3. Respond Immediately and Escape
November 9, 2011 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Three Principles of Self-Defense, by Sam Harris
posted by rollick (157 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
Have you ever been in a fight?
posted by run"monty at 3:51 PM on November 9, 2011


> The challenge for every man is to decline to play an ancient game whose rules and imperatives have been inscribed in his very cells.

This sort of thing truly is a strange game where the only winning move is not to play.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:56 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Never been in a riot, never been in a fight.
posted by Abiezer at 3:58 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is one problem that women generally don’t have to worry about. It is, for instance, very rare for a woman to find herself party to an exchange like this:

“What are you looking at, asshole?”

“Who are you calling an asshole?”

“You, bitch. What are you going to do about it?”


Maybe not at a party, but I've seen this happen on the bus/subway with an aggressive man and a woman more times that I care to count. Man leers at woman; woman makes a face; man unleashes torrent of filth with threat of violence.

My friend hadn’t ventured more than a hundred yards into the darkness of the park before he was confronted by three men, one of whom plunged a hypodermic needle into his thigh without a word. Our hero bolted and escaped, otherwise unharmed, but he spent the next three months wondering whether he had been infected with HIV, hepatitis, or some other blood-borne disease. (He was fine.)

SHENANIGANS
posted by mrgrimm at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Maybe not at a party, but I've seen this happen on the bus/subway with an aggressive man and a woman more times that I care to count. Man leers at woman; woman makes a face; man unleashes torrent of filth with threat of violence.

I think he means that the "what are YOU looking at" display of public aggression is not usually a problem between women, and/or when it does happen, it is not as likely to escalate into potentially lethal violence the way it can between men.
posted by scody at 4:03 PM on November 9, 2011


I was expecting this to be some 2nd amendment arm yourself screed, and was pleasantly surprised. Though all of his recommendations make sense, some are going to be nearly impossible to act on without endless training.
posted by maxwelton at 4:09 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, the poster uses point #3 as the title, but the goal is to avoid having to put #3 into play at all. The article stresses this, and it worries me that point 3 would be the takeaway.
posted by maxwelton at 4:11 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"If you get nothing else from this article, engrave this iron law on your mind: The moment it is clear that an assailant wants more than your property (which must be assumed in any home invasion), you must escape."

Ugh. Difficult to think about. Necessary to think about. Thanks for posting.
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:14 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's a great read. Thanks for posting it.
posted by red clover at 4:14 PM on November 9, 2011


Though all of his recommendations make sense, some are going to be nearly impossible to act on without endless training.

Yes, this one in particular:

What if your attacker has a knife to your child’s throat and tells you that everything is going to be okay as long as you cooperate by lying face down on the floor? Don’t do it. It would be better to flee the house—because as soon as you leave, he will know that the clock is ticking: Within moments, you will be at a neighbor’s home summoning help. 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.

It's the rare parent who will leave their child at knife point, even if, rationally, it's the smart thing to do.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:14 PM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


The best rule of fighting I've ever heard is that you don't get in a fight if you don't know what the other person is capable of.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:15 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


fantastic, powerful writing. thanks.

Though all of his recommendations make sense, some are going to be nearly impossible to act on without endless training.

Please enlighten us.

Also, the poster uses point #3 as the title, but the goal is to avoid having to put #3 into play at all.

title does not equal "takeaway."
posted by Avenger50 at 4:15 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that these principles, which insist on non-violence except as a last resort, actually parallel some of the principles that seem to underly the more violence-oriented self-defense tactics. Most notably, resisting natural reflexes. In the violent domain, we often lean back from punches, putting ourselves off-balance. To retrain, we dodge swipes by ducking instead of leaning back, in order to retain balance. In the non-violent domain, caught in the position of the powerless victim, our natural reflex seems to be to acquiesce, bargain, and beg for mercy, digging ourselves deeper into a hole. To retrain, we steel ourselves to explode with uncompromising backlash, in order to buy ourselves a precious moment to escape.

Another fascinating article from Sam Harris. I can't get enough of his writing.
posted by stroke_count at 4:15 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really like Sam Harris. And I agree with a lot of what he says and writes, even though he makes all sorts of wild assertions without any offers of proof.

But the more of his speeches and debates that I watch and the more of his written work that I read, the more I'm convinced that he's just one more person who is so articulate that he convinces people that he is also knowledgeable.
posted by The World Famous at 4:18 PM on November 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Also, the poster uses point #3 as the title, but the goal is to avoid having to put #3 into play at all. The article stresses this, and it worries me that point 3 would be the takeaway.

You're probably right. I avoided using a pullquote so as not to sensationalise the piece, but I could have picked a more appropriate title.
posted by rollick at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2011


Please enlighten us.

His thoughts were red thoughts beat me to it.
posted by maxwelton at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2011


If someone puts a gun to your head and demands your purse or wallet, hand it over immediately and run. Don’t worry about being shot in the back: If your attacker is going to shoot you for running, he was going to shoot you if you stayed in place, and at point-blank range. By running, you make yourself harder to kill.

This. It's a lot harder to hit a moving target with a pistol than the movies would have you believe.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:20 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


How to Speak and Write Confidently So That People Instantly Grant You Authority
posted by mrgrimm at 4:21 PM on November 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


In fact, it is overwhelmingly likely that some of you will become the targets of violence in the future.

and yet

In 2010, there were 403.6 violent crimes per 100,000 persons in the United States. (The good news: This is an overall decrease of 13.4 percent from the level in 2001.) Thus, the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year.

You seem to have a very, very different definition of 'overwhelmingly likely' than most people I know, although once paired with the weasel words 'some of you' and 'the average American' anything's possible, I guess.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm just going to wait here quietly for all the Expert NinjaSoldiers to come in and tell us why Harris is wrong wrong wrong wrong.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


He touches on it over and over, but rule #4 is whether you're trained or not (and maybe it takes training or a certain frame of mind), if you decide after all of this that you have to fight, then you must be vicious. Scrotum ripping, eye-gouging, bashing with handy objects, biting, and screaming like an animal vicious. No one is prepared for that, least of all someone who think you're at their mercy or thinks they're acting first. If you're fighting in a fight with rules, it's either a sport, or you're playing the game in #1, and about to lose.
posted by cmoj at 4:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why can’t civilized people like ourselves simply rely on the police? Well, look around you: Do you see a cop? Unless you happen to be a police officer yourself, or are married to one, you are very unlikely to be attacked in the presence of law enforcement.

Unless, you know, you're being attacked by law enforcement.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [26 favorites]


How to Speak and Write Confidently So That People Instantly Grant You Authority

I totally recognize this criticism, and yet what he's saying echos what I've been thinking in regards to home invasions (which I have been increasingly, irrationally fearing since I bought a house last spring). Some of the crime statistics at the beginning are quite deceptive (for one, it conflates stranger-danger-crimes with all violent crimes), but at the same time it helps me to rationalize away my own anxious thoughts - "I already know what to do, there's no need to obsess."
posted by muddgirl at 4:27 PM on November 9, 2011


How to Speak and Write Confidently So That People Instantly Grant You Authority

Yawn. He was pretty clear from the beginning that he only knows "enough to have strong opinions." Turns out the things he knows are a lot more than what I know. Would you prefer he didn't write the article at all?
posted by Avenger50 at 4:28 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish more self defense talk would start with the fact that most violence is between people who know each other, acquaintances, neighbors, family, lovers. Seeing red flags on abusers and violence from folks you know is worth it's weight in gold. That potential for violence is often telegraphed, days, weeks, or months ahead.
posted by yeloson at 4:29 PM on November 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm just going to wait here quietly for all the Expert NinjaSoldiers to come in...

Oh man, sometimes I can be daft. Of course the Expert NinjaSoldiers are probably already here.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:32 PM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The World Famous: he makes all sorts of wild assertions without any offers of proof.

I don't want to turn this into a "so what do you think about Sam Harris" thread or anything, but huh?
posted by King Bee at 4:35 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to wait here quietly for all the Expert NinjaSoldiers to come in and tell us why Harris is wrong wrong wrong wrong.

As Harris and his many colleagues in the skeptics movement would be glad to point out, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim, not on those who are skeptical of it.

Yawn. He was pretty clear from the beginning that he only knows "enough to have strong opinions." Turns out the things he knows are a lot more than what I know. Would you prefer he didn't write the article at all?

Why do you keep using the word "knows" to describe the assertions he makes? They are his opinions, not "the things he knows."

I'd prefer that he cited authoritative sources for the unsupported assertions that he is offering as advice for people in dangerous situations. But he doesn't really do that when he writes about other topics, so I guess I can't expect him to here, either.
posted by The World Famous at 4:38 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't want to turn this into a "so what do you think about Sam Harris" thread or anything, but huh?

I don't want to turn it into that, either. Let's stick to discussing the article. I guess the answer to your "huh?" is that you'll see what I"m talking about "wild assertions without any offers of proof" if you just go through the article noting every assertion that is unaccompanied by an offer of proof. I guess "wild" is a subjective assessment on my part.
posted by The World Famous at 4:40 PM on November 9, 2011


I wish more self defense talk would start with the fact that most violence is between people who know each other, acquaintances, neighbors, family, lovers.

Well, the article doesn't have to be about all risks of violence, and it isn't, but yes it should certainly acknowledge its limited focus in the intro.

That being said, nearly all of the violence I have experienced as an adult male have been from complete strangers (to me; on at least one occasion I experienced violence by persons known to someone I was with). I would be wary about generalizing across the sexes about this.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2011


I'd prefer that he cited authoritative sources for the unsupported assertions that he is offering as advice for people in dangerous situations.

Recommended Reading
G. de Becker, The Gift of Fear.
R. Miller, Meditations on Violence.
R. Miller, Facing Violence.
S. Strong, Strong on Defense.
G. Thompson, The Fence.
posted by unigolyn at 4:42 PM on November 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


If it comes down to violence against children, I'm thinking the Mother Bear Response.

If it comes down to violence against your own person, I'm with him. Run run run.

If it comes down to unavoidable violence... be meaner than your attacker? I mean, he does think he's the powerful one going in and role shock might give you some short time.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:42 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


He's right on all counts.
posted by Sternmeyer at 4:43 PM on November 9, 2011


I'm just going to wait here quietly for all the Expert NinjaSoldiers to come in and tell us why Harris is wrong wrong wrong wrong.

What are Harris's unique qualifications to instruct other people on how to defend themselves? The proponent of an idea bears the initial burden of proof. I'm genuinely interested in where he's coming from and neither his website nor Wikipedia reveals much.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:43 PM on November 9, 2011


The World Famous: He cites sources, in the recommended books section and links to other people's websites.

Have you read any of those books? I have read one, and what he says about not obeying home invaders and trying to escape at the first opportunity is supported by numbers.

Can not link from this phone, but as a data point (anecdotes are not data, or however that goes, but a data point any ways), there was an FPP about a horrible nightmare inducing home invasion where a woman was killed and her partner gravely injured. The survivor only survived because they decided to escape, but it was too late.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 4:44 PM on November 9, 2011


unigolyn beat me to it, but Inspector.Gadget (nice inspecting there inspector) makes it evident that the comment bears repeating.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 4:45 PM on November 9, 2011


Why do you keep using the word "knows" to describe the assertions he makes? They are his opinions, not "the things he knows."

His opinions are based on knowledge gained from practicing "martial arts for many years and eventually taught self-defense classes in college . . . includ[ing] work with firearms and a variety of other weapons." He directly quotes S. Strong and includes other sources.

So what are you looking for here? Would you prefer he not write the article at all? Or can he write it if he acknowledges up front he is "not a security expert" but has opinions based on aforementioned experience?
posted by Avenger50 at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2011


if you lived in Beverly Hills they were 1 in 458. Still, even in good neighborhoods, the likelihood of being attacked is hardly remote

A 0.2 per cent chance doesn't classify as remote? I'd love to play poker against this guy. The article shouldn't conflate total assault/attack statistics for what is very much advice against stranger assault. About half of all reported assaults are from non-strangers, and three quarters of murders.

Point one rings pretty true with my experiences of being a young guy wandering around a big city late at night. I would only add that in addition to people looking for a fight, there are those simply looking to torment, and trying to act like a non-target only invites attacks from these people. A valid yet difficulty alternate strategy is to project an air that tells people that they won't come ahead screwing with you because you are a crazy person who will kill them and eat their heart. Of course, if you run in to a pyschotic sociopath looking for a challenge, you're in trouble.

As for the explosive power of violence determining the outcome of a fight, this also matches my experience. Nothing like seeing a 6 foot 250 pound bruiser go down to being glassed in the side of the head by a 150 pound bantam.
posted by kithrater at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The World Famous: He cites sources, in the recommended books section and links to other people's websites.

Yes. I noticed that. But that doesn't actually address my point.

Have you read any of those books?

I have not. Why do you ask?
posted by The World Famous at 4:47 PM on November 9, 2011


I...I...have problems with this, the just giving idea and getting away from the scene as quickly as possible. It's a rational argument for irrational situations. One should not have live in fear or be afraid or be willing to give up because someone wants to take something from them. Rather than it being the default response, it should be a matter of weighing the options to see if you can fight back.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:47 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


unigolyn beat me to it, but Inspector.Gadget (nice inspecting there inspector) makes it evident that the comment bears repeating.

As a standalone list of recommended reading, cool. As far as supporting the ideas he's laying out - it is not very helpful to the casual reader to just list authors and titles with no information about which propositions each supports.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:47 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Advice on dealing with extreme situations is much more easily found than ever finding an extreme situation to apply the advice to. I know a few people who've been held at gunpoint and lived for various reasons. None of which are easily summarized or broadly applicable.
posted by nutate at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Reading this and imagining the various scenarios was like starring in my own personal version of Criminal Minds as the hapless victim. Thanks for that, Sam Harris. :/ Even after watching a lot of cop shows and assessing those hapless victims' responses, I admit I never quite thought about the absolute necessity of immediate, uncompromising response and escape the way Sam Harris presents it.

Women are almost never the targets of social-dominance games of the sort I describe here. Rather, they must worry about rapists and other true predators. (For the purposes of this article, I ignore the subject of domestic violence.) And women’s attackers often outweigh them by fifty or a hundred pounds. These facts make their security concerns both more pressing and less ambiguous.

I wish Harris went into more detail about how women should/could respond to the very different sorts of threats of violence we get. Social dominance-motivated violence is alien to me: I'm more concerned with how to make sure that street harassment doesn't escalate to violence, how to assess whether that casual acquaintance is going to turn into the guy who tries to rape/assault me, etc. I see what Harris means by "less ambiguous," since it's rare that a woman will get into a fight with a guy who outweighs her by over 50 pounds for any reason other than an immediate threat to her safety. But it seems to me like the daily navigation of potential violent threats is a lot more ambiguous and fraught for a woman.
posted by yasaman at 4:50 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hey guys, I just wanted to enlighten this thread: something something Ad Hominen!
posted by P.o.B. at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What are you looking at?
posted by Ad hominem at 4:53 PM on November 9, 2011 [33 favorites]


Another point worth mentioning - one made by Massad Ayoob among others - is that if, for whatever reason, you do kill an attacker, you can expect serious psychological trauma.

Better to avoid the necessity, if possible.
posted by Trurl at 4:53 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish I had know this was OK at uni.

'What are your sources? Where's your evidence?'
'Dude, there's totally a book list!'
'Did you read those books? Have you referre....'
'Dude. Book. List.'
'Yeah, lay off the guy! Have you read any of those books?'
"But I'm not the one making the cl...'
"EVERYBODY! HE HASN'T EVEN READ THE BOOKS!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


That being said, nearly all of the violence I have experienced as an adult male have been from complete strangers (to me; on at least one occasion I experienced violence by persons known to someone I was with). I would be wary about generalizing across the sexes about this.

Ok, white, straight, able, adult males probably have different rates of violence from people they know vs. strangers.

That said, a) he talks about hanging out with police responding to situations, most of which wouldn't be random violence and b) it's not titled "self defense for special subsets of people".
posted by yeloson at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Recommended Reading
G. de Becker, The Gift of Fear.


I wanted to underscore this. A great, great book, and not just in understanding violence, but also in providing a useful perspective on many other things in life. The book includes a similar anecdote to this one about "kangaroo information," about exactly what and what not to be afraid of.

Credible Threats, Warning Signs, and Kangaroos

Since we are the editors of what scenarios get in and which are invested with credibility, it’s important to evaluate our sources of information. I explained this during a presentation for hundreds of government threat assessors at the Central Intelligence Agency a few years ago, making my point by drawing on a very rare safety hazard: kangaroo attacks. I told the audience that about twenty people a year are killed by the normally friendly animals, and that kangaroos always display a specific set of indicators before they attack:

1. They will give what appears to be a wide and genial smile (but they are actually showing their teeth).
2. They will check their pouches compulsively several times to be sure they have no young with them (they never attack while carrying young).
3. They will look behind them (since they always retreat immediately after they kill).

After these three signals, they will lunge, brutally pummel their victim, and then gallop off.

I asked two audience members to stand up and repeat back the warning signs, and both flawlessly described the smile, the checking of the pouch for young, and the looking back for an escape route. In fact, everyone in that room (and now you) will remember those warning signs for life. Your brain is wired to value such information, and if you are ever face to face with a kangaroo, be it tomorrow or decades from now, those three pre-incident indicators will be in your head.

The problem, I told the audience at the CIA, is that I made up those signals. I did it to demonstrate the risks of inaccurate information. I actually know nothing about kangaroo behavior (so forget the three signals if you can – or stay away from hostile kangaroos).

In our lives, we are constantly bombarded with kangaroo facts masquerading as knowledge, and our intuition relies on us to decide what we will give credence to.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:56 PM on November 9, 2011 [42 favorites]


Don't assume you can win a fight based on appearances, don't give ground once you are in a fight you can't avoid, don't pull a gun you aren't 100% prepared to use, get the fuck away from all people who intend to do you harm ASAP, bullets go through things, shit gets all kind of sideways and non-rational and hard to analyze in the heat of the moment no matter how much you've trained.

I think this is very good advice.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:57 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


For the purposes of this article, I ignore the subject of domestic violence

How can we ignore that? The people who pose the greatest threat of violence to us are, as a rule, the people we know the best and trust the most.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:58 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting read but I honestly have no idea why I should trust Harris on the matter.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:58 PM on November 9, 2011



It's the rare parent who will leave their child at knife point, even if, rationally, it's the smart thing to do.


I'll tell you what - I've been stabbed, and it don't hurt that bad.

The fucker that holds my kid at knifepoint will either kill me or know what his liver tastes like.

The author is correct - and they taught us this in the Marines - if you are going to fight, the winner will do anything to win. There are no rules and the more vicious you are the faster it will be over.

Odds are, your best option is to run, however. Numbers guarantee victory.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:01 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


People's experience with violent situations is coloured by the needs of dramatic presentations on television and in the movie theatre. Real violence doesn't have slow motion or recoil or putting up dukes or wire work or fancy explosions or instant replays. There's a loud pop and you feel like someone tapped you and you and stumble because you tried to turn away but you leg doesn't work any more and .. is that blood? Or he glances at you and then away and as he passes the side of your face explodes where he hit you and you're on the ground and your glasses are gone and you can't see for the gravel and can't move with a knee on your back. It's a squeal and a thump and you black out and you have no idea what's going on but your face is damp and there's a flicker of orange light and you're upside down and you can't reach the door handle because your hands are jammed in the steering wheel and you can't release the seatbelt anyway. There's no shocking music, no special effects, no foreshadowing. But you can use this to your advantage if the opportunity presents itself.

You have to do what Sam Harris says. You have to go off book. Change the script. You have to go insane. Explosively insane. Do nothing the assailant says. Move like the wind, move like fire. Scream, laugh, run, be unexpected. It's the only thing that can save you. Attackers are almost always following their own script, which says "I will scare them, I will mentally dominate them, I will move them to a private place, then I will do my thing." They don't know how to handle it when you go off book because they don't have any opportunity to rehearse that situation. Once you are confronted, surprise becomes your strongest ally. Use it, suddenly and dramatically, and the situation becomes yours to direct.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:03 PM on November 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


I wish I had know this was OK at uni.

Reading the bibliography is generally encouraged at Uni. The question of whether the author was speculating blindly has been soundly put to rest. You can contest his point of view with experience, insight or research of your own, tho.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:04 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I...I...have problems with this, the just giving idea and getting away from the scene as quickly as possible. It's a rational argument for irrational situations. One should not have live in fear or be afraid or be willing to give up because someone wants to take something from them.

You're making an assumption here that there is such thing as an irrational situation. There are no irrational situations; only irrational responses to them. Arguing that you should choose not to be rational is arguing that it's a good idea to be stupid.

When it comes right down to it, it's a question of your own values, and in particular, which is more valuable to you: your life, or the idea of your stuff? That really shouldn't be a hard choice.
posted by darksasami at 5:05 PM on November 9, 2011


Yeah, his stats sound really overblown to me. Let's look at the number of murders in the U.S. in 2010.

Ok, there were 12,996 murders total. Population of U.S. is approximately 300 million. 53% of the killings involved someone the person knew, 25% by family members.

Only 41 murders involved a rape. So, about half the murders the relationship to the victim is unknown, that leaves 6,000.

Even if we're not considering the fact that most of these occur in high crime neighborhoods that middle class people can avoid, we're still talking a very, very rare situation.
posted by Maias at 5:06 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


(In terms of forcible rape without killing, the numbers are obviously larger: FBI reports around 85,000 and there's obviously tons that go unreported. But facing a sociopathic rapist who wants to kill you and your family is still clearly a very rare situation, thank God)
posted by Maias at 5:09 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


One night, I got beat up a night club. The next week, I signed up to a gym and got into shape. I haven't been accosted since. Not even close. It's perhaps a mixture of, I look a lot more substantial and I have a little more self-esteem because of my, "physique".

I still don't know how to fight worth a damn. I can run *really really* fast if needed, though. REALLY fast.
posted by alex_skazat at 5:10 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree 100% with this, and it agrees 100% with what I've seen in self-defense courses and books. Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape is precisely what the actual "2nd amendment arm yourself screeds" I've attended taught, for instance (we had over an hour of discussion on conflict de-escalation before we even touched a gun, and the instructor was careful to point out that carrying a gun makes it even more important to avoid violence whenever possible).
posted by vorfeed at 5:11 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The question of whether the author was speculating blindly has been soundly put to rest.

I don't think anyone claimed that he was speculating blindly.

You can contest his point of view with experience, insight or research of your own, tho.

Am I no longer allowed to be mildly annoyed that he has built a profitable career relying on the willingness of his audience to accept his assertions as if they were authoritative and that this thread is a prime example of that phenomenon?
posted by The World Famous at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought you said I don't want to turn it into that, either. Let's stick to discussing the article, didn't you?
posted by ericost at 5:16 PM on November 9, 2011


I've taken a few years of Krav Maga, which emphasizes the same mindset of responding to unavoidable violence with explosive, vicious force and a quick escape. Some of the cops who go to the same gym have done safety and self-defense seminars for women and non-athletes. The information Harris puts forward agrees with pretty much everything I've learned, including the parts about secondary crime scenes. If you get mugged by someone who wants money, the only move you need to practice is reaching into your back pocket, throwing your wallet to the side of the guy, and running like hell. If they don't want money, you must be ready to attack with as much force as possible.

His stats are overblown. One of my instructors used to say, "Odds are, if you don't act like an asshole, you are mostly training to defeat a heart attack."
posted by benzenedream at 5:20 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought you said I don't want to turn it into that, either. Let's stick to discussing the article, didn't you?

I am discussing the article.
posted by The World Famous at 5:20 PM on November 9, 2011


if you lived in Beverly Hills they were 1 in 458 [per year]. Still, even in good neighborhoods, the likelihood of being attacked is hardly remote
A 0.2 per cent chance doesn't classify as remote?


I think he's referring to his calculation shortly thereafter that if you live in the neighborhood for 30 years you'd have a 6% chance total. (30 * .2)

If you just heard the brain of every statistician on Metafilter explode don't worry, you didn't imagine it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


He gives two pieces of advice for which I want some statistical support before I'd act on them: (1) you should give your wallet to a mugger then run, and (2) if a home invader is holding a gun to your child's head, you should escape if you can. For case (1), I want to know the fraction of muggers who plan to kill their victims in any case and the fraction of non-murderous muggers who will open fire if you surprise them by running. Similarly, for case (2) I want to know the fraction of home invaders who plan to murder their victims and the fraction of non-murderous home invaders who will react to a parent who flees by harming a hostage child.
posted by The Tensor at 5:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


That being said, nearly all of the violence I have experienced as an adult male have been from complete strangers (to me; on at least one occasion I experienced violence by persons known to someone I was with). I would be wary about generalizing across the sexes about this.

I agree; violence is incredibly gendered. I'm not an aggro kind of guy; I don't think I have deliberately picked a fight with someone since maybe the third grade. I don't go out at night looking for trouble. But in my adult life I've been threatened with knives and guns; I've had way too many guys to count get in my face and try and start something; and I've been jumped a few times by random guys just looking to fuck someone up. All of that was 100% stranger violence; the last time someone I knew tried to hurt me was probably high school. I mean, I'm almost 40 and couldn't be more mild mannered, and yet just a few weeks ago some random dude in a bar wanted to start something, just because I was conveniently nearby.

So fantasies about home invasions and street muggings and other stranger-danger violence resonate directly for anyone like me who has experienced other (and much milder) forms of stranger violence. It's just points further along the same continuum, easy to imagine and easy to exagerate the likelihood of it actually happening.

But the problem of all our endless fantasies about stranger violence is that it ignores and minimizes the far higher rates of non-stranger violence that women experience from acquaintances and family members and lovers. I think there's something kind of insidious in our constant refusal to look at how so much violence comes from within the home and our circle of trusted people.
posted by Forktine at 5:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I was once mugged at gunpoint, gun at the back of my head, whole deal. It was nerve-rattling but clearly still just a robbery

Once, I've been in a situation like he describes, with someone who I think was almost certainly a sociopath and had been leading me around down a dark, secluded street late at night and planning to rob me at best. I luckily sort of talked/stalled my way into a less secluded area as we walked then made a run for it, but I remember crossing that line in my head of "this is happening. nothing else is relevant anymore. find a way out". It was a feeling of almost infinite spiraling focus and calm, level-headed panic
posted by crayz at 5:31 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


You seem to have a very, very different definition of 'overwhelmingly likely' than most people I know, although once paired with the weasel words 'some of you' and 'the average American' anything's possible, I guess.
I don't think I understand the objection.

If the chances for an individual person are, as he says, 1 in 250 each year, and (say) 1000 random people read this public article written by this very well known author (which I'm guessing is a very conservative estimate of the number of readers), there's over a 98% chance of some reader falling victim.

And that's this year alone. Even if the average reader -- with that very conservative estimate of the number of readers -- lives for only, say, five more years, the chances are astronomical.
posted by Flunkie at 5:34 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you just heard the brain of every statistician on Metafilter explode don't worry, you didn't imagine it.

You're telling me. It's cleary a 6.4 per cent chance.
posted by kithrater at 5:36 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most people survive being mugged, getting thee ass kicked, getting raped, getting in a fight, with little or no training etc. Self defense training is useless, it isn't even very good exercise or fighting training. Fantasizing about what you might do in a potentially violent encounter isn't really that healthy. You are better served knowing what to do after the short encounter is over. Get to a safe place. Get medical care if necesary. Get appropriate legal advice. Be ready to deal with unexpected emotional aftermath
posted by humanfont at 5:38 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every article on the Internet is not a university paper with APA requirements. I'm a lawyer who is a little bit Bluebook obsessed even out in practice (as opposed to in law school, where it's encouraged), and even I wish the footnote bridgade in this thread would chill.

I also don't get the focus on his statistics. Just for argument's sake, let's grant that his statistics are completely inflated. Okay. The point of his article isn't the stats, it's the principles. And those seem valid regardless of the stats and are really, really interesting.
posted by red clover at 5:41 PM on November 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Most people survive being mugged, getting thee ass kicked, getting raped, getting in a fight, with little or no training etc. Self defense training is useless, it isn't even very good exercise or fighting training. Fantasizing about what you might do in a potentially violent encounter isn't really that healthy. You are better served knowing what to do after the short encounter is over. Get to a safe place. Get medical care if necesary. Get appropriate legal advice. Be ready to deal with unexpected emotional aftermath

So what you're saying is you've neither undertaken serious self-defense training nor read the article?
posted by cmoj at 5:43 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had burglars break into my house in the night while my husband and I were asleep. We heard a crash, but didn't really think further of it and went back to sleep. The next morning we were EXTREMELY glad not to have gone and investigated. I think there is probably a large subset of criminals who are too stupid or desperate to make sure the house is empty, but who don't intend to harm anyone unless they are confronted. If you happen to come face to face with them while trying to flee, who knows whether they would consider that a confrontation?
posted by lollusc at 5:44 PM on November 9, 2011


He`s wrong!

I have had guns pointed at me by two guys demanding that I lie face down on the back seat of my own car. According to his advice, that`s the moment I should have reacted. And this is where he is DANGEROUSLY wrong.

Dude is ignoring some basic Sun Tzu, "know your opponent". I couldn`t have known these specific guys, but you gotta have a threat model. Meaning, I knew that a common carjacking m.o. in that city is to take the owner for a ride and release him in a remote place sans wallet and cellphone, to have extra time to drive away before he can alert the police. Lo and behold, that`s what happened. Had I followed his advice, I`d be dead.

No favorite for him, sorry!
posted by Tom-B at 5:46 PM on November 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Every article on the Internet is not a university paper with APA requirements. I'm a lawyer who is a little bit Bluebook obsessed even out in practice (as opposed to in law school, where it's encouraged), and even I wish the footnote bridgade in this thread would chill.

I don't think anyone's demanding footnotes. I just made an observation about the dynamic between Harris and his readers, as exemplified in this article and the response to it in this thread. Really, as exemplified by your own comment, where you said:

And those seem valid regardless of the stats and are really, really interesting.

I, like Harris, know enough to have strong opinions about many things. Am I, therefore, an authority on those things? What if my opinions "seem valid regardless of the stats and are really, really interesting?"

People casually accept as true all sorts of unsupported assertions all the time. But there's a sort of special irony when it's people on MetaFilter casually accepting as true unsupported assertions made by one of the most high-profile skeptics in America on the ground that they "seem valid regardless of the stats and are really, really interesting." (Particularly when the article opened with "While I do not consider myself an expert on personal security, I know enough to have strong opinions.")
posted by The World Famous at 5:51 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's an interesting point, Tom-B. Not to pry, but your profile indicates that you're in Brazil. Did the incidents you're talking about happen there? I wonder if maybe there's a cultural difference. Here in the States, it's pretty commonly advised that victims increase their chances of harm by complying in such situations. Do you think it's possible the difference with your situation is just a function of an American author writing about American citizens, or do you think there's a genuine flaw of logic?
posted by red clover at 5:52 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the chances for an individual person are, as he says, 1 in 250 each year, and (say) 1000 random people read this public article written by this very well known author (which I'm guessing is a very conservative estimate of the number of readers), there's over a 98% chance of some reader falling victim

1 in 250 is a .4% chance. Of those thousand readers 1.6 will be affected.

I'm not sure about the .6 guy though: I'm guessing there's a chainsaw involved.

The point of this math is not that the article is somehow useless. It's simply that the portions dealing with statistics are poorly thought out and not something you should be planning your life around.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:08 PM on November 9, 2011


If the chances for an individual person are, as he says, 1 in 250 each year, and (say) 1000 random people read this public article written by this very well known author (which I'm guessing is a very conservative estimate of the number of readers), there's over a 98% chance of some reader falling victim
1 in 250 is a .4% chance. Of those thousand readers 1.6 will be affected.
No, sorry, you're incorrect; the math doesn't work that way.

1 in 250 is 4 in 1000, which means that on average there will be four people out of 1000 affected. Not 1.6.

More importantly, the chance of zero of those thousand people being affected is (249/250) ^ 1000, which is about 1.8%. Thus, it's over 98% likely that at least one of those 1000 will be affected. This year alone.

Over the course of five years, it's (249/250) ^ 5000, which is like half a billion to one against him being wrong.
posted by Flunkie at 6:12 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whups, good point.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:17 PM on November 9, 2011


Just as a little followup, to perhaps clarify why your "1.6" answer is not correct:

Let's say I said 500 readers instead of 1000 readers. Then, in the same way that you concluded 1.6 people out of 1000 would be affected, you would have concluded that 0.8 people out of 500 would be affected.

So essentially you said that with more people total (500 rather than 250), less people would be affected (0.8 rather than 1).
posted by Flunkie at 6:17 PM on November 9, 2011


Trust me, I got it the moment you said "sorry, you're incorrect" and I went and reviewed what I said :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:19 PM on November 9, 2011


BTW, given that you seem rather better at stats than me would you be willing to work out the Beverly Hills case? That is 1 in 458 per year, but you live there for 30 years.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:22 PM on November 9, 2011


One night, I got beat up a night club. The next week, I signed up to a gym and got into shape. I haven't been accosted since. Not even close. It's perhaps a mixture of, I look a lot more substantial and I have a little more self-esteem because of my, "physique".

I'm glad that worked out for you (no sarcasm). Contrasting data point -- what I said about violence from strangers? A friend of mine draws a hundredfold aggression compared to me (at least), and the man is a giant.

He's also a jerk, but these people don't know that yet.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:24 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


For an individual Beverly Hillsite? Over the course of 30 years, at 1/458 chance of incident per year, there would be a (457/458) ^ 30 chance of going without incident. That's about 94% that he or she would be OK for the whole 30 years.
posted by Flunkie at 6:25 PM on November 9, 2011


[Sam Harris] makes all sorts of wild assertions without any offers of proof.

the burden of proof is on the person making the claim

Sam!?
posted by deanklear at 6:29 PM on November 9, 2011


And just for the sake of comparison:

Beverly Hills: 94%
America: 89%
Compton: 65%
posted by Flunkie at 6:29 PM on November 9, 2011


Flunkie doesn't that model also assume that risk is evenly distributed? Violent crime isn't a fair wager.
posted by humanfont at 6:31 PM on November 9, 2011


Flunkie doesn't that model also assume that risk is evenly distributed? Violent crime isn't a fair wager.
I'm sorry, it's not clear to me exactly which of my posts you're asking about, but if you mean the overall "he's right that the chances are overwhelming that some of his readers will be affected", not really.

I mean, sure, the exact percentage will be different if his average reader is not (with respect to this) an average American, but at some point it really doesn't matter. For example, if his average reader is incredibly safe, let's say 1 in 1000 chance of incident per year, and there are only 1000 readers, each of whom lives on average only five years after reading, he's still 99% (and more) likely to be right.
posted by Flunkie at 6:37 PM on November 9, 2011


The best sensei I ever took a class from - was showing a technique. It involved a knife to the femoral artery. After demonstrating the move, he asked the class what the next technique was. There were a few guesses but none got it right. He held up a finger and said "The correct answer is - Run".

John Wayne is dead folks. We live in a new kind of wild west. There is honor in surviving. I think Mr. Harris gives some good advice.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:37 PM on November 9, 2011


John Wayne is dead folks.

True. But the lesson to be learned from that is "don't smoke six packs a day and don't take a job downwind from a nuclear weapons testing site."
posted by The World Famous at 6:42 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


You have to go off book. Change the script.

I have a friend who politely declined to be mugged. One night he and his wife were accosted on the street by a small gang of people. One of them approached and demanded money. My friend responded with a big smile and waved him off, saying "sorry bud, not tonight." When they demanded money again he just laughed them off and walked away. It was only afterwards that his terrified wife made him realize that those people weren't panhandlers. Being big, cheerful, somewhat oblivious and from Newfoundland is a surprisingly effective self defense strategy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:42 PM on November 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


If the chances for an individual person are, as he says, 1 in 250 each year, and (say) 1000 random people read this public article written by this very well known author (which I'm guessing is a very conservative estimate of the number of readers), there's over a 98% chance of some reader falling victim.

The problem is that he moves from an average to an individual likelihood in a way that implies that the risk is evenly distributed (it isn't, even at the geographical levels he indicates) and in a way that's nothing short of rampant scaremongering. Is it almost a certainty that at least one person will be affected? Of course, but that's true of a whole range of outlandish scenarios, from lightning strikes to terrorist attacks to death by donkey. Is it likely for any one person? No, not very, at all. But instead of reading like this:

Some people get hurt by violent crime. Not a lot of people, though. If you're not attacked by a family member or friend, don't engage in risky activities like binge drinking, and don't hang out in high risk areas, then the chances of it happening to you specifically are next to zero. You should really worry more about what you eat, because that's many, many more times likely to hurt you than a violent stranger...

...it reads like this:

1 in 250 but maybe lower BUT YOU COULD BE RAPED ANY SECOND NOW IT'S NOT EVEN A REMOTE CHANCE HE'S IN THE HOUSE
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:44 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


My Mom (76 yrs old) was mugged not too many years ago. Guy with a knife. She gave him her purse (like $40). Then he tried to attack her and she did what my brother (a cop) and I trained her to do - kick his knees out and run like frikkin hell. Any day you make it home is a good day. Eyes and joints. You take out either one and the fight stops. And run like hell.
posted by elendil71 at 6:46 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It doesn't read like that to me.
posted by Flunkie at 6:46 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


there was an FPP about a horrible nightmare inducing home invasion

I think that this is the case you are thinking of. And this one did turn out to be a clearcut case of "run as fast as you can".
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:48 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Refusing to be a victim is a pretty sound philosophy all around.
posted by Brian B. at 6:58 PM on November 9, 2011


It doesn't read like that to me.

That's because 17 per cent of the US population in 2003 had less than basic or higher prose proficiency. There are more than 100,000 users on Metafilter. It's not even a remote chance that you're illiterate. It's overwhelmingly likely. It's OK - I have three surefire tips you get you through this. Trust me. I've read stuff before.

Further reading

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illiteracy#United_States
- UNESCO Literacy Portal
- The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives
- Weibel, M.C. (2007). "Adult Learners Welcome Here: A Handbook for Librarians and Literacy Teachers". Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., New York. ISBN 1555705782.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:22 PM on November 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


(Yes, I'm teasing. Don't metatalk me, bro.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:30 PM on November 9, 2011


This is an odd statement by Harris:
Actually, the chance is probably greater than this, because we know that certain crimes, such as assault and rape, are underreported.
Aren't all crimes underreported? There isn't 100% reporting of anything.
posted by John Cohen at 7:36 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe not at a party, but I've seen this happen on the bus/subway with an aggressive man and a woman more times that I care to count. Man leers at woman; woman makes a face; man unleashes torrent of filth with threat of violence.

But what Harris is talking about is how "young men are easily lured into social dominance games from which neither party can find a face-saving exit." Your anecdote isn't an example of that. You say you've seen women threatened with violence, but Harris is talking about situations that lead to actual violence.
posted by John Cohen at 7:39 PM on November 9, 2011


With regard to the utility of guns (and of cops) in a real-life physical altercation: I've actually been in a street fight with an armed off-duty cop and a concealed-carry gun nut on my side, and we got our asses kicked – I ended up in the emergency room getting my forehead stitched up, having been hit in the face with a bottle – because my friends were too smart to draw their guns against (presumably) unarmed opponents. In these situations, the more you know about using a gun, the less use it is.
posted by nicwolff at 7:52 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


In our lives, we are constantly bombarded with kangaroo facts masquerading as knowledge, and our intuition relies on us to decide what we will give credence to.

Oh, kangaroos. I was mugged by a kangaroo once.

There's this wildlife park called Healesville Sanctuary that used to have an enclosure filled with them. I was probably around fourteen or so, but I was a big fourteen and I certainly wasn't scared of no giant mouse. I went inside all ready to see the cute animals, carrying a paper bag filled with stale bread - they used to sell those there, this was before zoos got all precious about giving animals an authentically native diet. Anyway, I go in the enclosure and the kangaroos start crowding around me. Have you seen kangaroos on the ground, when they're not going fast enough to hop? They have a sort of shuffling gait as if they were using their hind legs as crutches. Anyway, they're shuffling up at me - silently, this was very creepy, they were doing this all silently - and I found myself in the center of a six-foot circle of hungry marsupials trying to get at my packet of sweet, sweet stale bread. They started jostling me and I was having trouble keeping my balance so I moved to get my back up against a tree. Then this big guy comes up and sort of extends himself telescopically so his eyes are at the same height as mine. I'm moving my face backwards but I'm blocked by the tree, his paws are getting closer, his weirdly unmoving face is in mine - and then he starts rifling my pockets to get at the bread I had stuffed in there. I wake up and grab some and throw it as hard as I can, the kangaroos start hopping after it, and I make a break for the exit gate.

So always remember. Kangaroos are tough bastards, and your life is worth nothing to them. Give them your bread and get away.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:09 PM on November 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


4 am, last leg of the trip in a white subcompact rental car, from LA to SF. Running out of gas at that desolate part of Oakland, just South of Alameda.

I pull in to a vast lot with green vapor lights, put some gas in with the card, and a guy jumps into the passenger seat wit a big pistol, waves it around a bit blusters at me to give him all I got.

I look at him and sigh, kind of smile, and say: did you see the number I just rang up on that gas machine? Take a look. $1.65. I'm stuck in this place, bein' a white guy in a rental car, and just look around, I mean look at you, pullin' a gun on me. Don't you think that if I had anything more than $1.65 I would have spent it to get the hell out of here?

He laughs, holds the gun down, says: "I'm just messin with this gun. Just playin. Ha, you funny. Give me a ride up to that corner there."

"Just don't be using up my $1.65 of gas, that's gonna barely get me home, if I'm lucky" "Sure bro, see you around, peace."
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:37 PM on November 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Being big, cheerful, somewhat oblivious ... is a surprisingly effective self defense strategy.

True.

My pal Marty and I were once accosted in an alley by two guys with knives. As soon as the knives came out, I froze like a scared rabbit, but Marty (6'5", 350 lbs) ran right at them with his arms outstretched and a smile on his face, yelling, "Friends! Let me teach you about JESUS!"

They scampered. Evidently, "stabbing giant crazy Jesus-freak" wasn't high on their list of priorities.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:40 PM on November 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


seanmpuckett: " You have to go off book. Change the script. You have to go insane. Explosively insane. Do nothing the assailant says. Move like the wind, move like fire. Scream, laugh, run, be unexpected. It's the only thing that can save you. "

Reminds me of that Happy Days episode in which Richie has to confront a bully at Al's, and they go into the bathroom to fight. Someone (was it Fonzie?) gave Richie the advice "just go nuts. Act like a crazy person." So as the fight is about to start, Richie starts screaming, waving his arms around wildly, running around the bathroom. The bully gets freaked out and leaves.

The thing is, back in the 80s in grade school, I totally did this and it worked. In about 3rd grade some boys were picking on me on the playground, so I copied Richie's apeshit routine and the bullies were confused and laughing, and I made my escape.
posted by zardoz at 8:51 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what you're saying is you've neither undertaken serious self-defense training nor read the article?

I read the article. I have extensive self defense training. I have real world direct experience. Over the course of a number of situations the training provided no tangible value. Nor was his advice particularly relevant.
posted by humanfont at 9:09 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is an odd statement by Harris:

Actually, the chance is probably greater than this, because we know that certain crimes, such as assault and rape, are underreported.

Aren't all crimes underreported? There isn't 100% reporting of anything.


I assumed he meant contrasted with murder, which must have as close to 100% reporting as any crime.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:10 PM on November 9, 2011


Or property crimes that involves insurance claims, I guess.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:12 PM on November 9, 2011


Per CDC:
The 15 leading causes of death in 2007 were:
1. Diseases of heart (heart disease)
2. Malignant neoplasms (cancer)
3. Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)
4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
5. Accidents (unintentional injuries)
6. Alzheimer’s disease
7. Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)
8. Influenza and pneumonia
9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis
(kidney disease)
10. Septicemia
11. Intentional self-harm (suicide)
12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease
(hypertension)
14. Parkinson’s disease
15. Assault (homicide)
So, if you care about "self-defense", keep up your cardio & maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke, don't drive (or learn how to drive well), be happy, cut back on the booze, chill out, and, um, don't get Alzheimer's, nephritis, septicemia, or Parkinson's (two of those I'll have to Google). After you have those nailed, THEN worry about assault.

That's said, training martial arts is a ton of fun and solves several issues besides teaching you how to fight.
posted by LordSludge at 9:21 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most martial artists train for a “fight.” Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened

Quoted for truth.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:27 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


You should also learn to trust your feelings of apprehension about other people—revising them only slowly and with good reason. This may seem like a very depressing piece of advice. It is. Most of us don’t want to see the world this way, and we take great pains to avoid being rude, suspicious, etc. But predators invariably play upon this commitment to civility.

If you find yourself in such a situation, you should assume that your opponent is a career criminal who has victimized many others before you

This is wider and more expansive advice than most people may realize. If you are a civil person you might be paying a price.
posted by vicx at 10:25 PM on November 9, 2011


always, always, always remember:

DON'T YELL "HELP!", YELL "FIRE!"

...this stopped me from being mugged by two guys with baseball bats who jumped out of a car once...No one wants to help you. Everyone wants to see the fire. It was CRAZY! Every light within a two block radius came on IMMEDIATELY. the two guys panicked, jumped back in their car, and drove away as fast as they could.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:31 PM on November 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Principle #1 is extremely important: Not being where you don't belong is an important factor in preventing violence done to you.
posted by Chuffy at 10:37 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most of the violence done to me happened at SCHOOL. No legal way out of attending school back in the day. Oh and Mr. Harris should have attended school in the Bay Area. Girls totally did the 'What you lookin' at?' social dominance crap on nearly a daily basis. It always led to getting beat up. I began to just sock anyone that said those words real hard.
I survived domestic violence as well. It was not fun. His lack of generally worthwhile advice on domestic violence is really too bad,
As far as don't be where you don't belong, sound advice but dammit, some of us LIVE there.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:22 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of the two times someone has attempted to rob me I was, amazingly, aware enough of my surroundings to see it coming and run away quickly. So yeah run if possible. Worked for me.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:26 PM on November 9, 2011


I don't usually like Sam Harris much – his beliefs on religion, philosophy, and belief seem wrong and even corrosive to me – but I like this article. I think I liked it for a very specific reason: because he gives a calm, logical, measured and reasonable approach to self defense that is effective as an answer to that large and growing number of us Americans who seem to believe that firearms are of any use at all for self defense. As he points out, the only thing a gun can really help you do is get away.

That said, I agree with those who say this article smacks of Harris' tendency toward broad and unwarranted assumptions. For instance:

from article: “Nothing good ever comes to people who allow themselves to be moved to a remote location at the mercy of a violent predator.”

Really? Nothing good ever comes? What about a fluke situation where they go to the remote location and the violent predator accidentally falls on the floor and gets a concussion, allowing the victim to escape? I am aware that when Mr Harris says "nothing good ever comes to people who..." he is euphemistically indicating that "nothing good tends to come to people who..." But it's still an imprecision and overbroadness in his language that is damaging to his point, which overall I agree with. There are a lot of examples of this kind of talking in the article. That also has a tendency to make it seem almost a bit paternalistic, since he is talking almost in the tone of a parent giving advice: "We must... You must... Your instincts are probably bad here..." It's sometimes annoying to read articles that speak from that position of advice.

In any case, I largely agree with his point, even if I wonder about the way he expressed himself.
posted by koeselitz at 11:40 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


>You should also learn to trust your feelings of apprehension about other people—revising them only slowly and with good reason....

This is wider and more expansive advice than most people may realize. If you are a civil person you might be paying a price.


Ugh, no. If you are an uncivil person, you are inviting violence. Don't be a dick, and fewer people will want to kick your ass.

Then again, you're less likely to be led into a dark alley and knifed, so there is that.
posted by LordSludge at 12:05 AM on November 10, 2011


This advice sounds good and it could possibly save your life. But if someone is in your house and you shoot them, that works too.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:19 AM on November 10, 2011


because he gives a calm, logical, measured and reasonable approach to self defense...

...that nobody will remember when their heart rate is 140 bpm and rising, they have tunnel vision, they can't breathe or swallow, and their limbs have turned to jelly.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:22 AM on November 10, 2011


I wish more people understood this stuff. In particular, as a guy, I wish more girlfriends could tell the difference between a guy quite strategically saving her ass, and a guy being a coward.

It sucks for the guy when the girl loses respect for him, and it sucks for the girl when she then seeks - and finds - a guy with enough pride issues that he can't not escalate conflicts into violence.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:57 AM on November 10, 2011


As someone who has never been in a fight, and never been threatened with violence I'm probably not that well qualified to talk on the topic. However, i will say that Harris' advice pretty much matches what a Krav maga instructor told us. (I only went to one class, man it was hard, and I am lazy).

You first form of self-defence is to run and get to a safe place.

But if violence does erupt you should do whatever is necessary for you to escape. And then follow up with no. 1, by running away.
posted by Fence at 3:57 AM on November 10, 2011


RE: going bananas, I did it as a new -- and small! -- 4th grader on the school bus and it worked. When someone wouldn't leave me alone and started hitting me I grabbed the kid's throat and squeezed as hard as I could until the big, hairy bus driver pulled me off him. I only had to do it a couple more times and I was never hassled again.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:49 AM on November 10, 2011


In 2010, there were 403.6 violent crimes per 100,000 persons in the United States. (The good news: This is an overall decrease of 13.4 percent from the level in 2001.) Thus, the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year.

You seem to have a very, very different definition of 'overwhelmingly likely' than most people I know, although once paired with the weasel words 'some of you' and 'the average American' anything's possible, I guess.



His statistical assumptions are that there is some sort of equally weighted violence lottery where you can only 'win' once. The actual data on violence is pretty much the opposite of his assumptions. Most victims of violent crime are repeat victims and are not randomly selected from the entire population but rather from a subset made up of the vulnerable/violent.
posted by srboisvert at 6:51 AM on November 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


It would be better to flee the house—because as soon as you leave, he will know that the clock is ticking: Within moments, you will be at a neighbor’s home summoning help. " This. I am not a parent, so of course I can't speak to the biological "mother bear" impulses that take over, but I have been a child on the sidelines of an extremely gruesome act of violence, and watched helplessly as my parent fought inexpertly and was ultimately brutalized and incapacitated. In the case of my parent, ribs broken, strangled, spit frothing out of his mouth, slumped in the middle of an intersection. My brother and I, five and eight, had locked the car doors and rolled the windows up long ago, but if only our father had run for help and left us in the car beside the assailant at the first opportunity instead of fruitlessly fighting and staying beside us (again, we were on the sidelines, not the actual targets) near fatal injury and psychological trauma could have been avoided.
posted by Lisitasan at 7:14 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally agree srboisvert. There is a world of victims and they experience higher rates of repeated violence until they either escape, die or live on incapacitated. The violence of the world of victims is much harder to avoid for the people who are trapped in it.

Listasan I'm sorry that happened it must have been awful to experience. Those who are lucky to have been untouched by violence or dealt only glancing blows don't realise how lucky they are.

I was about to post a story which doesn't belong to this world at all. My story is the equivilant of a tourists tale - it is story of not being touched by violence. I don't know if I can post it now.
posted by vicx at 7:31 AM on November 10, 2011


A motion to FLEE! is always in order.

That is the greater part of his message, and I don't require statistics or references to support the idea. Some things are logical, and require only that you consider assertions to accept them as valid and reasonable. Because you reason, and come to the same conclusion.

I am fascinated that the one time I came directly up against a highly dangerous situation, I correction reasoned this very idea, and my legs made like crazy. Dude didn't understand, a knife at my throat and an order to get out of the car was fine and dandy, because then the knife wasn't at my throat, and nothing was stopping me from running like hell! And, oh, dear, so sorry I noticed you hitch-hiking along the road a few days later, and the cops were really quite handy there at their favorite coneyisland. Hope that AWOL issue landed you some trouble along with armed assault and carrying a concealed weapon. (Yea, the joker had a gun when the cops caught him).
posted by Goofyy at 7:56 AM on November 10, 2011


But the problem of all our endless fantasies about stranger violence is that it ignores and minimizes the far higher rates of non-stranger violence that women experience from acquaintances and family members and lovers.

That’s only a problem if you think that every article about violence has to be about all violence. In which case I’d tell you that your article on domestic violence also better talk about war. You’ve agreed that violence by type is gendered. Yet you see it as somehow unreasonable for someone to write an article that addresses what would be your concerns or mine (violence from strangers). Even the statement above, that I was responding to, that “most violence is between people who know each other, acquaintances, neighbors, family, lovers” is remarkably unhelpful, if not outright misleading, if you’ve simply averaged out incidence to a scenario that I’m unlikely to face (violence from known persons). So, in effect, you’re saying he has no business writing an article for you or me. Sorry, but that’s petty bullshit.

He should have been clearer about the focus of the article, but there’s not a thing wrong with tailoring his article to one type of risk – the one he’s personally familiar with, no less. If you're getting the message that he doesn't address domestic violence because it isn't common or isn't important, well you're reading a different article than I am.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Note: my little joke about being attacked by the police also references a serious situation many people have to deal with. It's not a problem, though, because the article isn't about that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:04 AM on November 10, 2011


red clover, yeah that was in Brazil. Down here violence (by strangers) has a different profile, it`s mostly economic. But it doesn`t matter, even in the USA taking a moment to assess the opponent, trying to figure out WHAT DOES HE WANT — "knowing your opponent" is a fundamental step, arguably the most important one. Any strategy guide — Sun Tzu, Book of 5 rings, Machiavelli etc. will tell you that. He ignores it completely, it`s a genuine flaw of logic.
posted by Tom-B at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2011


I was watching a noted martial artist (name escapes me at the time) who was asked by somebody what is his preferred move if he is robbed and gun point. He smiled, and demonstrated his go-to strategy of... reaching slowly into his back pocket and handing the robber his wallet.

Having been in a few too many fights as a young dumb Marine, I have changed tack in the last two decades. I am now an ardent advocate of the Drew Barrymore - Jesse Owens School of Self Defense ("Run like hell while screaming like a five year old who has just seen an alien"). Fights hurt, and there is never a good win.
posted by jason says at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


LordSludge:
>You should also learn to trust your feelings of apprehension about other people—revising them only slowly and with good reason....

This is wider and more expansive advice than most people may realize. If you are a civil person you might be paying a price.


Ugh, no. If you are an uncivil person, you are inviting violence. Don't be a dick, and fewer people will want to kick your ass.

Then again, you're less likely to be led into a dark alley and knifed, so there is that.
In The Gift of Fear, Gavin DeBecker talks about exactly this, the price we can pay - especially women - by being civil and polite. The real-life example I'm remembering from the book is a stranger offering to help a woman carry her groceries. She doesn't know him and doesn't want the "help", but years of learning to be polite keep her from saying, loudly, "LEAVE ME ALONE." He "helps" her to her door and then attacks her.

Being civil, polite, friendly, and kind to strangers is a good policy, and one I try to follow - but in addition, being alert, careful, and willing to draw boundaries and enforce them is important. Since reading that book, I've definitely become more aware of the ways my own training to be polite has disadvantaged me, and how I can better balance my own need for safety against someone else's willingness to exploit my niceness.
posted by kristi at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


"knowing your opponent" is a fundamental step, arguably the most important one. Any strategy guide — Sun Tzu, Book of 5 rings, Machiavelli etc. will tell you that. He ignores it completely, it`s a genuine flaw of logic.

Have you read those books? I'm kidding. Kind of. There are also sections in all those books about retreating. It's not like "run away and live to fight another day" is a foreign concept here. Miyamoto Musashi was somewhat infamous in his time and never had a problem of running away from large mobs that were hunting him down.

BUT those books are about how to fight successfully, the article is about how to avoid fights successfully. I have never seen someone (well, at least someone who shows a modicum of knowledge) assuring anyone else that there are ways to be 100% successful. So, I'm not sure where you're seeing the flaw in logic there.

As far as carjackings go, I'm glad you came out all right but I have never heard people do what you described in America. To be clear, I'm not saying that there isn't someone who wouldn't do that, but that is not a common tactic and probably not a smart thing to do. Especially for a woman.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:53 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


RE: going bananas, I did it as a new -- and small! -- 4th grader on the school bus and it worked.

I've seen it work successfully time and time again. One batshit berserker-style beat-down (4th grade is a good time to do it) will keep any future attackers off guard. I've also seen it backfire, however, i.e. someone goes batshit when it's not quite justified and gets shunned as a spaz/freak.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:56 AM on November 10, 2011


"Being civil, polite, friendly, and kind to strangers is a good policy, and one I try to follow - but in addition, being alert, careful, and willing to draw boundaries and enforce them is important. "

This. Don't be a victim, and you won't be victimized. Don't be an asshole either. Keep in mind that you don't owe being "nice" to any stranger who's intruded on your personal space or privacy.

Carry yourself tall, stride long, walk with purpose, learn how to maneuver through a crowd and learn how to hold a neutral expression and make neutral eye contact in encounters. Neutral != "fearful" or "friendly". Pay attention to your surroundings. If you are in an unfamiliar place, wait until you're somewhere safe (preferably inside) to read your map or answer your text messages or whatever. Don't reveal your wallet, your keys, or your expensive gadgets in dodgy neighborhoods. Don't be a tourist whenever you can help it. It also really helps to be self-assured and know you can defend yourself.

I was a 5'4", skinny white girl in a mostly-black ghetto for years and years and years of late teen/early adulthood. I was fairly pretty back then too. I got hit on a lot, but never hassled. I walked, rode my bike, and skateboarded home from work and to parties after dark through places like Mt. Vernon (waaay before the gentrification might I add) in Baltimore, and Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati (the riots happened right across the street from my last apartment there) and the worst seedy slums around the Reeperbahn in Hamburg.

Oh yea I had some run-ins on the bus with those big black girls who make it their business to start turf wars, or creepster dudes who made those stupid kissy noises at me, or asked me what I was reading, or whatever, and I'd turn to look straight at them with a completely dead affect. I learned this early on in the ghetto. I never engaged with them or said anything. If I felt truly threatened in a public space, I'd get up, turn my back to them and leave. They never carried on with whatever they were going to try. Who knows, maybe I just got lucky. Never got mugged either, tho that was probably a function of dressing and looking even shabbier than the most disreputable homeless crack fiend (being a bike messenger will do that to you).

No, I don't know why I've never been a victim and other people ALWAYS seem to be, other than it's the way I carry myself, plus I grew up fighting 1000+ pound farm animals and tractors and the neighbor's five older sons, who were all unredeemable assholes. I was nerdy and small as a kid, and got hassled and bullied by the Mean Girls until I got fed up in middle school and got suspended for "fighting" a couple of times. I beat one of my tormentors black and blue with her own hairbrush in the bathroom and it mysteriously stopped. After that I got a reputation for being "crazy", but I didn't care.

tl;dr: don't be a victim. If you don't know what that means, and you will have to violate the author's 1st rule to go places you really don't belong, then you owe it to yourself to learn.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:05 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


mrgrimm: “I've seen it work successfully time and time again. One batshit berserker-style beat-down (4th grade is a good time to do it) will keep any future attackers off guard. I've also seen it backfire, however, i.e. someone goes batshit when it's not quite justified and gets shunned as a spaz/freak.”

As some above have noted, intentionally gaining a reputation for violence is actually one of the worst ways to avoid it. I know a lot of people say "when I was a kid, this worked!" but I think that's largely a function of faulty memories of childhood. The only place where gaining a reputation for violence can sometimes work is in a relatively closed system like a prison yard, although even there it's usually far more complex than just beating somebody up and then never being bothered again. School yards are not nearly as closed as prison yards. If you beat someone up in elementary school, the memory of that might last a few weeks, maybe even until the end of the school year, but it will fade quickly, and then you'll have to reinforce it with further beatdowns; moreover, new students will arrive on the scene, the system will change, and even just moving up a grade changes the whole power equation to the point where you really have to start over. In short, you really have to actually become a habitual bully for this strategy to work.

I imagine that a lot of people had moments when they were kids when they beat somebody else up and then enjoyed for a few weeks the peace of not being bothered by bullies. It's easy to remember this stuff and stretch it out in our minds to last months and years. However, no society, even the society of children, is so simple as "gain a reputation for violence and nobody will bother you."

And I guess it goes without saying that, to use this strategy in society at large, which is a much more open system than a school yard, you'd have to do some actually horrific things in order to gain a reputation like that and have it precede you enough to keep violent people from bothering you.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2011


But it doesn`t matter, even in the USA taking a moment to assess the opponent, trying to figure out WHAT DOES HE WANT — "knowing your opponent" is a fundamental step, arguably the most important one.

The problem with this is, as Harris points out, that most people will go with "he doesn't want to hurt me, I should cooperate" by instinct, regardless of what their opponent actually wants. Gavin de Becker goes into this in quite some length -- when you're up against someone who is already in serious violation of the social contract, your social instincts are likely to work against you.

Personally, I think Harris is largely correct: criminals who aren't already immediately prepared to kill are probably not going to kill you for running away, especially if you leave your money/stuff/etc. behind... and even if they are 100% ready to shoot you in the back, running makes it much more difficult. Cooperation both prolongs the encounter and lets your opponent dictate the terms. What happens if "what he wants" changes once you're helpless on the floor? What happens if you read him wrong, or saw the danger but talked yourself into cooperating?

"The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him" is Sun Tzu, too.
posted by vorfeed at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


As some above have noted, intentionally gaining a reputation for violence is actually one of the worst ways to avoid it.

The classic Western The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout, is an excellent illustration of this. Much more likely that your aggressive demeanor or reputation are going to attract people who want to test you. And if you're being intentionally intimidating, even if you're successful with 90% of the people you run across, that's 10% that both feel provoked and like their chances against you.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:51 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Similarly, many home invasions begin with a criminal’s acting like a person in distress: A woman or a teenager might come to your door reporting an accident or some other emergency. Again, the safe move is to keep your door locked and call the police.

But what if the person who calls on your door in distress is someone who really is in distress and has also read this article wherein the author actually recommends to flee the house and call for help elsewhere? Does that only work if you happen to be in a nice neighbourhood where you have lived for a while and everybody knows who you are?

There were way too many certainties in this article for my taste. I read about a few home invasions lately and all of them ended with the families tied up but alive. I don't know what would have happened if one of them had attacked the invader or attempted to flee. It just seems dangerous to me to present complying with the demands of an invader as a clear cut case of "always the wrong move". Clearly for the people I read about it was the right move, because they are still alive.
posted by davar at 12:04 PM on November 10, 2011


Similarly, many home invasions begin with a criminal’s acting like a person in distress: A woman or a teenager might come to your door reporting an accident or some other emergency. Again, the safe move is to keep your door locked and call the police.

More commonly, that ruse is about asking to use your phone for an 'emergency' call, then pilfering something when you're not looking. Home invasions would have to be incredibly low on the likelihood scale for most people.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:33 PM on November 10, 2011


P.o.B. — Have you read those books? I'm kidding. Kind of. There are also sections in all those books about retreating.

Yes, I have! Of course retreating is an option, as is responding, or complying. The fault I find in his advice is NOT ASSESSING the situation, and offering the deescalate -> respond -> retreat script as the only option.

But are you a woman in the US? Or a man in Brazil? A black person in a racist area? Are you wearing a Corinthians FC jersey among SPFC supporters? (Brazilian soccer clubs) What are the common M.O.s in that area? What`s the motivation? Money? Sex? Hate?

In my case, his one-size-fits-all solution would have got me killed. Much better to just comply, and that`s what I did.
posted by Tom-B at 12:39 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


lonefrontranger : Pay attention to your surroundings.

Many years ago, I taught self defense classes, that focused more on not being a victim than on the combat part of things (though we covered quite a bit of that too.)

Paying attention was lesson one, day one. And it was reinforced over and over again, because it is the single most important thing a person can do to stay safe. Not even only from attackers, just from everyday life with its sharp edges and unexpected things to trip over.

If I had my way, situational awareness would be taught in schools so that everyone had some experience with it from an early age.

I think I've mentioned this before, but one of the other lessons was to go to a public place and have the student sit and people watch for a while, then I had them get into the mindset of a predator, and watch again. After a while I'd have them tell me who they'd go after an why. It almost always came down to people who weren't aware of their surroundings and were happily going along oblivious to any threats around them. Students seemed to like this class quite a bit, because most people don't get the opportunity to explore that scary part of their personality in a safe way.
posted by quin at 2:11 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Paying attention was lesson one, day one. And it was reinforced over and over again, because it is the single most important thing a person can do to stay safe. Not even only from attackers, just from everyday life with its sharp edges and unexpected things to trip over.

Like stepping out onto roads or bicycle paths without looking, head down in an iPod or iPhone, and headphones on to block out any warning signals.

I often feel like yoinking the iDevice out of their hands to teach them a lesson, but I'm nomally too busy just trying to avoid a painful collision.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:54 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there any data or study which demonstrates the efficacy of self defense classes? I see a lot of anecdotal information and crime stats but no actual stats on how self defense training reduced the probability of victimhood.

Most of the advice strikes me as obvious or impractical. It is like saying, "don't get cancer. Then suggesting that to avoid cancer skip your morning chest x-ray.
posted by humanfont at 5:10 PM on November 10, 2011


In my experience, the actual self defense was secondary to the attitude that knowing the self defense provided. It meant that the students didn't need to walk scared, they could have a bit more confidence, and ironically, that alone was actually a better defense than the fighting skills themselves.

A predator will tend to look for easier prey than one that seems alert and comfortable in their own skin.
posted by quin at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2011


In my case, his one-size-fits-all solution would have got me killed. Much better to just comply, and that`s what I did.

I don't think it needs to be said there is no 100% effective solutions. I'm glad what you did worked for you but telling people to let attackers take you hostage seems a bit more dangerous.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:19 PM on November 10, 2011


If taking the driver and releasing him somewhere remote is common practice in the area you`re in — then yeah, I`m totally telling people to let attackers take you hostage.
posted by Tom-B at 7:01 PM on November 10, 2011


A study looking at the efficacy of a women's self defense program
Program group women significantly increased their protective behaviors over the 6-month follow-up period compared to the waiting-list control group. However, there were no significant differences between the two groups regarding rates of sexual victimization, assertive communication, or feelings of self-efficacy over the follow-up periods.
posted by humanfont at 7:02 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't read the paper, but... Over six months? So before they'd become competent? N of 500? So, like two from each group were victimized? "Sexual victimization?" That can mean a lot of things.
posted by cmoj at 7:32 PM on November 10, 2011


Even before reading this thread I knew that one of the stupidest things I have ever done is also something I am irrationally proud of. Once I stood my ground in the face of a bad situation but looking back its clear that I was lucky not to have to pay the price.

I was working the bar at an underground warehouse rave and just after midnight three youths approached the gate to the bar. I saw them coming and moved to intercept and then one of the guys drew a machete and told me he wanted the till. He stood in front of me with the blade pointed at my throat while the other guys backed his play; verbally confirming all the harm that was coming my way.

I was not filled with fear. I was angry. There was nothing in the till, but I felt a building rage that something else was at stake. There was such a great vibe in the place and this violation of the PLUR (I guess) could not be ignored. I measured up each of the guys and judged that the threat of violence was real, but it didn't matter because I was not going to back down an inch. I looked at each of the youths in turn and then I focused on machete guy and gave him the evil eye to let him know that if he made a move I was going to stick the machete up his ass and I was looking forward to the opportunity.

Half a minute passed and that's when I got lucky. People dancing had noticed what was going on and they went and got help. The standoff continued eye to eye with machete guy for the next two minutes while some very cool minds were talking his friends down. He gave in but only reluctantly because he had lost control. The youths withdrew still threatening violence, but maybe they didn't notice the tribal hippies who had converged, shadowing them at a distance.

I know that actual violence could have made that the worst night of my life, but I was lucky that the people who came to help had skills and abilities that I don't personally have to defuse the situation.

I feel so much sympathy for victims of violence, it is not a nuanced subject for victims at all. It is personal and devastating. I find the idea that violence could be normalised in a community unimaginable and yet outside of privileged worlds it is common. 99%, poverty, inequity, violence, it's all linked.
posted by vicx at 7:43 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my case, his one-size-fits-all solution would have got me killed. Much better to just comply, and that`s what I did.

You seem to keep missing the bulk of what I or the article is saying. Good luck with that hostage theory.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:25 PM on November 10, 2011


one of the guys drew a machete

From the safety of my keyboard on the other side of the internets, I'd suggest that as far as weapons go, a machete would have to be one of the easiest to defend yourself against.

They're not the quick, stabbing kind of blade required for close fighting. Normally quite blunt, the attacker would need to draw back & take a wild swing. First up, that gives you a good chance to get in & get them first, especially as the weapon will be in their good hand. Second, there's no way for them to attack without telegraphing it, so they lose any element of surprise. Third, once they're swinging, it's hard for them to adjust effectively if you move, and finally, big swinging motions are easy to block - a sharp whack on the underside of their forearm as it's coming down & there's a good chance they'll drop the weapon. If not, an instructor of mine would've advocated something like a single knuckle hard into the upper rib / armpit area "to give them something to think about", then grab their tricep & rip it off. Even if that doesn't work exactly as planned, they've now got three pretty painful shocks on their good arm to contend with.

warning: do not try this at home, or ever. i've just had a really strong coffee.

(these are all reasons why knives are always used with the blade pointing out the thumb end of your hand, palm upwards, and not used (effectively) in a downward hacking motion).

OTOH, 3 on 1 = bad. 3 plus weapon on 1 = doubleplusbad. 3 with a weapon they obviously don't know much about on a warehouse full of people, some of whom will be hepped up on amphetamines = kinda stupid on their part.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:15 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest that as far as weapons go, a machete would have to be one of the easiest to defend yourself against.

I don't think it's that easy in real life. A good machete is weighted well for quick and forceful swings, with a lot coming from the wrist, not just big arm swings. Especially if someone already has it raised, the time it takes to go from standing there to being chopped is really quick. I've been threatened with machetes and it's fucking scary; I've also seen the results of machete attacks and they create devastating injuries, including going through bone.

The one time I saw a sort-of machete attack in progress, the attacker used the broad flat side of the blade to give great big walloping smacks on the person's back and legs rather than actually cutting with the edge. From the screams it was incredibly painful (and incredibly risky; a slight miscalculation and there would have been blood everywhere), and the swings were far too fast to have had any hope of ducking inside for anyone other than some martial arts ninja expert wearing toesocks.

But I'm no martial arts person (I typed that as "marital arts," and my wife might agree that I am lacking in those, too), and have no problem agreeing that there are probably good martial arts defenses. In practice, though, I will never have any shame at all in running as fast as I can from a scary person with a machete.
posted by Forktine at 9:50 PM on November 10, 2011


Oh, nothing's that easy in real life. But in this case, the assailant had the machete to vicx's throat. To strike, the assailant would need to draw back...even if he has the most awesome machete wrist flick in history (which is more of a whipping motion at the end of the swing, no?) that's a perfect opportunity to make his arm continue to move in that direction.

Another option while the machete is held to your throat, considering it's useless as a stabbing weapon, is to cup your hands side-on, and bring them hard together from either side onto the assailant's machete arm, with one hand striking the back of his, and the other hitting the inside of his wrist. Try this one at home - it takes surprisingly little force to send even the most strongly gripped object flying. Against a knife you'd be chancing your odds, that you'd strike before they poked you in the jugular, but a machete isn't used that way so the odds shift significantly in your direction.

/keyboard ninja, who IRL would hand over the till & run.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:22 AM on November 11, 2011


I disagree about machetes not being a stabbing weapon, and how easy it would be to defend against. The Dog Brothers have several real life videos of knife attacks, including the attempted assassination of Imelda Marcos by the filipino version of the machete (See here, NSFW). Notice the stabbing as the first strike, also notice how many bodyguards there were (and they had handguns), and still had a hard time taking the assassin out (that said, one might argue that the attacker was probably trained in one of the filipino knife fighting styles, which is quite popular there).

Someone above also remarked about how Martial Arts train for fights, and not being blindsided/sucker punched. Not to be fighty, but I disagree with that as well. Boxing is great for this. While it doesn't teach the pre-fight cues to avoid the punch in the first place (but if you do see them coming, boxing will allow you to bob & weave with ease), the major strength of boxing is being able to take a full force punch -- by someone who knows how to use their force -- to the head, keep going while seeing stars, and deliver fast/hard counters of your own. Boxers also heavily train in reaction drills, different to counter-punching, insofar as soon as you are hit, you fire back. Health and weapon issues aside, that's something a lot of other arts don't really have as part of their training method (on a brief note note Bruce Lee's considered boxing as one of the bases of JKD. Someone also mentioned Geoff Thompson above. Thompson has stated that if you wanted two primary arts for self-defence, they'd be boxing and judo. Something he has made his own children train in).
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 2:10 AM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a very different looking thing to what I know of as a machete. About a half to a third the length & clearly pointier. A cursory google suggests that the filipino variety is a different beast anyway, more commonly known as a bolo knife, as mentioned by Nick Cave in John Finn's Wife.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:12 AM on November 12, 2011


This article, which he links to, is fantastic.
posted by marienbad at 3:14 PM on November 12, 2011


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