And I am getting back to this because I don't want to lose the thread, not because I don't have other things to write about. Those will have to wait, though. Let's get started.
Like most predatory species, humans have two distinctive modes of violence. These modes are qualitatively different on many levels—emotionally, intellectually, how they are carried out and even the common effect. Like other mammals, humans simple don’t use the same skills on our own kind that we use on food.
A schoolyard fight is qualitatively different from butchering a chicken. Killing a chicken is quick, efficient and deadly. I won’t say, “no muss no fuss” because it can be really messy, but you are just turning an animal into meat.
A schoolyard fight (or any of the other manifestations of social violence, from domestic abuse to war) involves a lot of muss and fuss. People, with a few exceptions, need to get angry before they fight each other. Angry, afraid, indignant-- but there needs to be an emotional content. It is slow. No one can look at a schoolyard fist fight as a model of efficiency and even when the combatants have trained to be efficiently dangerous, as some martial artists, their skills rarely manifest in a real fight.
And even when they do, it is not the same. Kris Wilder interviewed me this morning. The podcast will be available sooner or later on Martial Secrets. Kris, like me was raised killing his own food. Butchering animals. His technique was to shake a hat at the steer, below the steer's nose. the steer would look down at the hat and you would put a .22 LR bullet into the sweet spot. Distract/Bang. 1200 pound steer dead as toast. No muss. No fuss.
Even skilled people don't fight like that, because they fight. They don't just eliminate. Distract/Bang works just as well on people as it does on cattle. But if we are in our sovial modes we'll forget that.
And don't forget, social violence needs an audience.
In the end, we fight people, but we simply kill animals.
Humans are amazing creatures, though. It has occurred to some of us and been tested over time that we can, if we choose, use the skills of hunting and butchering on each other. It is rare. Very few people are wired to kill cold and often people who have made the conscious decision to kill still need to get angry, still need to make a show.
But it can be done. The three previous lessons (On the survival, need, and identity predator) covered the thought processes of, and how to deal with, the rare but very dangerous human who can treat you like a sandwich.
This series of lessons will cover the patterns of social violence so that you will have a leg up on identifying which are dangerous and how you can avoid them.
Humans are social primates. We are not strong or fast or stealthy. As survival expert Toby Cowern says, “As animals, we’re crap. We have no business being at the top of the food chain. Except for our brains.” Our brains allow us to adapt and learn, but our primary survival strategy is the group. We cooperate. We live and work together.
It’s not always comfortable. Humans don’t automatically like other humans, but most humans have a deep desire to be liked based on a deep fear of being alone.
Long ago, I noticed that if you hand a friend a baby and the baby doesn’t smile, the friend will get goofier and goofier until he gets a reaction. Seeking acknowledgement from a baby who could barely focus her eyes.
Being a bastard, I did an experiment and reversed it, started holding babies and staying completely expressionless. It turns out a baby, only days old, will also get goofier and goofier trying to get a smile from me. That’s some pretty deep wiring.
Need for a group, deep wiring, and the fact that conflict will arise implies that there must be strategies for dealing with conflict within the group. Strategies for social violence.
Unlike hunting (asocial violence) the purpose of social violence is rarely to kill. Killing within the group weakens the group, both through lost numbers and in trust.
Social violence follows patterns just like language does because it is a form of communication. And it is something we have lived with every day of our lives, so we all know the patterns.
Raised as many of us were to believe that violence and conflict are inherently wrong, we have to establish some foundation.
Conflict is inevitable. Until we have a world of infinite resources, someone will have more than someone else and someone will resent that. Unless everyone is genetically engineered to be exactly the same, young men will vie for the attention of the prettiest girls. If something is inevitable, I don’t see the value in calling it ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ That’s like trying to put a value judgment on gravity.
Conflict will lead to violence if the needs driving the conflict are not satisfied in another way. If your children are hungry you will get them fed…and if nothing else will work, you will kill the chicken yourself.
If your child insists on running into the street, you will escalate through a disciplinary series of actions: yelling or a time out or grounding or… and it is the child, not you, who decides when the escalation stops. If you refuse to take the punishment to the level at which the child will respond, the child will do whatever he or she damn well pleases and maybe get killed, or maybe just run rough-shod over you. If you have naturally good kids who always respond at the ‘raised voice’ level those are good kids. That doesn’t make you a strong or even a good parent.
Social conflict has certain very specific goals.
1) To establish and maintain the identity of the group. There is no group without outsiders. Your family is your family. The other six billion or so people in the world are not. If you attempt to include everyone in a group, there is no group.
Group identity conflict manifests in a number of ways.
Though the intensity may be different, a college fraternity hazing, a gang ‘beating in,’ and the selection process for an elite military unit follow the same dynamic. Violence (or, in the military case, induced stress) can be used as a rite of passage, something you must pass through to be one of us.
It also manifests in how outsiders are identified and treated. Why do both participants in a domestic violence situation sometimes turn on the responding officer? Because he is seen as an outsider trying to take control of an in-group problem. The underlying dynamic is the same as the “Mississippi Burning” murders, and similar to a lynching. It enabled the death camps.
The scale may differ. The explanations, excuses and justifications may differ. But the dynamic is the same.
2) Social conflict establishes territory and the access to territory. In the savannah, different species share water holes. They could turn every instance of getting water into a fight to the death, but they don’t. Pushing another group to extreme desperation might be quite costly.
That said, access isn’t free. A troop of baboons who go to a water hole watch each other, protect each other, do threat displays and do their best to let everyone know that they will fight. If they fail to do this they will be killed or driven off.
Human on human, this ranges from tagging a gang’s turf to crossing a border checkpoint to everyone checking out an unfamiliar face in a local watering hole. The dynamic is the same. Groups will mark territory, they will defend territory and there will be a protocol for crossing or entering territory… and trespassers will be punished.
3) Social conflict establishes hierarchy and roles. Almost all species have a ritualized ‘combat’ between males of the same species. Deer, bighorn sheep, bear, even snakes have a type of fight that looks like violence. But it is never the way the same species kill prey and it is almost never lethal.
Two bighorn sheep butt heads. One gets the herd of females, the other walks away.
In humans it is a little more complicated. We don’t vie for a single top spot where only the alpha male gets to breed. We do need to have a place.
In any group you can think of there have been certain roles. Most groups have a leader, someone who comes up with ideas about what to do and generally gets everybody in trouble. The group will also have a “go-to” member. When something needs to get done or a problem needs to be solved, you bring it to the go-to, not to the leader.
Almost every group has a joker. And someone who listens to personal problems and offers comfort. Many have a scapegoat, one member of the group that everyone picks on and is treated like shit. There is a clue there. Many people would rather be treated badly in a group than not be in a group at all.
The stress of a child moving to a new school or an adult moving to a new job or team isn’t a fear of not belonging, of being cast out. It is a fear of being forced into a role they despise or having no role at all.
All of us have a few preferred roles.
4) Social conflict establishes and enforces the rules of the group. In many ways, rule enforcement is a subset of identity enforcement. A group without rules and norms isn’t an identifiable group at all.
Further, the rules that are enforced do not need to make sense and are often ‘carriers’ for tribal identity. All people in history ate. There is no identity in that. What they eat, how they prepared it and what it is served on or in, those make up pieces of culture.
When someone breaks rules, it may be a challenge to the group’s cohesion or a challenge to the group’s survival. In more primitive, marginal times there wasn’t a lot of distinction between those things. A group at odds with itself had a much harder time surviving.
5) Social conflict, specifically having mechanisms to deal with social conflict, are intended to keep the group going with minimal change. Even something as egregiously dysfunctional as the abuse cycle of domestic violence serves this function. As long as the pattern is repeated, the group is stable.
It seems illogical, but dying for the group is a time-honored tradition. We could not have soldiers without this part of the human condition. No firemen would brave flames or cops go on patrol. The dynamic that keeps a woman in an abusive relationship is the same.
Very few of the patterns of social violence result in anything approaching the violence of even casual asocial attacks. The human instinct to fistfight, for instance, pits fragile hand bones against the skull. Hands are broken quite often but life-threatening injury is usually by falling and hitting an object.
There are exceptions, however, and those will be addressed in future articles.
Social violence follows specific, recognizable patterns:
- The Monkey Dance (for status, to establish access)
- The Group Monkey Dance (Boundary setting; bonding or betrayal)
- The Educational Beat Down (rules enforcement)
- The Status Seeking Show: The exception.
Details to think about:
Most of the patterns are not dangerous.
Insecurity raises the potential for violence
Othering turns it asocial (Rwanda)In modern society, all people are members of several tribes at once.