Thursday, May 15, 2008

Triggers and Stops

An author (and very nice lady) once said, "The only reason people ever resort to violence is out of great fear, great anger, or great desperation."  I smiled my snotty little grin and said, "I do it for money."  That might have gone really badly, but Jayel was wise and it became a talking point for a long time.  We both learned a lot.

Jayel is a good person and insightful.  I have no doubt that she did some deep soul searching and knew that she was capable of violence (a step up from a few friends who deny even that) and knew what her triggers would be- extremes of fear, anger and desperation.  It's a good insight.  It gets problematic when you assume that since those are your triggers, those are the triggers.

"I do it for money."  Not really.  Sort of.  Absolutely.  I deal with conflict and violent people as a profession.  I do get paid for it.  Far more often than not, I get paid for talking them out of making me use force.  But the force option is still always on the table.  As a job, though, it changes everything.  I can never use force out of anger.  If I use force out of fear or desperation (outside of an ambush) it almost always means that I let things get out of hand, or took chances or didn't see something coming when I should have.  So Jayel's triggers are there in me, but my triggers come into play at an earlier, professionally chosen time.

Violent people raised in a violent subculture have different triggers.  If you have seen the logic of violence- the first to attack the hardest wins- and have never been socially conditioned to see any moral problem with violence your trigger might be simple convenience.

If you have been conditioned to believe that certain tabus (the color of a bandana, someone saying bad things about your mom) must be dealt with violently or it will endanger your status with your group, your triggers for violence might be a complex web of social rules invisible to others.  That's a form of fear, too- the fear of being cast out or just losing status in the group.  I'm not sure it qualifies as great fear.

Fear, actually, is the primary preventative of violence.  For normally socialized people, a conscience is enough: fear of feeling bad, fear of disappointing parents and mentors and loved ones.  They would understand if you were forced to violence by great fear or desperation and maybe even forgive you for a great and justified anger.

Most of our violent criminals and even our low-level hustlers were never socialized in this way.  For normal people the concepts of guilt and shame are givens.  To learn that there is a large subculture without these feelings is jarring.  If you want some academic corroboration, pick up Fleisher's "Beggars and Thieves".  Personally after years of listening to criminals it took a long time to realize that outside of attempts to manipulate people I never hear them say that they "felt bad" about something or express any real sympathy at all.  Compassion is simply a skill used to find weakness in a potential victim.  When they do express sincere regret (talking to themselves or within their own groups) it is always for consequences to themselves.  Not for widows or orphans or scars that they have created but for time that they might serve.  Things they might lose.

Most prefer intimidation to violence because it is safer.  You stand a little too close and keep one hand under your jacket and ask for some money, you might get it.  The guy says "no" and looks like he's ready to fight, no harm in walking away.  You intimidate and the guy gives you money, that's panhandling.  There's an ordinance against aggressive panhandling, but that's at most a ticket and hard to prove.  You use force, and if a cop happens to see you that's robbery.  It will probably get thrown out: just claim the guy pushed you first and the money fell out of his pocket, but you still might spend some time in jail.  Which is okay, sometimes.  Worse, you use force and the guy knows what he's doing and you could get hurt.

When groups of people with that mindset are concentrated, as in the penal system, it would turn Lord of the Flies really fast if not for the officers watching, but they can't watch everything.  Groups form and one of their primary purposes is to provide a threat of retaliation should someone attack or cheat or steal from a member of the group.  The combination of fear of retaliation and fear of the disciplinary process is what limits the violence in jail (and jails/prisons are far more violent than most neighborhoods yet far less violent than they would be without this).

That's a huge and interesting divide between the population of citizens and criminals.  Socialized people need fear or something similar to trigger an act of violence.  For the criminals, fear is generally the only thing stopping them from resorting to violence as a first option.


Anonymous said...

You didn't mention that many people get off on violence.

Kai Jones said...

From my childhood I think of violence as something people do because it's fun and they can, and they can get their way fastest and easiest that way. Might makes right, it's not exactly a new idea--in fact it's amazing we were able to bandaid a different behavioral standard over it, even as an ideal. It obviously isn't fully incorporated yet, or we wouldn't have had the "G-d made man, but Colt made them equal" slogan.