Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Aspie and Autist Guide to Self Defense, Part III: When Not in Rome....

We know we need to adapt to the implicit rules around us. We also need to understand that "around us" means wherever we happen to be at a particular time, not just where we were born or raised.

Self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung points out that different social settings - different cliques in school, different neighborhoods, different kinds of workplaces, even people of different educational levels, different ethnic groups and different socio-economic levels - mean different norms about what makes for respect and status and how violations are punished.

Step on someone's toes in one part of town and you could get a raised eyebrow, be snapped at or yelled at, maybe not get invited to a good club or party, maybe even lose out on a good deal or a promotion. "Dis" somebody in another part of town and you could get a fat lip and a shiner...if you're lucky. Or maybe a broken bone or two or a cracked skull. Or even your very own slab at the morgue.

One important difference is that some kinds of people abhor physical violence. You can get arrested and even put in jail just for grabbing someone. Other people consider physical violence a perfectly normal, even necessary, way to redress insults. They may also consider, say, sexually molesting or even raping a young woman who has passed out at a party acceptable. You could say that the former are much more civilized than the latter.

MacYoung himself would agree with you. Noting that there's some correlation between high socio-economic status and being civilized, he calls those who live by more civilized norms "Romans" and those who don't "barbarians". Problems arise when Romans - especially young Romans out for a good time - stray into barbarian territory while expecting Roman rules to still apply.

Note that I said "physical violence". You and I - especially if we're Romans - might consider that a redundancy. Many others, especially barbarians, don't. We Romans feel that whatever happens, violence is never acceptable, and we expect to never be hit, kicked, stabbed, sexually molested, etc.

Well, as MacYoung puts it, barbarians see violence as more of a continuum. In other words, suppose you get into an argument at the deli about who was next in line, and you call the other person a rude moron, complete with not-ready-for-prime-time language, maybe right in front of his friends. He just might decide that a right uppercut to your kisser is the perfect repartee. And he'll be sure as he knows his own name that you started it with your (verbal) violence. Why should you be immune to punishment when you attack others? Are you some kind of privileged character, that no one can touch you?

We don't have to agree with this view. We do need to understand that certain kinds of people do - and they act on it. They may not show it when they're sweeping our office floors, ringing up our purchases or serving our dinners - that is, on our turf. On their turf, their rules count - not ours. And as MacYoung has made clear, if we explore terra incognita, we need to learn the prevailing rules, the subtle signs of respect and status, the warning signals that someone is ready and (about to be) willing to inflict serious retribution on our hides and the best ways to escape while there's still time.

What do you think?


Chapati said...

He's right of course. Reaction to attack also depends on past experieces:
I've a friend who was bullied as a child. Its a long story why, but his teachers did very little to help. Feeling hard-done by the authority figures in his life, and his peers, he 'toughened himself up' and made sure no-one could ever fight him again. He sees little point in going to the police to help solve disputes, and instead tries to 'solve them himself'. It means that until fairly recently he was much more easily provoked than the 'average' person - by defending himself against possible attack he bacame one of the agressors.

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Hi Jeff,

Very good presentation of some interesting and valid points here. Thanks for providing this - I'll be printing it out for Nigel to read later when I think he'll be able to understand the concepts.

On a different note, I wanted to wish you and Emily a wonderful holiday and best wishes for the coming year!