Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Switch

Everyone has a range of skills and abilities.  That's too obvious to write, really.  Let me give a concrete example.  I have a couple of friends I play with.  Health issues aside, I think one has slightly more combative skill than me, one slightly less.

The difference in skill doesn't matter a damn bit.  If either of these guys chose to go lethal, there would be too much damage done in the initial instant for me to recover.  At that level (and it doesn't actually take much skill) the ability to flip the switch is everything.

It's an easy thing to say, it's easy to believe that you could decide to flip the switch, but most don't.  They either freeze entirely or they stick in Monkey Dance/dueling/fistfighting/social conflict mode.  Those are all the same thing (as are sparring and sport at any level).  They are qualitatively different than what I'm talking about.

The first time you slaughter an animal, maybe every time, there is an emotional content to it, but it is not the same as fighting a person.  If you are going to chop the head off a chicken, you don't need to get mad or be righteous or make it personal or go through any steps.  It's a chore.  You just do it.

Most people cannot just kill a person.  They need a reason and a justification (two separate things).  Most need a ritual of blame and challenge and it's not even enough to take the guy out but they need the victim to see who did it.  That's human on human stuff.  When you flip the switch all of that is just wasted time and energy.  It also makes you very difficult to predict or defend against because humans depend on the ritual in other people to keep the violence social.

There's a lot in that last little thought, including the 'werewolf problem:' If someone can flip that switch with no warning, one of the deepest social conditionings, what else can they do?  What can stop them?  Can anything control their behavior?

I think the reason a lot of skilled martial artists don't ping my radar is that I don't sense this switch in them at all.  One told me years ago about the beast inside him, how he had once felt this awesome killing rage.  He feared that emotion.  What I heard was that even under extreme rage and fear he did absolutely nothing.  No matter what skill he had, he was and never would be any threat to me.

The Hulks of the world ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.") don't scare me.  They aren't a problem.  You will almost always see them coming, they will give plenty of warning and they will fight like anyone else in a Monkey Dance.

It's the ones who can approach violence as an unpleasant chore, something to get over with quickly and efficiently who are dangerous. The ones who can decide to flip the switch.  Who know the difference between fighting another person and simply slaughtering them and can choose.

Note:  Slaughtering is an example because it is something we do to animals and can relate to.  A professional can also flip the switch for handcuffing or taking some one out at a non-lethal level... I just didn't want to cloud the example with all you twisted people combining livestaock and handcuffs in your imaginations.


Kasey said...

Another fantastic blog. Thank you

Jim said...

Gee... thanks. Now I've got images of cuffed chickens bouncing around my head...

And those are the images that I'm willing to admit to!

Unknown said...

"The ones who can decide to flip the switch. Who know the difference between fighting another person and simply slaughtering them and can choose."

What I got from that was that to "flip the switch" for a very select few is a practiced thing. Like burning muscle memory through practice; something that has been done or practiced so many times that its a mindless task. Is that what you're saying?

Side Note:
"It's the ones who can approach violence as an unpleasant chore, something to get over with quickly and efficiently who are dangerous.""

That was what I was always taught was the best martial art; quick and efficient. There are no blocks and counters and blah blah blah. There is just getting the job done in the most efficient manner - to destroy or incapacitate with minimum effort and the least amount of danger.

WING CHUN INCas said...

"It's the ones who can approach violence as an unpleasant chore, something to get over with quickly and efficiently who are dangerous.""

How true, many years ago I knocked a Drink over a guy in a Pub down the Mile End in London, he looked at me said "You'll do" and just flattened me, my mates told me when i came around that he then wiped the Beer of his Jacket said "Goodnight" to the Barman and went home. The Barman then told me that I was very lucky that the big Man was in a good mood.

Irene said...

Can the ability to 'flip the switch' be learned, or is it innate? I've heard arguments both ways.

Another related thought - how do we distinguish between humans and others? Is that innate or is it learned?

Lisa said...

I think it can be learned.

It's a somewhat different situation, but somewhat similar as well... I'm a pediatrician. Sometimes, I have to pin a kid to a bed in order to let somebody do something painful to him. This does not equate to killing him- but I'm holding somebody against their will and causing them pain. My switch isn't about killing them- it's about going from the kind of person that would absolutely prevent anyone from hurting that kid to the person who is doing it herself. Never mind that I have a million excellent reasons to do it. Justification is everything, isn't it?

And it is a chore. I grit my teeth and I just do it. I'm glad when it's over but I'm not necessarily sorry that I had to do it. I just had to do it.

Now I've slightly creeped myself out!

Terry said...

Can you elaborate on how this relates to othering vs just needing to get the job done. I am working on this personally and would like to hear your take on it.
I have seen that alot of people can only commit violence by othering the intended target, ie, police vs the "gangbanger", inter-racial violence, or war.
Do you feel this is always present, or is it a form of personal justification, thus not flipping the switch?

Rory said...

Eli, Irene Lise and terry are nibbling at the edge. Innate or very early conditioning can create a person who doesn't see others as real, and they can flip the switch to any level of violence casually People can learn it over time by a coupe of different mechanisms.

Both Lisa and Terry touched on something-- you can mimic some of the actions through sufficient justification, but the (for want of a better word) follow-through tends to be off (and this is where the WC Incas may be right or wrong-- their words are right but you only see the music in action).

Most of this stuff, even when it shouldn't, tends to have a social edge. It is communication and communication is different than elimination or even control. If Lisa, working with kids has a need for the kid to understand the why of the pain, she has flipped the switch to a more intense level of social violence (going hands on for most people is hard and being able to just do it is not an easy thing and praiseworthy). But it is qualitatively different than flipping the switch to the asocial level.

The examples that Terry brought up- there is a difference between (example) the officer/gangbanger, good-guy/bad-guy, ally/enemy "battle for the streets" and the officer who can say, "I don't care who you are, what set you belong to. Do X, Y happens." In the first example it is othering, but it is still personal, and it will have a lot of the inefficiencies that stick to social violence. The second it is just simple math, Y follows X. It becomes an othering that is not based on difference but disregards difference and is based on behavior. I didn't need to dislike an inmate who needed to be dumped and cuffed. I just needed to stop his behavior.

It's weird because on one level it is a more total 'othering' but on another level it doesn't require any dislike, so we can still be friends once everything calms down.