Saturday, March 02, 2013

CofV6: Self-Actualized Violence

Quick Maslow recap:The basic idea is that there are five states or levels of struggle.  Each level must be addressed in order.
The most basic level includes survival needs: food, water, shelter and protection from immediate dangers.  If any of these are threatened, you don’t really care about much else.
The second level is security needs:  Will you have food tomorrow?  Will you be safe tomorrow?
The third and fourth levels are social—the need to belong and the need to have status or esteem within the group.
Dr. Maslow theorized that if these four basic levels were secure, each individual could then move to a higher level, become “self-actualized” and start living the dream.
It’s a good theory and it is widely applicable to issues of conflict and violence.  Not just in possible motivations but also in identifying our own blind spots.  Our ancestors took care of our survival and security needs long ago.  Few people become self-actualized enough to truly live their dreams.  Most of us struggle at the third and fourth levels, the social levels.  
Our conflicts have been social: who is in charge?  Who does the boss like better?  Will she think that I am a wimp?  Who does this guy think he is? Will I fit in?
When our experience with conflict has been all social, we default to those strategies, especially under stress.  The last two lessons talked about how violence can arise from the lower level needs and how that violence is qualitatively different than social violence.
Today is all about violence arising from the highest level of personal development.  Self-actualized violence.  Identity violence.
In college, we were told that self-actualization was positive, the source of all creativity and altruism (…and that struck me wrong right there, for there are countless stories of altruism and heroism when survival and security are threatened.)
When I revisited Maslow at the Police Academy supervisory course I was cautioned against hiring self-actualized people: “They do what they want to do, not what you tell them to do.”
The thing is, if you are a generally good person and take care of all your basic and social needs, you have the confidence to take risks in being a good person.  You become a better person.  And if you were a dick and achieve self-actualization, you become a self-actualized dick.
They are relatively rare, but self-actualized predators exist, and they are very different than other predators.  They do not hurt, humiliate or degrade to fulfill a need, not in the sense of needing food or needing drugs.  They enjoy the act.  They enjoy the begging victim, the sensation of killing or raping or conning.  It is no longer something they do.  It is who they are.  And it is possibly the only thing that makes them feel alive.
The psychobabble gets in the way here, as urges and desires get called needs, as predators in interviews subtly present something they wanted to do as something they needed to do.  You may have a hobby or career that you love, the one thing that makes you feel good, the hallmark of your identity… but you could walk away.  You can’t walk away from air.  Intense desire is qualitatively different than a need.  Remember that when predators rationalize their behavior.
On the other hand, if you DO have a hobby that is the most important thing in your life, the one thing that makes you feel complete and whole, the one endeavor where the world makes sense (how many 30+ year martial artists are reading this?) you have a handle on this mindset.  Horrific as it may sound, some get the satisfaction from beating and rape that you get from your hobby.
Their acts have become their identity.   They no longer merely kill or rape.  This predator IS a rapist.  IS a murderer.  Less violent, but on the same dynamic, are the professional conmen and grifters.
A young man in custody for stabbing a girl told detectives that it was the most awesome feeling of his life, the ultimate rush…and since that day he had been looking for a chance to stab someone else and feel it again without getting caught.
A man questioned about two rapes he confessed to: “To be completely honest?  They were the best experiences of my life.”
This is a hard thing for most of us to wrap our minds around.  We can barely imagine motivations that might drive us to extreme violence—desperation, revenge, or to save something (a country) or someone that we value greatly.  Most of us can’t really imagine loving it, finding our true selves in the tears and bruises of a woman begging for mercy.
And it is a mistake to assume that because we cannot truly grasp it, it is not happening.
Like predators driven by need, predators driven by the love of the act, the process, learn the skills.  Most start out very inefficient.  Some make elaborate plans and many love the planning process, the watching… but in their early attempts at mayhem they are often clumsy and unprepared for the messy reality (like many who study self-defense). 
It is my belief that many serial killers start their careers late because they get caught after these tentative explorations.
They become efficient with time.  They become skilled.
Not driven by withdrawals or addictions, they are also not distracted by pain.  Some deny that they are different than other people.  One told me that he only does what everyone else desires to do and that all others are bound by fear.  He felt he was only special in his bravery…but his victims were always small and weak.
Many understand that they are different, and different becomes better in one’s own mind very quickly.  This is important with questions of rehabilitation.  have you ever 'fixed' someone who believed he is smarter and already better than you?  I have never once met a violent criminal who had doubts about his own superiority over both his victims and the society trying to 'fix' him.  (See last section of this post.)
Most people follow social rules and are never consciously aware of them.  It’s not just that most of us do the right thing, we do the right things without it occurring to us that it is an option.  I hold my hand out, you shake it.  You have a choice, but if your job or life involves meeting people frequently, you will shake my hand before it occurs to you that there is a choice.
Identity predators see these choices, and feel superior because others do not.  The predator thinks, his victims follow their instincts.
This is a deadly distinction.  I’ve said again and again in these lessons that it is a mistake to equate social conflict with other types… not only is it a deadly mistake, but the process predator is not blinded by fear or need or pain.  He knows the social games and he will use them.
Social violence is rarely dangerous and almost always completely predictable.  As long as a skilled predator can keep you in your social mode, as long as you keep trying social strategies he has absolute confidence that:
1)    You are completely predictable and
2)    You will not be able to bring yourself to hurt him

Not only are social scripts ineffective, they will actively be used against you.  And used to increase the victim’s pain and humiliation as the survivor agonizes over social strategies (which often include pleading or flattering), wondering, sometimes for years, if they somehow encouraged the violence.
Identity predators have much in common with need predators.  The will become efficient over time.  They have othered the victim to a level that allows extreme force.  They will avoid witnesses.
They are discouraged by the same things as well.  Raising the stakes is the most effective.  A credible threat of force discourages the threat.  They do not, generally, like pain and do fear injury.  
You can lower the stakes, but this can be hard because many process predators have a 'type' a specific victim profile and it is impossible to know in advance what a specific predator's type is.  Generally, though, if the payoff is to see someone scream and beg an indifferent or stoic demeanor may be somewhat effective...except for the ones who need the challenge.  As with Resource Predators, lowering the stakes is the least effective and least reliable strategy.
The payoff for an identity predator is primarily emotional.  This is not a strategy I recommend as a first choice, but some may be discouraged if the designated victim doesn’t play the victim role ‘right’.  For adult and violent crimes, the strategy is nearly worthless, but for dealing with bullies, whether on the playground or in the office, it is imperative that you never become an entertaining victim.
The identity predator has one more twist that is not shared with the need predator.  Because the identity predator enjoys the process, the process can be quite drawn-out.  Emotional pain may be as satisfying as physical pain.
Low level (non-violent or low-level violence) predators may enjoy bullying and degrading people without ever obviously harming them.  They enjoy not only having a submissive partner but making the partner be submissive in public.
And this is something very important to understand about the conflict/violence scale: process predators who enjoy emotional abuse will never, ever admit that what they do is violent.  And there is a huge amount of this type of emotional violence perpetrated by self-righteous people convinced that because their cause is just (in their own eyes) or it is "for the greater good" that what they do is not emotional abuse.  And they are just as skilled in evading personal responsibility or introspection as any serial rapist.  But what they do differs no in kind, but merely on the scale of physicality.
More violent predators may use social skills and social pressure to keep the victims from talking, or even to ensure that they are available for further victimization.  In Iraq, Saddam’s Mukhabarat were notorious for video taping their sexual assaults and then using the threat of the videos to elicit more victimization…
In some cases, especially with predators who victimize children, the target will be ‘groomed’ into a victim personality.  The will be taught that acquiescence is the best survival strategy.  Victims will systematically be denied control of their own lives.  In a dynamic called ‘learned helplessness’ they will be showered with gifts or with punishment, randomly… so random that they never learn the triggers and come to believe that they have no control and should just obey.
None of these mindsets are so alien that we can’t understand them, but none of them respond to social controls or social expectations…and for entirely logical reasons.


Malcolm Rivers said...

Sarge, I was curious about something and the "contact me" link on your site seemed to be on the fritz so I thought this might be a good way to get some feedback. I am curious about a concept that you mentioned in Meditations On Violence and how one might train it. The concept, if memory serves, is metastrategy. I was wondering how you can train yourself to reflex levels with metastrategy or combine it with the operant conditioned counter-assault concept In Facing Violence. Thanks for your time.

Rory said...

Malc- I have no idea. All of the people I know who have metastrategies evolved them through a combination of training and experience. I'm not even sure if they are learned or expressions of inner nature, or just a conditioning of what worked. I'll have to give this some thought and see if it can be worked directly.

Drew Rinella said...

This is heavy. Had to read it about four times.

Josh Kruschke said...


"The payoff for an identity predator is primarily emotional...."

Malcolm Rivers said...

Sarge- cool, thanks. I think it would be worth a blogpost (or, hell, a full book.) I'm ironing out counterassault move with a couple friends in the DC area and finding anyone out here who has any idea what I'm talking about is at this pointing appearing to be impossible. ideas?

Jim said...

Malc -- you're not far from me. Maybe we can puzzle it out together, if you wanna try?

Anonymous said...

not finished reading yet but this thought occurs to me, in order for most folks to understand the "evill" or "dark side" draw maslows hierarch as a diamond - first the pyramid, then a pyramid underneath. Belonging - write knitting circle on the up, gangs on the down. If you explain this in the context of good and evil (another flawed model) more folks will get it. The self gets in the way if you have to put yourself in the same model as the "bad guys." Sure it's a socially acceptable form of Othering - but it might help some folks make the leap - we're all just house apes making decisions. kunoichi

Rory said...

Jim- Thanks for stepping up. I was going to suggest you.

Malcolm Rivers said...

Jim- sounds good and thanks. shoot me an email at

Sarge- thanks for taking the time to respond and if you have a chance to write a blog about it, that would be pretty cool.