Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dehumanization and Self Defense Training

"On Killing" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a book that I have been reading for quite a while.  It is a fascinating read but it has taken me forever to get through it.  I think I just have a lot of irons in the fire.  (Too many projects for those of you outside the area)  Anyway, as I said it is a great read.  Some very interesting information in it for certain.  I am not sure I agree with everything said in the book but that is important for any new information.  We must be able to analyze and see the truth of it.  I will go into detail on that in another post.  However, I have come up with an interesting (to me anyway) observation.

"Othering" People

Without giving too much away.  There is a practice of dehumanization nicknamed "Othering" by some.  It is the process of psychologically separating yourself from another group of people in order to allow you a mental barrier from any sort of personal accountability.  This makes it possible to herd, maim, and even kill with less remorse than one might have otherwise.  Applied in the book specifically to war it is how soldiers on all sides are able to kill their enemies.  I do not make a conscious practice of labeling people.  However, I realized on the drive in that I do it subconsciously.  It happens for me every time I get cut off in traffic.  Especially when I am cut off or if I perceive a threat to my or my car's safety.  Then the person who dunnit becomes "othered" with a whole list of words I will not share here.


It occurred to me after reading this that this is the same process people who are racist use to separate themselves from the race or ethnic grouping of people they dislike.  In this case, it is based on something as stupid and arbitrary as skin color perhaps.  Keep in mind this practice may or may not make you a bad person.  I can see where this practice might be necessary at times.  I will get into that in the training section later.

This practice is merely a tool used by people to set themselves apart.  However, there is no better example of the tool itself not being evil just how it is used being evil.  In the case of the Nazi movement in the 1940's the "Aryan" label was used to elevate a people above others.  Kind of a reverse to the process but still holds the same principle in common.  Of course, everyone knows their terrible focus was on the Jewish community at large and they also used derogatory terms to infuse both a sense of elevation to themselves and a dehumanization to their target.  This redundant use of both dehumanization of a population and the elevation of a people could have put an even larger mental divide between them.  Looking back it did create a serious hate within the people of Germany.  No matter the justification it worked and was terribly effective. 

If nothing else the use of this tool in the United States is still alive and well today when dealing with people who vary from a Caucasian background.  Some friends of mine went to a diner in nearby town and were refused service to my friends based entirely on the skin color of one of them. I admit to be a lot naive here because I knew this sort of irrational behavior still existed but had no idea it happened anywhere near here.  The phrase used by the company owner was essentially, "We do not serve people like Him here."  The use of the pronoun was emphasized to show the dehumanization that the owner felt.  

Law Enforcement(LEO)

A few years ago some law enforcement agency was picked on by the media for employing profiling as a means to identify potential threats to security.  The main statement by the media is that profiling is not fair because it lumps the innocent in with the guilty.  The very feeler and not a very thinker response.  It is a shame that the people who questioned this practice didn't look closer at the statistics to see that this is perhaps not real fair but is also very effective.

Another method of "othering" the people you have to manage is to set them apart by their actions instead of by their appearance.  In law enforcement because it is sometimes necessary to employ force to stop a situation the use of "othering" terms can be seen when the policy refer to the person as a suspect or some other similar term.  

If it keeps the general public safe from people who might hurt us is it still wrong?  I do not think so.  I think it is a means to a end.  It is a tool that allows people to do what they need to do to get buy.  Making the use of force, without it even needing to be lethal, easier.

Self Defense Training

Something that I know several people have talked about in self defense circles has also been about this concept of a "failure to engage".  I think it is likely more common among civilians than LEO.  This is due to the fact that as a civilian we have a bigger list of things to consider.  Do we run away?  Could we get hurt?  Would we have to hurt someone else?  Do I have the right to intervene?  etc...  Not to mention that if we do get involved in violence, too many systems do not give their students all the tools they might need to be effective.  Yes, you can punch and kick but what if the person you face is seemingly impervious to your attacks?  What about the idea that as a civilian our number one goal is to run away?

So, perhaps one way to make the engagement issue easier is to include some sort of "othering" effect during training.  Make clear to the person performing the technique that the opposition has crossed a line.  Pick a "go button" or some sort of threshold that you will not abide.  (Examples:  They get to close after being told to stay away.  Or the grab you after being told to leave you alone.)  It is probably a good idea to role play these things on occasion too, just so they are not so much a shock the students in class if it really happens.

Have everyone in class take turns being the attacker and the defender and include the use of terms that separate you from the opposition.  I would think that the terms do not need to be derogatory but they do need to set a firm line between the two people.  I prefer to use the term "bad guy".  Probably a little to cut a dried considering sometimes the bad guy could be family.  That is where you make clear that the thing that makes them the bad guy is that they have crossed that threshold that we have set for ourselves mentally.  They have crossed over into the bad guy zone.  Making us need to be good civilians, if that is our context, and run away.  If LEO is your context then instead of running away you arrest the situation.  Bring the crime to a stop or whatever is appropriate to the situation.


This is a new topic for me.  I will learn more where possible and be sure to share my research as I get more information or as my experiences show me a new perspective.  Give this a try in your school.  Decide for a single scenario to role play what make the opposition the bad guy.  Perhaps something they can role play in class.  Perhaps telling the defender that they have hit someone in their family.  etc...  Once the context of the scenario is established then let the attacker and defender play out the defense using the tools they have learned in class (punches, kicks, throws etc...).  This kind of drill will give the students a chance to try something very different for some of you.   In each drill have the student either quietly or aloud use terms that condition them to putting a line between them and their attacker.  Again, try to avoid terms that might offend as we want everyone to get along in and out of class.  You can talk about the attacker as the bad guy if that is easiest for you.

I welcome suggestions and observations on this article.  I didn't have the time to write it like I wanted but still want feedback if you have any for me.

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