Just so y’all know, this is out as of today:

For a change, it doesn’t come with a Surgeon General’s Warning, but it’s not terribly light, either. The only trigger warnings are foul-ish language (but less than in anything I ever did before), light violence, off-camera sexual violence, unhealthy relationship dynamics, and a metric shitton of institutional oppression. So, yeah, happy holidays and all that.

Magnum Nopus

99% of the time, I hop and skip through life aware of the fact that I’m a non-standard-issue human being and perfectly comfortable with it. I can’t grok mainstream media, all of my favourite books are out of print, advertising baffles me, I zig where most people zag, and I’m cool with that. Every now and then, though, I experience such a large disconnect between the way I look at the world and the way the world is described to me that I think I’ve gone insane. Literally. I’m not being ableist here: sometimes my reactions and opinions are so widely different from that of most people that I question my sanity.

One of the situations in which I experience this more and more frequently is self-defence advertising. I’ve not run a comprehensive survey of the field, so I could be talking trash, but I’ve noticed a shift away from traditional advertising strategies. As those mostly consisted of alpha-male fantasies for the boys and scare tactics for the girls, a change ought to be a good thing. Except that this one isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

The problem isn’t what is being left behind, but what is being embraced: the shift is towards more “traditional” marketing strategies, including things like:

Forced Teaming. When the instructor pretends to share a predicament with a customer. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this. This can be done in terms of a shared fears or problems (e.g., “we all have X concern” when the victim profiles of the instructor and students are wildly different), but also shared goals for the school or system (e.g., “we need this programme to reach a wider market” when the “we” somehow magically includes the customers).

False Charm and Niceness. When the instructor is overly friendly to customers in order to gain their trust. (E.g., by faking a personal connection or interest that just isn’t there, such as asking personal questions and tuning out the answers.)

Typecasting. When the instructor uses insults to get customers to buy a product or participate in an activity they would otherwise pass up on. The customers will do something they might not want to in order to counteract the insult. (E.g., “you’re too proud/ scared/ weak/ girly/ stubborn/ insecure/ whatever to do X.”)

Loan Sharking. When the instructor pushes unsolicited freebies to customers to make them feel obligated to buy additional products. (E.g., “you know those free videos I sent you? They cost a lot to produce, but if you buy our DVDs…”)

Discounting the Word “No”. When the instructor continues to push a product regardless of the customers clear rejection. (E.g., literally any attempt to push a product when a customer has stated a clear “no”, regardless of content.)

Emotional blackmail. When the instructor makes customers feel obligated to buy into activities or products, or swamped by guilt if they resist.  (E.g., “if you don’t sign up to extra classes, we will have to let one of our instructors go”, “if you don’t attend the weekend seminar, the school will lose money.”)

Negging.  When the instructor makes a deliberate backhanded compliment to a customer to undermine their confidence and increase their need of the instructor’s approval, thereby buying into their products. (E.g., “You move pretty well for a weak/ fat/ old/ disabled/ female person”, “I love how you don’t care when you mess things up”, “Congratulations on your grading! I didn’t expect you to pass!”)


So what? Self-defence is an industry. Self-defence instruction is a product. Self-defence instructors are specialists; they have a right to make a living from their work. The strategies I listed are mentioned in many if not most marketing books (though often under cuddlier labels) because they work. Why shouldn’t instructors market their products by using tried-and-tested marketing strategies?

My problem is that these strategies turn up in other places. I cut-and-pasted the first five from the Wikipedia list of Pre-Incident Indicators from Gavin DeBecker’s “Gift of Fear.” If you Google Emotional Blackmail, you’ll be inundated with pages about domestic abuse. The seventh is a standard pick-up artist tactic. All these tactics are routinely used by predators, abusers, and creeps to gain access to and manipulate their chosen targets.

Ah, but self-defence instructors use these tactics for good! They want their customers to access products that will benefit them! They are merely appealing to their customers’ monkey brains…

…And that’s when my brain start screeching at me that I’ve gone and lost it, because, to me, that kind of statement is a nail against the chalkboard of reality.

I understand how you can sell a self-defence product by using abusive or predatory tactics, same as you’d sell a car or a telescope. You want to shift a product and these tactics facilitate that process: no problem. I’m totally with you.

I do not understand, however, how you can sell the ability to self-defend while normalising abusive and predatory tactics. You are literally training your students to fall for these traps, to treat them as benign. You are rewarding their failure to pick up on them, or to notice them but go along regardless. You might be preaching about the evils of loan sharking in a class, but if you got your students into that class by loan sharking the ever-loving shit out of them, what do you think is actually going to get through, your words or your actions? And considering how many self-defence students are past or current targets of domestic abuse… No. Just no. You cannot teach them to defend themselves against their abusers by embracing their abusers’ tactics. It just can’t be done.

The correct answer to emotional blackmail, negging, discounting “no”, loan sharking, typecasting, false charm, and false teaming is “fuck off”, or permutations thereof. If you are making your students rep any other answer, you are making them rep failure.*

I don’t care what your motivations are: what you are doing is actively diminishing your students’ ability to self-protect. I don’t believe that your class content, however good it may be, could ever make up for that.

At the very least, if you’re going to use these techniques, call them by their names. “I emotionally blackmailed my students into joining the weekend seminar.” “I used typecasting to get them to compete.” “I loan-sharked them into buying the DVD series.” And if you cannot use those words in association with yourself, if you find them so unpalatable that you have to resort to cuddlier labels even though you know their proper names, then this mismatch ought to tell you something.


*Yes, OK, sometimes people are perfectly happy to be manipulated. However, I personally believe that they should do so consciously, and without ever discounting the fact that they are dealing with a manipulator.

Little Mx Manners’ Guide to How Not To Be A Gaping Dickhole* – Interwebs Version

Those of you who know me in real life are painfully aware that the mere thought of me writing an etiquette guide to any activity involving hoomans is laughable. When they were handing out social skills I was either surreptitiously reading sci-fi under my desk, writing stories in my head, or somewhere else entirely, most likely doing something reprehensible. However, it has been brought to my attention that there are people who have this “social interaction” thing down even less than I do, which is saying something. The attention-bringing was brought by a veritable plethora of people who got their ass slung out of my page for not only behaving horribly in the first place, but doubling down on their shit when I called them on it.

This brief list of guidelines aims to bridge the gap between people’s social skills and the standard of behavior that won’t get them into trouble in the more manicured parts of the interwebs. Hell, if everyone made a good-faith effort to follow these guidelines, maybe the interwebs wouldn’t be the repugnant cesspit that they so often are.

Mostly, though, this is a warning: pull this shit on my page and I won’t give you a second chance to do so.

Don’t say something over the interwebs that you wouldn’t say to that person in real life. There are notable exceptions to this rule, e.g. messaging your stalker ex to tell them to stop getting in touch so you can report their sorry asses to the police, coming out to your extended conservative Christian family, etc. By and large, though, if you wouldn’t open your mouth and let those words fall out of it when in the presence of a person, you most likely don’t want to let your hands type it, either. The interwebs grant us a huge degree of impersonality, sometimes even the illusion of anonimity, but there is an actual human being at the other end of all your interactions. If you are more of a dickhole long-distance than you would be in person, you might want to have a good think about why that is. If you’re generally abusive to people this rule won’t help you, but I don’t think there’s any helping you anyway.

Conversations have a topic and a tone; heed them or go play elsewhere. Conversing with people is a cooperative effort: two or more individuals decide to engage in a mutual exchange of information according to mutually agreed behavioral standards. If you barge into a conversation about cupcakes to discuss eclairs, you’re being a jackass. It doesn’t matter that you know that eclairs are the real desserts: they are not what the people engaging in that conversation are talking about. If you barge into a conversation that is being carried out according to certain standards (e.g. no swearing, short comments only, start every comment with “as the oracle foretold”, whatever) and you breach those standards, you are also being a jackass. If you barge into a conversation and demand that the topic or tone be changed to suit you, guess what? Jackass, again. You are always free to start your own conversations on your chosen topics and run them according to your preferred standards. If you can’t do that because nobody ever joins them, yeah, well, maybe it’s because they think you’re a jackass.

A gentleperson’s home is their castle, even when that castle is virtual. Here I’m assuming that I’m talking to people who are aware of the basic principles of decorum when one goes visiting with someone or enters a public establishment. Carrying those principles across to virtual locales would go a long way towards turning the interweb into livable spaces. Would you stand in the middle of someone’s living room and scream abuse at their partner? If not, don’t do it on their FB page. Would you walk into a church and scream that god is dead? If not, don’t do it on a church forum. Would you put up a sign to your store on someone’s balcony without their consent? If not, don’t use their pages to push your product. And so on, and so forth. There are obvious limits to this: would you stand in the middle of your home, beat the crap out of your partner, and expect third parties not to have something to say about it? Would you display a nazi flag on your balcony and not expect your neighbours to give you the stink eye? Yeah, I didn’t think so. And if you are one of those people who demand that all such limits should be tightly defined, justified, and copied in triplicate or they don’t count, I refer you to the above paragraph: you’re rule-lawyering yourself into jackassdom.

Don’t expect free passes just because you’re in a virtual setting. If you know that screaming abuse at someone’s partner in their living room would get you thrown out of their house, there is no earthly reason to be surprised when doing the same on their page gets you thrown out of there. And if it gets you thrown out of their lives, that shouldn’t come as a shock, either. Your virtual interactions are as real as all others, and can carry real repercussions.

Don’t yuck someone’s yum. Remember that kid in school who never got invited anywhere because they’d always find fault with whatever it was people were enjoying? That kid who, when you got an A- on a test, would ask you what you got wrong? That kid who would celebrate your new shoes by reminding you that they’d get scuffed in no time? That kid whose bike was newer, whose mom baked better cakes, whose dad drove a bigger car? That kid who was going to have a real Laserquest party, not just play with squirtguns in the garden like you are doing, I mean, seriously, this is all you’ve got for us to do and we should pretend we like it? When you wade into a conversation where people are enthusing over something just to vent your negative opinion of it, you are That Kid. Disagreeing on matters of taste isn’t the same as providing factual, useful information about an issue (e.g. “if you bought X model car you need to get it checked at a garage because there’s been as safety recall). Your tastes and standards are utterly subjective and no more significant than those of any other person. You don’t get to decide what is “good” and what is “bad”, only what you like or don’t like. And if you believe that your need to ventilate your negative opinion trumps people momentary happiness, please bear in mind that kids only ever went to That Kid’s party because it was at Laserquest.

Don’t yum someone’s yuck. Someone doesn’t like something in their life: their job, their partner, their family, their body, the pudding they get at lunch, whatever. You might think they should like those things, and that’s your prerogative, but telling them so is not a great idea. Aside from the fact that you’re deciding what they should and shouldn’t like without access to all the information they have (maybe they are supertasters; maybe their stepmother is a Klingon and they don’t want to out her), your preaching won’t make them like those things any more. If there is any change at all, is that they’ll like you less. Which doesn’t meant that you’re obliged to listen to people moan about the same thing on repeat, particularly if it’s something they could change but don’t.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with any sentence containing the word “just”. I don’t care what the problem is and I don’t care what your knowledge of the issue is. If you feel remotely tempted to stick a “just” in your response, stop and consider what that word implies about your attitude, and how it would feel if you were at the receiving end.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem by saying that you don’t have that problem. Aside from the fact that in that context nobody cares, it looks like gloating at best, a gross deficiency in empathy at worst. And if you don’t see how that’s a problem, I’m be happy to diagnose you long-distance with the latter.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with uninformed advice. People don’t need to waste time reading crap, even when it’s your artisanal, organically-grown crap. People definitely don’t need to waste time reading crap when they are busy dealing with an actual problem. People also don’t need to get hurt because you decided that your need to look or feel all-knowing was more important than their need for informed guidance.

Don’t respond to someone’s problem with advice you gleamed from Wikipedia. In real life you might interact with people who do not have access to the internet and are struggling to find out the answer to something readily accessible (true story: when kiwis first appeared in shops back home, my mother didn’t know what parts of them were edible). But when you are on the interwebs, you can assume that the people you meet there are also on the interwebs. If their problem could be solved by an answer that comes up on the first page of a google search, they would no longer have a problem. Give them some damn credit.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. But if you’ve just stepped on someone’s toes, intentionally or not, and you want to continue having any kind of relationship with them, you might want to learn to use it.


*It has been brought to my attention that dickholes don’t gape (see comments). I was using it as I use “pie hole”, as in “the hole in which you stick a pie”. As ever, I am for my writing to be non-orifice-specific.


A few weeks ago I met someone who’s never been broken. It was a novel experience; most of the time I tend to naturally attract and be attracted to people who have been broken and came through it. In fact, although that’s by no means my only criteria for determining whether I want to get to know somebody, it’s in there. It’s an unspoken, unconscious (or semi-conscious) question I ponder when meeting a new person: were they broken? How and how well did they get fixed?

I always thought in the past that people who’ve never been broken weren’t really my jam. There are valid, logical reasons for this, first and foremost the fact that it can be so hard to communicate with them. You do or say something they don’t grok, and you have to explain your reasons. Then you have to actually explain your reasons – as in, you have to explain the formation and meaning of your reasons, the reasons why your reasons are as they are. Then you have to explain it all over again, because most of the time whatever it is you said ran full tilt into a paradigm wall and bounced right back. Those times when something makes it through, it often ends up hurting them. People don’t like to be shown that the world is uglier than they thought. I don’t like to be the bringer of pain to people who don’t deserve it, or to feel like a freak at a show. All in all, it’s easier to stick with your own.

This guy, though (this isn’t a romance, btw; the dude just happens to be a guy), seems to be different from the “normies” I’ve met in the past. He’s not oblivious; ugly things don’t happen around him without him noticing. He’s not so timid that trouble can’t find him. He just got lucky, I guess: he happened to grow up in a place that valued his individuality and nurtured his talents, a place that offered him challenges and the resources to meet them at a matched pace. He can do at least as much as I can, though our fields of expertise differ, but the critical issue is that the way he developed his talents is completely different from mine. He built himself by gradually taking on greater and greater challenges that allowed him to develop at a pace that didn’t injure him. I mostly got thrown off high places and had to learn to land.

I guess it comes down to helplessness; there ought to be a better word for it, though, something more epic-sounding, with more teeth in it. We all face gaps between what we have to deal with and what we can do, and there is a level of helplessness in each of them. The situations I’m talking about are when those gaps are so immense that the experience we go through is qualitatively different. It’s not just like being a little bit helpless, but more of it: it’s a whole different creature. And it’s carnivorous.

Being forcibly thrown so far from your comfort zone that you can’t ever remember where you left it is transformative, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of my favourite people had something like that happen to them, and in some ways it made them better; provided that the changes they went through meet your idea of “better”, that is.

For instance, I can take a metaphorical hit and get up. I can do that remarkably well. I am perennially aware that there are hits I wouldn’t get up from, that there are ways in which I can be broken beyond repair, mangled beyond recognition. I also know that I can take your garden-variety hit, though, and I can get back up. I have historical data to prove that. That unbroken guy I met doesn’t have that. Maybe he couldn’t take a hit like I can. Maybe he’d take longer to get better, because he doesn’t have the scar tissue to numb the impact, the familiarity with pain, a set of learnt reflexes leading him towards recovery. He just doesn’t have my mileage.

He’s got something I don’t have, though: the awareness of what “good” feels like. He knows how he feels when things are good. This is going to sound like a nothing kinda thing, but it isn’t: as far as I’m concerned, it’s an almost supernatural ability. He knows what “good” feels like without having to think about it, and he can use that to orient himself and guide his actions. When something feels ungood, he instinctively moves away from it. When he finds himself feeling ungood, he knows in which direction he needs to travel to get back to feeling good. He doesn’t have to think about any of this: he just does it.

I don’t. I don’t know what good feels like. I was talking to my coach a wee while ago and she asked me to go back to a time or place when things were good, body and mind – not “good enough”, but actually “good”. That, for me, means the time before I was two and half years old, three at a push. My head was a mess from kindergarten all the way into my early twenties, I had my first spinal fracture when I was 18. Events have happened at me all the way through. The only time I’ve actually felt all-round good was spent playing under the living room table of my babysitter while she was cooking, and that was four decades ago.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve had a terrible life. I love what I’ve done and I love who I am. I love that I can take a hit and get up again: it makes me feel all resilient and shit. Compared to that unbroken guy, though, I feel like I’m floundering, trying to make up for a lack of awareness and instincts with sheer bloody-mindedness and maximum effort. I feel as if I’m working twice as hard as he is and still coming up short.

I’m better at taking a hit, but I am probably not half as good at avoiding that hit, because I’m not half as good at recognising when situations aren’t good enough. When I’m on the floor struggling to get up again, I have to manually find my bearings, to think my way through where I want to be. More importantly, my idea of what “good” can or should be is precisely that: a hypothetical construct. I have no real feeling for it, and no instinctual drive towards it. Sometimes I think I’m working towards it when I’m not, and that realization often comes too late.

That’s not a nothing kinda thing: that is a giant fucking issue. It’s an issue compounded by the fact that, like many if not most people, I have the tendency to gather around people who are very much like me. Most of us wouldn’t know “good” if it hit us in the face; but hey, it’d take us no time at all to shake that hit off, because that’s our superpower. Our superweakness is that, individually and collectively, we’re trying to make up a good life by trial and error. Even when we succeed it’s fucking hard work. Often enough we don’t succeed. We hit “good enough”, maybe, and don’t even know what we’re missing out.

I found this quote on a website about estranged parents forums (a bloody excellent resource on toxicity in general), and it resonates:

Non-dysfunctional people don’t stay in that environment. (…) What’s left behind are the people too broken to recognize abuse, too hungry for validation to speak up when they see their friends being abusive, too abusive to pass in a forum of healthy people.

There are toxic people out there who are toxic because toxic is all they know. To them toxicity is normal, and to move away from it is an aberration. To my unbroken friend, “good” is normal; it’s the steady state his brain is automatically set to return to. I sit not-so-happily in the middle, aware enough of toxic shit to want to avoid it but with no instinct for finding, creating, or even moving towards whatever lies at the opposite end of that spectrum. I don’t know how to rewire my brain’s compass to automatically point to “good”. As things stand, I might be seeking “good” but I’m set to “ish” at most, and I don’t know how to make that change. I don’t know if that change can be made.

Punishing #2

In the last blog I went on about how we can end up with a deep-set, subconscious belief that bad behavior results in punishment, aka bad behavior results in discomfort/pain, and therefore  discomfort/pain must result from bad behavior. In other words: if we’re suffering, we deserve it.

Here I’m going to list ways in which I see people punishing themselves and others that I think stem from that subconscious belief. I might be wrong. If you find yourself doing this kind of thing to yourself or others, though, you might wanna have a think about where it’s all coming from. And if you find yourself doing it to yourself but never to others – oh hell no! – then you definitely want to have a think, and maybe a chat with an expert in brain-unfucking.

Punishing genuine mistakes. Example: you trip while walking, so you drop your food on the floor, and then you get punished for it. I don’t care about what the punishment actually is. I don’t care about the rationalisations used to back it up. The whole thing is inherently bullshit because you didn’t trip up on purpose. There may be natural consequences to your action: people may be unwilling to replace the food you lost, and if you dirtied someone’s coat in the process you may have to pay for the dry-cleaning. However, adding extra punishment to those natural consequences is just putting the boot in. If it teaches you anything is that making mistakes is way too costly. If you wanna raise children paralysed by their own anxiety of fucking anything up, that’s one of the ways of doing it.

Punishing anything that already caused suffering. Example: you tripped and dropped your food. You have now lost your food. You are foodless. And now you’re getting punished on top of that, as if being foodless wasn’t already a punishment.

Punishing genuine mistakes that already caused suffering. This applies to the example above and makes it exponentially shittier. You didn’t trip up on purpose, you didn’t drop your food on purpose, you now have lost your food, AND someone’s laying into you because of that? Fuck that noise. Fuck it with fire.

This kind of punishment may sound like extreme and obviously bullshit, but it’s endemic in our society, though often less overt. How many people fail a test and are punished for it? How many parents or institutions bother to check whether that person failed on purpose, out of lack of interest or effort, or whether they were victims of circumstance? How many bother to check whether that person is already suffering because they really, really didn’t want to fail?

[I had this at work, for months and months. According to my boss, I was failing to meet certain performance standards, which impacted on my wage. The issue, as I saw it, is that he set those standards without having ever done the work, so they were pie in the sky. Because I don’t like to fuck shit up, however unrealistic said shit is, I was already extremely upset by the whole thing. The wage issue was an additional spray of diarrhoea on a giant, festering shitcake. However, I am also rabid and lacking a basic instinct for self-preservation, so I eventually ended up going up to my boss and telling him that either we needed to get HR involved because I was lazy and failing, or we needed to get HR involved because I was being overworked and failing. What I didn’t know at the time is that HR doesn’t necessarily stand with the person who’s in the right… but that’s another story.]

Turning a one-off mistake into a character flaw. You tripped up and dropped your food, hence you are Clumsy or Careless or a Spaz. (Before you yell at me, I went to school in the 80s. That’s what I got called, not only by my schoolmates but by my teachers. That’s what I still call myself when I don’t pay attention.) This, for many people, is a punishment in itself, but we can easily double up on it. Because you are Clumsy, we can’t possibly let you have nice things, because you’d only break them. Because you are a Spaz, if you do badly in PE we won’t bother to check if there is a valid reason for it (e.g. injury, illness), and if you do well we’ll just chalk it down to extreme good luck rather than any actual effort on your part and mark you down accordingly.

Punishing you forever. You tripped up and spilled your lunch at the age of four. You were sent to bed without dinner for doing that. Now you’re umpteen years older, but the story of your Dreadful Food Spillage and your Malignant Carelessness still gets wheeled out every time someone’s pissed off at you. The punishment didn’t close the book on your alleged misbehavior: you will pay for that mistake forever. Have fun with that.

Punishing you for finding things hard. You should be better than that, so if you’re struggling we must treat you like shit because of it, obviously. The fact that being punished for struggling can actually make you struggle more, so the behavior is inherently anti-useful, is immaterial.

[Personal example: I can’t journal. I really ought to journal because it would help with working out what impacts on my SAD, but every time I try I freak the fuck out because why am I having to monitor shit that other people just get on with every fucking day without even thinking about it? I mean, seriously, what the fuck is WRONG with me? In case you were wondering, this is next-level toxic.]

Punishing you for finding things easy. You did a thing, and you did it well, so obviously that thing is bullshit and you are bullshit and everything about you is bullshit. If it was worth doing, it would have been hard. And you dare to expect that anyone should appreciate the thing you did, or you feel self-congratulatory about it? Shame on you.

This is super fun when you combine it with punishment for finding things hard. It creates a lovely space where you can’t possibly win: if you do well, what you are doing is worthless, and if you do badly, you are worthless.


All of the above is even more fun if you do it to yourself. Walking away from your internal voices is pretty damn hard.

There is probably a bunch more fucked-up ways in which we let people use “punishment” to fuck us up, or fuck ourselves up with it. This is all I can think of right now, and frankly I’ve had enough of thinking about it and I’m going to go off and wash my brain in bleach. If you’ve got anything to add, please make free with the comments section.