Sunday, July 17, 2016

Overlay

Working on a model. A lot of things have puzzled me for the last several years, especially things that look, to me, like people fighting against their own self-interest; people blind to the disconnect between their own peaceful words and violent actions; people arguing and even rioting against their own civil rights (WTF, people?); demands to add power to already failed initiatives and institutions...

The people that see the problems I see tend to have certain things in common. And the people who don't see the disconnects also tend to have things in common. I think the disconnects fall on a common fault line, though. So let's see if I can dig this out here.

There is a natural world. In that natural world, things follow the laws of physics and the laws of biology. If you want a rock on top of a hill, energy must be expended to get it there. Most things you eat comes from the destruction of another living creature. Want a burger? A sweet, docile, brown-eyed cow must be killed, chopped up into it's constituent parts and some of those parts ground into piles of once-living flesh. Want a beer to grow with that? Barley must be chopped and carefully rotted.

There is an economics to the laws of biology/ecology. It's not exactly a zero-sum game, but energy must be exerted to get benefits. You must expend the energy to move to shelter. To get food. To not be killed by creatures that want you for food.

This reality underlies everything. Bellies need to be fed, in order to feed bellies, something must be destroyed and some person must initiate that destruction. Meat doesn't come from grocery stores, it comes from ranchers and slaughterhouses.

That reality is stark, and people are very uncomfortable with it. Extremely darwinian. There will be winners and losers and extinctions.

Nobody likes extinctions and they dislike people losing (in an abstract way) and hate being losers themselves, and so they set up or empower someone else to set up a system that overlays and attempts to control the natural world. You can't control the natural world, but you can influence the effects.

But by creating this second ecosystem that overlays the natural one, you create a second way to play the game. If I can't feed my family, I can invoke the rules and someone else will feed them. If I'm not a good enough businessman to prosper, I can apply for grants or get a bailout or donate to a congressman who might write rules that hamper my competitor.

Technology has out paced population. We don't live in a scarcity economy and almost no one has any direct connection to something as primal as procuring food. We have machines powerful enough that it takes a remarkably small number of people to deal with the real world-- to butcher the animals and move the heavy rocks and build the roads and...

So for most people, the artificial overlay of rules (written and unwritten; intended and unintended...) have always been more powerful than the real world. And the people who manipulate the artificial world (politicians and bankers, for instance) have always been more powerful than the ones who work in the real world (industrialists, for instance*). Thus, the artificial world feels more real, and in day-to-day life, has more impact than the real world of hunger, cold and injury.

That's background. Here's the deal.
No matter how detailed, intense, powerful or all-controlling the artificial world becomes, the natural world never goes away. And every so often, in a natural disaster or a spree shooting, the natural world intrudes. For people who see the artificial world as the real world, the answer is obvious: We need more rules. In modern society, the response to fear has become micromanagement. Which works so well in the business world, right? Sigh.

But hurricanes and spree-shooters don't follow human rules, that's what makes them what they are. They follow physics or the laws of biology. Society's rules are just magical incantations and they only work on believers.

Universally (so far, I'm sure there are exceptions) the people that see the problems I see have lived close to the edge. They have been hungry with no one there to help, they have had people try to hurt or kill them and been profoundly alone. Which means they come overwhelmingly from the poor and rural demographics. Conversely, the ones who believe you can create a written answer to a physical problem have spent their lives in a rich, privileged and artificial world.

Both the worlds exist. Both affect our future. We need to recognize them both and recognize when a problem is beyond the reach of the artificial world's tools. IME, the people who have been exposed to the real world have no problem recognizing the artificial. They may get significantly self-righteous that their world view is the real or good one (long look in mirror here... I'm back) but unless they are completely off the grid, they know damn well about the overlay. Does anyone truly believe  that hard work and reliability is the fast-track to promotion in a big organization? Or that brilliantly arguing your professor into a corner will improve your grade?

But it is possible to live entirely in the artificial world and to believe that it is the only world. That writing rules somehow, magically, controls events. And for the most part, this isn't only a safe bet but a good one. The artificial overlay is the most powerful of the two worlds right now in day-to-day life. Right up until it fails.


*When you reflexively think about "evil corporations" are you thinking about the ones who provide your laptop, phone, car and food? Or the ones who exist just to manipulate interest and debt? I'd argue that they are very different.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Take a Breath

There's a lot happening in the world right now. More than you know, but probably less than you fear. Take a breath. Tension, fear and anger all make you stupid. And the resultant stupidity is a tool for someone else. Don't be a tool.

People learn through story. News outlets make money through advertising. People are tribal.
News sells stories, not data. They don't just tell you what happened, but try to tell you why, and what it means for you, and have a cast of characters and sometimes a moral... It's not a conspiracy or deceitful. People bond to stories and "just the facts" reporting would lose all of their audience to something more entertaining.

In broadcast TV, radio and newspapers, the media sells you. They work to deliver a certain number of viewers to their advertisers. To be a successful business, TV news has to keep you glued to the TV through the commercials. In order to do that they need a compelling story. Or just to make you angry and afraid. It works doubly well, because angry and afraid people are easily manipulated, and that's what advertisers want. Who does your fear and anger serve?

Story and tribe. In the modern world, tribes are abstractions based on story. The narrative trumps the truth and it must trump the truth because not standing with the tribe is unthinkable. So when a cornerstone of the narrative is shown to be false, the tribe doubles down. They alter facts to fit narrative. They invent entire incidents to keep the emotional bonds tight.

A concept I stumbled upon recently, I'd credit it if I remembered who I heard/read it from: When you are offended by a social injustice, if you want to fix it, don't bother looking at who suffers. Look at who profits.

Works for other things than social injustice. Who profits from your fear and anger?

Another concept, one of my guiding principles for civilians caught in high-casualty situations: Don't make things worse. Don't increase the chaos. It's related to the golden rule of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) to wit, Don't do anything that increases the EDPs adrenaline.

Anger and fear are contagious. They feed off each other. The infect others. They spread. And they make things worse. I know some of you have taken your fear or your anger as parts of your identity and don't want to let it go. Let it go anyway. From that mindset not only are you part of the problem, you are serving someone else.  Someone who profits from rage and chaos.

Friday, July 08, 2016

A Hint From the IDC

IDC is Instructor Development Course. It's not a standard "Master Instructor" or "Train-the-Trainer" course in that IDC is about teaching regardless of subject. Master Instructor and Train-the-Trainer courses are usually certifying people to teach a something specific. CRGI's IDC centers around self-defense instruction because that's our common language but we're definitely not teaching a system. IDC is about the "how" of instruction, not the "what." Which probably only makes sense to me.

Garry and I taught an IDC last week. We had an extra day (one day more than last time, two or three days less than we need) so we went deeper into the business stuff and curriculum development.

Here's a thought for curriculum development, a quick and dirty thought experiment.
If 1) someone you loved was 2) going into harm's way and 3) this person was completely innocent and 4) you had five minutes on the phone to tell them how to be safer, what would you say?

That's your most important thing. It tells something about how you prioritize. I think awareness is the most important skill, but five minutes isn't even enough to make sure we have a common vocabulary. I think the most important physical skill is surviving the unexpected ambush, but that takes more time and I can't do it in words. I have something for a short advice. So should you.

If you had two hours hands on, what would you teach?

That's your core. The things every students should get as soon as possible.

If you had more time, what would you add? What is your most essential four hours of information? Eight? Sixteen? Forty?

As you write this out (you will write it out, right?) be careful to note where you get redundant or start to add things that aren't strictly necessary. That's where you start transitioning from a survival skill to an art form. Still nice, but a different thing.

As you get more time you can go deeper into subjects, and with more time you can change the order. For instance, I think the most important thing for most students is to get grounded in violence dynamics, but that's not the first thing I do in a one or two day seminar. It works better if the ice is broken by physical play, they've already had the context talk which sets the need and several references to hunting versus fighting have been filtered in. Early things prime the pump for important things later.

Counter assault is the most important physical skill, but it goes faster if the students understand drop step and structure a bit, so power generation comes first.

You get the idea. As a self-defense instructor, what's your core?

Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is Life Stuff

Just finished teaching an Instructor Development Course with Garry Smith of the Academy of Self-Defence in Sheffield. Not planning on debriefing the class here. But there was some very big things that came up.

The course was a deep introduction to teaching: what it is, what it means, the breathtaking responsibility. In the end, teaching is the re-engineering of another human being. Think what that implies. A student will come to you and when that person moves on, he or she will move on as an entirely different person. If they do not, you have failed utterly as a teacher.

We can never give the student what they want. Humans want homeostasis and comfort and, in the end, they want to learn without changing-- which is impossible. They want, in a self-defense class, to learn about fear and danger yet never become uncomfortable. The essence of teaching is that it is transformative. True teaching is incompatible with homeostasis, with comfort zones.

During the course, what I kept picking up from student comments and questions was that everything blended. When you organize your concept of SD there will be Building Blocks, Principles and Concepts. But teaching, also, is composed of Building Block skills, based on Principles and understood by Concepts that change with experience. And so is business (we covered primarily teaching, curriculum design, critical thinking and business in the course.) In the end, consciously or not, you will live your life the same way.


Because living is learning. Unless you are working very hard to maintain your comfort zones, living is learning. Life is change. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Suit

Had to put on the suit this morning.

Last night, decided to check in on FaceBook and just happened to see an update on a memorial page and backtracked and... yeah. The memorial that was postponed? This morning. So I put on the suit.

2016 has been a year already. We all (if you've spent time in this world) have the list. As we get older, it accelerates. The people we know get older, and the old die, eventually. The list grows.

Ron was a good man. He was the training sergeant when I was hired on. At different times he was my sergeant and my lieutenant and my Chief Deputy. He envisioned and formed the CERT team and I was on that from our first call-out. Of all the administrators, he was the one we trusted. It was a simple question, really-- given the choice between an underling dying and your career, what would you choose? Ron was one of the few that we really felt would sacrifice his career to save a life. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but spend a little time in any government agency and see how rare it is.

Lots of stories, but they belong to us. And they'll be shared between us, when the time is right. NPNBW, brothers.

The service was well done, but my radar wouldn't turn off. I noticed the significant negatives. Who didn't show. What was not said.

I hate funerals. I've been to too many, but that's a stupid thing to say since one would be too many. At the same time, memorials bring us together, people who are usually too busy to get together, to just say "hi" find the incentive when someone dies. And I appreciate reconnecting, but hate the reason.

The suit symbolizes that. I've been fortunate enough to work jobs where suits were a rarity and when a suit would normally be required, there was a Class A uniform. So the suit, to me, mean a funeral.

At least I couldn't smell any lilies.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Farm Boy Workout

One of the things I missed from being raised in ranch country was the work. No running water, we (I) packed it from the creek in five-gallon buckets. Enough for all household use and enough for all the animals that were penned and couldn't get to the creek themselves. The first two years, until dad installed a pump for the garden, that was watered by hand as well. Packing water. And splitting wood. And building and repairing fence. Putting up and repairing outbuildings. Milking cows.

Ranch kids tend to be really strong for their size. It's a side effect of manual labor as a way of life. But not all manual labor. There's a pretty nice whiskey called "Monkey Shoulder" named after the guys who shoveled coal. Lifting and tossing shovelfuls of coal for ten or fourteen hours a day, day in and day out will make you immensely strong-- in one motion. And kinda bind up your body for other motions. Not even talking about repetitive use injuries.

Ranchwork, you might spend a week digging postholes in rocky terrain. Shoveling is good exercise, but using a tamping bar ( six foot long, inch and a half thick steel bar pointed or wedged on one end, flat on the other) is a nice core workout. The next week pulling barbed wire. Summer bucking bales of hay and moving irrigation pipe. Splitting wood all year, but mostly in autumn. Packing water and milking the cows and goats every day.

The work is unpredictable. It was never three sets of ten reps. You bucked as many bales of hay as you had. Sometimes you could choose the pace, but if you saw dark clouds all of the hay had to be in before the rain got to it. You milked until the cows were out of milk. Total muscle failure or cramps in your hands? Tough. Stretch it out and keep going. We had a hard milking cow and at first my hands were going to muscle failure two to four times a session. Twice a day. Every day.

There were no rest days. My friends who work out scientifically insist on the importance of rest days, but cows make milk every day. I think the body adapts to the conditions. Hmmm. Hitting one of the science versus experience paradoxes.

And little of this was working with ergonomically designed tools. Barbed wire is designed to keep cattle in, not to be carried or tensioned by human hands. You have to hold big buckets away from your body to keep your legs from brushing them and spilling it. And, nature of water and gravity, you always carry the empty buckets downhill and the full buckets uphill. Rat bastards. T-posts are ridged and nobby and carrying bundles of them digs into you.

One other thing that distinguishes ranch work. You worked hard at being efficient. Some days you were going to work all day and nothing was going to ease up until dark. So you used your whole body whenever you could instead of isolating. You rested or even just rested a part (like hammering staples with your left for awhile to rest your right arm) whenever you could.

Feeling nostalgic. Our little herd of goats, which is planned to be four permanent with 2-4 kids a year for meat is now at nine and they've denuded the fenced parts of the property. So K and I have spent most of the last two weeks (lots of breaks for other obligations) building fence to give the goats access to another huge stand of blackberries. Days of hacking paths through blackberries with machetes, cleaning the paths up with clippers, raking. Digging post holes and pouring concrete to set them. Pounding t-posts. Manhandling rolls of hopefully goat-proof field fence. Tensioning wire and pounding staples. Last couple of weeks I've been working like I was a kid again. And loving it. But feeling it, too. All the joints make noises of protest in the morning. It's been a good couple of weeks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Reason as a Discipline

Neil hit a critical point:
"There are so many cognitive biases that I'm pretty convinced humans almost never act based on reason. But then that's what makes us who we are. Why try to be something we're not?"

Neil is right. Again, from ConCom, we spend most of our time in our Monkey Brains. Being fully in the human brain is rare. And it is probably just as much a Dunning-Kruger as anything else-- some of the least rational people I know insist on their rationality. Conversely the most rational people I know are always questioning themselves. In my opinion, the expert is not the one who can tell you what is right and what is wrong. The expert is the one who can argue from any side, explain why he or she believes that one side has more merit and is able to say, "Of course, I could be completely wrong because..."

Also remember that reason is a discipline. It is not an intention or an attitude. Declaring yourself to be reasonable or logical does not make it so.

From my current work-in-progress:
Understanding experimental design and logical fallacies are just two parts of a much greater skill. That skill is critical thinking. Like reading people, it is not binary. It is something that continually improves with practice but will never be perfect.
People are by nature, far more emotional than rational. Rationality is actually a rare and precious skill. Even more, survival, self-defense and the crimes that necessitate them are emotional hot buttons....

One of the biggest hurdles to true critical thinking is that we have a presumption of our own objectivity. We can look at all the people around us making stupid decisions clearly based on ill-informed emotion, and never, ever notice that we do it just as much. To actually be good at critical thinking requires a willingness to doubt yourself. Ideally, an ability to find the joy in error-- you only truly learn when you are wrong. Searching for your own blindspots is a life-long endeavor.

You can never be rational. We all have cognitive biases (See Heuer's Psychology of Intelligence Analysis for the most useful breakdown I've seen.) We all have blindspots. We have experience that shapes are perception and interpretation; ideas of normalcy that will be out of tune with many other points of view; habitual ways we analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions that miss other options.

There is no point at which one can say, "I am rational. I am objective." It is a skill. Something you get better at through dedicated practice. Like the Stoic idea of good, you couldn't get there. You work towards it. That's virtue.

It is really easy to analyze other people's positions, statements and stances and point out the logical fallacies, the facts they choose to ignore, and declare them irrational. It makes one feel superior. It's a trap.

The valuable skill and the discipline is to do the same with yourself. Know the logical fallacies well enough that you catch yourself when you use them. When you catch yourself shunning a source or a point of view, dig down and find the reason. And you have to learn to differentiate between your own excuses, justifications and the real reason. (Hint: justifications and excuses don't predict future choices.)

To reject reason because reason will never be perfect is to cut off your left hand because it will never be as dexterous as your right (see what I did there? Multi-lingual pun.) Or to reject being good because no one is perfectly altruistic. To reject all learning because we never know the universe...

Reason is a tool, and it is a tool that improves with practice. Further, it can sharpen and assess all of your other tools. It can be a check on your own integrity. Never perfect, but it makes things better.

And any time you reject a tool, you reject part of your own agency