Thursday, July 27, 2006

Beliefs, Values, Morals, Ethics

This is something I picked up at the police academy a decade and a half ago that has been really valuable. I wish I knew who to attribute it to, because it is a good tool.

The concept is: Each individual has a heirarchy of right and wrong. This hierarchy is individual and idiosyncratic and each level depends on the level below it.

BELIEFS are those things you hold to be true.
Given those beliefs your estimation of the relative importance of the "true things" are your VALUES.
MORALS are a generalized feeling, based on your values, of what is 'right' and 'wrong'.
ETHICS arise when you try to codify your morals in concrete terms.

Couple of caveats- these definitions are specific to this system. Ethics and morals are greek and latin translations of each other and are pretty much synonyms in common usage. This also can look kind of fuzzy given the system in four little lines. Bear with me a minute.

So a couple of examples (following does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the author, me):

"I belief that all life is sacred."
"However, I value human life more than animal."
" It is wrong to take human life and sort of wrong to kill animals."
"Thou shalt not kill people, and you should only butcher animals where I can't see it."

A change at the Value level creates a different person:
"I believe that all life is sacred."
"I value all life equally."
"Taking any life for any reason is wrong."
"Meat is murder!"

The power in this as a tool is to realize in any disagreement where the fundamental difference lies and to understand that you CAN NOT convince anyone who disagrees from a basic level with arguments from a more abstract level. If the issue is a difference of morals (an intuitive judgment of right and wrong), you won't be able to convince them with an ethical (a logical, legalistic, code) argument. If someone doesn't value life at all, it does no good to argue what type of life is most valuable.

If you run into a PETA member who honestly feels that humans and animals are of equal value, you will never convince this person with a moral or ethical argument. You would literally need to shift their values and it will be easiest to do that by clarifying their beliefs:

"If all life is sacred, does that mean that nothing should ever be allowed to die?" or "Is this a personal preferance or a natural law, because it seems to me that in nature, every animal dies..."or "If all life is sacred are the natural acts of life, such as a carnivore killing and eating, also sacred?" Lots of people have never thought through their beliefs at this level and sometimes there's a good amount of self-discovery in talking at this level. Will it change 'em? Not always.

You see this problem in some of the most intractable arguments in modern politics. Abortion, from the pro-choice arguments, is largely a moral issue: It is wrong for any person to tell someone else what they can not or must do to or with their own body. It is based on a deeper value of autonomy, possibly tinged with a sense of injustice that women had almost no reproductive rights for much of recorded history and that is based on a deeper belief that controlling someone else's body IS slavery...

The core belief of the pro-life lobby is that the fetus IS a baby. Not a potential life, not a piece of tissue, but a baby. From that belief the next step (value) is simple, weighing the life of a child over a change in the woman's life-style. Balancing the murder of an innocent baby against the ease and freedom of being childless...

This kind of issue can never be settled at the intuitive moral level or the logical ethical level (which is where all written laws reside). It may not be solvable at all, unless someone can find a a little room to maneuver in subjects as definite as the definition of slavery and the definition of life.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Getting It

If you aren't careful, experience can become your worst enemy.

You may have had a hundred fights, but this particular fight you will only have once. If you play off the old scripts and the situation changes, you will fail.

I'm halfway through a fascinating book called "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzalez. At this point, I can't accurately summarize it except to say it's about why some people die. He's covered the neurochemical response to stress and how it can lock you into previous behaviors. How when the stress goes on you can lock your eyes on the goal and kill yourself smashing into it. How a well-worn mental map can become "more true" than the reality it was meant to describe. How people who are used to a safe environment and working to make it safer mentally choke on the idea that there are some things that you can never make safe- that walking in the woods a hundred times is fine until Nature decides "today's the day" and you are faced with how truly miniscule a human brain, body and spirit are in the face of a cold ocean, thirst or an avalanche.

It hit a lot of my buttons about violence, because we can't make this job safe. It can't be done. You can develop incredible tactical skill and superhuman awareness and have every gadget known to man and still go in to break up a fight and be burned to death with some thrown rubbing alcohol and a lighter.

One of the things that keeps coming up echoes one of my admonitions: Gonzalez says that survivors are the ones who never hold their 'reality maps' to be sacred, who keep an eye on what is actually happening and don't have a problem with ditching a plan or just getting the hell out of Dodge when the situation ceases to resemble the plan. I say the people who get fucked up are the ones who think that they have the answer.

It's not about answers- it's about the questions.

Tony sent a note into Cyberspace, someone had told him it was a pleasure talking to him because he 'got it'. It bugged Tony, because he has enough experience with bad people and bad situations to know that there are no answers in real life, and he's a very humble martial artist who sees all that he has yet to learn,

But he does get it, in a way that very few martial artists ever do: There aren't any answers. There's no silver bullet, there's no Holy Grail. There is no training or system or instructor who will make you safe. Everybody dies. Well trained and conditioned martial athletes get their asses kicked or their throats cut or gunned down in the street. Well-trained tactical officers get shot in the back of the head and Delta Operators get overwhelmed and ambushed.

And no one wants to hear that. They don't want a teacher who says, "I don't have any answers for you." People pay for answers. They want solutions to problems.

The best you can give them are percentage points, and remind them to keep their eyes open to what is going on. Tony gets that. Not many people do. Not many want to.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Problem of Mushin

Mushin is the state of "no mind"where the body does the appropriate thing quickly, completely and without conscious thought.

For beginners, they see the fist coming at them and they think, "I'd better block" and they do, usually too slow. In mushin, you never consciously see the fist or choose the block. The same thing happens in many, many areas of our lives. Most people remember how complicated and difficult driving was the first time and rarely appreciate how automatic it has become. The same with music, but we see a higher level here that applies to martial arts- some can sight read music and play without thinking about it, many can play a favorite song "by heart" without thinking about it, but very, very few can 'jam'- can meld seamlessly with a group of players making beauty out of chaos. That, my friends, is a lot like fighting.

So I usually see two camps, constantly arguing with each other:

Position 1: Train hard and mushin will be there when you need it.
Position 2: How dare you tell someone to rely on a mystical state that you can't even prove exists when their life is at stake!

The biggest danger to students doesn't come from either side, it comes from the arguments themselves.

All of life is incredibly complicated and we do an incredible amount on automatic pilot. Real combat can be one of the most surreal and complicated things- your body may be pushed to it's limits of strength, speed, endurance and durability; your brain will be soaked in a cascade of neurochemicals and you have two or more human animals in that state with different perceptions, plans and inclinations. Then there's the Twilight Zone stuff that sometimes happens.

Your conscious brain can't process it. Both camps know this. But your subconscious, especially if it has been trained well and hard, can deal with it. It doesn't have to deal with it 'right'. I will tell you and any self-defense instructor will tell you that high kicks are generally a bad idea, but in one case a friend flinched and kicked the bad guy in the chin. Game over. On paper an iffy technique, but the subconscious dealt with it.

The traditional camp says Mushin will be there when you need it, and they are often right. People who train hard and give themselves permission to do what they train can accomplish amazing things. A metaphor: Training is a vehicle. An assault is suddenly seeing a piano fall off a truck in front of you when you are doing 90 mph. If you are driving a sports car, you cut the wheel hard, cut back and accelerate. If you are driving a jeep or a pick up, you veer and keep the wheels straight if you go off the road. If you're driving a dump truck, you accelerate and smash through the damn thing. If you are in one of these vehicles and you try to drive it like the others, you die. Cut the wheel on the dumptruck and you flip. Smash through with the sports car and you're smashed. Go off road at speed with either and you're in bad shape.

Trying to decide what to do instead of letting your training do it's job, is like driving the sports car like a dump truck- or worse, not being able to decide how to drive and getting killed with a deer-in-the-headlights look like an idiot.

The other camp, when they aren't just complaining and are actively training, tend towards scenarios. It's easy to go into pure fantasy with scenarios but the idea with good scenarios is to expose the students to situations as realistic as possible and let them work it out. Unlike real life, you can learn from your own death. But the core idea, the real meat, is that if you do scenarios enough and well enough when the real fight happens it won't be unfamiliar territory. If it looks and feels enough like training, you'll have the home court advantage, you'll be able to think instead of simply react.

The flaw, of course, is that often thinking is too slow and you must react. Scenario training still gets there, it's just that the point at which the person is cooly thinking of options while the Sim bullets whiz around his head is NOT the goal, it's actually one of the most dangerous mental way-points. Things happen at such speed that you must get to the conclusion without going through the mental process to get there. Thinking, no matter how cooly, is falling in love with the dead time.

The other camp, 'work hard and you'll get there', is right sometimes... as long as the brain doesn't obsess on the fact that this moment if nothing like training. That's a deadly freeze.

In both cases (though the scenario camp is reluctant to do or admit this) you must give your body and subconscious mind permission to handle it. Without the conscious 'You' interfering. That's a huge leap of faith.

I've done this a lot. Honestly, I usually plan the first second or second-and-a-half of a fight. Everything beyond that is stroking myself. Then I let go. I trust my will to survive, my moral base and my skill even (especially) without conscious control.

I feel the argument between the two camps is dangerous because the first time you let go, it is an act of faith. People telling you that what you have to trust doesn't exist can put a hole in your faith. On the other hand, after the tenth or twentieth time, the people telling you it doesn't exist range from amusing to annoying.

One more note- when dealing with chaos not all people react in the same way. For some, Mushin is automatic under stress, for others it doesn't happen at all... and the only way you can find out is to go into the storm and take the leap of faith.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Making Waves

There's an area where we have always known we have trouble with contraband. The inmates who clean up the roadways and homeless camps find lots of interesting things and, when they can, they smuggle it into our facility. I had the idea a few weeks ago of attacking this problem in the middle instead of at the ends (the ends in this case being the work site and the entrance to the facility). With the help of the friendly neighborhood K9 drug dog, we went through the trucks.

We went through some of the trucks.

Well, only two really.

Because that was all the contraband we could lift. Knives. Smokes. Lighters. Tools. Porn. Complete sets of civilian clothes. CDs and players... The stuff from one truck covered four tables in the conference room. We knew there was a problem, but no one had imagined this. Deputies with twenty years in were saying, "No way! No fucking way!"

There were only three of us involved in the actual search, but it had been planned with work crew, senior administration and enforcement. It wasn't, or shouldn't have been, a surprise to anyone. Yet one deputy says it was grandstanding to take pictures of the contraband. He, and he alone, is more worried about a colleague being embarassed than the same colleague supervising inmates with hidden knives. It's true that the work inmates have chainsaws, but the officer hands them the chainsaw and knows who has it. The one he doesn't trust with the chainsaw may have a knife...

The pictures were really impressive, but I'm just grandstanding...

Paranoia moment: A friend said, "Hey, I was down at headquarters and I heard some good stuff about you, heard you were doing a good job."

I froze, and stuff started sliding through my head, old conversations from headquarters: "What you need to understand, sergeant, is that there are line monkeys and there are office people, and you're a line monkey..." "Sergeant, you're just a tactical guy. You shouldn't even be speaking on these matters..." "Everyone who works the line is beating people up every night and they're lying about it!"

I honestly thought that there were only two kinds of people at headquarters- people who didn't know I existed and people who couldn't stand me. Looks like I need to get over that.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Motivation and Dedication

In BCT (Basic Combat Training otherwise known as Boot Camp) there were several days devoted to classroom training- intelligence briefings on the Soviet Threat, classes on surviving chemical and biological weapons, Chain-of-Command... that kind of stuff. Questions from the recruits were encouraged.

Several of the other training platoons started prefacing their questions with slogans to show 'spirit': "Drill Sergeant! Private Jones from 3rd Platoon the best platoon! My question is..."

When I had a question, I asked it: "Drill Sergeant! Private Miller, First Platoon. What is..."
The drill stopped me right there. "What's the matter private? Aren't you motivated?"
"Drill sergeant! No Drill Sergeant! I'm dedicated! I'll be there long after these cheerleaders have burned out!" Fortunately, the drill sergeants we had- Smoll, Bowe and I can't remember the third, liked that. Smoll and Bowe had seen a lot of ugliness and valued dedication over motivation.

This is in my head now because of the ugliness mentioned in the last post. There were some bad and, in my opinion, unethical decisions made. I called the boss on the bad decisions and refused to go along with the unethical one... and called that one out into light. THAT's MY JOB. It's not easy and I don't always enjoy telling people I usually respect that they are wrong but that is my job.

And it's just a job.

But all week (and I've already had two days of it and it's making me tired) the individuals involved will be taking me aside and having long, private, heart-felt conversations to make sure that we don't have a problem. It's as if they expect (and I've seen it, so it's not an irrational expectation) that no one would actually speak out unless they were deeply angry.

I spoke, so I must be angry.

I'm dedicated. I'm dedicated to my job so I do the job. I do it as well as I can whether I'm tired or frustrated or injured or having problems outside of work. Not just when I'm motivated or in the mood. That's what I'm paid to do. That's what I swore I would do. Sometimes that involves saying things that people would rather not hear. That's okay. the best lessons are the ones you don't want to hear.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


The stuff I should write about leaves me cold right now. I expect criminals to try to ambush me, not colleagues. I expect some of the inmates to try to make my job harder, not senior administration.

Inmates don't bother us because, deep down, what do I care if a swindler who cheats little old ladies or a crack head or a child molester or a murderer thinks of me? We act honorably for ourselves, not because of what the inmates might think. But we do care about what other officers think.

It was a pretty ugly day. We had some information and we did a good hard search of one of the problem dorms with drug dogs and all available man power and we found a lot of contraband. Not all the contraband was important. Drugs, weapons and firestarting stuff are a bigger problem than someone stockpiling food or extra clothes.

It was a good job. The deputies did an outstanding job with excellent control, the sergeant in charge of the area busted his ass both on the search and getting the paperwork done.... and the senior administrator though it was odd that there was so much paperwork and dismissed it all...and tried to blame the people doing the job. Without a word to any of the people involved.

We deal with an ugly environment but morale, particularly with this crew, is usually very, very high. We do a good job. We take care of each other. Then someting like this happens and for MONTHS we'll be looking at anyone with brass on his or her collar as a potential enemy.

That was only one incident from that day, the less serious of the two.

Monday, July 03, 2006


A deputy tried to convert me to Christianity tonight. It would have been better received if he was one of our more ethical or least self-centered deputies, but, alas. On the other hand, I've never had anyone of really deep ethics who genuinely cared about others attempt to proselytize. Just my experience. Your mileage may vary.

It would seem that if you were going to try to convert someone to your religion, or any religion for that matter, you'd use the sense of any basic predator and look for the weak or the injured. Wouldn't it make sense to concentrate efforts on people in a spiritual crisis or identity turmoil or at least somewhat unhappy? Thinking back, the handful of people I know who were successfully (and fanatically) converted to a religion were caught at exactly these low times. So... hmm... the good converters do follow the predator dynamic. That's interesting.

So why try to convert me? Until a direct question is asked, people usually assume that I am the same religion they are: live a fairly ethical life, do things you're proud of and speak with a little respect and knowledge of whatever religion comes up and it's just assumed that you're a fellow member of whatever flock is on their minds (I once had a girl write a letter suggesting we explore a long term relationship since we were both born again fundamentalist christians in a godless, secular world ?!?)

In this case, I think it was as simple as validation. He'd taken certain clues (I was on graveyard shift for awhile and got very good at crossword puzzles) as signs that I was very intelligent. Unless he could prove to himself that I was firmly in the grip of satan, it was an affront for someone he considered intelligent to disagree.

It was weird. He'd been "studying the bible for 26 years" but he'd never read Josephus or any of the Jewish philosophers or even any contemporary history books to supply any context. When that part of the conversation didn't go as he'd planned (and honestly, I wasn't trying to be an ass) he switched to the supernatural effects he's experienced from being "born again". That was a non-starter, too. I've been involved in and experienced some pretty weird stuff.

"But I wasn't dreaming this," he kept saying. Neither was I.

He asked if I believe in an afterlife. I do, because of some personal evidence, but I told him it didn't matter. Trying to explain, I told him that what made Lucifer into Lucifer was that he wasn't satisfied to be an angel. This is a huge, beautiful world and I will never in my lifetime or many lifetimes exhaust the beauty, mystery and sheer experience of it. How sacriligeous to ask for something more, as if the world was not enough.

The very need to seek an afterlife, to seek something beyond and above the miracle of life and every day is the very attitude that created (according to Milton) the Christian Satan. Maybe, maybe if life were something that I would use up or exhaust it might be right to seek for more. But what kind of petty monster is given inexhaustible riches and lives in the very hand of God and snivels for something more, for heaven. To be in "His presence". If you aren't in his presence now, if you can't see that you live in the very heart of the divine, dying won't help you.

Last night (it's 24 hours later. I got busy) driving away from this encounter, the west was a half circle of brilliant royal blue with a curved line of glowing, layered gold and pink clouds directly overhead and a swirling black mass of clouds to the east flashing with sheets of lightning. A half moon rode the edge of pink and gold. It was beauty and power, light and dark.