Monday, 19 May 2014
Weakness is strength. 19.05.14
I’ve had a eureka moment. For the longest time, I’ve been puzzled silly by the current trend for self-labelling as a victim. Aside from the fact that it’s a very self-limiting concept, I grew up in a place where to be present yourself as a victim was to invite further victimisation. When I read about stuff like schools telling children “show bullies that they are upsetting you”, or organisations telling women “explain to sexual predators that they are frightening you”, it makes me want to scream and punch the wall. Show you’re weak, and predators will prey on you MORE. They ENJOY your fear and pain. You’re rewarding their hurtful behaviour by giving them what they want, and at next to no cost – it’s standard operant conditioning, for crying out loud. You’re training them to hurt you. And this is the official, dogma-approved new survival strategy for the “enlightened” individual? What is wrong with these people??? And breathe.
More than that, though, I’ve been both puzzled and somewhat repulsed by the exploding trend of opening up heart and soul to all and sundry via the interwebs. Yes, that’s a pretty peculiar statement coming from a blogger. However, whilst I fall prey to the compulsion to write about bits of me that I fixed or concepts I worked out, I have a deep aversion to telling people, particularly strangers, where I’m still weak and tender. That is in deep contrast to a lot of people I bump against, who are happy to display all their hurts in public, often regardless of whether the situation demands it. There are forums I’ve fled from because I just couldn’t take the level of vulnerability that was thrust at me. The lack of tolerance for the behaviour is my problem, I know, but the behaviour puzzles me as a survival strategy. What is the survival advantage in exuding weakness?
It gets weirder still when the weaknesses are thrown at people in rather aggressive or rude manners, which is extremely common on the internet. People very rarely whisper “trigger” and request a response; far more often they SCREECH it and DEMAND change. If you are trying to elicit pity in those bigger or meaner than you, that’s not the way to do it. It just doesn’t stack up. Yet it must work, because the strategy is spreading. If it didn’t work it would be weeded out – operant conditioning, again.
I couldn’t get my head around it. Then I started taking a class called “Understanding the Origins of Crime”. The class aims to explain the evolutionary origins of certain types of criminal behaviour. One of the things we covered was the way in which violence is carried out between members of the same species (intra-specific violence). Most intra-specific fights are NOT to the death. Different “weapons” are used than when fighting against members of other species. The “rules” of the fight are designed to facilitate, if not guarantee, the survival of both combatants. The result of the fight won’t be the extinction of the loser, but the allocation of resources or status to the winner. In humans, this has been covered by Rory Miller’s “Monkey Dance”.
There are two key elements to predicting the victor. The first is the formidability of the combatants. The stronger individual is likely to prevail, which is pretty obvious. The second element, however, is something I’d not recognised until it was pointed out to me. The combatant with the most at stake will fight the hardest. For instance, you will fight harder over a plate of food if you are starving than if you have just eaten – what you stand to gain (not dying of starvation) is more significant than what you may lose by fighting (physical damage). If you don’t have much to gain, it doesn’t make evolutionary sense to fight very hard, if at all, and risk injury. In essence, the more desperate you are, the more dangerous an opponent you become.
It makes it all make sense. As a culture, we have removed (or are trying to remove) formidability as an element in human conflict. You can't beat the crap outta me in a debate just because you're bigger and stronger, because it's just not fair. Everyone would call you a bully, you’d get thrown in jail, and I’d win anyway. Social media removes formidability even more, as it grants us physical distance or even complete anonymity. You can’t slap me silent if you can’t get me.
All we’re left with, when measuring up as contestants in a conflict, is the size of our desperation. If I am more desperate than you, I will fight harder. I am therefore a more fearsome opponent. My weakness is my strength.
And it works. You routinely see people whose arguments are superior in all respects – better data, better analysis, better presentation, better all round – back the hell up and beat feet when approached by someone who has nothing valid to say, but explodes weakness or vulnerability at them. It doesn’t make sense, as the better equipped person could not lose the fight if only they stayed in it. However, most of us don’t have the stomach for it, which makes sound evolutionary sense. We back away from those who fight out of desperation (whether actual or feigned, it seems) because they will not back down and it just isn’t worth it.
(Whilst I’m mightily glad that I can explain part of the behaviour of my fellow hoomans a bit better, this also makes me want to run headlong into the nearest wall. I am somewhat prone to getting bogged down in internet debates, and that’s a major understatement. “Someone being wrong on the internet” is a massive red flag to me. I thought I was trying to spread facts, sensible theories and rationality. As it turns out, I might have been engaged in poo-flinging competitions with other equally poorly-evolved monkeys. Was it never about the content, was it just posturing and chest-beating? That’s a whole lot of time I’ve wasted.)