Outlawry can be bad for your health. Yes, it gives you the opportunity to engage in no-holds-barred conflict, but it gives those around you the right to do the same. Now, for some people that’s ok, because they have the skills and resources to prevail in that sort of environment (and, incidentally, minding your manners can be one of those skills). Many other people, however, don’t. They want to be able to ignore the rules, but they want to do it risk-free. So what the sneaky wee bastards do is straddle the Rule Circle.
Straddlers do not embrace the rules: they only follow them when it suits them, or when the cost of breaking them is too high. They play along with them most of the time, though, and when they infringe them they tend to do it “only just”, in ways that are unlikely to have anyone screaming for the cops or smacking them on the head with a frying pan in self-defence. They push things just far enough to make a damn inconvenience of themselves – enough to make people feel threatened, imposed upon, or just uncomfortable. For instance, that’s how your basic cock-roach operates – your low-level sex-pest, who might never actually assault anyone, but makes plenty of people want to shower themselves in bleach after every interaction. It’s a cake-and-eat-it situation, with them enjoying the protection of the rules without being bound by them.
Providing that the Straddlers know how to play their game, this sort of situation can go on forever. As long as their targets and any onlookers remain torn and confused about what is going on, the Straddlers can continue their little games unchecked. Over time, people around them may even become accustomed to their “quirks”, which gives them increasing leeway to misbehave. “Oh, don’t mind them, they’re always saying/doing stuff like that…” “Oh, they’re ok, just make sure you don’t get caught alone in the elevator with them…” It is truly surprising what people can adapt to in order to have a quiet life.
Straddlers are relying on people being so invested in their social conditioning and social standing that they will continue to play by social scripts, even when the situation is in fact asocial. Alas, not all of us are wired that way, and therein lies the rub. When Straddlers meet with someone who’s happy to merrily hop right out of the circle and give them what for, things can get rather unpleasant for them. It turns out that the vast majority of them are so reliant on everyone else being nice and compliant that they have never bothered to develop the necessarily skills to cope in a rule-free environment, or considered the potential cost of their little games. In fact, many are not only unprepared for escalation, but can’t even deal with public exposure. As soon as you shine a light on them, they tend to scatter like ‘roaches.
(That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cost for the person who does the exposing. Upsetting the apple cart is rarely cost-free, however necessary it might have been. But that’s another story.)