Friday, January 30, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
One of my enduring fantasies is the Zombie Apocalypse scenario. The dead walk the earth: rotting, shambling hordes of cannibalistic undead and only the brave, intelligent and well-armed have a chance…
The power in this fantasy is very simple and very powerful- you get to kill people without any of the guilt or psychic damage that a healthy person feels from actually killing people. The idea resonates because we know what a huge release it would be. As children, we all threw tantrums, kicking and screaming, sometimes breaking and hurting anything we were strong enough to hurt or break. This comes out in early childhood, when we are too physically weak to be much danger to the tribe, and it must be dealt with in childhood, too. But we have all felt it and we know that it feels good to rage, to scream because the world is not all about us, to destroy not just the things that endanger us or hurt us, but the things that annoy us, or even just the things that we can destroy purely as an expression of power.
We walk away from this, most of us, as adults. There are consequences to giving vent to rage. The world is not all about us, and it shouldn’t be. It couldn’t be all about me and all about you too. The math doesn’t work.
Same with the idea of Red Kryptonite. A substance that removes all feelings of guilt and right/wrong and shame. You do what you feel like because you feel like it. This is the way that we are born (inner child therapy? My perfectly undamaged inner child is a sociopath and so is yours). As we grow, we learn that there is a cost to it. You can’t use and abuse anyone you want and keep friends. There isn’t enough trust. There are potential legal and financial and health risks (act like an ass for long enough in the right places and you WILL get hurt.)
That’s only half of it, because each of those problems are centered on the self. “I don’t do bad things because I might get in trouble,” is still all about me. The world is not all about you.
A big part of growing up is coming to understand that everything gets paid for, just maybe not by you. Giving vent to a murderous rage or even a justified shooting in fiction pretty much ends there. Rarely does it go into the funeral and the grieving. Almost never to how the orphans adjust, trying to explain a world where someone they love could be brutally erased or how a widow with children must balance both grief and the need for enough money to stay alive.
Some authors go into the shooter's head, a little, with lip service to the nightmares and the flashbacks. In real life, one person may have the nightmares, but someone else has to hold them through the night. Some one else was in physical danger during the flashbacks. Someone else, someone they loved, often watched a shooter slip away into a mental world that couldn’t be shared.
Doing whatever you want is fun. It is. It just might leave a trail of broken hearts and broken people, the more broken the closer they are to you.
There was a fairly intense time when I was working with some very bad people. Bad enough that almost everyone would agree that the world would be a much better, safer place without them. In essence, I was spending eight to sixteen hours a day not killing people who could have used some killing. After shift, many mornings, I would go home and plug in a video game and shoot CGI people.
It was the same fantasy, but with another level. Even if 100% of the people agreed that these violent people needed to be killed and it would make a better place, having someone in uniform do it, without the sanction of courts, would be far worse, a much higher price to pay. The betrayal of the way the world should work would be far more damaging than the benefit of what amounts to removing a public health risk.
The things that would satisfy a child are rarely what an adult needs to do.
So here’s a line (and apply it to politics to see why I am so disgusted with both parties): children are okay with other people paying for their mistakes or for their desires. Children feel it to be a great outrage and injustice to be expected or even demanded to pay their own prices. The most immature of them don’t recognize that there is a price at all, or pretend that it is really a benefit (from “giving me money is good for your soul” to “every dollar taken by the government in taxes puts (magically?) $1.20-$1.50 into the economy” to giving failures billions of dollars so that they can continue to fail in exactly the same way. Insanity? Or simply childishness?).
Red kryptonite is a simple choice. I love the people who would have to pay the price too much to indulge.
“…I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep…”- Robert Frost
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
One of my Psychology Professors espoused that all humans are looking for “unconditional positive regard”. They seek someone who will look at them (regard) and like them (positive) no matter what they have done or are doing (unconditional). I never really had much use for the concept.
I’ve never wanted unconditional love. Whatever love I had I needed to be worthy of. I did not want a gift of 'unearned grace', a dispensation from heaven. I wanted someone to love me for what I am, not despite what I am. Someone who loved a me that they saw clearly.
Same with friendship. I like to spend time with impressive people. Strong, intelligent, accomplished people. I also want them to feel that they are spending, not wasting, their time with me. It’s a great incentive to stay interesting. To work to become what I admire.
It’s one of the reasons that I so value the deeply honest friends, the ones that will tell me when I am full of shit or heading down the wrong path or playing with matches in the powder shed. If someone I admire sees me that clearly and chooses to stick around, it’s a very good sign.
Unconditional? I trust the people who I love never to cross these lines, but there are behaviors that deserve high-velocity trans-cortical lead therapy regardless of history or blood ties. My love is deep, but there is a condition never to turn evil. Or even really, really stupid. I have limits.
When a Psych Prof says ‘everybody’ and I know damn well it doesn’t apply to me, that really doesn’t mean much. By this time, so much of my emotional wiring is home-built after-market that it’s not funny. So I’ll consider it a ‘most people’ thing and tread lightly.
But, lately, a couple of things have come up in different places…
Absurd, silly things. The kind of things that I am confident if they were just pointed out one could only laugh… but maybe not. Both of the things I am thinking about were triggered as defense mechanisms. Reflexive responses to something I said, nothing more, but so impossibly absurd that I am afraid that pointing them out would trigger a deeper defense mechanism.
One of my assumptions (this might be a little complex) is that if someone pulls out a ridiculous explanation, something their adult mind couldn’t possibly support, in order to defend a position, both the position and the explanation were implanted very early and very deep. If you push it, especially if there is no real room to run, you are directly attacking identity. The backlash can be harsh. (No, not danger: just anger and hurt and all that emotional sludge that makes me tired.)
For the people intent on finding “unconditional positive regard” it’s probably a no-brainer. Avoid hurting feelings, pretend not to even notice contradictory beliefs. Smile and move on. Also for the very few people who genuinely have their identity centered around understanding themselves- pointing out contradictions and absurdities to those few is a rare gift. Not always pleasant, but they are usually grateful when the wounds heal.
But for many people, maybe most, the things that trigger a reflexive defense are some of the deepest things about who they are. Stuff they will refuse to see and deny, sometimes to the point of death or beyond. A wise friend once said that the things you can’t see are the ones that control you the most.
It’s just a data point, something to let go, I think. I like these people the way they are. There is no obligation to fix something that no one else may consider broken.
I guess that’s my version of positive regard.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
“They drank the koolaid” is our shorthand for martial artists who have displayed even low levels of cult-like behavior. It is a reference to Jim Jones who took his little cult to Guyana and convinced them (forced them? Some? All? Who was there who lived and can tell the whole story?) to drink poisoned grape koolaid. It offered them a chance to go to the next world as a unit, I suppose.
There are a few words I have to explain here that I may not use in the common way- bias, prejudice and bigotry.
Bias is just a statement of preference. I like steak better than cauliflower, as do all right-thinking people. Jamieson’s Irish whisky better than Bushmill’s and Ardbeg scotch better than either. I don’t have a lot of trouble with biases.
I don’t have a lot of problem with prejudice, either. We all pick up clues based on appearances about what is likely to trigger our biases. I expect a green glass soda bottle to have something citrus in it, not a cola or root beer. I prefer to not eat at a restaurant that smells bad from the outside.
In human terms, I don’t like stupid, lazy or rude people. I just don’t. Those are some of my biases. My prejudices, however (and I try not to show it, that would be rude) are that I expect slow people to be stupid, obese people to be lazy, and loud people to be rude.
It’s not always true. It is true often enough that it is reinforced.
However I know and cherish people who have triggered all of my prejudices without proving them out.
Here’s the thing- prejudice only becomes bigotry when you cling to your belief in the face of facts. When you treat someone as if they are lazy or stupid when they have proven that they aren’t, that’s bigotry. These are my personal definitions.
It is related to the talismanic thinking in the martial arts.
We all have our preferences, biases. I’m an infighter. I know people who like grappling; who like striking; knife guys; gun guys; people who work out in pristine white pajamas and people who work out in their work clothes. It’s all good. Just preferences.
Then there are prejudices-e.g. “sports martial arts are better for streetfighting”; “grappling is the most practical”; “winning at (insert your contest of choice here) is the best way to find out if something works”; “the guys in white pajamas don’t play hard”; “the guys who wear camo are bad asses”; “older styles are more real”… These are just beliefs that people have about what constitutes a valid clue. If you have been paying attention, have both an open and a critical mind, you can use your prejudices to quickly narrow down the field and choose something you are likely to be happy with. Generally, that’s cool.
It becomes a problem when facts cease to matter. Actually, only a problem for me.
For most people, martial arts is about fear management, not danger management. It is a way to feel that they have “a pretty good chance” or that they can “take care of themselves”. It’s about the feeling, not the ability. So becoming blindly dogmatic, absolutely certain that your Purple Lotus of Screaming Death Style is the end-all and be-all vastly increases your fear management. It makes good sense, from that point of view, to ignore those annoying little things called ‘facts’ and even to shut out experience- in extreme cases, even your own experience. So it generally really isn’t a problem for the koolaid drinker himself (and no one seems to be able to call it koolaid while they are drinking it). It’s only a perceived problem, and only for me, because I look at it through that dastardly danger-management lens.
There are levels of koolaid drinking. People who believe that their master has a scroll that is older than the native country’s written language or that their unarmed style was designed to fight mounted warriors. Those are pretty extreme.
It’s a group thing, too. Martial arts (and other specialized societies) create tight little self-reinforcing communities. Sometimes it is formal- the hierarchy specifically discourages dissent. Sometimes it is informal with the students banding together to protect the integrity of their fantasy.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
“Plundering and devastating the enemy’s country, which play such an important part with the Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily induce reprisals, and which did more injury to the enemy’s subjects than the enemy’s Government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the Nation back many stages in all that relates to the peaceful arts and civilization. War, therefore, confined itself more and more, both as regards means and end, to the Army itself.” Carl von Clausewitz "On War" pp383 Anatol Rapoport translation
So- this is the basis of the concepts of proportionate force and attempting to limit civilian casualties (cf Israeli warnings to neighborhoods about exactly when and where they would strike.)
This seems obvious and right, yet what happens when you face an enemy who deliberately uses your feelings, beliefs, protocols, customs and laws to harm you and conserve his own strength? When he deliberately hides his firing positions in civilian areas, or hospitals or schools?
It’s a great soundbite- once you have the media on your side you can be confident that they will not show the damage or bodies of that you have inflicted, but they will film in loving detail the shattered bodies of the children that you used for a shield. You targeted bus stops, but you were never so evil as to target schools...and yet you hid your weapons in schools and fired from them. No matter, roll the cameras and show the broken children and cry for restraint.
Very neat, very effective, but it presages another sea change in the art of war. It is time for a different spirit for a new age.
More from Clasuewitz- paraphrased. For a time, war was seen as a political thing involving mostly the cabinet and the army. With the rise of the French Republic, everyone felt that they were part of the State, not the subjects of a State. War became everyone’s business and we wound up with the entire weight of a nation on the French side versus only the army and the politicians on the other. Wherever Napoleon met this old way, he crushed them.
Not until Spain had its citizen’s insurgency; Austria made the extraordinary step of activating many of its citizens for war and Russia deliberately followed the Spanish lead- only then did the Grande Armee begin to lose.
Someone said (and I wish I knew who) that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
So we live in a country where most citizens have never served in the Armed Forces and some citizens openly show contempt for those who do; where people vote as if the primary purpose of the government were to ensure that the voters have enough possessions; where decisions about war are made not by the popularly elected legislative branch (as required by the constitution) but by the largely appointed executive branch… have we regressed to the model described by Clausewitz? Tradition (policy, procedure) and equipment against people? People adapt very fast, bureaucracies less so.
And so another point. Winners always lose. The problem with being a winner is that there is little incentive to get better and the previous losers and people that feel they are going to lose have nothing better to do than to harness all of their creativity, all of their resources and study the winner for weaknesses. They eventually find a way… and the erstwhile winner cries that it wasn’t fair. ‘They’ changed the rules. Changing the rules is one of the best ways to win. And winners are terrified to change the rules that they have won by in the past.
We are in the midst of a sea-change in international conflict, even a change in what international means. That’s not true. It’s not ‘the midst’. The change has happened. I am not even sure that we are trying to play catch-up or trying to adapt in any meaningful way. Rules that were taken for the very highest of ideals are being used by ruthless men to make better men seem careless or even vicious. One group is fighting, or trying to fight, against ‘armies’ and reduce, even eliminate harm to civilians. The other group is deliberately blurring the line- no uniformed armies, civilians exploited to perform military functions including acting as shields, no nations to conquer or negotiate with in many cases.
Eerie parallels with the world that Clausewitz described. The old ways did not survive the crisis of Napoleon. What will change now, and who will adapt?