Monthly Archives: February 2014

Managing Violence

Croc-EyeBelow is my shortened version of Sam Harris’ post titled “The Truth about Violence.”

Not preparing to respond to violence is just preparing to do the wrong thing. The most important preparations are mental.

Principle #1: Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places. The primary goal of self-defense is to avoid becoming the victim of violence. The best way to do this is to not be where violence is likely to occur, don’t visit dangerous neighborhoods at night or frequent places where drunken young men gather.

All men should learn to recognize status-seeking displays of aggression. Avoid or defuse conflict of this kind. By law, engaging in avoidable violence means you were fighting—which is illegal.

The purpose of his verbal challenge was getting you to respond in a way that makes him feel justified in attacking you. Putting up your dukes has no place in self-defense.⁠ Deciding on an appropriate course of action in advance is your best protection. You must keep your inner ape on a very short leash.

“What are you looking at, asshole?”  “Sorry, man. I was just spacing out. It’s been a long day.” De-escalate and move on.

Trust your feelings of apprehension about other people. Most of us take great pains to avoid being rude or appearing racist, suspicious, etc. But violent predators play upon this.

Principle #2: Do not defend your property. Whatever your training, view any invitation to violence as an opportunity to die—or to be sent to prison for killing. Violence must truly be the last resort. If someone with a gun demands your wallet, hand it over without hesitation and run. Unless you or another person is being physically harmed, or an attack seems imminent, avoiding violence should be your only concern.

Principle #3: Respond immediately and escape. When you find yourself without other options, you’re free to respond with full commitment. Your goal is to get away with minimum trauma (to you), while harming your attacker in any way necessary to ensure your escape.⁠

Imagine you’re loading groceries into your car and a man appears at your side with a gun. Your attacker is a career criminal who’s victimized others before you. Don’t  imagine you can reason with him.

Anyone attempting to control you – by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up – probably intends to kill you (or worse). Understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be wrong. It won’t get easier. The presence of weapons, the size or number of your attackers are irrelevant. You have to explode into action, whatever the riskYour overriding goal is to escape.

Assume any criminal breaking into your home when you’re inside it has come prepared to murder you and your family. Mere burglars generally make sure a house is empty.⁠ The moment it is clear that an assailant wants more than your property (which must be assumed in any home invasion), you must escape.

Victims’ concern for one another is inevitably used to immobilize them. What if your attacker has a knife to your child’s throat and tells you to lie face down? Don’t do it. Flee the house because he’ll know the clock is ticking. If this intruder is going to murder your child before fleeing himself, he was going to murder your child anyway, either before or after he killed you. Complying in the hope that a sociopath will keep his promise to you is always the wrong move.

How many levels are there?

beltsSomeone using the handle “man after midnight” (whatever that means or why, I don’t know) described what it took to progress to a high level understanding of math. It sounds like a blueprint for other activities with many layers of complexity.

So, I tried making a few substitutions, like “belts” for “levels,”  and the progression he described for learning math applies to learning Brazilian Jui Jitsu (which usually takes about ten years to go from beginner to black belt level).

Here’s what he said (with my changes in italics) about how many levels there are:

“The way it was described to me was in terms of ‘belts’.

Sometimes, in Brazilian Jui Jitsu, you find that your slow progress, and careful accumulation of tools and ideas, has suddenly allowed you to do a bunch of new things that you couldn’t possibly do before. Even though you were learning things that were useless by themselves, when they’ve all become second nature, a whole new world of possibility appears. Something clicks, but now there are new challenges, and now, things you were barely able to think about before suddenly become critically important.

It’s usually obvious when you’re talking to somebody a belt above you, because they see lots of things instantly when those things take considerable work for you to figure out. These are good people to learn from, because they remember what it’s like to struggle in the place where you’re struggling, but the things they do still make sense from your perspective (you just couldn’t do them yourself).

Talking to somebody two or belts above you is a different story. They’re barely speaking the same language, and it’s almost impossible to imagine that you could ever know what they know. You can still learn from them, if you don’t get discouraged, but the things they want to teach you seem really philosophical, and you don’t think they’ll help you—but for some reason, they do.

Somebody three belts above is actually speaking a different language. They probably seem less impressive to you than the person two levels above, because most of what they’re thinking about is completely invisible to you. From where you are, it is not possible to imagine what they think about, or why. You might think you can, but this is only because they know how to tell entertaining stories. Any one of these stories probably contains enough wisdom to get you halfway to your next belt if you put in enough time thinking about it.

So, the bad news is, you never do see the whole picture (though you see the old picture shrink down to a tiny point), and you can’t really explain what you do see. But the good news is that the world of BJJ is so rich and exciting and wonderful that even your wildest dreams about it cannot possibly compare. I don’t know how many levels there are…”

Long and Unedited

ideal and realWhat do podcasts by Joe Rogan or Chris Ryan, for example, have in common?

Their podcasts are long unedited conversations, usually with interesting people. Each one is one to three hours long and you’ll hear everything you’d hear if you were sitting right there too.

Before internet podcasts there were only network programs on licensed radio stations. They needed to appeal to a broad audience instead of to like-minded people. Radio talk shows went after the largest common denominator, so broadcasters put on whatever got rewarded by advertising dollars. There wasn’t much deviation from a predetermined focus.

The difference is the same you’d see comparing a Barbie doll as she’s sold, with a Barbie doll with normal proportions. It’s the ideal versus the real.

Now days there’s a lot more choice. Almost anyone within like-minded group can have a podcast that appeals to that group. If a podcast gets some traction the show might attract some advertising, but podcasts generally are driven by the interests of a like-minded group.

The long unedited podcast’s appeal comes from the perceived intimacy of sitting in on conversations with a friend and a potential new friend. That could happen on a radio broadcast, but it happens a lot on podcasts.


The Pilot G-2

g21--blkFor me, a pen that makes a bold line using  gel ink is the way to go. A pen is a mundane thing, but if you write even a little now and then the mileage will add up. If you look at a pen as a “writing tool,”  then having a good tool will make your writing experience noticeably better by being sort of effortless. All those short jots will accumulate.

The pen I currently use the most is the Pilot G-2. There’re other similar pens on the market and I’ve heard the Uni-ball Jetstream is the one to try next. But for me it’s the G-2 that’s smooth, inexpensive, and easy to find. The G-2 always makes a clean line and it’s a click pen so there’s no cap to lose. A G-2 glides along the paper as you write like you’re pushing a melon ball off a cutting board with a peeled banana, it’s slippery but with a bit of purchase.

Most of us don’t write by hand a lot these days and don’t give a pen much thought. But it’s a pleasure using a smooth pen when you do write.

Filtering and selecting

graphic - pick twoEvery day, people try to use a set of rules, hopefully unambiguous ones, when choosing dates, friends, or colleagues. What are the rules?

Maybe some of the online dating sites must have figured out a few. Finding out how couples met can be interesting if they used an online dating site because I’m curious about the steps dating sites use for filtering out bad matches and recognizing good matches.

I haven’t used an online dating site, so it’s fun hearing what couples thought was useful information to them in making their selections though each couple always has unique requirements.

Once you put yourself out there in cyberspace the dating pool is deep and wide. And there’re tips that can help with the filtering, both ways. The data from several top sites has been mined for trends and pitfalls for optimizing your chances. Doing yoga, surfing, watching Homeland, having a flat stomach (for men and women), using good grammar, and looking at the camera  while smiling  will help you to do better than someone discussing their cats, taking selfies, referring to women as girls, and claiming their eyes are their best feature.

Dating aside, the set of rules dating sites use for filtering are probably also useful in making friends. We don’t meet that many people in our lives and we don’t live forever so it’s important to filter out incompatible acquaintances quickly if you sense there’s not much of a connection. And don’t feel guilty about it because you’re not only saving yourself from wasting your time but you’re saving the other person’s time too. You don’t want to waste time trying to develop a relationship that just sputters along and collapses after a few months. Saying no to one person lets you say yes to someone else.

Look at a small university like Caltech. It’s the number one university in the world, 123 years old with 32 Nobel laureates among its faculty and alumni. Caltech only has 300 professors (Harvard has around 2,400). Over the decades, a crucial factor in Caltech’s success is their extremely selective academic recruitment strategy.

Because there are so few faculty members, a mismatch in hiring a new professor can be a major setback for a department. One department member put it this way, “If you ask me what’s more important, to get $100 million into my division or to hire 10 faculty members who are the best, I would say to hire those 10 faculty members.”

Selecting dates, friends, and colleagues comes down to filters, and the person with the best filter or access to it will probably be the best off.




Changes over time

kat-kung-fuIt’s interesting how some things change over time, becoming clearer and simpler. I think there was a Zen monk who said something like, “In the beginner’s mind there’re many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there’re few.”

There’s a Brazilian Jui Jitsu legend named Jean Jacque Machado who’s been practicing BJJ for 30 years. He’s a 7th degree black belt with lots of competition wins. Winning in BJJ requires imposing your athletic will on an opponent who’s trying to impose his on you.

A BJJ match is sort of like wrestling and usually lasts until one person is submitted, basically saying “uncle” by tapping the mat or the opponent. Rarely is anyone hurt, but all your abilities are maxed out, which is why people get so involved in BJJ, the total concentration and exertion required puts you in a “flow” state.

Reaching the black belt level usually takes around ten years There’re lots of moves, variations, and combinations of moves to master, leading some to describe BJJ as a physical chess match.

Anyway, the other day I heard an interview with Machado. He said something like, “The more BJJ moves you know the fewer moves you use,” reminding me of what the Zen monk also said.



A good life?

lifeExpressing success is normally done in terms of money. It’s easy.

The money yardstick is the universal language for success, in the States at least. But it’s not descriptive or good at indicating how happy that successful person is. Someone who’s wildly successful could be happy or could be unhappy, same thing for someone without lots of money.

Maybe we need a word for “never having to ____,” or an expression capturing the level of success you have when you do exactly what you love every day.

If someone gets up when he likes and does what he loves and can avoid the things lots of numerically successful people complain about all the time, like commuting, being over scheduled, having harsh deadlines, dealing with committees, etc., what do you call it?

Having a good life. Maybe? That’s what’s important. And you can have a good life whether you’re rich or not.