Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rights on a sinking ship

Take a tiger and shave it. (I suggest you sedate it first.) You will see pigmentation patterns in the animal's skin consistent with its stripes. Take a bird and between feathers, muscles and bones you will consistently see its wings. These traits are inherent in the animal's physical make up and visible.

However, if you strip a human being down you will not see 'rights.' Not spelled out in the pigmentation on the skin. Not etched into the bones. Rights are not written out in our DNA like the states names on the five dollar bill (in the Lincoln Memorial.) 

Human rights have no physical existence. They are a concept; an idea with no physical evidence for support. There is no proof, no scientific test, no physical manifestation, no mathematical formula that they exist.

Rights are a social construct. An agreed upon convention (in certain cultures) that allow people to co-exist in this modern world. In short, rights are a set of beliefs.

I mention this lack of physical evidence because I have often heard it contended that rights are unquestionable, unshakable and untouchable because they come from God. I've heard it argued with equal fanaticism that just by being human we're born with them. (Humanism replacing God as the ultimate source.) This is the "Natural Rights" argument. Another source is a weird blend of both those absolute convictions plus an appeal to authority; that's the founding fathers said so. ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ..." It's in the Constitution, doncha know?)
With this approach -- no matter what the ascribed ultimate source -- rights are unquestionable, unshakable and untouchable. 

Something with all those 'uns' may seem unsinkable as well. 

Before I go on, and for the record, rights are a belief that I heartily agree with and support. But that does not mean I forget they are a social construct -- specifically arising from modern western philosophy.  It just so happens rights are integral to a free society. Another social and philosophical 'construct' I'm rather fond of and happen to believe in.*

But the pragmatist in me says there's an important distinction to be made between physical existence and philosophy, cultural standards and beliefs. So while I believe in rights, that's also where I begin to have problems.  See, being a pragmatist, I have to consider other issues. (Like how do we get the food out of the ground and to the people in the cities? And what happens if that chain of logistics breaks down?) These are things that people tend to take for granted. I don't.

That's another reason I get twitchy about 'inalienable rights.' I recognize that a concern over rights assumes the presence of life's necessities (e.g., food, portable water, services). Having been in circumstances where those weren't guaranteed, I can assure you the struggle for them takes precedence over rights.

In other words, the argument over rights is very much a first world problem**. Between that and being both a history major and techno-fan I've learned an important concept: Society is not unsinkable. 

But if you think something is unsinkable, then often there is a resulting, "I can change things until I get what I want" attitude.

Rights, freedoms and requirements are a very complex balancing act for everyone. I've looked into the subject of rights. I can assure you, it's a lot more complicated than you think. Starting with the divisions between federal, state and individual rights.  (For example did you know it was the Anti-Federalist faction that demanded the Bill of Rights be included into the Constitution?)

Despite the pop-culture interpretation that the Civil War was about racism, do you understand the tensions between Federal Power and State's rights that existed -- even up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Do you know the difference between infringement on your free speech and where your perceived free speech infringes on the rights of others?

When you understand the 'ship is sinkable,' you always keep these kinds of things in mind.

Whereas believing there is no way the ship could be scuttled, there is no reason to compromise in your position and demands regarding YOUR rights. (Or the rights of your chosen group.) You can get what you want with no ill effect. Or if there is a negative effect, it's someone else's problem. This is one of the inherent problems of many people's current interpretation of rights. In the pursuit of their rights, they transgress on the rights of others. In their pursuit of their ideal 'free society,' they attempt to impose tyranny on others.

And why shouldn't they? God is on their side -- whether that is a religious god or secular ideology bordering on zealotry.

A free society is not unsinkable. It can be destroyed. It can be turned into a tyranny by the constant demand for the incursion on the rights of others. Rights that, as social constructs, can be eroded by those who feel morally justified in taking them from you. (Again, this sanctimonious self-appointed, moral superiority can come from religious or secular sources.) The irony of this is how many zealots are absolutely convinced they are fighting for freedom and rights.

See that's the problem with ideas with no physical existence. It's really easy to twist the definition into whatever it means to you and your group. Then try to force that onto society at large.

This especially becomes a problem when someone exclusively judges everything from a moralistic or idealistic perspective. Everything in life is about whatever the person has obsessed on (rights, sexism, racism, religion). This is of particular interest because one of the clinical standards of paranoid personality disorder is this kind of oversimplification. Nothing else is as important. At the same time, this kind of person comes across with complete conviction and confidence about their beliefs. They know this is the ultimate truth. There is nothing else of equal importance. Knowing this, you can begin to spot such true believers by how fast they dismiss other considerations -- like expenses and the rights of others.

Just remember folks, the ship isn't unsinkable.  If you want a free society, the preservation of rights has to be fought for. But at the same time, there are other considerations and services that must be maintained. While most of us are trying to just get by, it's time to look up and see the damage the zealots are causing -- especially to your rights in the pursuit of theirs.


*The quotes around the word construct are because it's commonly used as a dismissive in some circles. ("Social roles are made up constructs. So we don't have to follow them, neener, neener, neener!"). Having said that, the core contention that many behaviors and ideas are social conventions is technically correct. They just have a track record of working.

 ** Where things get really silly is the argument over positive and negative rights -- especially when it comes to technology.  Stop and think about "People have the right to clean water."  There are all kinds of assumptions behind that statement.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"We don't know each other well enough for you to try to control my speech."

That's a useful phrase to have.

Relationships are economies.   When I talk about economies, I'm referring to a back and forth of goods, services and emotional investments. Both parties are benefiting, both parties are active participants and -- most of all -- it's give and take. (For years I had a deal with the women I lived with. She cooks, I'll do the dishes. Together we got it done via this equal division of labor.) 

We do more for those inside our family/clan/tribe than for those outside. While we may do random acts of kindness and charity to strangers, mostly, we reserve our good deeds, empathy and concern for 'our own.' It's a very inside kind of thing.

Outside, there are certain social standards that allow strangers to -- if not get along -- get through their day and take care of business. These are kind of broad, general standards that do have some specific application -- like you behave differently in a church than you do in a restaurant than you do walking down the street. People are generally expected to understand these unwritten rules in order to get through the day.The point is, these behaviors are kind of standard and really shouldn't have to be explained to adults. As an added benefit, extra courtesies are gifts (e.g., holding the door for someone, giving an elderly or infirm person your seat on public transportation.)

That's a bigger picture to frame this concept. One of the largest differences between strangers and those inside our circle is how much we care about their feelings. This to the point that it influences our words and behaviors. (For example, you're more likely to call a fellow driver an asshole over a mild annoyance than your spouse.) Our concern, compassion and desire not to emotionally hurt someone is primarily directed to those we have relationships with. It's a big part of keeping that economy flourishing.

I want to talk to you about strangers who want to exploit the concern for feelings -- specifically by telling you what you can and can't say because it offends them. Or far worse, that  it 'might' offend someone

It's somewhat in order to control you, but mostly it's trying to get others to change without the investment of a relationship. But no matter how you cut it, it is totally selfish. I say mostly, because it's not exactly control. See, it's about reducing you to background -- meaningless, harmless, not-their-responsibility background. See actual controlling of someone requires work. Like it's a full time job. You gotta actively participate in a relationship with that person. (Granted, it's a one-sided power dynamic, but that's another topic.) When you're background, you're nothing more than a servant, if not a slave or more commonly, a non-entity. Even being a hated enemy is higher status than background. Because if you're background, you're just there for their comfort. How much obligation do you feel towards a chair?

Or to use another analogy, how much concern do you have for the feelings of a stray dog that comes onto your property and craps? I ask because this is often how strangers who are offended by your word choice behave. How dare you crap on THEIR property! 

Well except... Precious ... this ain't 'your property.'

Someone's word choice in a public forum or place are dictated by the environmental standards, not yours. Again, think of the rules of behavior in a church vs. in a strip club. Both places have very distinct rules -- but in neither place are they dictated by just one person. Way too often, these people try to make demands that are way above and beyond the general standards of the environment. There's a difference between someone saying "Don't drop f-bombs in the middle of church services" and someone telling you not to use an innocuous word because it offends them. 

(Although I do know this outlaw minister...).

Let me again stress, they don't necessarily want to control you -- that's too much work.  Nor are they interested in creating an economy -- that also is too much work A good chunk of it is about chasing away things that make them 'uncomfortable.' They want the negative stimuli to stop. And that's where things get kind of tricky...

I say that because this includes self-soothing by attacking others. (Negative reinforcement, their self-misery stops temporarily when they attack others). I always liked the rephrasing of "Misery no longer loves company, these days it demands it." Often such folks aren't just in self-generated pain, they insist on spreading it around. This upgrades you from meaningless background to elected whipping boy for the moment. After they get their nut, they're done with you and you go back to meaningless background status.

Kinda makes you feel cheap and used don't it?

The fact that they know "attacking people is wrong" is why they need to find some kind of rationalization or justification. They need an excuse to do what they want to do, but at the same time do something they know is wrong. And that is where being offended by your word choice (and what you're saying) comes in so handy. With complete and total self-righteousness they can say, "That term offends me." Or, if they want to bump up the credibility, they can claim the term is offensive to a particular group. Now, you've just offended a whole bunch of people

Or have you? As in "Wait a minute, fella ... are you claiming to speak for an entire group?" (Hell, even if it's a micro-group making up only 1% of the US population, did those 3,189,000 people all elect you as their spokesperson?) Pretentious much?

Although to be honest, hiding one's bad behavior under the guise of a greater cause and number (rather than your own little duck feelings) is a useful tactic given the exploitation I'll address in a bit. Ah why not? Let's do it now.

The reason I'm telling you all this is that the terminally offended are using both a natural tendency and the exploitation of a cultural norm against you.
Both the tendency and the cultural norm are, in and of themselves, good things. The tendency is the empathy, concern for feelings and willingness to change our behaviors for those we have economies with (our family, group, tribe).  The cultural norm is to be polite, non-aggressive and cooperative (within limits) with strangers inside your society. The exploitation is the conditioning that you have to be concerned what everyone else thinks of you (it's the basis of advertising and marketing). It's now not just the tribe, it's EVERYONE! That's another issue, but it's germane to this topic because -- using computer terms -- the Trojan tricks the user into installing the malware. The outraged person is relying on you buying into their pain and suffering caused by your words. The exploitation and conditioning we've endured about 'what other people think of you' makes us vulnerable to this approach -- from a stranger.

Understanding that, you can install protection against this malware attack by simply asking yourself "Do I have a relationship/economy with this person?"

Yes, you should adjust your conduct when it comes to people you have economies with. You do this in order to perpetuate the relationship. Be concerned with how your actions improve or decrease the feelings, quality of life and well being of those in your group. You do so because you (hopefully) have a healthy economy with them. As you give you receive. Also there's a good build up of credit for when times get difficult. Caring and compassion are wonderful to have in your life -- especially when they are two way streets.

No, you don't have to adjust your conduct when someone you don't have a relationship comes up and tries to bully you with political correctness or offense.

This especially, if you are behaving within the acceptable standard of the environment. Now you don't have to be particularly rude about not accepting delivery about (That is the other trap. If you do get rude, you have violated the standards of the environment.) That's why a simple, "We don't know each other well enough for you to try to control my speech" is usually enough.

It calls the ball on the fact that it is the other person who is being out of line without you crossing the line as well. That keeps the situation from deteriorating into Asshole #1 and Asshole #2.  If the person flips out, everyone in the room knows who the problem child is -- and it ain't you.

Oh and in closing, something to watch for in situations where you either want to or have to establish a relationship with said person. Consider such statements as early warning signals. As in Mr. Frog, y'all might want to check the water temperature with a thermometer instead of your perceptions of 'what's normal.'  A lot of times the same kind of people will take your acquiescence to such matters as the go ahead and start adding on more and more restrictions onto your behavior. This comes in the form of gradual indoctrination and increase in demands on how you MUST behave. Remember, healthy economies are two way streets. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Being attacked in a conversation -- especially in social media.

In a discussion, learn to tell the difference between an ad hominem and an attack -- and respond to each appropriately .

An argumentum ad hominem (argument to the man) is a logical fallacy. It is basically saying a premise is wrong because of who is saying it.*

"That's wrong because you're a ____(fill in the blank)" is what makes it first an ad hominem logical fallacy against the argument, then a personal attack. (Remember this order, it's important.)

The counter to this is to argue the facts (stay on the topic) while basically ignoring the insults. I say basically because you call the ball about the behavior before returning to the topic  For example, "If you are finished trying to insult me, may we return to the subject at hand? Thank you." It's doubly aggravating to them if you not only don't take the bait, but remain polite and calm.**

With attacks, it's name calling, spitting venom and hating first and foremost. Oh yeah, and you're also wrong.

But that you're wrong not as important as how much I despise you and use the subject to justify the verbal and emotional violence I'm throwing at you. Name calling, buzz words (e.g., you're a cis-gendered, heterosexual, privileged white male), hot button words (racist, sexist, political leaning), accusations and insults are all common. Basically, you're so stupid, wrong and evil you not only don't deserve them talking to you rationally about the subject, the only thing you're worthy of is their contempt and abuse. Often you will see people use this strategy in social media or in comments without even bothering to add "you're wrong," it's just assumed.

Treat this for exactly what it is, an attack. It has nothing to do with adding to the conversation. While it can have something to do with shutting the conversation down, it's mostly about the individual self-soothing. Keep that last in mind we'll come back to it.

Two common strategies tend to manifest.

First, 'I' will escalate to flat-out abuse if you are silly enough to play my game. By that I mean get insulted and respond emotionally -- especially while trying to remain calm -- you become my target. I will heap verbal and emotional attack after attack on you, while pretending to be talking about the subject. "I" am an expert at spotting when my insults have gotten through and I will play with you like a cat sitting just outside the reach of a chained dog.

Second, is after seagulling*** and making everyone else uncomfortable with 'my' bad behavior, I will pull a grandiose "Elvis has left the building" exit. Often declaring both "I am leaving" and "what ignorant subhumans not just you, but anyone who is stupid enough to listen to you is." Quietly leaving is not enough, there has to be a grand soliloquy before my triumphant exit from the stage.  (An unfortunate tendency for such people though  is encore performances.  Unlike the actual Elvis, these people hang around and monitor the thread to see how well their hate and discontent is working, then they pop up again like a prairie dog from hell to vomit more verbal abuse.)

When you see this behavior recognize it for what it is. Which brings us back to self-soothing.

Self-soothing is in and of itself not bad. We all do it. When we feel uncomfortable we engage in activities that sooth us, calm and ease  our discomfort. This both emotionally and physically. We unwind after a hard day by having a drink or watching a favorite show. We rub sore muscles, sit in the hot tub, etc., etc.  There is, however, a distinction between appropriate self-soothing and inappropriate.

Remember how I said it's an attack and you need to treat it as such? Yeah well here's where it gets kind of tricky.

See most people will say, "An attack? Attack back!" Well you might want to think twice about that. First, as I also said, that's playing their game. While you're thinking in terms of defending yourself, in fact, it's you standing up and announcing to them that you've fallen for their trap. Like I said, they know when they have someone -- and trying to counter attack with hostile words and emotions tells them you're safe to play with. They can also spot when someone is actually going to throw them out the window and that usually prompts the Elvis has left the building plan B. But until that time, normal threat displays (that would make most people back off) just don't work with these folks. This especially when they're safely sitting in their front room and using the computer screen as a shield. What are you going to do? Get on a plane, fly to where they are and punch them out? So responding aggressively isn't really doing anything to stop the behavior. Worse, it's mostly you self-soothing yourself by going RAWR! RAWR! SEE HOW TOUGH I AM! RAWR!

Second -- and where it becomes kind of embarrassing -- is inappropriate self-soothing is kind of like masturbating in public. It may make the person doing it feel good, but to everyone else in the area it's disgusting and rude. Recognizing this is an important step for not falling into the person's trap. Someone who is verbally and emotionally attacking is mostly self-soothing.  Something has been said that makes them uncomfortable and their attack is the equivalent of them pulling it and rubbing one out -- in public. Nobody in the area is going to be happy about this behavior.

Unfortunately that includes you doing the exact same thing. See whenever you try to 'argue' with such a person, there are going to be a lot of people seeing, not just one person misbehaving, but two or more people in a public circle jerk. That's why the counter-attack strategy might not be such a good idea.

I say "might," because while often the best strategy is to pretend you didn't hear it and keep on talking to other folks, sometimes, you have to do something. Now whether it's to quietly excuse yourself from the situation, delete the comment (if it's your page), take it to the moderator, turn it against the person or -- and this is the least desirable, but sometimes necessary -- 'argue,' all depends on the circumstances.

In media matters, I will often delete comments and then make a generalized statement about expected behavior in areas that I control.  In public environments I will take the person aside and have a quiet discussion about expected behaviors. If it's someone else's territory then it's good manners to take it to the host rather than getting involved in a row. Often the person whose territory it is saw it, doesn't like it, but until someone complains isn't going to do anything. Your politely bringing it to him or her, is the call to action that person needs to tell the other person to knock it off. This strategy creates allies and if the self-soother goes off on the host... well, he brings on himself what happens to him. Mostly because other people will back up the host. On the rare occasion where a negative response from you is the best response, the response must be more extreme than the other person expects. (It's like a person who is normally calm and polite blowing up. It's not only no longer fun and games, but everyone else knows the other person  really crossed a line to warrant such a response.)

However, turning it against the person, I personally find the most satisfying. Here's something about someone self-soothing in public. First is it's pretty one directional. Second it's limited range.  It's really not that hard to side step and keep it from getting on your shoes -- if you can remain calm.The harder the person tries, the worse he or she looks. Once you look at verbal attacks as:
A) Self-soothing
B) Making a spectacle of oneself
C) Trying to get you to do the same
your definition of 'winning' changes.  In fact, you can help everyone else relax about this unacceptable behavior. Remember the purpose of the self-soother is to provoke a negative emotional reaction. That is that persons perception of power; that's the 'win' he or she is going for. Anything other reaction and that and the person loses.

So help the person lose.

A strategy I like to use both in attacks and ad hominem (but mostly the former) is to pretend that I didn't hear the attack and respond to the person's -- usually very weak --  points. Responding as if that person was legitimately trying to discuss the issue. Think of it as an opportunity. That person has given you a great platform. It's almost like someone feeding a comic straight lines.

Here's the person hiding his attacks behind supposed points and there you are calmly responding to and expanding your position on the subject. You're not getting mad or emotional, you're sticking to the subject. Anyone who is watching sees you remaining calm, polite and reasonable while the other side is running around in circles, screeching while playing with themselves.

Knowing that, which side is going to have more credibility?

If you can keep your zipper up, the answer is yours.

In conclusion, remember something very important. Between stimulus and external reaction there is a gap. A gap that we normally are going so fast with our habitual and internal emotional reaction that we fly right over. We have been doing this for so long we don't think we have any control. We feel an emotion and we have react. NO! Our emotions do not control us -- unless we let them. We can have an emotion, but that is all it is. An internal stimuli telling us what we should do. You don't have to do that. Someone verbally attacks you? Where is it written that you have to counter-attack? Where is it written that you have to self-sooth in public?  This especially knowing someone is trying to bait you and make you look just as bad as them.

If you really want to communicate your point to people, don't fall for that trap. You can start by learning to spot the difference between a logical fallacy and an attack -- especially on the internet.


* Although not an exact example you can see the idea in action at the end of the movie "A Flock of Dodos." An idea for a much needed change in strategy was shot down because the man who had done it was *gasp* a racist.

** They'll often tip their hands and other people will see what they're doing. (I'm talking if they're smart, they'll scale back and just zing you more subtly. If they're not -- and a lot of them aren't -- they'll go on the offensive and show everyone in the room that they, not you, are the barking moonbats.

*** Flying in, shitting all over everything while screeching (and often flying away, but the person can stay)

copyright 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mac and Cheese Idealism

I want you to think about a subject that you actually know. By this I mean some field, endeavor or task that you routinely produce tangible results in. (A good standard is when you're done, there's something you can put into a wheelbarrow.)

How complicated is it to produce that?

What are the requirements to do it? What processes must you do? What steps must you take? What tools, equipment and circumstances do you need? What knowledge and skills must you have in order to produce a tangible result? Why do you do it this way (to get this result) vs. that way? What do you NOT do and why? How do you assess and gauge the countless factors that go into the process? How complicated and in depth are these so-called 'simple' things we do every day?

If this is too broad of a question, ask yourself these questions about cooking a meal. Even if you're a wit and say 'I put it into the microwave' you're only half right. First you need to be able to walk and move. Second, you need electricity and a microwave. Third, you need the prepackaged food that has been grown, harvested, manufactured(prepared), packaged, shipped, sold and refrigerated. All of those require massive technology and distribution systems. Fourth, and you'll know the experience if you've ever tried to figure out another country's electronics, you have to know how to program and start the microwave. Then there's getting it out of the microwave without burning your fingers. Lacking these, the microwave quip is meaningless. With these, it's both the end of a many complex processes and the point I'm trying to make.*

That's just microwaving, not actually cooking it yourself. Tracking back to the original questions, 'just' cooking is way more complicated, deep and involved. Yet with training and experience we easily navigate through massively complex processes in order to produce.

That's actually a double edged sword. We tend to minimize the complexity of what we do actually know. At the same time we become vulnerable to anyone trying to 'sell us' that complex issues are simple and all about 'one thing.'  The latter especially in the form of soundbites, advertising and narrative.

Things are ALWAYS more complicated, involved and variable than what someone is trying to sell you. And yes, anytime someone tells you it's ONLY about _____(fill in the blank) that person is trying to sell you an idea. Or worse, they've weaponized a reductionist cliche or term to get you to shut up.

Human behavior is one of the most complicated, variable and fascinating topics I know. I've dedicated my life to studying just one aspect of it. Yet every morning I get out of bed and am nearly overwhelmed at how much I don't know about the specialized field I'm considered an 'expert' in.  That's after five decades. Yeah, it's that deep and complex.

Oddly enough, this makes me less appealing as an expert, because I don't come out and say -- with complete confidence -- 'This is all there is and there is no more!" See simplistic answers and an abundance of confidence really appeals to the part of our brains that want to reduce the complexities of life to simplistic narratives and never mind reality (much less all those messy complications).

So the next time someone comes up at you with a soundbite and a claim of 'this is what is the cause' of ______(fill in the blank),' don't fall for their confidence or the claim of simplicity.

Stop and think how complicated, involved and variable ANYTHING you routinely do is. Then ask yourself, if I know how complicated making dinner is how likely is it that this person is the possessor of an absolute truth about not just society, but all of humanity to boot?

This allows you the response, "Sorry fella, but making macaroni and cheese is more complicated than your philosophy/politics/position/beliefs/idealism"


*Although, it's arguable that the complexities of the microwave and electricity are so far above the individual's head that the button pusher is more of a trained monkey.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Addition to the Five Rules of Violence

I've long been a fan of simple, but profound concepts.

The difference between simple and profound and a sound bite is the latter is a conclusion. Whereas the former is a fundamental. Now in case you don't know the difference between a fundamental and a basic, it's subtle, but important.  For most of the definitions, basics and fundamentals are pretty much the same. The difference shows up when you get to 'a basic is an introduction to a subject' (like basic training or kindergarten). A fundamental is something a system is based upon and rises from (like the primary colors) So while fundamentals can themselves be simple, all the ways they manifest can be complex -- really, really complex.

This as opposed to sound bites. Or what I call 'Puddle Profundities' (they sound profound, but they're actually about as deep as a puddle in a parking lot.) Unfortunately, the self-defense world is filled with these cliché, cool sounding and grossly over-simplified sound bites about what to do, 'what it takes to survive' and what is 'self-defense.' It's arguable this is an unfortunate result of business requirements. The  market (students) strongly dictates what is taught as self-defense. A whole lot of people want simplistic answers to complex problems -- and by gawd they'll pay lots of money to anyone who can provide such in training. This regardless of how quick -- in real life -- that advice will get you killed or thrown into prison.

Now it's real easy to boil complex subjects down to overly simplistic sound bites -- like what people have done with Cooper's "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six."  Which to me is about as obvious as saying "I'd rather be alive after a self-defense incident." Really? No kidding? (DUuuuhhh!) But it doesn't help keep you out of a violent situation. Sound bites can be specific help for some people during an incident, but for the most part they don't help you in the middle of an incident. They're not useful guidelines for your behavior in a crisis. Nor do they prepare you for the legal, emotional or ethical  aftermath of successfully defending yourself. This especially if you used lethal force in a situation that didn't require it because your thinking had stopped at '12 and 6.'

On the other hand, it really takes skill to sum up complex circumstances down to a few -- reliable -- fundamentals. Fundamentals that no matter how far into complexities you get, still apply. I don't want to say 'that apply anywhere' (and you'll soon see why), but really apply to most circumstances.  This to the point of even though the manifestations can be -- and often are -- wildly different, it's still the same fundamental idea. And that is where the simple but profound comes in.

One example of this skill is Peyton Quinn's 'Five Rules' about violence.
1) Do not insult him
2) Do not challenge him
3) Do not threaten him
4) Do not deny it's happening
5) Give him a face saving exit.

If there is a better, more concise list of fundamental ways people step on their dicks when it comes to potentially violent situations, I've never seen it. I use the trodding on a particularly tender appendage comparison for three very simple reasons. The Five are not only the fastest ways to escalate a potentially violent situation into physical violence, but the most reliable ones too. Those are first and second.  The third reason is they cover the widest possible spectrum. When I say this a number of folks involved in self-defense training immediately jump to tacti-cool or kung fu related scenarios. Mostly having to do with why they're too smart to deny it's happening. They're trained in self-defense doncha' know?

But number four is really, really, REALLY important for the average citizen. I'm not just talking about the person pushing a cart out of the grocery store, who, upon seeing three thuggish looking guys spread out along a wall, decides, getting home is far more important and they won't bother him/her -- and then walks right into an mugging. Yes there is that. It also applies to someone who is so hell bent on a behavior and their 'right' to do it, they don't notice how close they're coming to being attacked. The worst -- and most common -- form of 'denying' is someone telling him or herself "That person wouldn't dare..." In doing that they fail to recognize they're pissing someone off enough to throw them a beating. 

Funny thing is those five rules go miles for keeping you from getting into fights -- much less taking a beating.

So like I said, those five rules are really good as they apply in all kinds of circumstances -- and this includes when they won't work to keep violence from happening. How's that for an unexpected left turn?

Rory Miller came up with the social, asocial model of violence. Basically there is violence for social reasons and for asocial reasons. Rory's observation that while the five rules will (most likely) prevent social violence, they won't stop asocial violence.

When Rory said that, I flat-out agreed with him. They won't stop an asocial predator. That predator will blow right on past these attempts to prevent violence. However, that doesn't mean they still don't apply...

See, after I told Rory what I'm about to tell you, I picked up the phone and called Peyton. "Peyton, I says to him. Here's what I just told Rory Miller about your Five Rules. They won't prevent asocial violence, but -- if you violate them -- they'll make it worse."

See to a robber (a type of asocial violence), you're just an ATM with legs, a walking Happy Meal if you will. And that's what you want him thinking about you. That way, he'll come up, rob you and go away. Once he's got HIS money, he's done with you. He -- and the danger he poses to you -- are gone.

That is unless you make it personal -- usually by violating rules one through three.  Rule four means you've made his life easier by walking into it. Rule five shouldn't be an issue ... well, unless you yell obscenities at him or try to chase him as he's leaving. Then you've just made it an issue.

But violate rules one through three and you'll have hell to pay because -- still sticking with robbery -- the ATM just started talking shit to him. Whether it is resource or process asocial violence, you've just given an attacker the excuse to really unleash hell on you. If he was planning violence anyway (process predator), he's really going to tear you up now. So violating these Five Rules is going to make the violence worse, this whether social or asocial.

I tell you all of this to show you something important. That is how professionals kick ideas around in the field. In doing so, they make things better. This in contrast to people who steal a good working model, twist it around to make it sound like they invented it. This unique spin often makes a much more generally effective model, narrower in application.

This isn't as cut and dried as it may seem. Where we run into a problem It's often hard to tell a difference between 1) someone with specific experience who is tweaking for particular application, 2) someone who is trying for unique branding of themselves (but still trying to pass on good -- if limited-- information) or 3) someone who doesn't understand the model and yet has changed it just to say it's 'his.'

Here's why it's not easy to tell.  I tell people that there's only so many ways to describe a shark. After a while, all the descriptions are going to start sounding the same. So when someone starts telling you they saw a fur covered saber toothed shark with antlers, if you know what a shark looks like, it's going to be obvious he's making shit up. If you don't, well isn't that what sharks look like? My combatives instructor said they did...

Still in specialized fields there's hammerhead, thresher sharks and whale sharks. Those suckers don't look like normal sharks. But until you realize these are specialized critters, stories about weird shaped heads, giant tails and sharks the size of whales sound wrong. Same thing with specialized fundamentals in a field. The fundamentals for bouncing, prison guards and police are often very different than what Joe and Jane Civilian are going to be dealing with.

This is why when I saw a jpg of Richard Dimitri supposedly promoting
1) Don't insult
2) Don't threaten
3) Don't order
4) Don't tell him he's wrong

I went ?????

Okay I know those first two trace back to Peyton, and I know the last two from hostage negotiation strategies. Which seriously struck me as 'going into a specific field' direction (narrowing of applicability).

'Order' just sounded too much like a sound bite and not a fundamental. Whereas telling him he's wrong -- while very good advice -- is kind of specific situation advice  (as is not calling him a liar). True, but just not fundamental and general enough to guide someone's behavior in a situation.

Not ordering was a sticking point for me. This especially when I'm training cops, the protocol for establishing a pattern of non-compliance -- thereby legally justifying use of force --  is 'Ask. Tell. Order' For example: Ask him to step out of the car (complete with please and thank you), tell him (Sir, step out of the car) order (Get out of the car NOW!) After three, you physically pull him from the car. And if he resists, you drag his ass out.  But again, without some tweaking, that's heading down a narrowed applicability hole of police use of force. (Granted that tweak can also help you articulate why what you did was self-defense, but that's another article.)

Mix into that the number of times I've ordered people to 'walk away'  as a clear -- non-insulting or threatening -- communication on how to avoid violence, the 'don't order' didn't make sense to me.  You can upgrade this to the number of times I've snarled "BACK OFF" with the clear, yet unspoken, message of 'or mayhem will immediately ensue.' So ordering is not an absolute. Yes, you have to be careful about ordering someone, but to make it a 'don't?' That's an awfully big word.

The best thing I could come up with on my own was 'don't order if you're not ready to back it up.' Which is eight more words and a world apart from just 'don't order.' And it missed the whole, 'and don't be an arrogant ass while doing it' aspect.

When I questioned the jpg, a few people came forward to explain how smart Richard is for this good advice (Yes, I knew Richard back in the day, thanks for the update.) But they seemed to believe that was all there was. Nobody could really give me a good reason for 'don't order.' Then Richard came onto the scene...

He phrased it another way. A way that made me stand up and declare "YES!"

What Richard said is: Do not command.

NOW you're talking! In this context, command means (to me) being an imperious, arrogant, contemptuous asshole. Do not command is a fundamental that both addresses a common problem behavior and dovetails nicely with the 'ordering without the ability to back it up' issue. It also specifically articulates the most common way someone can violate Peyton's insult, challenge and threaten in one single sentence. With a fair dose of not giving him a face saving exit thrown in to warrant the last parting kick to your face as you're laying on the ground.

Let me paint you a mental picture. Imagine a woman walking through an otherwise empty parking at night. She's approached by a strange man and, with contempt and anger dripping from every syllable, sneers, "Get away from me!"

That is an imperious command. It is how you treat slaves, servants and peasants. It's also an insult and challenge, but more than that it's usually an implied threat. For example, "Or I'll call the cops" It is a command that the woman is most likely neither able or willing to back up by herself. It's an imperious command that relies on social mechanisms, standards -- and usually others -- to be enforced. Again, "Or I'll call the cops," which roughly translates into "I'll summon another servant [lesser being] to punish you"

It's also very much a threat display (also called display aggression). Basically it's a bluff to show that the woman is too high of a social status for the man to safely attack. But it comes across like a self-righteous noble commanding a worthless peasant.  Although, with many younger women, it's an attempt to show that they aren't afraid of being violent. The ugly truth about these bluffs is how fast they fall apart when the other person busts the person-using-commands' jaw for disrespecting him like that.

That's if the person doesn't just pull a gun and shoot the 'commander.' My all time favorite (not) is when the commander tries to bluff multiple individuals. Not only have you insulted, threatened and challenged them, but you've humiliated them in front of witnesses. Yeah, that's going to turn out well...

In case you missed it, imperiously commanding someone doesn't give him a face saving exit. Which is really dangerous because something else Rory talks about is:  You cannot shame a predator, but you can humiliate him.

To which I will add two things. One,  if you do humiliate him you're going to increase the level of force he will attack you with." Two, you become a participant in the creation and escalation of an incident, which is drilling holes in your lifeboat of 'self-defense.'

So I'm adding one more good, generalized fundamental to make the Six Rules

1) Do not insult
2) Do not challenge
3) Do not threaten
4) Do not imperiously command
5) Do not deny it's happening
6) Do give him a face saving exit.

Simple but profound fundamentals that can guide your behaviors to keep you out of violence, dictate your behavior in a situation and save your ass when -- later -- explaining to the cops (and hopefully not the jury) how you did everything in your power to avoid having to use force.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Self-generating pain

~sigh~ Some of the questions I am asked. :/ This is my response to someone whose inner demons are driving him to hell

You're asking simple questions that don't have simple answers. More than that you're doing it in rapid fire. Each of those questions can take a year of studying various thing before you even understand
a) why it's not a simple question
b ) why there's no one simple answer.

But I'll kind of give you a lump answer, that you can start looking into the various parts of and in the process, you can find elements that will help you come up with your own answer.

Most of our internal pain is self-generating. That is to say how we think, what we assume, our habits, behaviors and beliefs create ways of thinking that cause us pain, strife and fear.

That's not say that the external world isn't fucked up, it can be. But the belief that the world is ALWAYS fucked up sets us on a course to prove it ourselves. What goes on inside of our head can make us look at an okay situation and overemphasize the bad so much that it makes it look like it's fucked up. Worse is when a situation is good, we'll go out of our way to fuck it up -- again reconfirming or belief that the world is fucked up.
Now this is not to say the pain isn't real. It is. Just most of it is self-generated. Does bad shit that we didn't create happen? Yes. But again, most of our pain comes from inside ourselves -- especially when we take a bad event and run with it, make it the basis of our life's story and demand the world accommodate what has become our self-generating pain.

This is made more complicated because when you're hurting in this manner, you'll seek out ways to make it temporarily stop. This through booze, drugs, adrenaline (getting punched) and anger. It is at these times we feel both alive and pain free. All that other shit falls away and we are temporarily freed from what we're doing to ourselves from inside our own heads.

Two problems with this. One the fix isn't permanent.

That is to say while we can anesthetize the pain for short periods, it doesn't fix what is causing the pain. So when it wears off, the pain comes back again and we find ourselves pining for not hurting. This is a powerful driver for this kind of behavior. A behavior that numbs, but doesn't fix the real problem.

Two, these behaviors create a secondary set of problems. You're so busy dealing with these new problems that you never have time to look at what caused the original pain. What was driving the behaviors that created these new problems is never looked at, much less unplugged. You get layers and layers of shit piled on top so you never have to look at the self-generating pain. As such, you 'never' have to fix it because you're too busy dealing with this other shit.

This is where shit gets really fucked up. That part of you that is generating your pain ... it doesn't want to change. Why should it? It's running your life. It's right about what it thinks and fuck you if you think you're going to kick it out of the driver's seat. It will do everything in its power to keep you from changing. It's more self-righteous and convinced it's absolutely right than a fundamentalist Baptist preacher. Worse, it knows your worst fears, insecurities and weaknesses. It will turn these against you if you try to kick it out of controlling your life.

You want the hardest fuckin' knock down drag out brawl you'll ever face in your life? Go after this part of yourself. Getting kicked in the nuts, shot or stabbed is easier than facing this shit.

But -- and I speak from experience here -- it's the only way to stop the pain and keep on living.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adventures in being your own publisher

So I decided to take a year off from traveling and teaching. My goal of doing that this past January was to focus on writing and publishing. To quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it's been."

The publishing world has been thrown on it's heads with the advent of "Indie Publishing"  What a wonderful title that... Independent Publishing. Sounds way better than 'self-publishing.' Which if you remember back in the day that term had an equal sign attached. As in 'self-publishing = crap.'

On the plus side -- from a writer's standpoint -- things like Amazon, Nook and print on demand technology have been a complete godsend. Starting with payment. Not too long ago I heard a number quoted that in the old style publishing house system 98 cents of each dollar went to someone other than the author. (Which when you find out that Stephen King is the richest writer in history, makes your jaw drop over how many of his books have been sold.) Yeah, well with e-pub you're talking about 75 cents on every dollar  Less with print on demand, but still way more than publishers pay. And while there are still every six month programs out there, monthly payment is common.

Another super-sexy element is print on demand. See back in the pterodactyl days when I was first published there was serious financial risk faced by the publisher. Tens of thousands of books were printed and shipped to distribution centers. Then they were shipped to the bookstores. If those books didn't sell, the publisher ate the cost. Having said that, books collecting dust in a warehouse could trickle out slowly and sell. Then Uncle Sam did some funky shit with the tax code and instead of those books being a deduction they were turned into something the publisher had to pay taxes on. So now any book that isn't selling fast enough to pay it's own taxes and rent gets dropped faster than an annoyed scorpion. Now this pressure was passed onto the authors. You have the A list authors who make publishers rich. You have B list authors who manage sales high enough not to end up on the chopping block. And the C listers who end up on the dinner table.

Enter new technology, print on demand. You order a book and guess what? It doesn't exist until the night you order it. Oh sure it's in files and jpgs, but those are electrons Basically the order is routed to a printer who -- that night -- prints 10,000 books. But, 10,000 different books -- all on the same run. Then they're bound and shipped to the customer. Stock? The only stock we go around here is paper and ink. Now this puts authors into liver quivering joy, because it flushes the old ABC list way of doing things down the toilet. If you as an author sell 10,000 copies a month or two, it doesn't matter. It's no longer a matter of having to sell thousands of a title to stay in print.

Equally cool is e-pubs. Which really is causing the publishers kaniption fits. See with paperbacks you have production costs. Depending on the size of the book it costs this much to print it and ship it, then comes paying the electricity bill, hence a minimum price.  On the other hand, the cost of an e-book is paying the electric bill and maintaining the equipment. This naturally brings up the question of why should you -- the customer -- pay the same price for an e-book that you do for a paper book? That's not a question the publishers want you asking.

On the other hand, indie authors are happy to sell e-pubs for less because they're still making more money than if the publisher is handling things. That's why my book "In The Name of Self-Defense" costs $17.99 in paperback (450 plus pages) and $7.99 in Kindle/Nook (600 plus pages)

So those are the upside points of indie publishing.

On the down side ... well let's just say that with a publisher, things are magic. You write a book. You send it off. There's some editing and back and forth, yada, yada. And then one day ~ Poof! ~a box full of books appear at your doorstep.  In a very real sense it's like a bunch of brownies have come and done all the work. Then the royalty fairy shows up ever six months and leaves a check under your pillow.

Ever heard what happens if you don't leave cream out for the brownies?

See when you decide to take the independent route. The publishing brownies flip you the bird, knock over a few buckets and abandon you. Leaving you to discover -- the hard way -- all those little details they took care of.

First there's editing. Well fortunately for me I cheated and I married my editor. So that helps. Then there comes all the fun things like formatting, cover design, back cover copy, ISBN numbers and bar codes.

You know, it was a pretty good idea I took a year off.

It turns out the publishers actually did a lot of things. Not only don't you necessarily know them, but do you know the tricks, short cuts or pitfalls? Here's a hint, they're out there waiting like a Lego piece  waits for your barefoot on the way to the bathroom at night.

Then comes marketing. Now on this one I have to admit I had a bit of an advantage. See long ago I realized that that most publishers treat their authors like chum. Not chums, chum. Chopped up chunks of fish, guts and blood that are throwing out behind the boat to attract big game fish to the fisherman's hook  The publishers aren't going to pour money into authors who
a) don't have a good track record of
b) someone inside decides to seriously pimp and unknown author.

See the problem with dealing with big named authors is they have the clout to demand more. A pimped unknown is a bigger risk, but the returns are better because the new writer doesn't know to demand more. 

On the other hand, someone who has some experience in the writing world knows that unless he or she wants to be treated like chum, getting out there and hustling is needed. You need to keep your name and out in front of people by things like blogging, social media presence and appearances. Yeah okay been doing that for years -- although I'm going to be launching a Youtube channel soon. At first you'll end up spending more time marketing than you did writing.

Then comes learning the ins and outs of how Amazon operates. Let me tell you, that one is going to have you reaching for the bottle. Mostly because if there isn't someone who is there to walk you through it you're going to discover all kinds of Legos in the dark.  Now mind you, after you get the hang of it, it's great. It's in the interim that will have you alternatively swearing, pulling your hair and reaching for the bottle. Little things like having to wait 72 hours to see if you pushed the mandatory three buttons or only two for your books cover artwork to show up and there's the whole that department is on the other side of the planet

I just had that one happened with my latest, "Writing Violence #1: Getting Shot." It took a week to get the whole problem ironed out. And it all started because of a pdf instead of a jpg

Now the fact is, I'm kind of like a married man who's bitching about his wife, but when someone brings up divorce the answer is an unequivocal "NO!"  That's because Indie publishing is way better in so many ways. (And yeah, the money makes it worth it.)

I'm going to leave you with two things to chew over. Take a look at Writing Violence. First off, it's only $2.99. That's because it's only 50 or so pages.  It's not a book, it's a booklet on a specific topic. For a specific audience. I got sick and tired of movies and books where a character get shot and either flies backwards or falls down and dies right there. I also got fed up with magically disappearing bullets that miss the character and don't hit anyone or anything behind the character. So I sat down and decided to explain how getting shot works for a specific audience, writers. Viola! Instant and cheap resource for authors.

Now granted in the middle of trying to get it published I got a visit by the Angel of DUH! That's when I realized that people who carry guns for self-defense need this information too. For example have you ever heard of the Deadman's Ten? That's really important if someone is close enough to stab you. Because odds are good if you don't do something else than just shoot you'll be trading lethal damage. (That's why I say a pistol is not a defensive weapon. While it works wonders for stopping an attacker, it sucks for stopping an incoming attack)

Now "Getting Shot" is one in a series, but an author doesn't have to buy the 600 plus page beast  that is In the Name of Self-Defense.  Short, sweet to the point. You want specific information? There it is for a half hour investment and three whole bucks.

I tell you that to ask you: What kind of information do you know that people need? If you're daunted about writing a whole book, then ask this question:  What can you do a 30 or 40 page booklet on?  It's not that big of a deal to write a booklet.

Booklets are cheap to buy. Which hey, something I learned a long time ago.  I'd rather have a million people giving me a dollar than 3 people giving me $50,000.  If it's a topic that people want to know about, it's easy to get something out there these days.

The second thing is paying people to do this stuff.

The first thing I'm going to warn you against is finding someone who promises you one stop shopping. They'll do everything for you. They'll edit  it, format, design the cover, market it and make you millions -- all for the small price of $5,000.

No. Forget the one stop shopping idea -- especially when it comes to marketing. The only people who will do everything for you already have a name, a publisher. Now while you end up having scrapped knees and an aching jaw to get published, it should not cost you to be published by a house (although some houses are insisting that you provide pre-edited works). Publishers get paid by sales and they pay you. You don't pay them up front. (There's similar information about agents who charge fees to review your work.)

This brings us to paying reasonable fees for different people to provide reasonable services. You'll need to pay someone -- who knows what they are doing -- to design either front cover art (for e-pub only) or a full cover (front, back and spin) for print on demand. It also doesn't hurt to pay a professional copy writer for a back cover blurb.  You on the other hand are going to have run around and get your colleagues, friends and grandmother to say nice things you can use on the cover. You can pay for Amazon, Smashwords or CreateSpace to format your file or you can pay someone.  Let me tell you a trip through the US Copyright Office is fun.

Then turn your attention to marketing. There's a lot of stuff you can do on your own. Like social media. You may want to start a small webpage (many servers have web design services you can use).

Grab some books and acquaint yourself with these terms. You don't need to know everything. For example, doing a web page. That's a hireable skill. Hell odds are good that your internet provider has templates you can use. That's not what you need to know about. Keywords, meta-tags and things for getting your site higher search engine ranking, that's where you need to put your attention (if not money). A teenager with basic computer skills can design a webpage. It's the knowledge about getting that placement that you need to be paying for. I've seen way too many beautiful (and expensive websites) that have lousy search engine placement.

The really nice thing about indie publishing is you can do this over an extended period. You do the basic stuff first, then when royalties start coming in, you expand your marketing. You don't put all your eggs in one basket. If one venue isn't panning out, don't poor good money after bad. Change venues.

But most important pay for specific services. You're buying a book cover design and art. Not an editing service, book cover design and marketing promotion that will net you millions. Places that offer you everything often don't do a very good job of it and they make their money off aspiring writers. They promise you the moon, but the only people make money is them.