Editor’s Notebook

by Gila Hayes

A key to justifying use of force in self defense is identifying and articulating the facts that demonstrate that lives were truly at risk and defense responses were reasonable. Marc MacYoung excels at identifying and defining the variations of social and asocial violence, teaching how to prevent or counter both, and how to do so within the law. Last spring I got to participate in a two-day knife class he taught. As is always the experience when Marc is in the room, the discussion ran at a lightening pace, with about ten hours worth of knowledge packed into each one-hour segment.

Marc’s instruction is critically important because if your use of force is identified as mutual combat, the justifiability of what you say you did in self defense is lost. MacYoung’s lessons warn against being drawn in to unnecessary use of force that is not justifiable as self defense.

To set the context for a useful delineation of some of MacYoung’s key lessons, it helps to read his Conflict Communications blog and become familiar with his explanation about the jobs done by various parts of the human brain that are active when we’re calm and reasonable, when we are terrified, or when we are angry and combative. As armed citizens, our areas of concern include surviving predatory violence, but we may very well have to fend off someone who feels we’ve challenged his social standing or perceived territory, so it is useful to understand how humans react and why. Marc writes a great brief on the topic at http://www.conflictcommunications.com/monkey-trap.htm and explains how brain functions result in people playing out very predictable scripts when put into various situations.

In brief, reasoning like deciding to buy a 12 ounce package of food for a buck over 8 ounces for 80 cents occurs in the prefrontal cortex. Emotional reactions are the work of the limbic system, for example, feeling angry upon finding a coworker exiting a car parked in our assigned spot at work.

Jumping out and shoving the coworker would be a response generated by the limbic system, sometimes called the emotional brain, but more colorfully described as the “monkey brain” by MacYoung. Finally, the brain stem, dubbed the reptilian brain, is responsible for reactively ducking or cringing away when surprised by perceived danger. Each brain function is valuable to self defense and survival, but for us what’s important is understanding and exerting control over the first two.

Prepared For The Worst But Ignoring The More Common 

Although most armed citizens take training to fend off sociopaths or psychopaths, a lot of the conflict we’re drawn into is garden-variety social violence. The skills we’ve honed to defend against asocial victimization by predators fails badly in the social violence arena. Thus, sensible defense training and practice include being able to recognize various criminal approaches and identify what is wanted and what type of violence is being employed to fill that desire. Simply put, MacYoung defines, “If you are talking about winning, you are talking about social violence. If you can ‘put it in a wheelbarrow,’ it is resource predation.” If the violence itself is the goal, you face a process predator. “If the instructions include humiliation, you can be sure you are dealing with process predation,” he adds.

“Very seldom does something come out of nowhere,” MacYoung asserted. Most violence starts with an interview, as the criminal assesses you and sets up the distraction. “The set up can be slow, but the attack will be fast” he warned. “The interview is how the guy double checks. If he sees something he thinks may hurt him, he can still veer off so he doesn’t get wounded. In the real world, how long does a wounded predator last?”

“Dangerous people have rules and they follow them very strictly,” MacYoung noted. “If you do not follow the polite social script, you give him reasons to go off.” He cited Code of the Street by sociologist Elijah Anderson, theorizing that middle class citizens “don’t know how to behave, and so are injured in muggings.