Thursday, March 18, 2010

Echoes and Emotion

Echoes, today. I have an e-mail I haven’t answered in several months on the dark consequences of understanding things. This morning, writing about the roots of conflict, I felt one of my own emotional denials— using Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, even as I wrote that a serial predator could be working from the highest level of self-actualization, just expressing his true self—I wanted it to NOT be true. I wanted progress and growth to always imply nobility. I wanted to believe that becoming truer of necessity meant becoming better.

I’m a big boy. This isn’t a children’s story. Eventually, I’ll get over all the things I want to believe. As Avi Nardia says, I’d rather be a student of Reality than a master of Illusion.

Still… more echoes. Someone sent me an essay by Richard Grannon on Intent. I’ve run across Richard’s name before and like the way he thinks. In this essay he talks about modeling the behavior of some very bad people. Not modeling what made them bad, but modeling what makes them effective.

Most nice, generally good people are ineffective in extreme circumstances. People adapt to their environments. Being a good person is a good adaptation for a good environment. That’s cool. But when the environment becomes bad or dangerous, that’s a hard switch to throw sometimes.

Grannon advocates not only dissecting the very bad, the predators for clues on how to recognize them or how to prevent creating them, but also for studying and stealing effectiveness. Good guys generally do poorly in prisons, very bad people adapt pretty well. What are the differences in personality, thinking style, behavior? Can you put those in your toolbox? Not become bad, mind you. Just use the strengths.

There’s a knee-jerk reaction here, too. I want to be all good and believe that bad people are all bad, though I know more than enough hardened criminals to know this is not true. I want there to be a qualitative difference between the effectiveness of a good person and the effectiveness of an evil person. I know it’s not true—there are many ways to be effective, many tools and how those tools are used and to what ends determines good and evil. A surgeon is just as ruthless and skilled with his knife as any Rio slum assassin.

So it echoes, a little reverberation between what I know and what I want to believe, and I see it all around in little denials. Peace activists who refuse to see that violence works for many of the people who use it; martial artists who ignore even their own experience when it contradicts some ‘master’; anti-drug crusaders who ignore the advantages that each layer of the illegal industry brings to those who play… on and on.

It’s an act of will not to respond emotionally when your emotions are triggered. It is an act of trained sensitivity to recognize when that has happened. Intelligent people can bring huge resources to defend their delusions, enough that they can convince themselves that their delusions are purely logical.

More to work on.


Kai Jones said...

But when the environment becomes bad or dangerous, that’s a hard switch to throw sometimes.

It's just as hard to throw the other way. Took me years to recognize that the tools that worked during my childhood were suboptimal with reasonably healthy adults, and then to learn/develop a set of appropriate behaviors, perception filters, and attitudes to use at will.

Mark Hauck said...

Rich Grannon has some interesting stuff and coincidently your blog gets lots of discussion on his website. I highly recommended you book "Meditations On Violence" and it was very well received.

Mark H

Mark Hauck said...

Rich Grannon has some interesting pyschological stuff. Coincidently your blog is discussed often on his board. I recommended your book "Meditations On Violence" there and it was very well receied.

Ann T. said...

Dear Rory,
I think the separation of process from intent underlies all studies of power and effectiveness.

1. The word Machiavellian, for instance, has that evil connotation when in fact it's fairly amoral. You could even argue that The Prince IS moral, but not in that soft cuddly way you describe the utopia-thinking advocates.

2. Aristotle says that knowledge of technique is different than knowledge of right and wrong. He gives them different words, which helps. Then after that, he would say 'temperance' allows an individual to choose what is right or wrong. Knowledge plus a virtue.

I have a post on this on my blog, under the philosophy category--if you want to read the diff. kinds of knowledge listed in the Nicomachean Ethics.

It's a different skill set to be a GG then a BG. But gaining skills requires practice and mental prep.

The upshot is, we don't think enough (can't possibly) and some people hardly think at all. It's a sign of knowing 'the offense against rightness' that makes you so careful with it.

Rock on,
Ann T.

Richard Grannon said...

it's a weird coincidence that all this afternoon I had a guy questioning me about what I thought it would take to survive psychologically in prison - I can only guess, but its not long in discussion before you start having to look at what "evil" is, intent, machiavellianism, immorality vs ammorality and how far a "good guy" can go before he becomes the monster he would like to fight

anyway, good blog, a really key topic that gets to the heart of what the training is and what it is for

thanks for the mention, I'll continue reading and enjoying your material

Steve Perry said...

Saints and sinners. A leopard can't change his spots but a man can change his mind. I think the Chinese recognized this way back when they designed the yin-yang symbol -- in the middle of the white, a black dot; in the middle of the black, a white one.

Romans sometimes had that on their shields and I believe it shows up in Celtic art, too.

Of course violence works. There are times when it isn't the right answer, but times when it surely will be.

My fantasy is that more people are more good than bad most of the time. When the boat sinks and you wind up on the island, and it is Lord of the Flies, however, the game isn't the same as it is in civilization.

Do bad people have more difficulty accessing the good in themselves than good people do the bad?
Won't that depend on the person? What works for them, what their standards are?

No matter how good we want to think we are, most of us, in my experience, have a splotch of the other color, at least that's how I interpret the symbol's reason for being. Purity of black or white is, I would think, exceedingly rate. And there are times when we have to deal with it, and times when we want to use it.

Unknown said...

So how can you tell which side of an arguement is right? Who's deluding themselves? One, both? Which one the least?

Anonymous said...

"A leopard can't change his spots but a man can change his mind."

Do you really believe that???

I no longer want to be a serial killer, a homosexual, a paedophile,

therefore I'll just change my mind???.get Real!!

Steve Perry said...

Anonymous --

Never changed your mind about anything? Funny, I know all kinds of folks who have, about all manner of things.

Big things, little things. You can be an alcoholic, but that doesn't mean you have to drink.

Some of the great religions of the world have the theme of redemption at their core, so I'm probably not the only person who thinks that at least some people can change, some of the time.

Toby said...

Could you post a link for Richard's essay?

Rory said...

Toby- I had it e-mailed to me as a pdf and don't want to disseminate it without permission. Richard, if you're still reading, do I have permission? Or could you post a link? Thanks. It's your "Violent Intent" essay. A google search just turned up one broken link to the actual essay.