The Social Rant

I’m not precisely a Social Violence genius, but…

So you’ve seen this YouTube video showing this guy handling this Social Violence situation in this manner, and you think he was all wrong, and you’ve got a little stiffy in your pants thinking about how you’d have Sorted It Out in a far more epic fashion… Think again. Cos maybe, just maybe, the guy is doing what is appropriate in his social environment, which is different from your social environment.

For crying out loud, the clue is on the LABEL. Look at the bloody name of the bloody thing. SOCIAL violence. That word isn’t there by chance.

It goes beyond the fact that the violence is between members of the same group (which is, in fact, not always the case, depending on your definition of “group”). Everything about that type of violence is ruled by social parameters, and social parameters are not universal. If you are not familiar with the parameters of the particular society the violence is taking place in, your assessment may be completely off.

For instance:

  • You may not be able to distinguish between normal communication, sheer asshole posturing, threat displays, and assault indicators.
  • You won’t know what that society requires before retaliatory violence is justified.
  • You won’t know if that society has limits beyond which violence is actually required.
  • You won’t be able to determine whether someone is playing a short- or long-term game (e.g., are they strangers in a bar, or neighbours with an infinite number of social connections?)
  • You won’t be able to tell if choosing alternative methods of conflict resolution, for instance calling the police, are the safest way of disengaging or a surefire way of getting the entire community on your back forevermore.

In essence, you can’t expect the rules by which the game is played in your part of your town to apply in Kuala Lumpur, or even in a different part of that same town. And given that this is Social Violence, social rules are pretty damn important. If you go applying your own rules to different situations, you might well end up turning the situation from Social to Asocial, getting stomped by the entire community, going straight to jail, or starting a feud. (Hint: these are Bad Things. You don’t want them to happen.)

So how the hell can you tell what’s what if you’re looking at unfamiliar societies? Well, you can start by looking at the people around a situation. They are the one who best know what the social standards are in that particular place, after all.

For instance, if during a situation there are women chatting and children playing and people generally going about their business only a few feet away, you can pretty well assume nobody’s gonna whip a bazooka out of their ass any time soon. Clearly this is everyday behaviour not expected to escalate. (So your pre-emptive striking would actually be seen as an assault.)

If as things progress you notice a collective intake of breath, or onlookers starting to shake their heads, then something’s gone off kilter. If everyone starts rushing away or rushing towards, you can safely expect that something is about to go down (and if you’re actually there and everyone is suddenly scarpering, ’tis a damn good idea to follow the herd).

If after a situation everyone in the local community kinda nods or shrugs and goes back to doing their thing, you can pretty well assume that it was handled well. And no, it doesn’t matter a fig that you would have done it all differently and that you think your way would have been much better, cos this isn’t your social conflict. This isn’t your place and these aren’t your rules.

And believe me, if after watching this sort of interaction from a distance you still think your way is The Best Way, then you’re infinitely safer maintaining that distance. Stick to the places you know, where people play by your rules. You can’t keep a context social if you insist on ignoring other people’s social codes, and asocial violence is really not good for the health.

One thought on “The Social Rant

  1. Maybe. Or maybe the elders will discuss it and send six armed guys to deal with you later when it isn’t an embarrassment. It’s complicated and unless you can read the social clues, this is all dross. For example, there was once an incident at a party that resulted in a bit of embarrassment for the hostess. She didn’t say anything then and everyone else pretended it didn’t happen. The next day in the paper, it was reported that the incident’s cause had driven off a road and was found with both shoulders and hips shattered.


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