Friday, March 29, 2013

CofV 12: Identifying Danger

This will be a recap and an overview of what's to come.

Violence serves a purpose.  Multiple purposes, actually.  And the purpose it serves, the goals (and parameters)  will drive how the violence occurs.
The threat who wants money for drugs will approach differently than the drunk college kid trying to impress a girl and neither will be quite the same as the person from a violent subculture who feels he has been shamed in front of his peers.

Knowing the base-- the different types of violence and their motivations-- is critical, but it is far from complete.

Also, to be clear: this is what I have seen.  This information here has allowed me to recognize, evaluate and manipulate situations.  That doesn't mean it is right.  It doesn't mean I'm right.  Actually, the second sentence in the paragraph is not how it worked.  Like most of what I teach, this was back-engineered.  Recognizing, evaluating and manipulating came first.  The labels and connections and commonalities are what came out in the analysis and the debriefings.  Success came long before understanding.

If you ever need this information, you will be the one on the ground.  You will be there.  I will not.  Pay attention and make your judgment and act.  You will need to trust yourself, but not naively. Learn. Study people like animals (because we are).  Many people have very good instincts with other people, but some don't and the ones that don't tend to be in the victim profiles.  The other victim profile, of course, include those who over-estimate their awareness or street smarts.

This is about human interaction and the analysis of human reaction.  Like almost anything that has to do with humans it is both complex and dead simple.  Not a mix.  It is both.  When it comes to reading a person the complexity comes in the interaction primarily of goal, ability and adrenaline.

The simplicity comes in, "He wants X and he is preparing to get it in this way."  People get in trouble when they take that simple part and make it complicated.  Do you need to know metallurgy to turn a wrench? Neither do you need to know someone's internal existential struggles to deal with that person as a threat.  Recognize complexity where it is unavoidable but never imagine or create it.  Occam's razor applies.

The next sections will be on recognizing adrenaline signs.  Then differences in social and asocial approaches and distinguishing between threat displays and pre-assault indicators.  I'm toying with writing about architecture, but I think my insight there is very limited.

As far as reading people, Terry Trahan's chapter in "Campfire Tales from Hell" is really good and hits it from a slightly different angle than I will.  It's highly recommended  (and I don't get money for it so I don't feel guilty plugging it.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fundamental Inefficiency

Watched a highly ranked martial artist a while ago, and something's been bugging me.  He was smooth.  He had a good explanation of what he did and why.  He had a lot of little, subtle motions (subtle is not the same as fine motor skill, these were good) and some fighters I respect were impressed. But something struck me as

I've seen other practitioners of this style.  Some were good, some terrible. But all had his same 'off' feeling.

Finally figured it out.  In every case, they were doing inefficient things efficiently.  The best practitioners are smooth.  The 'slow is smooth, smooth is fast" concept works because speed is really based on efficiency.  Smooth is efficient.  The less you move to get the same effect, the more efficient you are and the faster you seem.

So each actual motion was very efficient, but he would use five or six moves when only one or two were necessary to get to the same result.  In one case, a 45 degree difference in the first step would cut out the need for three moves.  And give you more options.

So there is a difference between efficiency of motion and tactical efficiency.  And even experienced people sometimes confuse them.  And people love complexity.  If they are quick enough to get away with it, people tend to extend engagements (at least play or training engagements) and make things more complex.

Efficient complexity may look good.  Maybe some people see it as proof of skill.  But simplicity is efficient.  Efficiency by itself isn't 'mastery' (I hate that word.)  It's efficiency of motion and efficiency of tactics and strategic efficiency.  Minimum motion for maximum effect.

Kano was a genius. (Maximum efficiency, minimum effort.)


  • Does your uke have to attack from out of range for your technique to work?  Big red flag.
  • Does your technique require or expect uke to follow a specific pattern?
  • Is that pattern nonsensical with respect to tori's movement?
  • Does tori use more motions than uke?
  • Does uke have to hold still?
If what you do is truly efficient, none of these training artifacts are necessary.

One more edit, because I think the point isn't clear: You can be the fastest runner in the world, but if you take an inefficient route you will still lose.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CofV11: The Status Seeking Show

In Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” a young Ender in his first fight escalates the event to a brutal beating as a warning to others.

Deadwood, Dakota Territory,  1876.  Jack McCall shoots James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock in the back of the head.  Though McCall is acquitted at his first, irregular trial, he is retried and found guilty after bragging about the shooting.

Long a staple of prison literature, the fish (new prisoner) must prove to all that he is more brutal than anything he will face.  As Jack Henry Abbot wrote: “The first…I forced him to his knees , and with my knife at his throat, made him… This is the way it is done.”  (In the Belly of the Beast, Jack Henry Abbot, 1981 pp 93-94)

This is the Status Seeking Show, a very particular type of violence aimed at achieving a very particular social effect.

Some societies and sub-societies are relatively dangerous.  People beat and stab others over insults or drug deals gone bad.  It’s not just dangerous, it’s also stressful and it feels like there is no way out.  Humans are smart and adaptable however, and some have found a clever way to feel safe in that environment.  They get a reputation.

It’s a very specific reputation.  They want to be known as ‘hard’ or ‘crazy.’  They want to be seen as someone ‘too dangerous to mess with.’  The way to get this reputation is simple: You break the rules of social violence.

Social violence has rules, and most of the previous articles have introduced some of the rules:

  • Individuals Monkey Dance at their own level.  Lieutenants vie with lieutenants, not generals.  Men Monkey Dance with other men, not with women and not with children.
  • The Educational Beat Down requires that a rule be broken, that the person be told why they will be punished, it comes from higher in the hierarchy and it ends when the target acknowledges their guilt.

The Status Seeking Show breaks the rules.  Shooting an authority figure or shooting a child.  Beating someone who has not broken a rule or refusing to acknowledge the signal to stop.  Using extreme violence when it is unnecessary specifically because it is unnecessary.

Of the types of social violence, the status seeking show may be the most dangerous.  The group monkey dance variations are brutal, but often preventable (don’t betray a group that enforces rules violently) or predictable (groups of young men raising hell and heading your way are usually easy to see coming).  When someone wants to send a message that he doesn’t follow the rules, predictability and preventability go way down.

It can be as brutal as any predatory violence, moreso since it is about the show, not about getting stuff.  The brutality of a status seeking show is inefficient when the goal is money or drugs.

Identifying a Status Seeking Show
The SSS can present like a Monkey Dance, an Educational Beat Down or like a Bonding Group Monkey Dance.  The key is differentiating.

A MD traditionally starts with the hard stare and the challenge, e.g. “What you lookin’ at?”  The MD is predictable and there are ways to prevent it.  You can apologize, change the subject… almost anything but play the game back.  When these tactics fail, it is likely that this is not about status, but about show or fun.  Either is dangerous.  In a normal MD, the threat’s attention will be focused on you and internally.  On you because he is reading subtle signals about your status; internally because he is afraid of not being man enough.  In most SSSs, the threat is consciously playing to the audience.  I hope you never experience enough of these to be able to tell the difference at a glance, but you can.

An Educational Beat Down almost always starts with a statement about the rule you have broken (unless the rule is blatantly obvious in that culture) and often comes with instructions.  It can range from, “Apologize to the lady.” to “Don’t disrespect me or we are gonna throw down.”

Unless the rule is egregious, like (probably the most common in situations that lead to violence) having an affair, a sincere and respectful apology almost always sidesteps escalation.  It must be sincere, without smirks or eye-rolling.  It must be respectful, without any comments about lower orders of being or stupid rules.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Has gotten me out of missteps from Baghdad to Quito.  Tagging on, “But that’s a dumb rule,” would have ended badly.  If an apology doesn’t work, you may be looking at an SSS.

There are other clues as well. An EBD usually comes from a high-status member of a group.  Not the highest, but high.  If the person attempting to correct your behavior is low status, he may be trying to build a reputation.  Because of the status levels, a person doing a ‘proper’ EBD will not be looking to the group for approval.  A low status individual will, and he often won’t get it.  I’ve worked with populations of criminals mostly and in this situation, old cons well know the insecurities that drive this behavior and do not respect it.  They won’t interfere, that would be against the code, but they won’t approve, either.

Be very, very careful.  De-escalation and prevention must be sincere and your pride is one of the biggest traps waiting for you.  A sincere apology or not playing the Monkey Dance back at the threat almost always works.  But a part of your brain, especially if you are a young man, is going to kick in and try to save face.  A part of your brain will want you to say something nasty under your voice while walking away.  Will want to let the other person know that you still think he is beneath you.  Will trigger a crisis that you could have prevented.

And if you are one of the people who wants a confrontation, an insincere de-escalation will fail…and you might tell yourself “De-escalation failed!  This isn’t a Monkey Dance!  This is a Status-Seeking Show!” and go for a level of force that is unjustified or unnecessary.  DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF.

A Status Seeking Show may precipitate a Group Monkey Dance.  Sometimes you will have successfully de-escalated a situation only to find one member will not let it go or begins to egg the others on.  It is an SSS if the member initiates an attack and sometimes, emotions being contagious, others will join in.  Related dynamic is the mouth in the group egging the others on, "You gonna let him walk away?  He's playing you!"

Two things become clear in an analysis of the SSS.

1) Your own pride, as the potential victim, can be a dangerous pitfall.  Not because there is anything wrong with standing up for yourself or standing up to the bad people of the world.  Pride is dangerous because it prevents you from seeing the situation, or even your own actions clearly.  Pride in self-defense may be easy to see, but the mechanism is the same in little things: “I was perfectly clear, so if my employees didn’t understand what I wanted it is their fault.”  Same mechanism.

2) Preclusion is important.  In most jurisdictions one of the tests to establish if an act of force was self-defense includes whether or not there were valid non-violent options, like leaving or apologizing.  Not only is a sincere attempt to de-escalate valuable in a claim of self-defense, it can give you valuable information about what is really going on.

I want to expand on point two.  There are types of violence that have very similar (or not) outcomes and similar dynamics that have very different causes.  You must distinguish them because the necessary deescalations are different.

That's too obscure.  A Monkey Dance is low risk.  A Status Seeking Show is high risk.  But the pattern will be the same until the very end.  Preclusion (trying to walk away, trying to apologize) is not a good idea just because of self-defense law but it is the easiest test to find which you face.  Same with the two date-rape dynamics-- there is a test to tell you which you are facing.  Sharks and tigers are both dangerous, but they are avoided in different ways.  You have to be able to tell what you are facing.

There is also an individual dynamic with the SSS.  It starts as a low-status, low-esteem, unrespected member of the group.  As mentioned before, the old cons don't respect these guys.  They're punks.  But once they have the rep, they sometimes need to feed the rep.  And in an more organized outlaw group, they will be used as disposable enforcers.  But some of them get good at it and some of them get addicted, and they become very dangerous provided they stay alive and out of prison.  Their dangerousness is based on being crazy, unpredictable and violent.  Not cool under pressure or skilled.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


The blog is up to 1001 post (1002 including this one).  If you count the unpublished drafts.  I'll announce when I break a thousand published.  Should be soon.  I'm counting because I just decided not to publish one.

Some of the unpublished ones are first drafts of articles that were published.  A few are crap.
But there are a few...

In some I couldn't get the tone right.  There are certain things you can't learn when things are going well.  Learning about inner workings of some organizations requires enough of a consistent type of painful mistake that you can see and come to predict the pattern. Learning anything about the mechanics of a violent assault almost always requires mistakes.  You learn certain things because you are stupid in certain ways...and almost every time I've tried to write about that, it comes off sounding whiny and self-pitying to my own ears.  I simply don't have the skill as a writer to make certain points in the right way.

Same with certain kinds of clarification.  When "Meditations on Violence" first came out, some of the reviewers read diametrically opposite things in the same material. I'd been warned about that by the professional writers, but my first instinct was to explain, to clarify... and that fails on two levels.  First, people will read what they want or expect to read and that includes in the clarification.  Second, it just sounds defensive.  Especially if you are defensive it serves no purpose but to validate the point of view.
Actually, there's a third-- anything you write must stand on its own.  Writing is a telepathic message into the future.  You won't always be alive to clarify.

There are subjects I stay away from, but have strong opinions about.  Especially when the political silly season was on, I wanted to write about economics and politics.  People conflate money and wealth; conflate jobs and work.  But these issues are so tied to the limbic system it would do no good, except give people an excuse to not listen to core things.

Some of the unpublished stuff is just too personal.  I write fairly close to the bone here, share, share some deep water stuff.  But there are some wounds that I'm afraid will always be fresh.  Some complicated feelings that I don't think can ever be shared adequately in the written word.  Some that can only be grasped by a very few people.  And some of this is stuff I want to write, stuff that tries to claw its way out of me and onto paper.  Maybe I'll let K publish it when I croak.

And some of it is just pure mean.  And K tells me not to be mean.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

CofV10: The Educational BeatDown

All societies, subsocieties and groups have rules.  Sometimes the rules are formal—states and nations have statutes and even the local gardening club has bylaws.  Sometimes the rules are informal.  Families don’t have constitutions, but the kids know what behaviors will get them in trouble.

In any given society, the rules will be enforced.  Maybe not well or consistently, but they will be enforced.

In a healthy group (defined as one in which everyone agrees on the methods and goals) ‘enforcement’ may be merely a glance.  Someone does something wrong, you look at him, maybe with a raised eyebrow, possibly say, “Really?” and he says, “Ah, dammit.  I screwed up.  Sorry.”  Unless it turns into a power play, the verbal variation of the Monkey Dance, the member of a healthy group is grateful for the correction.

As groups become less healthy, they also become less secure.  The methods for correcting behavior escalate, from informal gossip campaigns and chilling a person out to screaming at subordinates…

There are other factors at play.  Different subsocieties have much different attitudes towards physical force.  Some families spank, some do not. Some groups thwack the back of the head, some do not.  Some nations execute, some do not.

These three factors: health of a group; security or insecurity of the group or its leadership and; attitudes toward violence shape if and when the educational beat-down will ever be a self-defense issue for you.

There are three cases where the EBD may be dangerous.

#1: If you are a dick.  There is a pattern to the EBD.  The first step is that you do something wrong.  Yes, you.  We all make errors and step on toes from time to time.  If you think you never do or, worse, always have a reason why it is the other guy’s fault, you’re a dick.  If you refuse to acknowledge that your group has rules or that the rules should apply to you, if you feel you are being oppressed by any rule you don’t happen to like… you’re a dick.

For most people, breaking the rules isn’t a big thing.  You realize you violated protocol, acknowledge that there was an error and the error was yours, accept punishment if the group thinks it was merited, and move on.  This is called “accepting responsibility,” and one of my personal rants is about people who want to skip the step about accepting the punishment.  Merely acknowledging the error was yours is NOT accepting responsibility.

Rant aside, jerks have problems with every step of this.  Most importantly, refusal to acknowledge that the rule existed and that you broke it prevents the EBD pattern from closing.  It demands an escalation in correction. 

“Toby! Apologize to your sister!”
“Then go to your room and stay there until you are ready to apologize!”
“Do you want a spanking?”

If you insist on being a dick, punishment will escalate until you are removed from the group, whether that means being fired or being beaten to death behind a bar.  If you’ve been fired or divorced a lot, partner, it’s time to do some soul-searching. Cause you’re probably a dick.

#2) If the group or the leadership is insecure.  This factor applies to all social violence but is especially obvious in corrective violence.

We are basically primates and a lot of our wiring is older than our ability to communicate.  When we get tense, afraid or insecure, we tend to fall back on ancient patterns of behavior.  If you are a good boss and people want your recognition and approval, they hurry to do what you say and work hard not to get you upset.  If you are a terrible boss, people also hurry to do what you say and work hard not to get you upset.  The emotional mind doesn’t really distinguish submissive behavior stemming from respect or submissive behavior stemming from fear.

When a boss feels he is coming under fire, he has a tendency to get loud and aggressive.  This is what his limbic system is telling him to do.  This will get submission signals from his group.  This will make everything better.

From the outside, we see more clearly.  We call this behavior “losing it” for a reason.  If it happens in a society with a propensity for violence, it can escalate to a beating or murder.  Like when Al Capone beat three of his lieutenants to death in 1929.

#3) Where you don’t know the rules.  Most of us spend time around people that share our basic attitudes and beliefs.  We know the rules and know, consciously or not, how they will be enforced.  It can be a very dangerous situation when a person or a group travel to an unfamiliar place and expect or demand that the rules remain the same.

Whether it is a group of college kids going to the biker bar on the edge of town for a thrill or someone who hopes to backpack through another country, they will be exposed to new rules.  It’s usually not a problem unless they possess that certain mix of arrogance and stupidity—unless they demand the right to follow their own rules.

In many cultures it is safe to be arrogant and stupid.  If the culture is very homogenized and insular, silence or possibly stares are the worst that will happen.  They will hate you, but they won’t hurt you.

In other cultures where violence is seen as an easy answer to many problems, it can be very dangerous.  But even in a culture that regularly handles social disputes with knives or assault rifles, trouble is usually easy to avoid or evade.

Avoid trouble by not being there, of course, but if that is not an option:
  • Keep your mouth shut.  Answer questions, be polite, but don’t offer an opinion or try to ‘fix’ the locals.  And especially don’t feel magnanimous or superior enough to say something like, “You people are ignorant and you worship evil, but that’s your right.  Don’t change.” A British tourist I overheard in Istanbul.
  • Be polite.  That isn’t hard.  Don’t stare, don’t back away, don’t argue.

Evading trouble is also easy.  The Educational Beat Down follows a pattern and the pattern is universal.  How does a child get out of a spanking? “I broke the lamp, mommy, I’m really sorry and I won’t do it again.”  How does a killer get the death penalty taken off the table?  Usually with a full confession and a show of remorse.  How do you avoid hard feelings (or worse) when you try to speak Arabic to a Kurd?  Or flirt with the bouncer’s girl?  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.  It won’t happen again.”

Most of the time, if you acknowledge it was a valid rule, that you broke the rule and that you won’t do it again, there is no need to teach you a lesson.  The behavior has been corrected and that is the sole purpose of the EBD: to enforce norms of behavior.

If you try to evade responsibility or say the rule was stupid or that the rule shouldn’t apply to you, if you put any weasel words into the apology, you don’t get it.  The correction must escalate.

There is a fourth situation in which the EBD is dangerous, but it is more an historical artifact then a current problem.  When resources are scarce, for instance, if a tribe expects a few starvation deaths each winter, people who don’t follow societal rules are a liability.  Fewer things are punishable by death in an affluent society than in a marginal one.

There are very dangerous behaviors that can mimic the EBD.  More accurately, many people use the underlying motivations of the EBD to attempt to justify viciousness.  Abusers say, and may honestly believe, that they are teaching a lesson.  Justified excessive force complaints arise when officers switch from subduing a suspect to punishing a perp.  A fully justified act of self-defense can turn into assault with just a few extra kicks to send a message.

The dynamics of the EBD are also mimicked in the two most dangerous of the types of social violence: the Status Seeking Show (next lesson) and sometimes the bonding-style Group Monkey Dance (last lesson).  Social violence, unlike predation, is primarily a form of communication, dysfunctional though it may be.  Even if the real goal is just to enjoy beating someone, it goes better if the beating is preceded by a provocation from you.

“I beat her up for no reason,” doesn’t get a lot of play even in bad crowds.  “Bitch called me fucktard so I taught her a lesson,” plays better.

The person looking for an excuse to get violent will try to get you to do or say something that can be used as a rationalization.  It is not a reason—they already have the reason in that they want to hurt someone.  It just needs to sound like a reason.  When someone tries to incite you to inflammatory language and anger, that is the time to slow down, and act thoughtful and cold.  And check the audience.

If there is no audience, this is probably a lead-in to a predatory assault.  Experienced predators will mimic social patterns so that YOU stay on the predictable (and much less violent) social script.  If there is an audience and they are egging on the threat, be prepared for a Monkey Dance.  Apologize and leave, but be prepared to crash through the crowd if necessary.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Leadership and Management

Leadership and management; committees and teams.

Working on some new material for the Conflict Communications course and dealing with other projects as well.

There are two links that will help with the background on this post:
(Turns out I've never actually done a post on the ICS model and goals-backward versus resources-forward thinking.  Maybe it was in "Meditations on Violence?"  Memory is the second thing to go.)

I have a saying that if you don't know the difference between leadership and management, you're a manager.  But knowing the difference is not the same as putting it in words or being able to explain the difference.  Almost every book on leadership I've ever read was about management and written by a manager who thought he was a leader.  The notable exception is Paul Howe's "Leadership and Training for the Fight."

So now I'm trying to put it into words and I think I have it, but it has an unexpected twist.

Managers are systems builders.  They desire to create a system, a network of facilities and policies that remove the human element.  They want to believe (and insist) that all people are equal, that all officers (or workers or deputies or soldiers) are the same and should be treated the same.  They believe that if they can ever make a perfect system, the system will run smoothly and efficiently regardless of the actual humans that are doing the work.

And this is the first twist.  The managers that I know are far more likely to talk about 'respect' and 'diversity' than the leaders I know, but the systems they create are inhuman machines.  And so they 'respect diversity' while trying to reduce all people to numbers.  To interchangeable cogs in this inhuman machine.  All the while insisting they are only trying to be 'fair.'

My personal belief is that this isn't so much about the system or about the goal.  I don't think it's that teleological.  I think it is about trying to minimize personal conflict.  You're a manager, you don't want to fire people.  So much easier to just be the messenger who gives them the message that under current policy they can no longer be employed.  The policy, not the boss, did the firing.  There's still conflict, but you can pretend it's not personal.  As long as you follow the policies, you have no responsibility for the outcomes.  Because there are no decisions.

Another way to put it is that managers try to create a flow chart without personal decisions affecting the outcome.  Remove the personal element and the product will always be perfect.

It works okay.  It must, since management is rampant and leadership is rare.  But there are severe weaknesses to this kind of system.  The first that comes to mind is the inflexibility.  Reliance on emergency protocols can be really, really good-- as long as you get an emergency you predicted and wrote a protocol for.  Inflexibility also hurts you when you have a time-sensitive opportunity.

The second obvious problem is that there are people who excel at manipulating systems.  No matter how well designed or well intentioned, bad people do bad things with good systems.

Third problem is that sooner or later, the system becomes the purpose.  Hospitals exist to stay in business rather than to treat people.  Governments promote and protect the parties rather than the citizens.  How you do something (whether you followed the procedure) becomes more important than what you did-- and so we have retail workers fired for defending themselves and paramedics in the UK who must go into more detail in their reports about the safety equipment they wore than on how the victim was extracted from the crashed vehicle.

There are more, but don't get too comfortable and self-righteous.  Management is more pervasive because it is more popular.  Most people would rather be managed than led.  Because being led demands more. It demands personal responsibility.
"I followed the policy.  It's not my fault." Is adequate in a system.  In the kind of place where leadership is allowed the answer is:
"Policy is no excuse.  You knew this would happen."

The only protection under leadership is your personal skill, and very few people are comfortable with that.  Management may create a soulless machine, but a lot of people seem comfortable there.

Leadership is about people, not policy.  It is about telling people to their faces when they have screwed up and also when they have done well.  Leadership is not always superior to management.  It is much easier to be a bad leader than a bad manager and it has more effect.  It is also easier to be a good leader than a good manager, and that has more effect to.

And that may be part of the difference.  Managerial systems are designed so that the cogs are interchangeable.  Including the managers.  So a manager, whether good or bad, will cause little change.  The situation is perfect for those who fear doing something wrong more than they value doing something well.

Maybe it's not such a twist.  I was originally puzzled that so many I talk to think of leaders as hard chargers with little regard for others, when leadership is a people skill.  Conversely, the words coming out of every HR department I've worked with have all been about valuing the individual, and fairness... and they are responsible for creating and maintaining an inhuman system.

But looked at from the twin perspectives of trying to avoid personal responsibility and avoid personal conflict it does make sense.  Thus the people who use the word 'diversity' as a mantra want everyone to look different but think the same.  It limits conflict.  And I wanted the widest variety of backgrounds on my teams as possible, because people who thought different would come at problems from different angles.  More conflict, but we solved some issues.

That's enough typing for now.  Teams and committees will have to come later.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CofV 9: The Group Monkey Dance

In May, 2003 developmentally disabled 22-year-old Jessica Williams was tortured, stabbed, beaten and her body burned by her ‘street family’ for alleged betrayal. At least eleven people were charged.  I worked with most of them.  In custody they ranged from respectful to fearful.
This level of group violence gets called a lot of things.  A group stomping, a wilding, a gang-rape…even a drive-by shooting has some of the same dynamics.  Humans are primates and sometimes, as primates, we indulge in violence as a group or even as a mob.
This type of violence isn’t about status: there is no proving you’re a better man by being part of a group that kicks someone to death.  This, the Group Monkey Dance, is about one of three things:

1) Teaching an outsider to respect boundaries.  Domestic violence calls are often cited as one of the most dangerous police situations.  No matter how brutally damaged the victim is, there is always a chance that both the victim and the victimizer will turn on the responding officers.  I have a video of a young man breaking up a fight.  Both of the involved fighters and the audience turn on the young man.
Humans in groups prefer to handle things within the group.  They become resentful and sometimes violent if an outsider decides to ‘fix’ things.  The tighter, smaller and more cohesive the group, the more interference is resented.
Here’s an example that most readers will relate to, one that many readers have actually done.  If you are an older sibling, you picked on and fought with your younger brothers and sisters, right?  Little dominance games happen all the time between children.
However, when your little brother or sister started school, if they were bullied, didn’t you step in?  Though the dominance game (new kid with a group of other kids in a new school) was natural, it violated the idea of family.  You may beat up your kid brother.  No one else can.
Stopping others from picking on your family is an example of forcing an outsider to respect boundaries.
Emotions are contagious and when one member of a group starts getting violent, other members of the same group join in.  It seems logical that they do this out of fear, that their own loyalty to the group might be doubted and they might be seen as outsiders.  It seems logical, but I doubt there is that much thought involved.  People join in too quickly.
The solidarity with the group allows an intense level of violence.  The more one identifies with the group, the easer it is to see an outsider as ‘other’ and the ability to other sets the amount of damage one can do.

2) Betrayal.  Betrayal is one of the deepest emotions in the human animal.  Treason is punishable by execution even when nothing else is.  For many years, killing a cheating spouse had it’s own legal defense and was termed an “excusable homicide” Florida’s statute for instance in part read:

782.03Excusable homicide.—Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

Perhaps this comes from our prehistory, where starvation was a real danger and anyone who couldn’t be trusted risked everyone’s life.
In any case, in any group or subculture where violence is an acceptable tool, betrayal (real or not) can be met with horrific violence.  It becomes a contest where each member of a group proves loyalty by what they are willing to do to the betrayer.
The case that opens this story was a local example.  Middle-eastern stonings over adultery are another.  In almost any culture, however that culture defines betrayal, betrayal will be punished with the most extreme force allowed.

3) Bonding.  There is very little as bonding as committing violence with a small group of friends.  Our ancestors would hunt big animals as a group and tell stories about the hunt and each other.  In the intensity of the chase and the spear you would find out much about your compatriots: who was cool under stress, who lost control, who was afraid and who you could trust.  The intensity of shared experience makes a tight group.
Nothing has changed.  I am tighter with the former members of my tactical team than with most of my blood family.  Combat veterans and even people who went through intense training feel a close bond.  The dynamic is the same in drive-by shootings, wildings in Central Park or even fraternity hazing.

Avoiding the Group Monkey Dance
The first rule is to never betray a group.  You may leave a group (and all groups that I am aware of, even the most violent, have a mechanism to leave) and may even become an open enemy afterwards, but betraying a group from the inside, or even being believed to, is very, very bad.
If you choose to get involved in an insider situation as an outsider, think it through.  Cops have a duty to act. Civilians don’t.  If you don’t need to get involved, weigh the risks and decide if it is worth it.  Be as objective as you can.  It is dangerous.
The best verbal intervention is to present yourself as an objective outsider who has no opinion and doesn’t care about who is right or wrong.  Right or wrong are determined by in-group standards in any case.  “Break it up! You’re hurting her!” immediately puts you in a position of both being an outsider and judgmental.
“You’d better knock it off, I overheard someone calling 911 and the cops are on the way,” will break up the situation without turning the focus to you.
The bonding monkey dance is a special case.  Some are performed for fun (wildings in Central Park, videoed beatings on youtube) some are protecting territory or market share (drive-by shootings) and some are simply for cash.
Situational awareness is an over-used phrase.  Without specific education of the things you need to be aware of it’s only words.  Meaningless.  For this type of crime, what you are looking for are patterns of motion.  Groups moving purposefully together.  Groups that cease talking and laughing and split up after spotting a mark.  The patterns of a pincer movement or triangulation.  Staged loitering, where people lounge against walls but with unusual separation, so that when you walk past they are perfectly staged, one in front of you and one or more behind. 
Sometimes, in neighborhoods with experience of gang violence or where a violent group is creating trouble, you can read the flow of other people.  As a rule of thumb, if you’re in an unfamiliar place and all the natives clear the street, you might want to think about it as well.

If you become the center of a Group Monkey Dance it is hard to overstate the level of danger.  The safest of the variations is the simple group mugging for cash.  There’s no value in excessive damage and the bloodier the crime the more it gets investigated.  But if any member of the group is insecure and senses a loss of control he will explode into violence.  Emotions being contagious, the rest of the group will likely join in.  The damage can be horrific.  None of the other variations are better.
There are four tactics that I have known to prevent a Monkey Dance.  Three require special abilities. 
The most obvious and the easiest was an act of such overwhelming violence that it shocks and scares the group.  An officer and friend stopped a riot in a jail by walking into the module, grabbing the largest of the rioting inmates, spinning him in the air and slamming him in to the ground.  Not many people can snatch up a 240-pound man and lift him overhead.
The second is to make the threats laugh.  That’s hard to do.  Don’t count on it.  The things that make a group of people who enjoy hurting others laugh are not the same things that tickle audiences in nightclubs.  This will not work if the GMD was triggered by betrayal or a perceived betrayal.
The third tactic is to increase either the doubt or the danger level.  If the threats know that you are armed, it raises their risk.  Looters in major disturbances famously avoid armed premises in favor of unarmed.  I generally don’t advocate ever showing a weapon, except, perhaps in this case.  Like any time that you show a weapon, if the threat display doesn’t work, you will almost certainly have to use the weapon or it will be taken away and used against you.
People who have allies, back-up or a reputation for fighting all raise the risk.  People who do not respond like victims, who stay unusually calm or act strangely increase the doubt.  Neither of these will matter in betrayal or some random acts of group violence but they might dissuade a group lacking in confidence without a personal issue with you, the victim.
The fourth and most effective tactic is to get the hell out of there.  Run.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Legal Self Defense

Charles over at Ishindo had some comments about the Monkey Dance, martial arts, and self-defense.
I've read some other criticism, mostly reactions to this post.  I don't worry about the criticism.  Everything seemed to be arguing against what they imagine I teach, not what I actually teach.

But Charles is a good guy, and a smart one.  So this seems to be a good time to talk about what I actually do teach.  Not the SD law stuff.  Most of that is in "Facing Violence".  The philosophy and concepts.

I don't teach Force Law as a decision making skill.  For two reasons.  In most ugly situations things are going to be coming thick and fast and you won't have time to make conscious decisions.  The idea that every force decision is weighed as if a reasonable person had time to think is something of a legal fiction.

The second reason is that in most cases self-defense law is intuitively obvious.  A lot of laws are just codifications of local ideas of common sense.  If you were raised in this culture and you aren't a pathological asshole, you will make good self-defense decisions.

Does anybody here want to use force if they don't absolutely have to?  Anyone want to kill another human being if there is any other option?  Anyone want to hurt someone more than they absolutely have to?  It's really that simple.
There are gray areas.  Not as many as you think.  Most cases of real self-defense are pretty clear cut.  If you, with no criminal record and ties to the community, prevail over an intruder in your home... not hard to argue.  Even outside the home, local cops tend to know the bad guys.

The murky ones tend to fall into a category called AvANHI, or Asshole versus Asshole, No Humans Involved.  It's harsh and politically incorrect, but when you have a drug dealing piece of shit killing a pimping piece of shit over a business deal gone bad, or an alcohol fueled domestic where both parties stabbed each's hard to tell what is self defense and what is simple assholery.

And there are some jurisdictions where I get the sense that anything you do with a gun will be prosecuted.  Politics does come into this.

And there are a few ways that citizens (which is cop slang for normal, good people) can screw up.  One is the monkey dance.  People are very good at self-deception and will often convince themselves that something they participated in fully was self-defense.  Hence, "He started it" is a gradeschool defense, not a legal defense.

The second is when it is over and there is a compulsion to give the bad guy a few more hits to teach a lesson.
So I teach it as an articulation class.  It covers all of the elements of a decision making class (and that's a good way to find if the students glitch).  The focus is different.  A drill for analyzing (and thus articulating) your subconscious decision making processes.  The elements of a self-defense claim.  How not to talk to the arresting officers without pissing them off.  How to find a good attorney quickly. Articulation wars.

It's got to be combined with violence dynamics.  You need to understand the significance of what you are seeing and be able to explain that to a jury who may have never met a bad guy.  And this is one of the secret minor advantages: For some people if they can explain it to a jury, or feel they can, they can explain it to themselves and that might give them permission to act.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CofV8: The Monkey Dance

“What you lookin’ at?” barks a young man. He's about your size, about your age.  You don’t think you were looking at anything in particular.  You also know the smart thing to do is to give a little apology and go back to your beer.
But you’re a young man yourself.  Before you even realize it, you are looking dead in his eyes and saying, “Who wants to know?”
“You trying to be smart?”
“What if I am?”  You aren’t sure who stood up first but both of you are standing now.  His skin is getting red.  He’s flexing his shoulders, looking bigger.  You can’t see yourself and you don’t even think about it, but you are doing the same thing.  More words are exchanged, some pretty colorful profanities and both of you step closer and closer.  The veins in his neck and forehead are bulging and his jaw muscles are clenching whenever he isn’t insulting you
You throw a quick glance at the other patrons.  Everyone is watching but no one is doing a thing.
He gets closer, too close, and you push him away, hard.
He responds with a looping overhand punch.  In a moment you are a tangle, rolling on the floor and throwing wild punches until somebody pulls you apart.
You never even thought of the weapon holstered on your hip, and that’s a good thing.
There’s a myth or saying in the martial arts: “When two tigers fight, one is killed and the other is maimed.”  It’s just further evidence that many of the early martial artists were shitty observers of nature.  When two tigers fight, there’s a dominance display and, if one doesn’t back down, something like a scuffle.  Neither is injured.  One leaves, the other keeps the territory.
When a tiger kills a goat, that’s a whole different story.
That right there is the difference between a dominance contest within a species (social violence) and killing for resources—usually food—outside your species (asocial violence.)
The term Monkey Dance was coined in the book “Meditations on Violence” to describe the human dominance ritual.  It’s a deliberately ridiculous name for a ridiculous pattern of behavior.  But it is a pattern that young men are conditioned to follow.
It has, or had, it’s purpose.  Groups function best with a clearly defined hierarchy.  When the status is in doubt, it will be clarified.  This is why most Monkey Dances within a group are pretty evenly matched.  If status is clear, there is no need.
It’s also done to impress peers and, especially, ladies…and it showcases the things that made a good mate when we roamed the savannah 100,000 years ago: strength and persistence and a willingness to do battle.
Those are also the reason why it is so safe.  This is an in-group fight and seriously injuring other members of the group weaken us all.  What is less likely to do damage then using the fragile hand bones to hit the top/front of the skull? That is almost always the first move in a Monkey Dance.
We have all seen the script many, many times.  It usually begins with a hard look, followed by a verbal challenge, often, as above, “What’re you lookin at?”  Both members play and once you get sucked into the script, your normal, logical brain is not in control.  Your limbic system has been doing this dance since before humans even existed.  It will hijack you.
Unless you see it coming and exert will to exit.
The verbal challenges will continue and escalate.  The parties will stand, approach.  Usually skin will flush and they will stand square on, bobbing up and down on their toes, subconsciously flexing.  Square on, bobbing and even flushing rather than going pale are NOT good survival or fighting tactics.  They are threat displays, subconscious attempts to look bigger and more impressive.
If neither backs down or friends don’t intervene, the verbal shit will continue and the two will get closer until one moves.  The first contact will almost always be a two-handed push on the chest or poking the index finger into the chest.  This part is cultural.  In western Canada, they knock the baseball cap off.
That is answered either with a two-handed push or the looping overhand right that almost always opens the fight stage.  Two adrenalized people both stepping in and throwing big punches quickly turns into a clinch and usually falls to the ground.  The falling to the ground is the place where serious injury may occur.
That is the pattern for establishing dominance.  Dominance is not always or even usually about who is the leader, or even who is above who in a hierarchy.  Most groups have roles, and you will see this pattern when two people want the same role.  If you introduce a new guy who happens to be funny to a group that already has an established joker, the pattern will begin with a contest for funny jokes that will then get personal, targeting each other, then vicious…and then proceed to the Monkey Dance.
The steps listed above will often be followed when a new person or group goes into a place with established clientele.  A bar is the obvious example.  The usual endpoint is not a fight, but when friends pull the two apart.  That is the perfect face-saving exit: no one is injured, both have established a willingness (real or not) to engage and both have the ego-saving belief that only the people holding them back prevented an epic ass-whuppin’.

De-Escalating the Monkey Dance
The Monkey Dance is the most common and the most avoidable of the social violence types.  It can usually be avoided with a simple apology.  It can be defused with submissive body language—an apology, down cast eyes.
It can also often be simply bypassed:
“What are YOU lookin’ at?”
“Huh? Oh, didn’t know.  Worked all night last night I must have zoned out for a minute.”  Bypassing requires extremely relaxed body language. And a low, slow, slightly puzzled tone of voice really helps.  If the guy keeps fishing, treat the follow-ups as thoughtful questions.  Don’t Monkey Dance back and don’t become agitated or show anger.
If you get caught in a Monkey Dance and don’t realize it until you are a few steps down the road, apologize (a simple ‘sorry’ no explanation) put your hands up, palms out (both shows peaceful intent and makes a classic ‘fence’ which is a very good thing when things go bad) and back away.  Then leave the area.

Dangers of the Monkey Dance
Falling and hitting your head is the only danger inherent in the Monkey Dance.  Damage that might occur in the fight is usually cosmetic.  But sometimes other things are going on.
·      If you have violated a social rule in a place where such things are handled by violence, that is not a Monkey Dance.  Corrective violence will be discusses in a future article.  Generally, this type of violence will come with instructions, e.g. “Apologize to the lady or I will kick your ass.”  Apologize.  No weasel words.  This isn’t about dominance.  It is about you showing disrespect for a way of life or a culture.  To avoid corrective action you must acknowledge that there was a rule and you broke it and that you now understand: “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to offend you, ma’am.”
·      If the normal de-escalations don’t work, you may be facing a special case.  The MD has rules. Generally, if one side backs down, the dance is over.  If someone won’t let you back down or accept an apology, especially if the threat closes to striking range, you are likely facing a specialized predator who enjoys beating people.  If an audience of cronies is gathering around for the show, it could be very bad.  If people unaffiliated with this guy start looking really uncomfortable and nervous, they may know his patterns.
·      If one breaks the rules of the dance.  One guy apologizes and walks away and then decides to get the last word in and say some shit as he is leaving.  That will trigger some bad things, probably a beating for show.  If one of the parties draws a weapon there will be serious repercussions  and not just legal.  The MD happens in a social environment.  The person will get a reputation for being afraid and unable to “handle himself.”  What may appear manly (and that’s what the MD is about, right?) actually appears cowardly.
·      If there is no audience, expect that the MD challenge is a pretext for a predatory assault.  Social violence more or less requires an audience or a relationship between the parties.

Possibly the greatest danger in the Monkey Dance, for most people, is legal.  It is not self-defense.  No matter how big he was or who started it, there are too many opportunities to walk away for a Monkey Dance fight to be called self-defense.  Even if you are losing, you are losing a grade school-level fistfight.  Lethal response will not be justified. In fact, in some jurisdictions which explicitly state that aggressors cannot claim self-defense an exception is made if the victim introduces the possibility of lethal force. For just two examples, see Illinois statute 720 ILCS 5/74 Ch. 38, par. 74 or Montana code 45-3-105.
“He started it,” is a grade school defense, not a legal defense.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Comfortable Discomfort

Maybe that should be Uncomfortable Safety.  Or something else.
The techniques that fall under martial arts are basically heinous crimes except in a very narrow set of circumstances.  We are playing at causing pain and suffering.  You can choose to be mindless about that and see it as a fun hobby.

But if your students (or you) ever need to use it, it will be harsh and both emotionally and physically challenging.  Uncomfortable.  Can you be rude to a stranger?  If you are reading this in a coffee shop, can you look up right now, pick someone at random and say, "You are ugly and stupid" and then go back to reading?  If not, I submit that you will have an even harder time hitting a stranger. (And if your introspection muscles are fit, you can pick over your self-analysis of why you don't want to be rude to a stranger and find out some of the things that will freeze you in self-defense.)

Training for self-defense presents challenges, and some of those challenges border on contradictions.  Just to name a few:
1) The people that need self-defense tend to be the ones least likely to seek it out.  Being in denial of the existence of danger is one of the deep underlying factors of making people victims.  If you are in denial of the problem, you have no reason to seek solutions.
2) The most effective stuff is the stuff that mimics the real thing.  Which means it is hard and hurts and is scary.  My sensei estimated that for every yudansha he promoted he had over 5000 start.  Why so low? "Because jujutsu hurts, Rory.  You can get a blackbelt other places in half the time and it doesn't hurt every day."  And that means, again, that the people who most need it, the ones who are afraid of physical pain (and that's what predators want in a victim) try to find a safe, easy and painless way to learn about fear and pain.
3) The ones that seek out and enjoy intensity and contact tend to be a pretty specific demographic, and they have a specific vibe and they tend to get targeted for no more than a monkey dance and even then, only if they hang with immature people.

One of the biggest challenges, when you are teaching victim profiles, is managing their comfort zones.  You must create a safe place to practice unsafe things. And you have to create a comfortable way to destroy comfort zones.

This is one of the reasons why SD has to be taught to individuals, not as a check-the-box program.  Comfort means completely different things to different people.  For the guys who came up through the contact martial arts, if they aren't nursing a serious injury, they're comfortable.  For someone with no exposure, they tend not to even think of physical comfort but emotional comfort.  There's no real pain in a sweaty, hairy guy holding you in a pin, but that is way outside the comfort zone of almost everybody who really needs this training.  This is nothing to us, but a very big something to other people.

We're getting a generation of children who have been discouraged from rough-housing, who don't climb (and fall out of) trees like we did. Youngsters, these days... but seriously, we used to play mumplety peg (our version was a knife throwing game to see who could get closest to the other guy's foot) on school grounds.

They have to be taught, slowly and gently, from the ground up, how much fun it is to brawl.  I still remember IM's wicked grin when she threw Steve-the-Gorilla. But it had taken a long time for IM to learn it was okay to clinch, throw, grapple and hit a person.  And longer to think it was fun.  But when she grasped the fun...

Which means they have to be successful.  Not discouraged. Never punished for doing well. And as confidence increases... no scratch that.  What the hell is confidence anyway except for a completely untestable faith that things will be okay?  As the sense of fun increases, you increase the intensity.  Until the student is doing things that would have been unimaginable in the beginning.

But, at some point, you have to overwhelm them.  This is iffy.  There are a few of us who love feeling overwhelmed.  That feeling of too much information coming too fast and I can't understand it all-- that's become my signal that I'm on the edge of a great learning experience.  Over the years, I've been conditioned to love that feeling because the reward at the end, the learning and insight is incredibly sweet.  Friend Sam, when he started BJJ, described it as "The pleasure of drowning."
Some of us thrive on it, but very few beginners.

But it has to happen.  Not every day.  Rarely for some students.  But all confidence is, in certain circumstances, false.  Regardless of your physical monstrosity, your skills and weapons and anything else you want to name, there is stuff out there that can crush you like a bug on a windshield.  Students (and teachers) need to be reminded of this.  Because this is what keeps us humble and keeps us learning.

So you overwhelm them so that you can show them the next steps. So that they realize what they know, but also what they do not know.  Overwhelm, but (with one exception) do not crush.  There is a difference between overwhelmed and "there's no hope nothing works so why bother." A bad SD instructor can create an incredibly passive victim.

The exception? Almost never appropriate, but there are ways to force someone to face personal mortality in such a way that it causes some profound changes to their personality.  Unfortunately, it crushes about 50% even of hand-picked, contact-experienced senior practitioners.  The ones it doesn't crush get roughly an order of magnitude better.

The Baby Elephant Story
My lovely wife went to a karate camp years (decades now?) ago and they told her that students were like elephants.  When you are raising an elephant in captivity, you chain the baby elephant's ankle.  It struggles and pulls and can't break the chain.  Once the baby elephant learns it can't break the chain, it quits trying, and you can immobilize a full grown elephant with a piece of string.

Your students will come to you with all kinds of bullshit beliefs about what they can't do.  (The bullshit fantasies about what they can do tend to come from experienced martial artists.) Your job is to prove them wrong.  It's not hard, but it has to be done carefully.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

CofV7: Overview of Social Violence

For the record, I have totally gone off the lesson plan.  In seminars, I usually do social violence first.  Oh well.

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.