ability and right to exercise force to that purpose.

There can be, and could not be in the movie, any hope of establishing and sticking to a "rule of law" morality without the ability to prevent Valance clones from exercising their penchant for getting their way, or just having fun, through use or threat of violence.

More broadly, and perhaps sadly, moral codes only have power over those who subscribe to them. They do not exist as a transcendental force for good; they need the actions of determined humans to make them a livable reality. Turning the other cheek is an excellent principle for spiritual growth. It is of only limited worth to those protecting their children.

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Dr. Shermer,

Regarding the recent lawless group criminal activity, my gut tells me that many readers and the "man on the street" can appreciate an enlightened after-the-fact analysis such as your article. But we want more. I'm sure I'm not alone when I state that most law-abiding citizens would like to know what causes/allows this type of "smash & grab" behavior, as well as looting, destructive rioting, etc., and what can be done to prevent or mitigate this lawlessness. I have some ideas, but they don't mean much coming from me and without solid research behind them. Nevertheless, some thoughts I'd propose are: 1) Single-parent broken families with no strong authority figures around for many years. 2) Defund the police movements. 3) Normalization of this behavior from SJ groups & activists, glamorization of these memes in certain music & pop culture idioms; 4) A general tendency for criminal justice systems to be too lenient on these types of crimes & guilty perpetrators; and a general tendency in our society nationwide to be out-of-balance with regard to social pressures exerted on people to be law-abiding citizens. I'm specifically thinking of the tilt toward too much emphasis on what I'd term feminine forces versus a lack of a proper balance of masculine forces. This can be thought of as Yin/Yang, or simply nurture/compassion/empathy/freedom vs control/order/accountability/responsibility. Too much of the masculine leads to a police state and fascism. But too much femininity leads to what we're seeing too much of these days. The big question is: how do we go about steering the culture back to a balance of the two before things descend into a state of chaos, violence and anarchy that we may not be able to get out of without a civil war. Thanks for your time. Quest R.

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