Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Talkin' with Roy

Got a chance to talk to Roy Bedard, yesterday. He's a good man, good thinker. Doing a hellacious amount of research to apply sports psychology to understanding violent encounters. He doesn't take things on faith and he makes me think. Things I very much value in my friends. Just wish we saw each other more than every other year or so.

He made a statement that got me thinking. And there may not be an answer to this. "I don't believe there is a psychological block against killing."

The psychological block against killing within your own species probably came from Konrad Lorenz's work ("On Aggression") and other experts (maybe that should be 'experts') have run with it. It's become accepted wisdom in this field. Roy spent a long time as a cop and has been working as an expert witnesses in a good number of self-defense cases, so he deals with an unusual number of people who have killed. As always, there's sampling error, but his reasoning:

"If there was a psychological block, it wouldn't be such an attractive thought." We've all spent enough time with martial artists who fantasize about levels of violence they would be shattered to actually use. We've seen epic violence as a mainstay of cinema and fiction forever. If this was a truly horrible thought it seems odd to think about it so much...

Not sure I agree. Actually, I'm fairly sure I don't agree, but if good people only said stuff I agreed with it wouldn't make me think, right?

My data from working the jail is that some people run to a fight and some don't. Most freeze, a few run away. But we never found anything that could predict who would do what in their first fight. No level or type of training (one guy with extensive full contact experience always froze; the biggest coward I ever worked with was a former marine; and one of our most fearless and aggressive was an untrained single mom who only took the job for the security.)

In the early '90s (and I don't think this has been done since, which is kind of sad) the Oregonian (our local paper) sent a survey to all sworn members of the Portland Police Bureau. 238 responded. One of the questions was "Over the last two years, how many times do you believe you could have shot someone with full justification, but chose not to?" Only 14% said zero. Crunching the numbers, these officers would have been justified to take a life a total of 476 times (and only 28% of the officers responded to the questionnaire, so that number might be tripled). Yet over those same years, only 22 officers discharged their firearms in the line of duty. Even without the tripling, over 95% of the time, the officers bet their lives on NOT shooting.

That might be apples and oranges, maybe, because there is no way of knowing whether the decision not to fire was based on an inborn reluctance, or fear of punishment (Arwohl and Christensen go heavily into what thoughts go through an officers mind in a deadly force encounter, and far too often they were distracted by thoughts of Internal Affairs and litigation) or how many rationally decided to gamble on another way because they believed it would work.

I bounced this off K. (Here's some advice, gentleman. Marry someone who is smarter than you.) K thinks that a lot of our fascinations, from some of the really dark stuff in fairy tales (if you've only seen the Disney versions, you need to read some of the old stuff) to movies, are specific mechanisms to prepare to deal with things we don't want to do. Fantasizing is a close cousin of visualization. And we may need a lot of visualization to break our social boundaries.

Maybe. Don't take any of this as answers.  It's just brain food. Think about it. Going to pick up Roy for dinner in an hour or so. The conversation will continue.


Martin said...

For this matter i recommend "on killing" from dave grossman if you haven t read it already! Deals with low firing rates among soldiers in wars previous to vietnam and what the military has done to increase the rate! Best regards martin

RXian said...

I think some humans have an instinctual resistance to killing/violence. The tendency probably goes back to the days of early man; if one member killed a member of the small hunter/gatherer group, the entire group would suffer the labor loss (assuming the killed member generated more calories than he consumed...). So these early humans had an aversion to killing those *of their own tribe*. They might find it easier (and critical) to use violence in a fight for resources against other tribes.

We might still see the traces of this behavior today. People want to belong to a group, and people use the "othering" technique to prime themselves for killing/injuring other humans.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Interesting brain food indeed.
I agree with Ks point about fairy stories, heck look at religions and mythologies, ignoring our current unusual middle eastern ones for now. They are full of stories of breaking taboos and the bad stuff that happens if you do... and when it's ok to break the taboos.
Personally I can't see that there isn't a block, at least in most people. If there were not then why is there not more killing? Why have murder rates not escalated etc What stops people? History shows that even in harder times, the murder rate was low even in hunter gatherer tribes where you are far more likely to die due to interpersonal violence etc, people hold back from killing . Perhaps looking at it the other way round. What happens when people are free from restraints, whether socially or psychologically from killing? WHat dot hey do, how much killing do they do and what is the mental fall out, if we can tell. When military massacres happen for example. When the GMD kicks in and breaks down whatever the barriers are, what stops it, what leads them to stop killing? What is the fallout psychologically? one could also suggest that these things seem to be rare and only happen when one gets the right, or rather wrong mix of people together, the ones who have the a faulty or broken block on killing?

Josh Kruschke said...

The guy that got known for being quick to kill friend or foe, probably got his brain bashed in just to be on the safe side. Appearing to deliberate and only use violence on the other or in self-defense reasures those arround you they don't needed to be on guard all the time.

It's a trust thing. Those within our tribe should be trustworthy. We don't want to be know as a killer, because then people will look at us differently. We will no long belong or be in that group of the non-killer. So, if we go there, it better be for a good reason the others in our tribe will accept, and part of that is staying within the rules of the group.

Jaredd Wilson said...

I think the question is flawed. Being a block implies that it is an all or nothing situation. This doesn't seem to fit the experiential evidence at hand, though I've not had nearly the interaction with violence as Mr. Miller has, let alone killers.

Perhaps a better metaphor is a dam in a river. Everyone has a different height to their dam, which keeps those violent, murderous instincts in check. However, the river can rise, and overflow the dam. Emotions, chemical imbalances, and other things can cause this rise.

Lloyd said...

Ill just leave this here.

Would you be willing to kill a goat at a slaughterhouse?

Would you be willing to kill a goat on a farm?

Would you be willing to kill a goat in the wild?

Would you be willing to kill someones pet cat/dog?

Would you be willing to kill a person?

The inhibition cant be completely about not killing your own species. Everyone ive ever asked with only one exception wont kill the pet, either.

Erik Kondo said...

How about looking at it using the bell curve/normal distribution where one extreme end is UNwilling to kill, the other extreme end is very willing to kill, and the middle/majority being "depends the circumstances"?

Neil Bednar said...

Roy! My old Karate teacher. Wow, you two guys in a room...that room would be fun to be in.
Enjoy the Scotch. ;)

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on as Martin recommended on "On Killing" By Dave Grossman? It seemed to make quite a comprehensive case on a natural inhibition to killing (despite the monkey dancing/posturing) that builds up to it. It almost reverses the argument that its not the being under danger that causes PTSD but the act of doing so to others.