Friday, May 27, 2011

A Good Question

It's almost 1 AM here. For some reason, the TV turned itself on at midnight. I'm feeling entirely too refreshed for four hours of sleep after 30+ awake. If you have no sleep cycle and regularly go for long periods without sleep, take a nap, and do it again...there is no real difference between jet lag and the normal state of exhaustion.

The signing went well. Just under forty people, including a few who drifted by, heard parts of the talk and stayed until the end. Then good talks and food at the nearby McMenamin's pub with a few friends.

One of the attendants asked a good question. It's one of those questions that has real depth into some of the underlying issues. The hypothetical: You're traveling out of country, taking pictures. You find yourself triangulated by three people who want your camera and money. What do you do? How do you prepare?

The rote answer is that you give it to them. Which is fine, I don't have a problem with that answer... but it's important that you understand why that is the reflex answer for most instructors, NOT what most people actually do, and the dynamics that underlie the answers that exist, the options that are seen, and the answer that is chosen.

I see six potential responses: To acquiesce, to run, to bargain, to struggle, to fight or to destroy.

1) Acquiesce is what most instructors would advocate, and in many situations it would be the safest thing. In much of the world, violent crimes are investigated more thoroughly than non-violent crimes. Killing tourists drives away tourists. Because the set-up described has all the ear marks of resource predation, it is probably safe to give up the goods... but every situation is different, every place is different.

There is an ego cost to acquiescing as well, and that ego cost drives many of the other options. Being mugged is just resources, on one level, but there is a dominance aspect. Many people, especially young men will feel like they should fight or they aren't men at all.

2) Running- If you're quick, not over-burdened, not cut off (and sometimes even if you are) and there is a safe place nearby (lights and people, generally) a sudden sprint can be a good option. The key is that sudden part. The bad guys expect a little hesitation as you decide if there is enough risk to keep you submissive. They might even expect backing away (and so it is likely, if they are experienced that there will be one behind you)... but taking off like a jack-rabbit with no hesitation usually buys a second of surprise. You might even be able to go through the people cutting you off. Few people do this, but it is on the table.

3) Bargaining is not about stuff. It is about ego. "Okay, I can't fight all three of you, so let me just give the camera and my cash. I need my passport..." This is one of the methods used so that it feels like you have some power in the situation. The power is actually an illusion, but some will let you keep a token if the threats are feeling generous. Not because you had a chance if it came to a fight. There is a similar dynamic in some sex crimes where the victim draws a line, sometimes a non-sensical line (actual example, a woman terribly assaulted and abused but she refused to 'talk dirty') to maintain some dignity.

It can work, or, if you either are disrespectful or the threats are NOT feeling generous, they can throw in a beating to teach you a lesson.

4) Struggling. This happens, for some reason. A bad guy grabs a woman's purse or a tourist's camera and the victim holds on to it, refusing to give it up, but also refusing to do any damage to the attacker-- They death grip on the camera strap but don't bite or punch or kick. Maybe it's instinct. Maybe it works sometimes, it's possible it could draw enough attention to make the bad guy run (witnesses are bad.) But in most cases, it just forces the bad guy or guys to use violence. The snatch becomes a beating. I'm not sure (pretty confident, but not sure) that this is another ego thing, your limbic system trying to prevent you from the "I shoulda done sumthin" blues of merely acquiescing.

5) Fighting. This is the overly-confident alpha male approach and what every teenager fantasizing (and, I suspect, many martial arts and self-defense aficionados) think they will or should do. Make 'em pay. Give 'em a good fight. Stand up, be a man. Sometimes it even works. You hit one or two of them or you get lucky, or you don't go down easy and they may decide the price is too high and scurry away, which will nicely reinforce the tough guy image. It's rare, though. Most three-on-ones, they just beat you down. With weapons (this is cultural, a lot of places in a mugging, the weapon is implied, not shown. It may not be there.) there is almost no chance.

6) Destroy. This goes back to flipping the switch and qualitative differences. Very few people just run. That's what makes the tactic so effective. Even fewer can just explode into violence. Destroying is not the same as fighting. You explode while the threats are expecting you to think, vacillate or agree. You do fast, extreme violence. It is not fighting. You don't defend yourself in anyway, confidant that your attacks will give them no time to react.

It can work. If it is not a simple mugging over stuff but, say, a group taking a hostage for later filming of a beheading, it is one of the few things (along with running) that has any chance at all. At the minimum, with this level of aggression and mindset, you will force the threats to make a choice: they can run or they can kill you then and there. You allow nothing else to work.

It's an alien mindset and there are more people who believe they could do it if necessary than actually can. Many, probably, that will think this is just like #5, fighting, only harder and more serious. It is nothing like fighting. It is slaughtering. And if you go there, you will kill or cripple someone... For a camera.

This is why the question was hard to answer completely in a short session. It's also an example of why prescriptive answers set students up for failure. If I tell him, "Just give up the camera, you'll be okay" that might be the right answer, 70% of the time. But if he is sure it is the right answer, he quits looking for all the little clues that this one is different.

I (or any other instructor) won't be there if he needs to make the decision. We won't see what he sees. He need to show what to look for, not tell what to do.


Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

This bring forward the argument causing question: Is possible to decide what the appropriate response is in the moment?

Not only make the decision, but do it fast enough for it to matter. Especially in the context of running or destroying.

And the corollary question: If this decision *can* be made, How often will the chosen answer be correct and can you train to improve your percentage?

Anonymous said...

What do you think would be the response from the attackers if a woman did the purse/camera clutch and then stepped in for a palm heal/elbow strike? Arse wooping or enough shock to get away with belongings and pride/ego...

Rory said...

Yes. In this scenario, like most threat-tactic resource predation, there is time. And I also believe that only with the information in the moment (the ToC) can you make an accurate assessment. For ambushes, of course, you need an operant conditioned response. The more you know and the more accurately you perceive, the more often the choice will be effective.

Done decisively, it would be pretty high-percentage. But that's rare. For some reason almost everyone the first time they hit for real, do it half power. You hit the key point, if she hits it must be shocking. If social conditioning kicks in and she pulls her strike, trying to send a social message instead of to injure, it can backfire badly.

Everyone sees why there is no just 1+1=2 type of answer for this stuff?

shugyosha said...

Couple of things,

when you mentioned "destroy", the first thing I thought was "destroy the goods" --specially since the example was a camera--. Use the destruction as an OODA breaker. Then, again, I personally mix "destroy" [the threat] with "run", so it kinda mixes in "fight" also. You run *through*; if someone's on the way, oopsie. I do _not_ claim to be 100% able to avoid monkey dancing if the phisical part lingers. Which would be silly, but...

Also, clutching to your items seems self protection. Bob O claims that grabbing is a pretty basic instinct. And people set a lot on their bags: "I have my money in there", "my husbands photo", "they'll get my address / account nbr.". I think there's a part of the victim that believes it will be _worse_ if they let it go.

Also, I don't think bargaining can be done without some strength behind it. "you can have the camera and my money. No, you can't have my passport/plane ticket unless we both bleed", but it has to be convincing and, certainly, on some kind of equal terms [still predator and victim, though]. You acknowledge he's nastier than you, but you can still make it unworthwhile if it's the chapest option _for you_.

Take care.

Josh Kruschke said...

I know you don't read fiction, but this brought to mind something I read in the first Louis L'Amour book I ever read, "Rivers West." There's a seen in the book where a local brawler, someone know to pick fights and intimidate the locals, picks a fight with the main antagonist. What is described is the destruction of a human. One was playing a dominance game and the other one wanted to get back to more important (to him) things.

I know it's a fictitious event but the imagery stuck with me all these yours.


Elinor said...

But then the woman gives him the camera, so he thinks, hey, no one is watching and she's pretty passive so maybe we can have a good time while we're out here, and then I can prove myself as a real man to my buddies. But then she runs, so we have to teach her a lesson.

This is why I am a concealed carry advocate, and I think in general (but not always) it's not useful to scenario think when it comes to certain types of threat groups. Especially the young males, where their hormones create more flux in predictability. you try and avoid falling into the scenarios that lead to trouble, but you make sure you're well armed if you are, and that you have exit strategies laid out just in case.

Unfortunately, the target is invariably the squishy that doesn't do this.

I'm guessing your own target audience however, are people who have jobs that mean having to find themselves in situations demanding rapid violent responses.

Every situation is unique in it's own odd way, and I think that's one of the frustrating parts about it. Humans tend to run on similar culture deep programming, but we're all different somehow. One guy with the same ethnic background will hate women, another will be afraid of them, both will have the same background, but one may act on their hate by not wanting to touch them, the other may act on their fear by beating their girlfriend to death.

Travis said...

I'm a concealed carry advocate too, but that doesn't change the options or the analysis needed to make a choice. It's just a tool to make "destruction" easier.

To big piggyback a little off of Jason I think the real issue on making a decision in the moment isn't time it's ability. Does someone have the ability to stay relatively thoughtful rather then run on pure emotion? Are they stuck some where part way through their OODA loop? Do they have enough content knowledge to assess the situation with relative accuracy?

Ben C said...

How can i teach myself operant conditioning?

ush said...

This scenario reminds me of a situation that happened to me a few years back in a far distant land, and I never really figured out a good response to it:

What if you see a scenario like this unfolding around you and you've decided its time to get the hell outta there but the person/wife/husband/girlfriend etc that you're with refuses to move?

Rory said...

Swallowtail- I'm with Travis on this. Hormones make people more predictable, not less, elsewise, yes. I'm a concealed-carry advocate as well.

Ben- OC is a training method, not a training. Any introductory psychology text or Behavioral Analysis book should give you the basics. It's also mentioned and described in both of my print books.

Ush- That's one of the things that drive people nuts. They want answers, and sometimes there is NO good answer and the best answer can change in each scenario. Without knowing the place, the time, the people (both good guys and bad guys) anyone telling you what you should do is blowing smoke out his ass. The man on the ground, that's you, will always have to make the call. The more you know and see, the more likely the call is to be a good one.

karrde said...


I've read your on and off for a while, and this post reminds me of something that happened about a decade ago.

Setting: I was studying at a local college. For about a year, I had to commute by bicycle. The route led me past a local High School.

One day, traveling by bicycle past the HS, I came upon a crowd of young males on the sidewalk. As I slowed down to maneuver around them, they moved into a position that blocked my path. One of them asked me something. I don't remember understanding the question, but I got the impression that he wanted to borrow my bicycle...or maybe just take it.

I looked at him quizzically, and he repeated himself. I then said no, bent forward over the handles of the bike, and tried to push him aside. The group rapidly dissipated, and I cycled out at a high speed.

I don't even remember considering my options. I realized afterwards that I had decided to leave.

(The neighborhood wasn't known as a bad neighborhood. But I did alter my route so that I passed by the High School on the other side of the road for the rest of the year.)

It seems like I did the right thing. I got away, lost nothing of value, and was unscathed.

I don't often think of that event, though I now keep a more careful eye for potential trouble while traveling on foot or by bicycle.

Any suggestions, or any thoughts?

Master Plan said...

When I read "Destroy" as an option I was thinking you meant smashing the camera\throwing the wallet under a bus\etc right in front of them. Some kind of pyrrhic option.

Was a more interesting\bizarre solution in my mind. ; )