The Useful Fiction

In looking at the many and varied approaches to self-protection out there, I did what is becoming ever more uncommon. I started thinking.

There are a widely separated set of world views to choose from. But at the base, we see the world in the way that best suits our needs at the moment. Our world view can change more than once in the course of a single newscast, if we allow it to do so.

A Person growing up in South-Central LA or Third Ward Houston might see the world as a dangerous place where humans are killers waiting for your moment of weakness because that is the mindset that it takes to survive in such an environment. Any other mindset may result in death. Should they ever make it out of these areas, they may find it extremely difficult to get past their standard thought pattern.

We First World people (I loathe the term, but use it here for ease of communication) don’t think of being killed at every turn. The thought that we could be shot and killed on the way to work is as foreign as the thought of eating bugs. However, in many parts of the U.S. we forget that there are places where your life is in danger just from stepping outside of your front door, just as we forget that the U.S. is one of the only Countries where bugs are not traditionally eaten.

 The way we think about violence is based on the environment in which we were brought up. A person brought up in a gang environment might focus on the ways in which violence can be used to achieve a desired end, and all the while be oblivious to the ways that logical, reasonable arguments can influence others, whereas a person raised in a higher income family, or a Family where education is prized may reverse this equation.

 Here is a simple fact: Reality for us is whatever our brain needs it to be. Because different people live in what can in essence be called different worlds, there will be a discomforting number of realities when we speak of violence and self-protection. What we see around us is not the real world, but an image of the real world constructed by our senses and the aggregate is influenced by our experiences and understanding of what is useful. Period.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
―     Anaïs Nin

In essence what we have is not the real world, but rather a model of the real world. The nature of the model depends on the nature of our environment, as well as our interpretation of that environment. A gangster needs a different model than the one used by the head of an international company. A bricklayer needs a different model than a cab driver. The gangster needs to think of who is in the car pulling up beside him, whereas the head of the company needs to be worried about profit and loss numbers, investors, etc. The bricklayer is concerned with meeting the quota and the cab driver needs to be concerned about who is in the back seat. The nature of the model is governed by how it is going to be used and in what environment.

 Normal reality is what we judge to be useful in our interpretation of information against the background of our experience. Your normal may be very similar to mine but it may also be extremely different.

 Can we truly reach a point in personal understanding where we in any meaningful way are able to bridge the gap in our understanding of violence and the understanding of those who live it daily? I don’t honestly know the answer.

 When we hear of a person attacking the elderly, say a WWII vet for example, if we were consistent, we would probably say, there is something wrong with this guy, he needs to be fixed. But instead most people, myself included, jump straight into thoughts of having the guy hung, drawn and quartered. When we are thinking in a scholarly way, we see human behavior as predictable and mechanistic. But when we go back to being human we resort to tribal thinking, emotion based decision making and gut reactions where the other guy is not human, and people can and do often surprise us with their actions.

 We live in a social world and it is in our nature to second guess the motives and actions of others, this is how we survive. It is all well and good to treat human behavior as predictable and mechanistic in the world of theory and discussion, but when dealing with actual people in the actual world it is a waste of time, especially if you are trying to figure out what the other person is going to do next. If you want to increase your accuracy in predicting human behavior, then look at other people as being creatures who act with intent, seeking a specific end result, and who seek pleasure and shun pain and effort.

The uncomfortable fact is that if your worldview is wrong it might cost you your life. There are people who will kill you for your shoes. There are people who will kill you because you cut them off in traffic. These people couldn’t care less if they are meeting your view of right and wrong. The thought that you might think there is something wrong with them for their action doesn’t mean anything to them. There are a lot of people who would never hurt you, but they are the same people who would not stop someone from hurting you. 33-year-old Deletha Word was savagely beaten, and had her clothing torn off of her by Martell Welch Jr, a 19-year-old who had his car side-swiped by Deletha. A 6’4″ man beating a 4’11” woman. At least 40 people stood in a semicircle around the event as Welch pulled her from her car, repeatedly smashed her face into the hood of the car, tore off her clothes and continued to beat her for ten minutes. Accounts differ on whether or not she jumped from the bridge or was thrown into the river where she drowned. No one helped her, they just stood and watched. Don’t count on others to help you. Social Psychologists tend to the belief that the more dramatic the incident, the less likely anyone will help.

And in closing I will add one bit of advice; you have to deal with the world that is, and not the one you think should be.