Book Review

In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs, When It’s Worth ItINOSD Cover
By Marc MacYoung
Kindle Edition File Size: 936 KB
Print Length: 603 pages
Publisher: No Nonsense Self-Defense; 1st edition July 2, 2014
Sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

Marc MacYoung’s latest book challenges a lot of our preconceived notions about violence and self defense. It calls on the reader to honestly analyze his or her emotional response to threats. If you are willing to do just that, I urge you to set aside the time to study In the Name of Self-Defense. It will teach you strategies to avoid the rituals of violence and to short circuit predatory attacks, as well as managing the aftermath.

Now, that’s a huge assignment, but MacYoung’s book is long and detailed, and does a surprisingly thorough job of covering a complex subject. It’s not a quick read and I spent much of August’s study time mulling through its many, multi-faceted chapters.

“This book will help keep you from making the biggest mistake people make. That is: Claiming self defense when it wasn’t,” MacYoung writes by way of introduction, explaining a bit later, “When it comes to self defense, what you believe does not matter. What matters is what you actually did, especially if you were involved in the creation and escalation of the incident–whether you meant for violence to happen or not.”

He puts considerable effort into defining human reactions and where they come from: the emotion-driven, egotistic “monkey” brain, the purely survival-concerned “lizard” brain and the reasoning “human brain.”

MacYoung’s many examples make it hard to deny that most knee-jerk responses come out of our emotional monkey brain, and are status and position driven, even when we try to cloak the motives by saying, “I was just defending myself! He started it.”

In fact, both the offender and the target play ego-games to protect perceived status, MacYoung shows, concurrently demonstrating how failing to respond predictably to games to elicit an emotional response aborts most attempts to stir up trouble. This is crime-prevention taken to a real-life, working level, not the namby-pamby, “stay out of dark alleys” stuff peddled at community safety rallies. This instruction is different: it requires the intended victim to disengage on an emotional level as well as physically. Failing to truly disengage–for example, yelling a final insult while walking away from a brewing fight–will change force you use in the ensuing melee into unjustifiable mutual combat, he asserts.

MacYoung explains that subconscious “monkey” behavior happens on both sides of the fight, and often goes unrecognized. “Consciously knowing what is normally subconscious and how it affects your behavior lets you see the basis for reactions in others and yourself…It allows you to remain in conscious control of your actions–instead of just reacting to what these other parts of your brain scream at you to do.”

“The reason most people get arrested for ‘defending themselves’ is because they weren’t,” MacYoung asserts. Successfully arguing self defense as justification for using force requires not being, in any way, responsible for the events leading to it “going physical.” He cites the many ways people create and escalate conflict in social settings, resulting in mutual combat, identifying four common use of force errors: “The threat isn’t physical; the threat isn’t immediate; they cross into excessive force; they participate in the creation and escalation of the situation.”