Reactive.

Back to the original train of thoughts.

So, as a society, we’ve decided that violence is Bad (and yes, this is a societal decision, not a universal standard: the Vikings/Spartans/Mongols and countless other societies have different standards). In order to try to eradicate violence, we are doing several things:

  1. We’ve made the use of physical force to resolve disagreements illegal; for instance, we no longer consider “fighting words” to be a valid excuse for physical retaliation, or approve of dueling or trial by combat.
  2. We’ve making the use of violence for self-defence increasingly fraught with legal perils.
  3. Some Western countries are progressively outlawing all “weapons” – and the concept of what makes something a weapon is getting progressively broader.
  4. We’re discouraging people from engaging in their own conflict resolution, and encouraging or forcing them to delegate such matters to “experts”.

Now, if I squint hard enough I can see how item 1-3 would result in a less violent society (with the proviso that we don’t object to becoming increasingly uncivil and verbally violent, which is the almost inevitable offshoot of no. 1*). Number 4, however, is based on such faulty understanding of the relationship between conflict and violence that I can’t understand how it ever came about.

The underlying assumption is that people comfortable with conflict and/or violence are more likely to engage in it. If violence and conflict are normalised, people will choose them as strategies more often. By de-normalising them we reduce the risk of their occurrence.

Hmkay. That might work if people were machines, deprived of ego. It may also work in some sort of utopia/dystopia where we’re under constant supervision by our appointed Experts, only capable of having Good Feelings, or bad people get culled after psychometric testing. In the real world as it stands, a world we share not only with monsters who look like us, but with other imperfect human beings; a world where things happen that make us feel bad or mad, things that make us act out… I don’t see it working.

Personally I believe that conflict is the fairly inevitable result of human interaction – nothing more than the result of natural friction. We may want different things; we may want the same things and there’s not enough to go around; we may just be in a crappy mood acting out – and conflict happens. This doesn’t mean that conflict will escalate into violence.

Stressed, scared, or frustrated people may freeze into inaction or limit themselves to calling mommy, but they may also lash out like cornered rats. People competent in and comfortable with conflict resolution skills, people happy about themselves and their place in society, are better able to control their reactions. They are less likely to over-react and more likely to truly see a peaceful solution as a success.

*No, I’m not in favour of being able to thump people if they shoot off at the mouth. I’d have no front teeth. However, if people can get away with it cost-free, they’ll engage in that behaviour more and more.

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The Zero-Tolerance-and-Adrenaline Rant.

As a society, we’ve apparently decided that conflict is a Bad Thing, to be eradicated rather than managed. God forbid, conflict could go physical, whch means violence, which is bad. Enter the Zero Tolerance schools, where children are not only punished for fighting, which is consensual but also for self-defence, which most definitely isn’t.

(Please note that my level of bias on this particular subject is pretty extreme. So yes, this is a rant. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m wrong, though.)

The idea is that if nobody engaged in violence of any kind, for any reason, then there would be no violence. That’s a beautiful theory, but that’s a damn big IF.

In practice, what this sort of attitude results in all-too-often is putting an extra burden on victims. Not only they have to concern themselves with what may happen if someone attacks them, but they also have the added worry of social repercussions afterwards. If a situation goes physical, regardless of who started and who prevailed, they will be punished. If they are incapable of defending themselves, they may be badly hurt. If they are capable, they may be severely punished. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

This extra concern is an extra source of stress. Excessive stress can deplete our mental and physical resources, through adrenalisation. Depleted resources don’t make you better able to deal with anything.

The cherry on the cake is that this tends to apply only to the Good Kids, cos, surprise surprise, Bad Kids don’t generally care about that kind of social approval. Hell, people’s investment in that kind of approval is near enough what distinguishes Good and Bad People.

Zero Tolerance policies aim to create a better world. In the world as it is right here and now, however, they take away resources from those who are often already short of them. They make conflict infinitely more stressful for those who actually care about avoiding or reducing it. They punish the good and the weak. Not only they can paralise children into complete inaction, making them into punchbags, but they can also turn them into silent victims. To tell somebody that you have been assaulted, to ask for help, can result in you being expelled.

Before someone tells me that I need to think of the children, guard their tender feelings, and so on, can we please remember that we expect those children to grow up. We expect them to become functional adults in our society, not in some sort of yet-to-be-created utopia.

And here is the source of my bias and rage:

Some of these children will grow up into women. Some of these women will meet monsters. Some of these monsters will try to victimise them. We’re sending girl-children into the world indoctrinated into inaction and silent suffering. Can someone tell me how this makes sense? And can someone prove to me that there is no link between this and the current alleged “rape epidemic”?

Sidebar – Adrenaline.

Sidebar from the ongoing train of thoughts.

We got talking on my page about the effects of adrenaline and some of the ways they can be managed. I shan’t get into this in details as it’s already been done by an expert: http://www.amazon.com/Meditations-Violence-Comparison-Martial-Training/dp/1594391181.

The quick-and-dirty summary, though, is that a sudden adrenaline hit can deprive us of our a lot of our physical and mental faculties. Adrenaline can cause us to freeze like a deer in the headlights, or turn us into a great big pile of stupid, flapping around ineffectively and inappropriately. After an event, it can cause us to act like emotional wrecks.

The good news is that although this reaction is completely natural, it is not entirely inevitable. To a certain extent, we can make ourselves better able to cope with at least some situations. That is why and how we have professional paramedics, surgeons, firefighters, law enforcement officers, soldiers… These people train hard to learn to be competent in the middle of situations that would send most of us into a spin.

We all know this, really. We don’t expect the average citizen to be calm and collected whilst performing an emergency open-heart massage. Conversely, we don’t expect a heart surgeon to throw up into someone’s chest, or go into hysterics. We tailor our expectations based on their training and experience.

Yes, there is also a selection process: not everyone had got what it takes to run into a burning building. However, we know that training and practice can improve people’s responses under stress. We know (or should know) that inadequate training can cause people to gain confidence without competence, and let them down at the crucial time (hence Meditations on Violence being such a crucial book for people interested in effective self-defence). However, we know that effective training and exposure, combined with good results, can help increase someone’s competence and confidence. Competence and confidence can make even extreme situations less stressful. Less stress can lead to greater competence in the moment.

Many of us find interpersonal conflict stressful, which makes perfect sense. We’re a social species, after all, so conflict within the group is filed in our brain as  A Dangerous Thing. If we mess it up, we could be excluded from the group or cause the group to disintegrate. However, avoiding conflict, whether by choice or by social diktat, only causes it to be more stressful. Anything unfamiliar to us, anything we don’t feel we have the skills to handle, will be more stressful than an everyday event.

Think of your first day at work, your first exam, or the first time you asked someone out. How confident did you feel, and how well did you do? If your performance improved over time, how much of that do you think was due to you simply being more comfortable with the situation?

From the point of view of managing adrenalisation, confidence can help competence. Competence can help confidence. Appropriate practice helps both. Learnt helplessness makes everything worse.