Got a chance to talk to Roy Bedard, yesterday. He's a good man, good thinker. Doing a hellacious amount of research to apply sports psychology to understanding violent encounters. He doesn't take things on faith and he makes me think. Things I very much value in my friends. Just wish we saw each other more than every other year or so.
He made a statement that got me thinking. And there may not be an answer to this. "I don't believe there is a psychological block against killing."
The psychological block against killing within your own species probably came from Konrad Lorenz's work ("On Aggression") and other experts (maybe that should be 'experts') have run with it. It's become accepted wisdom in this field. Roy spent a long time as a cop and has been working as an expert witnesses in a good number of self-defense cases, so he deals with an unusual number of people who have killed. As always, there's sampling error, but his reasoning:
"If there was a psychological block, it wouldn't be such an attractive thought." We've all spent enough time with martial artists who fantasize about levels of violence they would be shattered to actually use. We've seen epic violence as a mainstay of cinema and fiction forever. If this was a truly horrible thought it seems odd to think about it so much...
Not sure I agree. Actually, I'm fairly sure I don't agree, but if good people only said stuff I agreed with it wouldn't make me think, right?
My data from working the jail is that some people run to a fight and some don't. Most freeze, a few run away. But we never found anything that could predict who would do what in their first fight. No level or type of training (one guy with extensive full contact experience always froze; the biggest coward I ever worked with was a former marine; and one of our most fearless and aggressive was an untrained single mom who only took the job for the security.)
In the early '90s (and I don't think this has been done since, which is kind of sad) the Oregonian (our local paper) sent a survey to all sworn members of the Portland Police Bureau. 238 responded. One of the questions was "Over the last two years, how many times do you believe you could have shot someone with full justification, but chose not to?" Only 14% said zero. Crunching the numbers, these officers would have been justified to take a life a total of 476 times (and only 28% of the officers responded to the questionnaire, so that number might be tripled). Yet over those same years, only 22 officers discharged their firearms in the line of duty. Even without the tripling, over 95% of the time, the officers bet their lives on NOT shooting.
That might be apples and oranges, maybe, because there is no way of knowing whether the decision not to fire was based on an inborn reluctance, or fear of punishment (Arwohl and Christensen go heavily into what thoughts go through an officers mind in a deadly force encounter, and far too often they were distracted by thoughts of Internal Affairs and litigation) or how many rationally decided to gamble on another way because they believed it would work.
I bounced this off K. (Here's some advice, gentleman. Marry someone who is smarter than you.) K thinks that a lot of our fascinations, from some of the really dark stuff in fairy tales (if you've only seen the Disney versions, you need to read some of the old stuff) to movies, are specific mechanisms to prepare to deal with things we don't want to do. Fantasizing is a close cousin of visualization. And we may need a lot of visualization to break our social boundaries.
Maybe. Don't take any of this as answers. It's just brain food. Think about it. Going to pick up Roy for dinner in an hour or so. The conversation will continue.
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