Friday, July 21, 2017

Killing the Sensei

In the Criticism≠Teaching post I wrote about students who have been so conditioned to criticism that they criticize themselves when no one else does. They even criticize as a habit when they have done nothing wrong. I advised you to kill that voice in your head, and a few people asked the very reasonable question, “How?”
I can’t give a definitive answer. The voice still bubbles up for me, sometimes. Especially when I write.
But here are some strategies I’ve used:

First, distinguish between external and internal criticism. External criticism comes from other people. It may be wrong, misguided, actively designed to sabotage you… listen anyway. The more you want to find a reason to ignore or deny it, the more important it is to listen. If it is bad advice, you should be able to explicitly and dispassionately articulate why it is bad. But be careful. There’s a reason why watching for your own cognitive biases is a lifetime commitment.
This post is really about internal criticism. Do you know why an outside copyeditor is necessary to a professional writer? Because you can’t catch your own errors. If you knew how the word was spelled, you would have spelled it right the first time. Yes, there are clumsy finger errors, etc. Quibbles. The point is, you generally don’t make errors you recognize as errors. Almost always, the decision you made in the moment was the one you judged to be best in that moment, with the information you had and the time you had to think. If you think of something better, cool. That’s a learning experience.
One example. Just a synopsis, it would be really long to type. Climbing with a partner. His jumar (ascender) got jammed. Halfway up a slippery cliff. Rope wedged in the same crack as the jumar. Starting to get cold and wet. Only decision I could see was to unhook and free climb to get above him and work from there. Shitty climb on slippery rocks with no protection and a 40 foot fall.
It worked. Six months later I thought of an easier, safer solution, and I was kicking myself for not thinking in a few minutes of something that took a half year of unadrenalized pondering. Sigh.
Examine effects, not feelings. Most people’s problems are second or third order. Writing the essay is the primary problem. Worrying about the grade you might get is the secondary problem. Worrying about what people will say about your grade is tertiary. A big piece of ‘non-attachment’ is ignoring the secondary and tertiary concerns. Which is actually easy, because the primary problem/solution is usually physical and real, as opposed to both emotional and imaginary (and if it’s going to happen in the future it is imaginary in this moment.)
Be in the moment. Related to the last one, but I get very specific about this. I mean to be in your senses. Look, listen, smell, touch, taste. Don’t look and then start an internal dialogue describing what is right there. Look, don’t describe. Listen, don’t judge. Live, don’t interpret. I know that’s hard, but it is really powerful.
With a lot of attention/practice/mindfulness, you can do this with your internal states as well. This lets fear, anger, love, rage, annoyance, self-doubt—all that stuff— move through you without sticking. You can feel anger without becoming angry, and love without becoming stupid.
Think less. The less time you spend thinking in words, the easier the last two points become. Meditation, solitude, hunger and fighting are some of the paths I’ve found. Those are in order, from easiest to hardest, but also from least to most effective.
After Action Debrief. I’ve written about it here XXX link XXX. I f you’re going to have a critical voice in your head anyway, you might as well train it to be useful. In a nutshell, the AAD is just three questions: What happened? What went well? What could I/we do better next time?
That’s it, but you have to be strong enough to say, “That went about as well as it could have.” Let yourself have your wins.

Focusing pain. Sudden sharp pain tends to clarify your mind and order your priorities. Give yourself some pain if you are too much in your head. Snap your ear whenever you catch yourself in your critical head.

There are more strategies that work. Remember that your brain can and should be exercised and disciplined, just like your body.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Math and Passion

One of the things that has been bugging me lately. I have several close friends who are very passionate about certain issues... and they are wrong. Simply wrong. In some cases, the issue they are excited about doesn't exist. In a few, the words they use do not mean what they think they mean. In a very few cases, the words that they use originally meant the exact opposite of what they think they mean. Black has become white; dogs are cats; freedom is slavery.

Where do I get the right to say that they are wrong and I'm right? Fair question. This is the way my brain works: These are people I care about and generally, but not always, that means I admire their intelligence*. If they believe X and I believe Y, I assume I'm wrong. I then, depending on the question go to first sources (like the actual court case). Or go to the data (the Bureau of Justice Statistics, commonly). Or design an experiment (Who is more hateful, X or Y? Let's type "All x should die" and "All y should die" into google and see who is talking about killing most.)

I think that's pretty solid. Confidant that it is far more than the people I am disagreeing with have done.

But here's the question, and it's really two three questions.
1) Should I even bother to tell them I disagree? I know a few sense it, but as long as it stays submerged, the friendship continues fine. Understand, they are usually passionate about their position-- one even said it was important enough it was okay to be wrong. I can't even wrap my head around that, largely because I'm not passionate about the positions. I am relatively passionate about the path to those positions.
2) If I decide to have this disagreement, how? Facts don't actually sway people. For that matter, if we agreed on an experimental design and their position was mathematically proven flawed, my experience is that they would double down. And never forgive me.
Oooh. There's a third question.
3) Most of them are happy being passionate. It may come across in words as feeling outcast and beleaguered and under constant attack, but that belief makes them feel special and gives their life meaning. If someone is wholly invested in their enemies as a core of their identity, is pointing out that their enemies** are imaginary a dick move?

The challenge here is not winning the argument. My ego doesn't need the strokes of winning. The challenge is preserving the friendship and, possibly, helping a few friends avoid a path that will be hard to recover from.




*There are other virtues I admire besides intelligence. No one has to be perfect or superior in all categories to be my friend.
** And this is a really fine line because there are always a few real assholes. There are millions of good christians, but the 70 (or less) members of the Westboro Baptist Church make the news. There are tens of thousands of people working to make a better world, but the loudest, shrillest and stupidest two percent become the poster children for 'Social Justice Warriors.' As long as that worse 2 % or 70 individual or whatever exist, the enemies, just barely, miss being completely imaginary.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Criticism ≠ Teaching

The last post was laying the groundwork for this one. I thought starting with the universally acknowledged evils of micromanagement would make this post more palatable. Instead, Danny Martin gave a very capable defense of an unpopular and nearly indefensible position. Truly well done.

Jumping into this anyway, because it is important.

Criticism is a shitty teaching paradigm. Telling people they are doing things wrong, even telling them what they are doing wrong is literally worse than useless: Useless teaching would leave students unimproved. Criticism actually makes the students worse.

This will probably be a hard sell. When I came up through the (primarily Japanese) traditional martial arts, stern criticism was the standard teaching method. I've even had an instructor say, "Only perfect is good enough." And I was cautioned not to praise students because it would make them lazy. In the law enforcement world, right after I was promoted a senior sergeant told me, "Do you know why you'll never be a good sergeant? Because you don't understand that everyone is lazy and dishonest and our job is to catch them and punish them." Her crews were consistently poor performers because they spent more time watching their backs around her than doing the job.

But it's only a hard sell because we are all so used to it. When something is shitty, being the norm doesn't make it less shitty. We know criticism is poor teaching methodology.

Why is it bad? Let me count the ways.

  1. It's all brakes, no engine. Criticism stops behavior. If that behavior isn't replaced with a better alternative, improvement can only happen by luck.
  2. Criticism almost always works off the wrong metric. The instructor judges a strike (for instance) by whether it looked right. In striking, looks don't matter for shit, it's a kinesthetic skill.
  3. Criticism, especially of the wrong metric, is usually arbitrary. The coach may be looking at foot placement one minutes and hand position the next, may focus on a minor problem in stance and miss the big problem (something that would result in injury) in the hands.
  4. The instructor's reaction becomes the student's metric. Not whether the technique worked, not how much energy was delivered, but whether they got yelled at or not. Getting better, when you are measuring improvement by the wrong metric, is nearly impossible.
  5. When the student is anticipating the instructor's reactions, the student is thinking. Cognitive processing is too slow to use effectively in a hand-to-hand conflict and thinking about irrelevant things is worse. Excessive criticism makes your students slow.
  6. When the students are driven to avoid criticism, it pushes them from a gains maximization to a loss minimization strategy. In other words, they are no longer trying to win, they are trying not to lose, and that is usually a very weak, passive and reactionary strategy when the shit hits the fan.
  7. And to compound point six, the game they are trying not to lose isn't even the right game. They are worried about what sensei will say, not working to put the bad guy down.
  8. At the extreme end of this, when everything is criticized, the only strategy left to the students is to do as little as possible, to become as passive as possible. The condition is called, in psychology, "Learned Helplessness." Constant criticism creates passive people, which is another word for victims.
And we know the answer to this. From behavioral psychology or modern teaching theory or MBWA (Management by Walking Around.)

  1. Reward even small improvements. It doesn't have to be anything big, just a "Good job" or a nod. Just as people decrease behaviors that are criticized (punished) they increase behaviors that are rewarded. Rewarding small improvements creates a vector toward further improvement.
  2. Tell the students what to do. Avoid telling them what not to do. "Avoid telling them what not to do" is only seven words but because of the double negations 'avoid' and 'not' it is tons less clear than "Tell the students what to do." Positive statements are clearer than negative statements.
  3. Don't criticize bad techniques, replace them. Instead of telling someone her stance is wrong, show her where her feet should be and explain why.*
  4. Use the right metric. If you are teaching strikes properly, it will show on the heavy bag.
  5. Let nature judge. A lot of the wrong ways to do things hurt. That's why they are the wrong ways. Improper hand positioning hurts your wrist when you punch the heavy bag. A canvas bag will teach you when your punching angles are off. All the wrong ways to do a break fall hurt. If you use the right metrics, you almost never have to criticize because the world takes care of that for you.
One of the most annoying training scars I see are students that are so used to being constantly criticized that they criticize themselves. They handle a scenario brilliantly or snap into a counter-assault technique against multiple simultaneous attacks, and you can see it in their eyes, sometimes even their lips move: They are chewing themselves out for some tiny detail that didn't even effect the outcome. They are so used to being criticized that they have a tiny sensei in their heads telling them they did it wrong. No matter what 'it' is. No matter whether it was wrong or not.

That's bullshit, and if you have that little voice in your head, kill it.


*Quick note on explaining. I find it very useful to explain the underlying physiology or physics that make something work. If the principles are true, they apply everywhere and if the student understands the principles, he or she can adapt them under stress. That said, the principles work. They have visible effects. If you have to explain that something worked when it clearly didn't, you're wrong. You aren't explaining, you're attempting to brainwash.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Micromanagement ≠ Leadership

I think it was Machiavelli in his Art of War that said "The greatest reward for a fighting man is simply to trust him." That resonated. I'd worked for a long time under a variety of people put in leadership positions. Just being in the position doesn't make someone a leader. The true leaders, the ones that inspired loyalty and dedication, had alls aid, at some point, "You've got this." And let me handle things on my own.

Machiavelli (if I'm attributing it to the right person) specifically applied it to fighters. I don't think that's necessarily true--everyone takes micromanagement as an insult. But it's more explicit in dangerous professions. A firefighter I know is incensed that he has to spend more time in each report documenting his PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) than his job. He showed me one report-- nearly half a page of what equipment he put on and in what order. Barely four lines on extracting the subject from the wrecked car.

When you are entrusted with life or death decisions, being treated like a child throws a huge mixed message.

So here's the deal. If you are a micromanager, you aren't a leader. You aren't even a shitty leader. You're a busybody who likes to feel important by interfering with better people than yourself. If you have employees who need to be watched every second either you need to hire adults or, more likely they aren't the problem.

When you get the micromanager who always finds fault, it is something else. If everything a worker does is wrong, no matter how closely they follow policy or even if they were just following the last set of orders, what's going on isn't even management, micro or otherwise. It is straight-up victim grooming. Creating a field of passive people for the manager's games.

I doubt if most micromanagers realize what they are. Humans are excellent at rationalizing and it's easy to reframe micromanagement as "Being explicit" or "I'm a hands-on guy." But on the tiny chance someone reads this and sees through their own bullshit and decides to change... it won't be easy.

No matter your intentions, all those years of micromanagement have instilled in your people the idea that you don't trust them-- and that they can't trust you. They will literally assume that you turning over a new leaf is a trap. That you will give them enough trust to show some initiative and then will ruthlessly punish them for that initiative.

This easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you change your behavior and don't notice any benefit for a day or a week or a month, it is easy to revert. The reversion just becomes further evidence that your attempt at change was insincere.

Note: Going out of my lane a little, but setting up for the next post, which is about the teaching equivalent of micromanagement.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Olympian

You are amazing.
When I die, these are the things that I will have wished I said and possibly the things you would have wished to have heard. I'm thinking of my son right now, but that's just a focal point. If your dad (or whoever) had the words, these are the words that need to be said:

You have never disappointed me. You might have felt that, but know it was never so. When you were born, I held in my arms a perfect example of perfect human potential. An awe-inspiring bundle of possibility. Innate power and potential of cosmic proportions.
In Greek myth, the heroes were half gods. Heracles, the son of Zeus and a mortal mother; Aeneas the son of Aphrodite and a mortal father. This is how I see you, how all humans are: Something incredible and powerful and heroic. Supernatural in your birthright.
That is how I see you.
If you sensed disappointment, it was never with you, but with the world. You have had to make compromises; we all have. And I may have sighed because the choice you made was not the choice I wanted, since I wanted to see you as a pure and perfect god. But the choices you made were pure and perfect, given the information you had and the priorities you placed. I might have wanted you to stand above the world, but you were neck-deep in the world, protecting the weak, calculating the consequences. I had a Socratic, imaginary ideal-- you had a gritty reality. You made your choices based on that reality. You made the best choices you could, and I love you for that.
I wish that you could see yourself as I see you. The strength, the growing wisdom, the compassion, the insight. You are mightier than you can possibly imagine.
Walk in the world as an Olympian. Nurture your strength and cherish the strength of the minigods all around you. It is a beautiful and complex world, and you are an integral part of that beauty and complexity.
Be.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Impossible

Sometimes you get a request that is just flabbergasting. If that's a word.
"We want an unarmed defensive tactics system for our officers that works the same for all officers regardless of size, gender or age, that will work on all threats regardless of size, strength or mental state and has zero risk of injury to the offender."
"You realize that's impossible, right?"
"You don't have anything? We'll keep looking."

The latest. A request for comprehensive self-defense training but with absolutely no element of violence. This one is tempting. Not the material. As requested, it's simply stupid. It's the students. The people who want this do home visits on people who are in the system. Often alone, this student base has daily contact with a population that frequently have criminal records and a history of violence. These are kids (adults, but at a certain age, everybody starts to look like a kid) going into harm's way to do good things. If anyone needs a comprehensive program, these are the people.

Naively, I alsoused to believe that there was always a non-violent solution, but even then I realized there wasn't always time to find that solution. I was wrong. There are people who enjoy hurting others, and only force or the threat of force will stop them. Predators who can't feel closure without pain. Really bad guys who need to see someone break. People who honestly believe that acceding to a verbal solution is an act of cowardice.
" You boys have been real nice, but I guess now it's time to make you fuck me up." When I asked, "Why?" later the old man said, "If I went to jail and didn't fight, I wouldn't be a man." People satisfying needs with pain isn't limited to the BDSM world.

Realistically, the big gains in SD are in the non-violent soft skills. Recognizing and avoiding dangerous places and people. Recognizing when an individual is setting you up or weakening your position. Escape, evasion and de-escalation. Usually, by the time things go physical, it's pretty desperate. This isn't how to out-fight a fighter, but how to deal with a bigger, stronger threat who chose the time and place and conditions (weapon, numbers...)

This isn't a Disney movie. Things can go very bad. The belief that there is always a non-violent solution creates blindspots and vulnerabilities. If any belief is that precious to you, you will fail to recognize and respond to the exceptions. People don't train for things they don't believe in. It is a belief that makes one voluntarily both blind and unprepared.

You all know this. But some people don't get it. More accurately, they refuse to get it. Teaching the impossible isn't a new problem. It starts with education. Over the years, I've found a bag of tricks to get people to see. That's why I use Maslow, and where the distinction between aggressive, destructive (including self-destructive) and assaultive behavior comes in. Why we discuss ethics explicitly. Personal clarity between what people want and what people need.

Whoah. Damn. Rewind and erase. I just strawmanned all over myself. Shit. All the objections and blindspots I just talked about? Realizing... You don't see these in the field. EMTs, nurses, police, corrections, security, even the people manning the desk at the local VA-- every last one I've talked to has recognized the need for something truly comprehensive. They're usually the ones who contact me. The impossible demands have all come from desk pushers, people who write and protect policy. People who live in idealistic abstraction of the real world.

Unfortunately, they tend to be the ones who control what the line staff get.

Not to self: Remember not to confuse institutions with people.





Friday, June 02, 2017

Misfit Toys

This is a message to someone special. Might be you, might not.
It's all good. Remember watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer all those years ago and the Island of the Misfit Toys and you thought, "That's me" ?  Me too. And it's all good.

Don't like who you're supposed to like? Care about things other people think are too small or too big? You dig into history while the people around you parrot what their peer group says? Fuck 'em. Seriously, fuck 'em. No one is trying to make you better. They're just trying to make you more like them. That's how they define better-- conformity.

Not that long ago, a friend wanted to introduce me to one of his people. I asked, "What's he like?" R said, "He's broken, but he's broken our way." R is one of the most effective individuals I know, even if he is broken. Because he's broken my way.

It's all good. We are all misfit toys. Find your family-of-choice. Cherish them deeply and protect them fiercely. Be proud. You may be a broken toy in this strangely plastic hothouse world, but when that world shatters you are the one who will function. They still won't like you, but they will need you. And that is something.

Happy birthday, HM


Friday, May 26, 2017

Tea with the Dark Wizard

Coffee, really.
Last weekend taught a full two-day seminar dissecting principles and application at Randy King's KPC Self Defense in Edmonton. Taking each of my eleven principles*, digging into it as much as time would allow, then playing and experimenting. It does no good to have something you intend to use in chaos just as a mental picture. You have to play with anything to understand it. You have to play with it to make it a part of you.

It was the first time organizing the information this way and teaching it all at once. It was some pretty deep water. The feedback was solid. Randy said it best, albeit in nerd speech: "I think I just leveled up as an instructor. This will help me steal the magic better."

Aside-- Stealing the magic. Ever run into an instructor who could do things you simply couldn't? Not talking the bullshit magic stuff like chi balls. Setting so he couldn't be lifted (structure) or push you across the room with almost imperceptible movement (structure + line and circle + balance). It's just good physics, but often the really good instructors can't explain what they are doing so they have real trouble teaching it. Understand the principles and you know what to look for. You can learn the good stuff they can't articulate well enough to teach. The stuff that looks like magic.

One of the attendees was Rick Wilson. Rick is the 60+ year old guy that the jocks are a little worried about playing sumo with. The guy who has studied traditional stuff and rejected traditional stuff and come full circle to find the body mechanics behind the traditional stuff. Smart. Really deep base of knowledge.

At some point, I think it was after InFighting last year, Dillon started calling Rick the Dark Wizard. His body mechanics are that good. And this is coming from Dillon...

Anyway, Randy and I had coffee and burgers with Rick. Good talks. About teaching, communication and writing. Trying to find decent answers to shitty and deadly situations. And in the details got yet another system of power generation to work on. Multi-directional joint expansion. I just started playing with joint expansion at all but here's yet another can of worms. Also Rick's "clamp" which is definitely going to improve my explanation of bone slaving (which is one piece of structure.)

Good times.


*Everyone should have their own list. Mine happens to have eleven. There are many good ways to organize information

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Boundary Setting

I've described boundary setting in both ConCom and Scaling Force, but I was recently informed that I haven't written it down quite the way I teach it. So here goes.

Setting a boundary is not a negotiation or a conversation. It is a very different communication mode than most people ever use. This is why most people find it so hard, and why most people can safely ignore your boundaries. It is not enough to know the pattern, you have to practice. And the real practice is not in learning the pattern, it is in sticking to the pattern.

The pattern is simple:

  1. State boundary
  2. Repeat boundary (Louder)
  3. State penalty
  4. Apply penalty

That's it.
"Back off!" "I said back off!" "One step closer and I will knock you on your ass!" Knock on ass.

"Go to bed." "I said, go to bed!" "If you do not go to bed right now, you will get a spanking and I will put you in bed." Spank and carry.

The example in Scaling Force:
“I’ve told you to leave the door open when you come into my office.”
“What’s your problem? Are you afraid to be alone with me?” Trying to joke, trying to make the boundary setter defensive. Do you see the predator dynamic here?
“Open the door.” Simple, direct statement. No argument, no reasoning, nothing in the voice that could turn it into a question. One of the worst phrases is “I need you to do X for me” as it places all the power on the threat and sounds like a plea on two levels, “need” and “for me.” Do not use this tactic when dealing with potential predators. It’ll backfire.
“Whatever. I wanted to talk to you about…” Disregarding “no” or pretending to ignore boundaries is a huge red flag that you are dealing with a predator.
“Open the door.” Staying on message.
“Geeze, can’t you stay on the subject?” Again, trying to shift blame/responsibility, implying that the predator is the one who wants to get the job done and the potential victim is hung up on something minor.

“Open the door or I will file that complaint. Now!” The only thing added to the statement of boundaries is the penalty. “Now” acts as an ultimatum. Once you take this verbal step you must be ready to act on your threat. If the threat ignores you (some will, most won’t) and you fail to follow through, you will have marked yourself as easy meat.
------------------------------------------------------------------
I normally avoid the words always and never, but this one comes close. Deviation from this pattern turns the boundary setting into something that is not boundary setting. If you need to set a boundary, doing something else rarely works.

It's hard to stick with the pattern because we aren't used to it. If you explain the reasons behind your boundary, it's now a conversation, not boundary setting. The conversation may work, but what comes out is an agreement, not a boundary. Agreements require the consent of all involved parties. You set your boundaries around the things that are more important than other people's consent.
Exception: You can make the reason (provided it is simple, not too personal, and doesn't invite follow up questions) the introduction to step 1, e.g. "You're too close. Back off." NOT "Back off, you're standing too close." NOT "I had a really bad childhood and when people with beards get within arms reach of me I sometimes have panic attacks so back off." You get the idea.

If you just keep repeating the boundary, it's a broken record and meaningless. No one respects it. Empty noise.

If you state the penalty but can't bring yourself to apply the penalty, it's just posturing, an empty threat. Not only does this erase the boundary, the person now knows you to be just an empty threat. All of your boundaries disappear.

If you skip the two middle steps, you aren't setting a boundary. The first statement was a warning. It's a different thing.

You can pretty accurately gauge the level of predation that you're dealing with by how they challenge the boundary.

"Back off." Most normal- and normal in this context means someone with no ill will towards you and no language barrier or mental issue that prevents them from grasping that this is a declarative statement-- will back off. They might be bewildered or upset, and will probably ask for an explanation, but they will respect the boundary. You can explain a respected boundary if you choose to, just be aware that damn near everyone assumes that knowing the reasons gives them the right to break the rule.

Socially awkward/language barrier/mental illness/drugs may just blow by step one, but step two stops them.

Predators however have three common responses to step 1, "Back off" One is to open their body language, soften their voice and gently violate the boundary while asking you a question, "Honey, why do you want to be like that? You aren't afraid of me, are you?" The second is to turn it back on you, try to trigger a common social guilt that makes you feel bad for setting your own boundaries, such as, "What, you got a problem with (ethnicity, gender, religion, any of the hot-button labels.)" Or, "You think you're so special you can tell me what to do?" The third is to trigger a monkey dance by demanding the third step, "Oh, yeah? What are you gonna do about it?"

Step two tends to stop the low level predators as well. All of the common predatory responses to the first step are trying to divert you into a predictable social script. If you fall for them, it shows you can be manipulated and more important, those scripts are predictable. Ignoring the hook and going for the second step means you are hard to control and unpredictable. Most predators will give it a pass.

Real world notice #1: Sometimes, you'll be setting boundaries say, at work, where there is a long term relationship. This guy might be a creep and you need to set boundaries, but you also have to work with him, maybe for years. Some of them will flirt with the edge of the boundary and try to turn it into a game to see if and when you will cave.

Some predators will push to step three, mostly to see if you have a step three or just go into broken record mode. Once you have stated the penalty, you have revealed that you do in fact have a plan to deliver consequences. Even the more serious predators back off here unless they are sure they can get away with it. And are willing to cross those lines. If the rapist knows he has to kill to keep you from reporting, he has to make a choice.

Real world notice #2. A lot of self-defense is taught as if the incident will happen in a sterile laboratory environment. The sexually aggressive creep at the office didn't back off until step three. That's pretty predatory. But he did back off, so win! Yay! But never forget that assholes are very good at punishing people for standing up to them, and this is a long game. The creep will tell everyone willing to listen how unreasonable you are and how petty and how you were going to write him up just for standing there... It's a long game, but you can play a long game, too.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Attempted Brain Dredge

Sometimes I hate not thinking in words. Usually it's a superpower. But right now I'm struggling to explain something that I see as...gestalt is the best word I can come up with. Stayed up all last night trying to find the words. Sometimes words would bubble up and I can explain a piece of it, but sometimes the words open another tangent that's relevant.

Roughly, meaning is important. Syntax is the effective ordering of symbols to deliver meaning. Grammar is an attempt to codify syntax to make it both easier to deliver meaning and easier to detect sloppy syntax. Until grammar becomes it's own thing.

Roughly, fighting is to have an effect to serve the goal. The principles (leverage, structure, etc.) and building blocks (power generation, strikes, takedowns etc.) are the means to achieve that goal. "Form" is an attempt to codify the principles and building blocks. Both to make fighting easier to teach and to make it more efficient. And it works, until form becomes it's own thing separate from effect.

Good grammar is never wrong, exactly. And it's never wrong to punch with good form. This is (sort of) axiomatic because because good form is supposed to be what a punch with perfect body mechanics looks like.

This is where I hit the wall. It's an image, partially visual, mostly kinesthetic in my head, but the words that surface are a mess:

Communication can happen with absolutely no proper grammar or syntax-- Think comforting an infant. And fighters can be devastating even with no recognizable form and shitty body mechanics. A 2x4 upside the head doesn't need a lot of skill. But that in no way means you should eschew skill. A 2x4 plus good body mechanics is better than a 2x4 with shitty body mechanics.

It doesn't hurt to comfort an infant using grammatically correct phrases, unless your focus on being grammatically correct makes your language stilted and unnatural. Then the kid will get weirded out. It doesn't hurt to fight with good form, because good form is just good body mechanics. Unless you are so focused on doing things "right" that your movements become stilted and unnatural and you get your ass kicked.

A focus on form, whether in grammar or fighting, can cover up a lot of ignorance. If I can't refute your arguments, I can make fun of your spelling. If I don't have any real understanding of how the human body works, I can focus on form the way I memorized it-- knowledge memorized substituting for understanding. With understanding, I can teach you to hit harder, with knowledge I can teach you to look like my sensei did when he was hitting hard.

When form/grammar become it's own thing. This is looking like a universal. Grammatically correct nonsense is still nonsense. Punching air while looking right is still punching air. We create these systems to make things better, to make a specific goal easier to accomplish. Whether that goal is conveying information or knocking someone down. But in almost every case, certain people are drawn to become masters and keepers of the system, and to them, the system becomes the goal itself. Has there ever been a piece of great literature that was grammatically perfect? I'm sure Shakespeare had someone correcting his grammar. In fighting and SD, these are the couch sitters that will tell you you survived wrong.  Universal-- I'm thinking of ways that bureaucracies originally designed to solve problems become self-perpetuating machines, sometimes at great cost. Cough*Rotherham*Cough.

And that's even assuming the form is based on what we think it is. Kicking with the instep is less likely to injure your target and more likely to injure you than kicking with your shin... but it makes a slapping noise that is much harder for a referee to ignore. "Ain't" was a forbidden word in my grade school. Not because it was unclear, but because our teachers wanted us to sound like s specific socio-economic class.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Like A Scientist

I've been struggling, for years now, with not being in sworn service. It shows up here on the blog, but it's more evident in the times I can't or won't or don't write. In private conversations. Or staring out over the horizon.

Teaching is fun, and (on paper) life is amazing. Four countries this year already and a new one day after tomorrow. Of the classic travel lines (Arctic and Antarctic Circles, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Equator and International date line) I've crossed all but one in the last six months. Amazing home, ardent love. Life is amazing. But for the last few years it has felt muted. Dull. Adrenaline makes life feel more real, and none of this ever has or ever will feel as real as going head to head with a bad guy or heading off a riot.

K and I are experimenting with new things this year. Simple things mostly. Have had most of a week to talk to Toby and spent the night before last in a sleeping bag without a tent north of the arctic circle. I feel transition coming on. A good one.

We all age and change. And, can't speak for everyone, but I suspect it's common-- there's a tendency to focus on an image of the past. Sometimes it works out. I trained so hard in martial arts because long after it was true, every time I looked in the mirror I saw the tiny, scrawny kid, the smallest kid in the redneck school. But most of the time, it's almost like we focus on whatever will make us feel worse. Or maybe it's just me.

Bragging alert: At my peak, I got the physical fitness awards from both Army BCT and the Academy. I could do over 110 pushups in 2 minutes, did a 10:50 2-mile, hand-over-hand a 10.5 mm climbing rope. At 5'8" I could jump and grab a basketball hoop and once kicked the net. That whole time, I thought I was weak and small.

And whining alert: Now over 50 years old. Lots of injuries over the last fifteen-- knee, elbow and shoulder dislocations. Long term effects of concussions. Some arthritis from broken fingers. Bones out of place in feet and ankles. Spine acting up making the hands spasm and go numb...

I've been looking at the past as a lost thing. News alert, the past is always a lost thing. Can 55-year-old Rory ever be 25-year-old Rory? Of course not. Trying to get back to a past physicality is just as toxic as a violence survivor who thinks that who they were before the incident was the "real" them and measures their progress by how far they retrogress to that "real." It's bullshit. It's a bullshit way to think. It's.Not.Useful.

 Can 55-year-old Rory ever be 25-year-old Rory? Nope. But, you know what? Nobody has any clue what 55-year-old Rory can be. No one knows what the limits are. It's never happened before. This is something to explore, not to plan. I've done the fighter thing. And the teacher thing (Don't worry, I'll continue that for a bit). The next transition will be to scientist, experimenter and explorer. What's possible? What's fun? Already feel my inner world shifting. This is going to be an interesting ride.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Scales and Interactions

Anything in the human world is a complex interaction. I have a history, a set of assumptions, a suite of facts and things I want to believe are facts, communication habits and patterns, etc. And so do you. Somewhere in the interplay between our complexities, we communicate. To a degree.

And almost everything is on a scale. Clarity of communication can be non-existent or poor or good or very close to perfect. And the clarity can be impaired at either end (I can write poorly or you can read inaccurately) or in the middle (radio static.) And clarity can be deliberately manipulated. I can choose to lie or be obscure, consciously or not. You can choose to hear something other than what I said, consciously or unconsciously.

At some point, and it's probably on a scale, choosing (manipulating) your own perception becomes the superpower of reframing.

All of this means there are some very important things that will never have a clear answer. Where is the line between education and brainwashing? Deep training changes the student at a fundamental level, and with changes that big, informed consent is impossible. There's an arrogant answer that as long as you teach "the truth" it doesn't matter, but all educational systems have believed that their mythology was objective truth. Do you really think you've evaded a trap that has caught everyone else?

Where is the line between toughening up and abuse? I feel very privileged to have had my childhood. I like who I am, and my childhood gave me the tools to function and stay sane in some relatively nasty conditions. My wife thinks my childhood was "horrific."

If you embrace the power of reframing, the recipient can literally decide if an event was good or bad, can choose the effect the event has on his or her (or my own) life. Except, what about the cult member who is perfectly happy in a life of isolation, deprivation and control? Why is it okay for me to reframe my childhood as a positive thing, but not for another adult to reframe his experience as 'joy in service?' When does reframing shift from empowerment to dodging? Where is the line between assistance and enabling?

At what point does my cheerleading ("I got over X, you can too!") Become disempowering ("So why haven't you got over it? What the hell is wrong with you?")

Speaking about this becomes murky, because not everything that is deliberate is also conscious. There are many people choosing to be assholes that never let that decision rise to their conscious mind where they might have to face responsibility. What's the best way to interact with someone who chooses to lose when I want the person to be successful?

To some extent, this is all mental masturbation. And a by-product of magnification. You can look at anything with too fine a lens and the problem becomes impossibly complex. Too coarse a lens and the problem is too blurry to see. There's a sweet spot.

Living as a human is an action. You'll never cover all of the angles, so you learn what you can, get as good as you can, and act. Over-analysis leads to inaction. Never pretend  that the complexities don't exist, however. That's one of the ways you get people doubling down on failed solutions.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Denying

The longest fight I have ever had lasted over an hour. At no time was I in any danger.

The thing was, we were dealing with an inmate who wanted to hurt himself. Lighten up for even an instant on pressure and he would start slamming his own head into the floor. Lose a grip on his wrist and he would try to gouge his own eyes.

In most situations-- self-defense, combatives, whatever-- you have a goal. Get to safety. Get the bad guy in cuffs. Whatever. In almost every case, the threat's goal is irrelevant to your goal. If the threat wants to play with me as a toy or see what someone looks like as they die or get enough cash for the next hit of meth or heroin or crack, that really doesn't affect my goal to get home in one piece.

Get this: most of the time your goal is NOT to deny the threat's goal. Most of the time your goal (go home safe or threat goes to jail) are antagonistic to the threat's goal purely as a side effect.

But, rarely, your goal is to deny the threat's goal. Your focus shifts from winning to denying the threat his idea of a win.

This is strategically dangerous. One of the golden rules of tactics is to never play the threat's game. But when you are trying to deny the threat his definition of the win, you've already ceded most of your strategy. There is no pro-active way to work from this paradigm. When your goal is denying the threat's goal, you have already let the threat define the goal. The threat controls the battlefield and has the advantage.

In long-term conflicts, "denying the opposition" has a more profound side-effect. Once you define yourself by your enemy, you can never win. Labor/management.  Israel/Palestine. To defeat your enemy would cause your raison d'ĂȘtre to die. And thus, you.


Note for a future post: positive versus negative, in definition and goals.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

No Bullshit (Virtue)

Saw an ad offering "No Bulls**t" self defense training. That's laudable. That's the goal. For that matter "No bullshit" should be a goal for training and talking and thinking and living. But it's not that simple. The no-bullshit life is a goal, but if you ever think for one second that you've achieved it, you've just started bullshitting yourself.

We all have biases-- biases in the way that we perceive, process, think, plan... You probably know some of your physical habits (when you cross your arms, is the right or the left on the outside? Are you left or right eye dominant? Which shoe goes on first?) but not all of them. You probably know even fewer of your mental habits. And even fewer of your perceptual habits (hint-- I bet if you examine the last several big meetings of strangers the handful of people you remember will have certain things in common.)

The bullshit never goes away. Humans know surprisingly little. We have a lot of stuff in our heads, but the things we know to a certainty is a very small subset. And many of those are useful, but incorrect. The sun doesn't actually rise in the East, the sun is stationary and the earth spins...and that's not true either, because the sun isn't stationary, nor is the galaxy.

I'm never certain how much bullshit has crept in. I can't be. If I only taught the things I'm 100% scientifically certain of, all of my knowledge could be summed up with "1+1=2 as long as you limit it to inanimate objects; and things with a higher number on the Mohs scale will scratch things with a lower number."

When I teach a technique, I can be fairly confidant because I've used it. But really? Take a throat strike. I've used it exactly once. Spectacularly successful. Would absolutely use it again in the same situation... but if I read a "scientific survey" trying to extrapolate from a sample of one I'd laugh my ass off.

"No Bullshit" isn't a state. It's a scale. And a process. And that makes it one of the virtues.

We tend to have a binary way of looking at the world. Is a thing good or bad? Hard or soft? Right or wrong? I find that immature. Most things are scales, not states. Not good or bad, but better or worse. End state thinking leaves no room for improvement. "Excellent" can be improved on, "perfect" can't.
If you did a move well, you can get better. If you did the same move right, you can't.

Calling something a virtue recognizes that if it is a scale, it can also be a process. Virtuous people are not the ones being good, they are the ones striving to be better. Every day. "No bullshit" as a virtue is a commitment to challenging your own assumptions, back-tracking your beliefs to first sources. It isn't the contentious skepticism of trying to prove people wrong to score points, but to cut away all of your personal wrongness to continuously build a stronger foundation.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Vic and Toby

...and me.

This will be (probably) the last of the MovNat AARs. Talking about training methodology.

I've written about Toby before. And here. And here. And teaching in general here. That's Toby Cowern of Tread Lightly Survival.

Wilderness survival, assault survival and movement have a lot in common. They are simultaneously complex and simple. Specifically the problems can be mind-bogglingly complex, but the solutions, in order to work, have to be simple. All three subjects are perfectly suited to the way people naturally think and move. All three subjects are almost in direct opposition to the way people are socially conditioned and taught to think and move. All three subjects wire to and work from the part of our brain that functions at primal levels with deep joy and deep pain. Almost all of civilization is specifically targeted to make these three subjects alien: We have grocery stores and central heating to avoid using wilderness survival skills; police and laws and eradicated predatory animals so we don't need assault survival and; cars and forklifts so we don't have to move and carry.

Just as there are principles in survival, and in movement, there are principles in teaching. My favorite teachers (and Vic moved onto the list) get that.

Good teaching is principles-based, and we've covered some of that in the last post.

A good teacher doesn't tell you what to think, but shows you how to think. Toby's "non-prescriptive" answers. Vic would ask the right questions, like "Where is the tension in your body? Is that helping or holding you back?" Or pointing out that if you want to move north, having your legs or feet moving west probably isn't helping.

It's about the student, not the instructor. The only reason I have any real assessment of Vic's physicality is because he attended a VioDy. At the MovNat seminar he demonstrated very little and his assistants demonstrated the minimum necessary to get you started, then the participants played. The ability of the instructor was irrelevant, the class was all about increasing the ability of the student.

At the instructor level, knowledge is insufficient. You need understanding. There was one technique in MovNat (part of the broad jump) that didn't jive with my previous training. When I asked why, the instructor (Stefano) was able to explain the reason behind the difference-- the environment in which my previous training was the right answer, why it would be right, when it would still be better than the MovNat way and the reason behind the MovNat difference. When instructors have just memorized technique, they don't have the tools to explain and are left with mere dogma. With understanding you can pass on the rules, and the exceptions, to the students.

Very little about right/wrong. Lots about better. Tied to the above point. I don't think I heard anyone being told they were doing anything wrong, but a lot of, "Try this, I think it will work better." There are lots of good teaching reasons to stay away from criticism.

And, tying into both of the last two points, there was no appeal to authority. It was all experiential. Never did Vic have to tell us something worked. When an instructor candidate pointed out a detail of your alignment or structure, there was an immediate, visible improvement. You only have to tell people something worked if it didn't actually work.

Vic was also cool with variation. I was one of the minority that had better balance with shoes on than off, and carrying a weight at chest level than at waist level. Extraordinary instructors are cool with not trying to force the statistical average onto the outliers.

Just as there is a natural movement for a human body, there is also a natural learning. Humans, like all animals, learn best through play. There's some stuff you have to talk about, and some stuff you want to play with in the gym, the studio or the lab. But playing, ideally in the real environment, is what locks in a skill. I led this post off with pointing out that some of the things closest to our evolutionary path are complex problems that require simple solutions. Play is the way we cut that Gordion knot.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Movement Principles

In combatives, you'll hear people talk about the principles of a system, or principles-based training. That's fine and dandy right up until you ask a senior practitioner exactly what those principles are. If you're lucky, you'll get crickets. If not, you'll get the normal word salad of someone who has been pinned down in their ignorance and needs to fill it with words. You'll get goals ("Don't get hurt.") Or strategies ("Do the maximum damage in the minimum time.") Or tactics ("Close and unbalance.") Or philosophical generalities ("Become one with your opponent.")* Basically tripe. You can't really have a good conversation about principles-based training until you've defined what principles are-- and separated them from goals, strategies, tactics and aphorisms.

There's going to be a core set of principles in any physical endeavor. One of the really gratifying things about the MovNat seminar was not just how principles-based it was but how much the principles mirrored the ones I understand.

The lists will never be exactly the same. Time doesn't function the same in a fight as it does running or climbing. Balance and gravity have other levels when you are simultaneously a bipedal creature and half of a quadrupedal creature.

Something isn't eligible for my list of principles unless it 1) fits my definition 2) applies to striking, grappling and weapons and,  3) there are no exceptions. The MovNat class with Vic pointed out that some of them applied to all movement. And that was pretty cool.

Caveat. What I am about to write comes from my perspective having taken a class once. Don't take this as anything officially MovNat-y.

Structure, momentum, balance and gravity. Four key principles and they all interact.

Life is a constant battle with gravity. Gravity is a force, and sometimes the enemy, and almost always a tool. If you need to resist gravity, resist it with bone, not muscle. That's one of the essential applications of structure. Muscle gets tired. Bone doesn't. I use structure for unbalancing and immobilizations and takedowns and... Vic used it for lifting, carrying, catching, traversing, climbing. Just that I saw. In two days.

Exploiting momentum is one of the key principles, especially when you are outmatched in size and strength. I tend to use it to make people miss and hurt themselves and fall down, but also to increase my own power. "Motion defeats strength" to quote Jimerfield sensei. Vic used it to keep motion going with less effort, to extend a jump and to slow one down and in a climbing thing--

I used to embarrass my kids when I'd take them to the playground and climb around more than they did. One of my tricks was to go to the swings. The big ones where steel poles making an inverted V on the ends to support the main beam that the swings hang from. I'd put one hand on each of the V supports and climb to the top just by swinging side to side and letting my hands move up. It was a way to climb with almost no muscle-- just structure and the momentum of the swing, which relied on gravity. Hadn't thought of that as principles until Stefano demonstrated almost the same technique for traversing.

Balance. In a lot of ways, balance is just the interplay of structure and gravity. In judo we spent a lot of time playing with the science of keeping our own balance while stealing the opponents. But there are times to lose your balance as well, times when falling serves you. Sutemi waza, for instance. Or falling on a locked elbow (someone else's). Balance is not just a principle, but a skill, and Vic had some balance games I'll be playing with for a while.

Gravity is a tool. The iconic application is the drop-step. Done properly it is a speed, power and range multiplier that doesn't telegraph. It's one of the first things I teach. Turned out to be one of the first things Vic taught as well, but as a way to effortlessly and quickly fall into a run. Or a sprint, depending on how much you commit. And a way to control your speed, without working to move your legs faster or thinking about lengthening your stride.

Still playing with thoughts from the class. Will be for awhile. Probably talk about teaching methodology next.

 And, pro-tip, if you have the right partner and the right kind of post-workout smile you can get a full body tiger balm massage out of it. Awesome.



*To be fair, one of my principles is a soundbite philosophical generality, but I use it because it allows me to file a bunch of different related principles-- ranging, action/reaction speed, manipulating perception and realities of timing and distance, working in negative space, etc. all under the label "Control Space and Time."

Monday, March 06, 2017

MovNat AAR

Spent the last two days crawling, hanging, jumping, throwing and running. And learning. It was a good time. K says I have a very specific smile when I'm tired, sore and happy.

I'm aging. And coming off of almost five years of serious leg injuries. Aerobic fitness, weight and functional power are not where I like them to be. Below my comfort zone. Legs healed to the point starting in January I could do something about it. Big headway in a short time, but still a long way to go.

Never been into the fitness community. Don't actually get into communities, period really. Went from doing ranch/homesteading work in adolescence combined with high school sports--Football, basketball and track. Then to the college judo team. Then military. That was a long string of years of good coaches and hard work. Good enough that I got the physical fitness award at both BCT and the Academy.

I have friends into fitness, particularly Myron Cossitt, Kasey KeckeisenMatt Bellet and the Querencia crew. And I can't even follow their conversations when they get going.

At last year's VioDy Prime, one of the attendees was some French dude named Vic. Vic Verdier. Cool guy. Great physical skills, awareness, and insight. Myron was fan-boying a little on Vic (Myron does that.) After the VioDy seminar, I got an email from Vic casually asking if I'd like to attend one of his seminars. Turns out Vic is a big deal in the fitness community. MovNat.

So last weekend this middle-aged crippled up old jail guard went out to play.
It was a blast. Perfect level of intensity. If you don't hate your physical trainer a bit at the end of a session you need a new physical trainer. Next post will be about principles and cross-overs.

The movements were super basic. Fundamental. At one point we were learning a technique to lift a heavy, odd-shaped item to a shoulder carry and I was puzzled... why would this have to be taught? And I looked around the room. Almost all young (younger than me at least). Almost if not all urbanites, and I realized that probably no one else in the room had spent their childhoods lifting and carrying ninety-pound feed sacks. Or bucking alfalfa bales onto a truck.

Lifting, carrying, climbing, running, crawling, throwing-- all core, fundamental parts of being human. I'm a little weirded out they have to be taught, but some of my kid's friends have never climbed a tree.

Don't think "super-basic" or "fundamental" are in any way downplaying the value. Or the skill of the instructors. Or the thought behind the program itself.  MovNat is either an introduction to or a reminder of who you are as a human animal. Some of us, maybe all of us, need that.

Vic, Stefano and Craig stressed good body mechanics. More emphasis on doing things right than doing things hard. Because there was a concurrent instructor-candidate class, each of us got a private coach as well (Thanks, Kim and Sadie!). Because of the emphasis, I was able to attend with a plethora of old injuries and, though every damn thing is sore, none of the old stuff reinjured. That's rare.

Upshot? Practical. Fun. Intense. Found some weaknesses to work on, some new diagnostic tools. It was a good weekend.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Maslow Thoughts





I use Maslow's pyramid in a lot of my books and classes. Not because it's great science, there are holes in it you can drive a truck through. I use it partially because it has great predictive power, but mostly because it is so common and universally accepted (which is not the same as 'understood') that it's easy to piggy-back useful information on it. In other words, using Maslow, you can take a person who has only ever experienced social conflict and in a few minutes get  them to accept and understand the existence and even the patterns of asocial violence.

We don't work through the levels. Babies are born at the esteem level in all but the most dysfunctional families. Our ancestors took care of the two lower levels long ago. Thus, most people in the industrialized world have no frame of reference for the survival and security levels. So much so that the skills that belong there have become hobbies.
If you have a choice, it's not self-defense, it's fighting.
If you have a choice, it's not wilderness survival, it's primitive camping.
If you have a choice, it's not hunger, it's fasting.

The thought: Is it possible to have a genuine* experience of the level you inhabit without experiencing the lower levels?

Taking care of the *asterisk now. Genuine is a a problematic word. Of course anything you are experiencing you are experiencing. It's by definition genuine, as real as it is. I mean more that there is a gap between what is experienced and what could be experienced. An understanding gap. That it is different than it is perceived. (Note-- when I say the blog is where I go to think out loud, this is what it means. Words are not how I naturally think and the translation process can be ugly.)

People who have never dropped below the belonging level tend to either think that membership in a group is important without thinking why, or think it is unimportant. (This is separate from the instinctive tribal drive, I'm talking about the reasons, rationalizations and cognitive process.)

I was raised in a family of self-sufficient, back to the land, grow/hunt your own food yadda yadda yadda. I value groups because raising enough food to feed a family was a metric fuckton of manual labor. I liked being a bookworm and a dreamer, but I realized that those were self-centered, selfish preferences-- something I could indulge in during free time, but if that was all I was, someone would have to take up the slack of weeding and packing water and feeding stock and milking and chopping wood.

Same with teams. We had CERT because there were things you could do with a team efficiently and with little injury that would have been either suicidal or murderous to do alone. I still occasionally have dreams about a military service that ended 24 years ago. The bonding when you are dealing with deep Maslow problems is intense.

So I value interdependence and cooperation because of experience. It's not a knee-jerk reaction I must  justify after the fact, so I see the downsides as well. Nor can I listen to the song, "I Walk Alone" without laughing a little on the inside.

If you've never experienced the survival level, there are things you can't understand (and another thought, this isn't monolithic. Look at these three examples.) If you've never been truly hungry, you can't really grasp how important food growth and distribution is or the idea that "all philosophy is based on bellies." If you've never had anyone try to kill you, physical defense skills are a fun hobby.  If you've never been drowned or frozen, you'll never really grasp your own mortality, or how small you really are.

If you've never mastered the security level your basic needs are controlled by someone else. You are owned.

If you've never had to break into a group, just passed from (and this is poor kid's fantasy, I have zero experience in this world) country club family to prep school to your dad's fraternity at Yale and on to the political career assigned for you, you've never learned why other people's feeling are important or how to be considerate. You'll know the forms of politeness, because those are tribal status markers...but you'll never understand that courtesy is central to predators living together.

And without all these and putting them into play and getting competent at them, you can simulate self actualization. You can be an artist or devote yourself to causes. But the depth of understanding will be missing. Causes are chosen by the social impact on your friends. You measure your own art by the reaction provoked in others or the price you can charge for it. (Which are valid ways to evaluate art, but not self-actualized ways to evaluate your own art.)

Just a thought, and a thought I have to be careful of. Most of most best friends have depth of experience (which is the polite way to say "profoundly shitty lives"). It becomes easy to conflate 'people I like better' with 'better people,' And that's a dangerous trap.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Edutainment

Snowed in a lot over the winter so getting some good reading in. For the classics, just finished Seneca's "On the Brevity of Life." Seneca may be the only Stoic so far I haven't enjoyed. Misonius Rufus is next.

Also just finished one of the best books in a long time, Tom Wainwright's Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel.

It was a kick. Taking the Freakonomics approach and applying it to the world of cartels. Why violence is rampant in Mexico but has dies down in El Salvador. Why tattoos keep labor costs low. The etiquette for leaving feedback when you buy heroin on the dark web. Franchising, subcontracting and offshoring in the world of illicit drugs.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Specimen

Got to watch an interesting specimen. In retrospect, I’ve seen them before, quite a lot actually. But this one was blatant enough to draw attention. Attention brings analysis. 
Have to unpack the language here, and talk about a couple of categories and some background concepts.
Creepers are low-level sexual predators. The kind that harass and pressure women, but always with deniability. Rarely ever cross the line into something legally actionable, or something that could legally justify physical self-defense. They stand too close, shake hands too long, try to increase the physical intimacy of a relationship (e.g. pressuring a good-bye hug from someone they just met.) It hides in the normal social interaction. Rather, they disguise it in the normal social interaction. Many are willing to apologize, to explain away, or even call in allies to make their targets feel like maybe it is all imaginary, there is no problem… Some are sophisticated enough to cultivate an image of “social awkwardness” that gets other people defending their actions: “Mel’s always like that. It’s not a gender thing he does the same weird stuff around me and the other guys.” Perfect camouflage.
Most women who have been in any kind of  office environment recognize the problem and know the type. But also, many excuse or explain away their own instincts.
Violence groupies are all over. If you’ve been in any kind of force instruction role for any length of time, you’ve seen them. These are the guys that follow you around, begging for stories about ugly fights and death and violence. It’s not a healthy fascination, it’s pure fantasy fodder. Some of them even get fuller lips or lick their lips when they ask. Lips are erectile tissue, BTW, and swell when you get excited in certain ways. The lips are your face’s dick.
The specimen this time was both.
Concept: Unconsciously deliberate. People are largely unconscious machines. The words in your head are weak and pale (and very late) reflections of what is going on in your head. There’s a study out there where scientists watching an fMRI could tell what decisions a subject would make as much as six seconds before the subject consciously knew. You can pretty much get over the idea that your conscious mind is the driver.
You see people clearly planning and setting up situations that they will absolutely deny were intentional. We’ve all seen it— the guy who has been married for X years and meets an interesting women and starts dropping her name into conversations with friends, starts making sure she has a place in the social network, slowly gets everyone used to her presence. Starts minimizing the wife. Then one day after a big shared victory, there will be a bottle of wine and things will “just happen…”
So, back to creepers and violence groupies. You can’t accidentally stand too close or ask inappropriate questions. Those are volitional acts. But you can either be (e.g. raised in a culture with different rules on proxemics) or pretend to be oblivious that your choices are inappropriate. Watching the pattern, it may be unconscious, but the actions were one and all, deliberate.
And this is an aside, but we have the idea of justice tied intimately with the idea of conscious intentionality. A planned murder is considered a more heinous act than an unplanned act of rage. As long as the creeper can convince others that there is no conscious intent, the others will believe his acts are unfortunate instead of malicious. If the creeper can convince himself, he acts guilt-free.
So, and I have no answer for this— when an act is clearly deliberate, is there any way to tell if the perp was truly unconscious, pretending to himself it was unconscious or deliberately using the impression as a way to manipulate others (very conscious.) And, way to tell or not, does it matter?
Two of the giveaways. The deliberate ones do target-prep. Long ago, someone introduced himself in a class I was taking as, “That guy.”
“That guy?” The instructor asked.
“Yeah, you know, there’s one in every class, the guy who asks the inappropriate questions and bugs the instructors.”
Oh yeah. Look at that. This specimen has declared his intention to be disruptive. Any of the normal conversational response (the usual is the class snickers and the instructor says, “Thanks for letting me know,” with a little laugh and moves on) gives the specimen implicit permission. He has declared his intention, and has influenced the entire class not to object. This isn’t self-deprecating humor. This is victim grooming.
When someone touts their self-awareness of their bad patterns it isn’t admirable. If they are aware of the bad patterns then any step down that path is a choice. Once you know you’re ‘that guy’ acting like ‘that guy’ is a choice. Your excuses are gone.
The recent specimen had a tactic. At first I thought it was new, but in retrospect I’ve seen it before. He went around after class to apologize to the instructors. Again, the default is to be professional, polite (read ‘social and following the social scripts’) and try to minimize what he was apologizing for. But I wasn’t in a social mood.
Specimen: I just wanted you to know I’m really sorry.
Me: For what?
Specimen: You know (very smarmy voice: Yooou knoooow)
Me: I can think of a lot of things. What do you mean?
Specimen: I know how I can be.
Me: Then you have no excuses.
Specimen: Change is hard for some people.
Me: Not really.
Specimen: I’ve been working on this for years...
Me: Let me cut to the chase. When you say “I’m sorry” what you really mean is, “I fully intend to do the exact same things again and I want your permission.” The answer is no. You don’t get my permission.
Specimen: That’s not the way I thought this conversation would go.
The other giveaway: If this was subconscious, habitual, ‘just the way I am’ fear of consequences wouldn’t change behavior. More telling than the conversation I just described is his reaction afterwards. If a target sets boundaries and the creeper backs off, it may indicate an honest misunderstanding of proper behavior. Maybe. And if it is an explanation, the behavior will change universally (I once explained to a socially awkward friend the rules for shaking hands. He had assumed that the more he liked you, the longer the handshake went on and he creeped people out. Once the rules were explained his behavior improved with everyone, not just me. He is an example of someone who honestly didn’t know.)

But if someone changes behavior only around the people who simply say, “I know your game” then he knows his game as well. Deliberate and conscious.