Monday, February 27, 2017


Snowed in a lot over the winter so getting some good reading in. For the classics, just finished Seneca's "On the Brevity of Life." Seneca may be the only Stoic so far I haven't enjoyed. Misonius Rufus is next.

Also just finished one of the best books in a long time, Tom Wainwright's Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel.

It was a kick. Taking the Freakonomics approach and applying it to the world of cartels. Why violence is rampant in Mexico but has dies down in El Salvador. Why tattoos keep labor costs low. The etiquette for leaving feedback when you buy heroine on the dark web. Franchising, subcontracting and offshoring in the world of illicit drugs.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Got to watch an interesting specimen. In retrospect, I’ve seen them before, quite a lot actually. But this one was blatant enough to draw attention. Attention brings analysis. 
Have to unpack the language here, and talk about a couple of categories and some background concepts.
Creepers are low-level sexual predators. The kind that harass and pressure women, but always with deniability. Rarely ever cross the line into something legally actionable, or something that could legally justify physical self-defense. They stand too close, shake hands too long, try to increase the physical intimacy of a relationship (e.g. pressuring a good-bye hug from someone they just met.) It hides in the normal social interaction. Rather, they disguise it in the normal social interaction. Many are willing to apologize, to explain away, or even call in allies to make their targets feel like maybe it is all imaginary, there is no problem… Some are sophisticated enough to cultivate an image of “social awkwardness” that gets other people defending their actions: “Mel’s always like that. It’s not a gender thing he does the same weird stuff around me and the other guys.” Perfect camouflage.
Most women who have been in any kind of  office environment recognize the problem and know the type. But also, many excuse or explain away their own instincts.
Violence groupies are all over. If you’ve been in any kind of force instruction role for any length of time, you’ve seen them. These are the guys that follow you around, begging for stories about ugly fights and death and violence. It’s not a healthy fascination, it’s pure fantasy fodder. Some of them even get fuller lips or lick their lips when they ask. Lips are erectile tissue, BTW, and swell when you get excited in certain ways. The lips are your face’s dick.
The specimen this time was both.
Concept: Unconsciously deliberate. People are largely unconscious machines. The words in your head are weak and pale (and very late) reflections of what is going on in your head. There’s a study out there where scientists watching an fMRI could tell what decisions a subject would make as much as six seconds before the subject consciously knew. You can pretty much get over the idea that your conscious mind is the driver.
You see people clearly planning and setting up situations that they will absolutely deny were intentional. We’ve all seen it— the guy who has been married for X years and meets an interesting women and starts dropping her name into conversations with friends, starts making sure she has a place in the social network, slowly gets everyone used to her presence. Starts minimizing the wife. Then one day after a big shared victory, there will be a bottle of wine and things will “just happen…”
So, back to creepers and violence groupies. You can’t accidentally stand too close or ask inappropriate questions. Those are volitional acts. But you can either be (e.g. raised in a culture with different rules on proxemics) or pretend to be oblivious that your choices are inappropriate. Watching the pattern, it may be unconscious, but the actions were one and all, deliberate.
And this is an aside, but we have the idea of justice tied intimately with the idea of conscious intentionality. A planned murder is considered a more heinous act than an unplanned act of rage. As long as the creeper can convince others that there is no conscious intent, the others will believe his acts are unfortunate instead of malicious. If the creeper can convince himself, he acts guilt-free.
So, and I have no answer for this— when an act is clearly deliberate, is there any way to tell if the perp was truly unconscious, pretending to himself it was unconscious or deliberately using the impression as a way to manipulate others (very conscious.) And, way to tell or not, does it matter?
Two of the giveaways. The deliberate ones do target-prep. Long ago, someone introduced himself in a class I was taking as, “That guy.”
“That guy?” The instructor asked.
“Yeah, you know, there’s one in every class, the guy who asks the inappropriate questions and bugs the instructors.”
Oh yeah. Look at that. This specimen has declared his intention to be disruptive. Any of the normal conversational response (the usual is the class snickers and the instructor says, “Thanks for letting me know,” with a little laugh and moves on) gives the specimen implicit permission. He has declared his intention, and has influenced the entire class not to object. This isn’t self-deprecating humor. This is victim grooming.
When someone touts their self-awareness of their bad patterns it isn’t admirable. If they are aware of the bad patterns then any step down that path is a choice. Once you know you’re ‘that guy’ acting like ‘that guy’ is a choice. Your excuses are gone.
The recent specimen had a tactic. At first I thought it was new, but in retrospect I’ve seen it before. He went around after class to apologize to the instructors. Again, the default is to be professional, polite (read ‘social and following the social scripts’) and try to minimize what he was apologizing for. But I wasn’t in a social mood.
Specimen: I just wanted you to know I’m really sorry.
Me: For what?
Specimen: You know (very smarmy voice: Yooou knoooow)
Me: I can think of a lot of things. What do you mean?
Specimen: I know how I can be.
Me: Then you have no excuses.
Specimen: Change is hard for some people.
Me: Not really.
Specimen: I’ve been working on this for years...
Me: Let me cut to the chase. When you say “I’m sorry” what you really mean is, “I fully intend to do the exact same things again and I want your permission.” The answer is no. You don’t get my permission.
Specimen: That’s not the way I thought this conversation would go.
The other giveaway: If this was subconscious, habitual, ‘just the way I am’ fear of consequences wouldn’t change behavior. More telling than the conversation I just described is his reaction afterwards. If a target sets boundaries and the creeper backs off, it may indicate an honest misunderstanding of proper behavior. Maybe. And if it is an explanation, the behavior will change universally (I once explained to a socially awkward friend the rules for shaking hands. He had assumed that the more he liked you, the longer the handshake went on and he creeped people out. Once the rules were explained his behavior improved with everyone, not just me. He is an example of someone who honestly didn’t know.)

But if someone changes behavior only around the people who simply say, “I know your game” then he knows his game as well. Deliberate and conscious.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Agency and Interdependence

I recently read Junger's book, "Tribe." It hit a lot of my buttons-- not well thought out or researched, explanations just asserted even when there were far simpler possible explanations. He had a theme  and a bias and stuck to them... but it got me thinking.

We live in an amazingly interdependent society. How many of you butcher your own food? Make your own clothes? Do both? Raise the cotton or wool to make the clothes? You're reading this on a machine you didn't make. Maybe, if you are really good, you assembled your own PC, but you damn sure didn't make it. Amazingly interdependent... but not really.
Societies have always been interdependent. You can think of the best survivalist societies you know-- the Kalahari Bushmen or the Lippan Apache or whatever and in all of those societies of super-survivalists, the greatest punishment was to be ostracized. Because as good as they are, no one survives for very long alone.

What's missing now is not the interdependence, it's the awareness.  One side is easy to see-- the iconoclast rebel who declares himself free while typing on a keyboard (that some corporation produced) and sucking down corn chips and Mt. Dew (ditto) in his mom's basement (do I need to say ditto again?)

It's physically impossible to tweet "I'm off the grid."

Junger wrote about the other side. All of us, on some level, want to feel the interdependence. We want to feel the connection. Corny as it sounds, we want to serve.

A few of us have been trying to figure out why it seems that individual power--agency-- is so systematically denigrated in modern society.

I think there is an assumption that agency is a contrary force or contrary attitude to interdependence. It’s not. In what I consider a natural society— tribal hunter gatherers— increasing one's own agency was important for the good of the tribe. You wanted to be the bravest warrior or the most cunning hunter or the wisest healer. Change that, not ‘or’.  Ideally ‘and’. So it was all about increasing agency or personal power, but for the good of the tribe. 

You can look at the collectivist movements (socialism, communism, fascism) as attempts to force a tribal level of interdependence from the top down.  It takes massive control because the tribes are artificial and we have enough radical ideas and different points of view that people can find their own tribes and can easily switch tribes. In order for it to work, people would need a monolithic set of values. Hence force. And failure. But those movements appeal mightily to the people looking for that sense of connection.

As wisdom (one type of power) increases, so does a recognition of interdependence as a fact. Individualists recognize that agency is not a contradiction to cooperative society. It is required if we want society to continue to improve.

At the same time, we aren't insects. We will never all have the same values or the same priorities. Nor should we. Wisdom is to let people disagree.  Even more than focussing on increasing our own agency for the good of the tribe, we focus on increasing the agency of others. Accepting other people’s differences _and_ their power.  

Our society tries to draw a distinction between the passive and the active-- and to include passivity in the definition of "good" (but that's a post for another day). That has resulted in the infantilaztion of adults. Screw that. Be strong. Let others be strong. Cherish their strength and your own.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A New Tool

Finished a new book about a month ago, "Processing Under Pressure" by Matthew J. Sharps (link at the bottom). It had been sitting on my shelf for a long while, and I honestly don't remember if I bought a copy or if it was a gift. If it was a gift, and it was from you, thanks.

Either way, it probably wound up on my shelf because the publisher used the same stock photo for the title that my publisher did for a book I wrote, "Force Decisions." Funny, right? And also a cautionary tale about using stock photos, probably. But it was a good book. A good read and probably the best layman's introduction I've found for some of the neuroscience behind decision making and fear.

There were a lot of crossovers between Sharps book and other stuff I like, and that's always gratifying. He presented academic theories that were very close corollaries of Gordon Graham's "discretionary time." And ConCom's Monkey and Lizard. Good stuff.

There was also a tool in the book. "Feature Intensive Analysis." He didn't describe the actual process, it was more of a, 'people have a tendency to gestalt, but when you have time you will make fewer mistakes if you analyze the features of the problem.' So I let the concept sit and played with it for a bit.

Underlying background concept. Labeling, or "ist-ing" is one of the reliable signs that your monkey brain is in control. We call people names to put them in a tribe we don't have to listen to. If I call you an asshole, or any descriptor that puts you in a group, whether your political, religious or national affiliations or... it puts you outside my tribe, Which means (to my monkey brain) I don't have to listen to you. It protects me 100% from the possibility that your arguments might have merit. We all do this.

Sharps used the term gestalt as a related concept. A gestalt, traditionally, is when you see the totality of a concept. A car is thousands of little parts and each car is different, but the gestalt of "car" exists in our head as a unified thing. Professor Sharps pointed out, that just as labeling is a tool to prevent you from analysis, so is a gestalt. Whether you use the ConCom word of labeling or Sharps' interpretation of gestalt, it is a way to not think. And people are lazy. We have a definite tendency to avoid the laziness of hard thinking.

Shading into politics, one of the things that has been annoying me is the "all good or all bad" soundbite nature of most of the things I see discussed asserted. I realized these are gestalts. If I call you a "fascist" (or asshole, most people don't distinguish) I don't have to think, I'm done.

So I decided to take a stab at my own feature intensive analysis of my gestalts in politics. On one axis (sorry, talking about fascists here, forgive the pun) a list of my political labels-- communist, democrat (party), fascist, libertarian, republican (party), socialist...*
On the other axis, traits that I consider important. The features. I tried to be careful with the source of the features. For instance, I didn't use the modern academic definition of fascism but Mussolini's definition. I used Marx directly for the features of communism. For the stuff that wasn't in the literature, I used personal observation when available. If I didn't have literature or personal observation, I gave that feature a null value. If literature contradicted, I gave a null value. If observation and literature contradicted, I went with observation. For instance if a group insisted that they were for personal freedom and peace, but called for everyone who disagreed with them to be executed and planted bombed (I've just read both 'Prairie Fire' and 'Underground') they got marks for "being okay with using violence to silence their opposition."

I may not have used the FI Analysis the way Sharps intended, since I was back-engineering from a vague description of effects. But I liked it. I found it useful. It did confirm some of my gestalts, some of my impressions of how closely related some of the political labels were. But if it had been just confirming what I already believed, I'd be pretty skeptical. Like everyone else, there's a part of me that likes pre-existing beliefs validated. That's not what happened. I found a few quite unexpected similarities and differences.

And before anyone asks, no. I am not going to share the specific analysis here. 1) I didn't do it for you, I was testing a test for (to an extent) objectively testing my own instincts and, 2) There are few things more likely to put you, as a reader, in your monkey brain than to show you that your favorite affiliation is actually 80% similar to your most hated.

*Not right/left or liberal/conservative, I consider those to be a different taxonomy. I could do an FI analysis those traits, but it would be an apples-to-oranges comparison with the affiliations listed.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance and Denial

Anna blogs over at God's Bastard. And we have some good conversations. There's a whole side to self-defense that doesn't lend itself to soundbites and simple solutions. What are the options in a violent relationship when the victim is economically dependent on the abuser? What about when the entire social support network is shared between the abuser and victim?

And there are other subjects that dance on the edge of deep buttons: How often is domestic violence a one-way street? What about cultures that have wildly different ideas about consent?

One came up recently. One of the common reactions to an accusation of abuse is denial and normalization. A child accuses an uncle of molestation or rape and suddenly mom and dad, the fierce protectors start saying, "Oh, I'm sure that couldn't have happened. Uncle Fester would never do anything like that. Little Kelly must be exaggerating again."

On top of the act of violence, the victim has to deal with the betrayal of a social network that pulls away. Protectors who deny, essentially calling the victim a liar, add to the damage.

I get why professionals doubt. We have due process and "innocent until proven guilty" for very good reasons. But Anna asked why so many victims in families are left out in the cold. Denied.

My take? People are stupid and talk a lot of shit. But only in the abstract. They are loud-mouthed in their machismo and silent in their cowardice. So the person who has watched innumerable news reports about child molesters and always said, "If anyone did that to my kid, I'd kill 'em." Well, that person now has to put up or shut up. Faced with the actual prospect of doing what they said they would do and the sure and certain knowledge that they'd go to prison for actually doing it, they become silent cowards.

But they can't bear to think of themselves that way. They can't be cowards. The event must not have happened. Because if it did happen, they definitely would kill that somabitch.  And they aren't killing, and they refuse to recognize their cowardice. To prevent cognitive dissonance, they are left with denial.

It comes up too, in personal self-defense. A lot of critical decisions, actually. Draw your lines. Know your go buttons. But think of them all in terms of the consequences as well. Promising to avenge your daughter may satisfy your indignation, but promising to go to prison for her is the reality. Is it worth it? If not, keep your mouth shut.

Have a plan. Know where your lines are. Know what you will do when they are crossed. Know the price you may have to pay (on every level: social, legal, emotional, medical...) And keep your mouth shut. If you hit the line and can't find the guts to execute your plan, at least you won't be outed as the liar and coward you are. And if you do hit the line and execute the plan, well, words are discoverable and can come up in court. They can also give a heads-up to the target. Either way, silence serves you better.

And last point-- If you have been outed as a liar and coward (like all the people who said they'd leave the country if the election went a certain way) don't deny it. Resolve the dissonance. You might learn something.

Friday, February 10, 2017

More Writing Whining

Hopefully, this will be the last of the introspection posts for a while. But I committed to writing close to the bone:
Another reason the new book hit me so hard was that the process (my life process for the last several years) has violated my own epistemology. My society has a common belief about where knowledge comes from. There are nuances, of course, and people have varying loyalties to their own thought processes, including their epistemologies, but the general belief seems to be:

We have a large pool of all known things, called Science. There are special people, called scientists, who add to that pool. They study the known Science, and ask themselves questions, and design experiments to answer those questions*. As those questions are answered, the body of science grows, and as it grows, the pool of known things becomes greater.

I know that's absolutely not how it works. The asterisk marks the place where laymen completely misunderstand the scientific method. * In real science, the scientists hypothesize answers to the questions and design experiments to prove those answers wrong, to test the limits of those answers. Science doesn't prove, ever, it disproves. It is not a fact finder but a bullshit detector.

And most of the big gains in science have worked exactly the opposite. Almost never does big growth come from building on past knowledge. The big growth comes serendipitously, from noticing something that science can't yet account for and figuring it out. Darwin noticed that there were no rabbits in perfect rabbit country in South America. Every school kid learns about the accidental discovery of penicillin. Einstein had to think outside the box to work out relativity, and maybe that was made easier because experimental science did it's job and disproved the widely-accepted idea of aether.

I was raised in a society that takes the mythologized idea of science as its primary epistemology. Unless I am careful, that's my default. That idea has a powerful but subconscious sub effect. The model is Darwinian. Whether or not you believe in evolution, on some level you believe in Darwinian selection. It is nearly impossible for a thinking person not to believe so obvious a concept.
Short and simple: In any given population, whether a species or a body of beliefs or a design or an advertising campaign, there exists a range of differences. The differences that are more successful propagate faster than the ones that are less successful, and each succeeding generation is more like the successful generation before it.

The model is a perfect example of circular logic: Whatever the next generation looks like determines what the environment was selecting for. This is only a problem if you're self-centered. If you get miffed because what you value is not what was selected for. An excellent engineering design can be trumped by a superior ad campaign. The economic environment in which ideas compete to survive is ruled by pocketbooks, which in turn are ruled by emotions. An excellent business model that serves many consumers well can be regulated out of existence by government agencies who want to flex power (ours is a mercantilist, not a capitalist, system.)
Circular logic, in this case, doesn't make it wrong. We directly experience selection in every aspect of our lives.

Because of the Darwinian sub-aspect to our epistemology, we have a subconscious default that our current practices are the best available. Every society and most individuals have had a reflexive view that their ideals of right and wrong are universals, but this is something different. Republics are assumed to be better than aristocracies because they evolved from and therefor must have been superior to, those aristocracies. Our teaching methods evolved from older methods, and therefor must have been superior to those older methods. QED.

Except, not. Because of the circularity of the Darwinian logic, that statement will always be logically valid. But it is begging the question: superior with regards to the challenge of what environment? Artificial selection is always faster than natural selection. I have no idea how many tens of thousands of years for natural selection it took to drift wolves from coyotes. But it took a fraction of that time to create chihuahuas from wolves. Are chihuahuas better than wolves? Not stronger, not smarter, but they are absolutely more successful. By Darwin's rules, the chihuahua is superior to the wolf. Because man hunted one and bred the other? Man is just as much a part of the environment as climate.

Most instructors, including me, have extensive experience with the public school system and with martial arts training. Another cognitive bias enters here. When you have devoted a significant chunk of time and effort to something, you have to start telling yourself it's because it's the best. You see it in martial artists all the time, and in people who have taken a profession they disagree with and debaters who are assigned a side they disagree with but in the course of forming arguments convince themselves of their position.

Is our public education system effective? In terms of access, yes. In no other way that I see. Any service provided by the government will always be a lowest-common-denominator solution. It will be run by bureaucrats for the sake of it's own bureaucracy. Paperwork will always be more important than people. Compliance with standards will always trump mission. In the school system, private schools who have to compete (for students and money) will consistently produce better achievers than a system that has no competition and whose clients are compelled to attend. Despite the fact that the US spends more money on public education per student than any other country, our public schools are regularly out-performed by private schools, charter schools and even home schoolers who are essentially amateurs at education. Basically, anyone who cares about the students, or simply wants to be better than other teachers, outperforms the lowest common denominator. Big surprise.

Upshot? Our current educational system is a Darwinian survivor, but not by competing for making a smarter or more critical or more self-reliant kid. Exactly the opposite.

And martial arts training. The rote training, kata, forms, all of that, get a lot of flack from martial sports and combatives. When things are predictable, you can script them. When unpredictable, attempting to script is worse than useless. I've looked at some martial arts training classes and thought, "This is exactly how I would train my enemy to fight."

And maybe that's what happened. If the Japanese had conquered the Americas in WWII and the occupying army ordered you to teach them American catch wrestling... how would you teach an enemy occupying army you hated? Especially working through shitty translators?

Though I can intellectually see the flaws, these are the models I was raised with.

And thus my hesitations on writing a book about teaching. I want to have a bunch of scientific papers to back my my observations that it works better. (One of my first readers is a professional educator, and he showed me the research was out there-- Thanks, Quint.) I want it to build off of the traditions of training in my culture. I want it to be a visible evolution. In short, like a little whiny special snowflake, I want to do something really really cool but with absolutely no exposure to any ego risk. And that's too bad for me.

In lots of ways, this teaching method is a devolution, turning back the clock.
Is teaching about the student? the material? you? your career? If the answer is anything but the student, this book isn't for you.
Are you willing to let your students be better than you, and become better faster?
Can you handle the fact that this is about chaos, and changing the questions as much as finding the answers? Do you get that that means your students can change the rules on you whenever it suits their needs? And that means they will beat you. If you need things controlled and measurable, you aren't teaching survival, but obedience.
The smallest, weakest student you have ever had is a natural predator. She may not be able to fight you, but she can kill you. Easily. Do you have the courage to teach those tools and show that mindset to a super-predator?
If someone you loved was going into harms way in the immediate future, how would you give them the best chance possible?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Thresholds and Knife Defense

A while ago I got drafted to teach a weapons defense workshop. It's not something I teach often. I've written about the format here (it has changed in the intervening years).

The last post (just below this one) back in November I talked a bit about thresholds.
The threshold ├╝ber-basics. These are levels of experience, completely separate from training. There are likely many more levels I've never experienced. Just as training is no substitute for experience, experience alone is no substitute for training-- it's entirely possible to be an unconsciously competent but shitty driver.  The levels:
 No experience. You can't even know what you don't know. You can have a lot of information and tools. You can be an excellent instructor of those tools.
1 Encounter. Mentioned in previous post. Tend to be focused on a single answer and teaching tends to be more for personal therapy than the benefit of the students.
Conscious incompetence. Somewhere, and following Ken Murray's lead on this it's around 3-5 real force incidents, the shock becomes less overwhelming and you start trying to apply your skills. Side effect, you realize how little your really know.
Conscious competence. You still have to think, but you're starting to get good at it.
Unconscious competence. You deal with the problem without consciously thinking about it. Tend to make poor teachers, because they don't consciously recall what they do, and a lot of technical nuance has become complete mental gestalts.
Split mind. I've only heard one other person talk about this, but you let your body/hindbrain deal with the primary problem unconsciously and divert your conscious mind to something useful. In my case, it was almost always composing the report.

This might seem exotic applied to self-defense, but it mirrors most people's experience learning to drive (manual transmission, at least) pretty well.

After the weapon defense seminar in Manhattan, a friend asked why I don't teach it more often, and I pulled out the line that it would be stupid to train under a judo coach that only had five matches.

That's only part of what's going on. My reluctance stems exactly from the threshold model. The techniques themselves are clean. Designed around the attacks that happen. Efficient. Gross motor. I know the key points and failure points. Are they answers? In Knife defense? You gotta be kidding. But they are better than zero percent chances, which is the best I can offer when it comes to knife defense.

If I'd never had anyone try to stab me or only one person, I'd probably be eager to teach this stuff. Unconscious incompetence and confidence often go together. But on knife stuff I am solidly at conscious incompetence. Emphasis on the conscious. I'm completely aware and very focused on how much I don't know. How many of those five encounters depended on luck and maybe instinct...and knowing that luck can't be taught.

If I'd had a few more people try (and was lucky enough to be intact) I'd have the confidence to share.

Hmmm. Two posts in a row working out my cognitive biases. Pattern?