Sunday, October 11, 2009

All In

Another metaphor, or maybe a string of metaphors. A wise man, Mac, once said to me during a short conversation about the finer points of professional intimidation: “I want him to look into my eyes and see the price of admission.”

I love that line.

If you crunch the numbers, it is impossible for a small woman to resist a committed attacker. He will be stronger, bigger, have surprise and a plan on his side. (Trust me, in general, a threat will rarely pick a larger, stonger, more alert victim. That’s not the way the game is played.) Purely crunching the numbers, the victim doesn’t have a chance.

But victims have won. Many, many times they have fought their way to safety or scared off or incapacitated the threat. Statistics are statistics, but I have heard or read that fighting back increases a women’s chance of escaping unharmed by 50-80%. Full disclosure, (this is from memory, so don’t quote me) one of the studies in the eighties reckoned that fighting back increased the chances of getting away unharmed by about 80% but also increased the chances of being killed by 13%. Tell me if we need a short post on reading statistics.

So what’s going on? The math (size + strength + predator surprise) of what should happen in an assault doesn’t match observations from the field.

So here’s the metaphor- in any conflict each party is willing to risk a certain amount of chips. If the other party raises beyond what the other is willing to risk, they have the advantage. It’s a clumsy metaphor and I already hate it. It implies bluffing, but this is very real. It implies that only the chips on the table count, but the cards matter too.

Still, bear with it a little bit. When a rabbit turns on a fox and drives it off, it isn’t because the fox couldn't beat the rabbit; the fox leaves because he doesn’t want to pay the price to stay in the game. The fox, the predator, the threat makes a mental note of the risk they are going to take, what they are willing to do to take down this rabbit or that co-ed. They have estimated the price of admission. When the price goes up, they often leave (and this gets messy, too, because sometimes it can trigger a rage reaction as their manhood is put into question. If I can pretend the statistics are all about my little metaphor, raising the stakes works about 80% of the time and backfires about 13%). If the threat is surprised enough to freeze, the rabbit-turned-feral can not only escape, but destroy the threat.

Just a thought. I like the image of raising the stakes. When you are accustomed to a penny-ante, nickel limit game it just makes sense to walk away from the guys playing for rent money and paychecks.

But another reason to hate the metaphor- it sounds too much like Marc MacYoung’s ‘escalado’. Not the same thing at all, and the metaphor works better for escalado then for this…

But do you see it? There is size, strength, skill, speed and ruthlessness… but there is also an ability to take this conflict to a level that the other party isn’t prepared for. You want to chip your teeth and try to intimidate and I’m willing to put you face down in the concrete… who is going to win? Still want to play? You want to push and shove and I want to break bones and joints? You want a good old-fashioned fistfight and the knife appears in my hand?

Achilles and Hector- Hector was a good, noble man, possibly the best human being in the Iliad, and he was willing to kill, to risk his life and fight to the death. Achilles wanted to humiliate Hector’s dead body and drag it around the walls of Troy. Who won?

There are higher levels you can take conflict to, and as long as you leave a face-saving out, once you raise it too high the threat may walk away. But god help you if he was willing to call and you were only bluffing.


Anonymous said...

uh... sorry for being dense, but who's the rabbit and fox between achilles and hector?

Rory said...

Separate analogies. Sorry for the confusion.

Patrick Parker said...

I very much liked this post. I especially like the "price of admission" bit.

I also understand that the Hector/Achilles thing was just an example but I took a different lesson from that story.

Achilles was a demogod and was invulnerable. He was also intensely peeved at Hector for killing Patriclus, but none of those were what tipped the scales.

Achilles had the moral advantage, where Hector had the moral disadvantage. Hector knew his killing of Patriclus was wrong and that knowledge of his lack of righteousness crippled him in the subsequent fight with Achilles.

At least that's what i got from the story.

Not that this has a lot to do with your post...

ush said...

I'm gonna say that Achilles being invulnerable was a way bigger scale tipper than anyones morality. Not to mention the god's royally screwing Hector over during the fight.

Patrick Parker said...

I agree, Ush, that Achilles invulnerability was not inconsequential, but it was not enough to keep Achilles from being killed by the wimpiest dude in the whole story. Hector was a hell of a lot more of a man than Paris, so if anyone should have had a chance agianst Achilles, it should have been Hector. Shoot, people have even characterized Hector as the best man in either army.

I guess all I'm saying is that being convinced you're right lends an advantage while knowing you are in the wrong gives you a disadvantage. Hector knew his killing of Patriclus was an unrighteous killing and he went into battle against Achilles with that disadvantage.

You can't go handicapped into a fight with a (nearly) invulnerable dude.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Depends on which version of the legend you like, but if Paris shot Achilles in his vulnerable heel under the guidance of Apollo for the kill, then Hector never had a prayer, no matter what his feeling was about Patriclus.

If it takes the guidance of a pissed-off god to slay somebody -- and an arrow to the heel is probably not usually a mortal wound -- then Hector was toast from the git-go.

The lesson is, if you don't have a god on your side and the other guy is mostly bulletproof? You are in trouble.

Master Plan said...

So what, in your (Rory) opinion are the finer distinctions between

The Monkey Dance
All In


Rory said...

Sweet question, Jonas.

The Monkey Dance is the baseline descriptor- ritual status posture/violence in our species. Escalato is an excellent description of the investment of identity in the dance, "I don't want to get my ass kicked but I don't want people thinking I'm a chicken, so I'll talk even tougher."

All in is a step beyond this. If the threat is Monkey Dancing and you jump steps to takedown, you have put more chips in and will reliably take him down while he is wondering why you aren't playing right. Monkey dance defenses (and de-escalations) don't work against predator assaults. Predators assault with a plan and an expectation of how much resistance they will get. If someone is willing to give than they were ready for, that's one thing. Sometimes it is more than they are willing to match.

Another way the analogy works, look at George's story here:

When George's best shot triggered a "this will be fun" reaction, it was a solid sign that he couldn't play the table stakes in the game he was sitting in for. Some people have more chips than others; but how much you have is not necessarily related to how much you are willing to risk.

Achilles/Hector- it has been a long while since I read the Iliad, but IIRC, Achilles had been whining in one of his snits and Patroclus put on his armor to lead the Myrmidons. Hector didn't know it wasn't Achilles when he killed him. I don't see anything unrighteous with that kill whether Hector knew who he was really killing or not.

I do see Achilles as a whiny, self-absorbed two-year old who was damn lucky he was half god because he was a zero as a man.


Master Plan said...

Thanks, I try. :-)

and thanks for the answers. As you were saying earlier, there really does need to be some kind of agreed upon language for this stuff, if only to cut down on the amount of time spent not talking about things because it's lost in, "When you say X what do you mean, exactly?", that sort of exchange.

Somebody should write a book!

Mediations on Violence
Principles of Violence
The Language of Violence


Unknown said...

Maybe just publish a "glossary of terms" for people who try to keep up....