A Most Dangerous Game

By now, you’ve likely heard of a phenomenon called the Knockout Game.

If not, allow me to explain briefly. The rules are quite simple.

A single member of a gang of juveniles blind-sides an unsuspecting passer-by with a sucker punch, the goal being to knock the victim unconscious in a single blow. Typically these attacks occur from behind, or as the individual is distracted by other members of the gang. Most often, the attack is accompanied by laughing, jeering and cellphone videotaping.

This most dangerous game has resulted in serious injury and more than one death.

No target seems to be off limits. Pregnant women, children and the elderly have been included among the victims. Some patterns have emerged, however. In most of the reported incidents, the perpetrators have been African-American and their victims of other races and ethnicities. For example in Crown Heights, New York, orthodox Jews have been systematically targeted.

Pittsburgh has not been immune to this unfortunate trend; one of the first incidents—in 2011—targeted CAPA High School English teacher James Addlespurger, causing him both physical and psychological trauma.

To police and most people, knockout-game attacks are random and unpredictable. Yet, as with all human violence, it is neither random nor illogical—even if this logic is pathological.
To understand, predict, and prevent this manifestation of violence requires an understanding of predatory logic in general.  And for the record, this “game” is nothing “new”.  It is merely the current iteration of an ever-escalating pattern of violence perpetrated by young people who have been weaned on violent media, and so desensitized to violence and its consequences, that the natural human inhibition to violence has been over-ridden and replaced with enjoyment.

Human Predators
Human predators are opportunists, who fundamentally prey on the conscience and goodness of decent people.
You see, decent people live in a world of courtesy and reciprocity.  I hold the door for you, and you say thank you, and if you don’t that’s ok because I’d have held it for you anyway, because that’s how I was raised.

The predator, however, lives in a world devoid of decency.  A world ruled, rather, by a perversion of the notion of respect.  To the predator, you hold the door because you better, and if you don’t – watch out.  And don’t ever expect me to say thank you, because to me, kindness is weakness.

To the predator, aggression and dominance equals respect, and respect is everything.  If a predator exhibits kindness, it is almost always feigned so that he can create an angle or opportunity.

The predator’s notions of right and wrong are also corrupted: “if I can get away with it then it’s ‘right’, if I can’t then it’s ‘wrong’.  And the conscience that governs decent people is absent or thoroughly corrupted.  In fact, much as a shark has evolved to smell blood, the human predator has evolved to sense conscience and decency.  They view these traits as weakness rather than goodness, something to exploit rather than extol.

Reality, however, is a paradox that would be humorous, if it wasn’t so harmful:  Those who seek respect through aggression are in fact some of the biggest cowards, with the weakest psychology.  They never achieve respect, only fear.  And when they run into someone who isn’t afraid they collapse like a house of cards.

This is why, even the most desperate predator is careful in how they select their prey.   Because they know – deep down – that they can only succeed if the target is unable or unwilling to fight back.  They are fundamentally cowards lacking the confidence and resilience to challenge someone who could fight back.  For them to succeed, the attack MUST be one sided.

Thus, they need vulnerability…

What better example of this cowardly psychology than the knockout game.  The knockout game is a bushwhack.  Bushwhacking, and scrupulously targeting the vulnerable, or the unsuspecting, is the only way cowards can win.  Look at terrorists, or school shooters, or bullies the world over.

Adam Lanza, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Osama Bin Ladin, your local neighborhood child molester, or fraternity serial rapist, and the common run-of-the-mill dirt-bag juvenile delinquent looking to do the knockout game, are all cut from the same, weak, threadbare, cloth.

The price you have to pay is attention.
To me, human violence is a process as observable and predictable as boiling water – if you know what to look for.

You own – right now – every facet of violence prediction software that nature can endow.  And it will help to keep you safe, as long as you don’t interfere with the process.  But all too often, the same qualities of courtesy and reciprocity that make us decent people are distinctly at odds with our survival instincts.

Imagine, if you will, encountering a wolf while walking in the woods.  It locks eyes in a hard stare.  The hair on its back stands up; it bars its teeth, and begins to snarl.  If the wolf attacks, would you be justified in saying afterwards “but I never saw it coming”?
The warning indicators of predatory humans are not quite as obvious…or are they?

Now, imagine you are walking down the street and you see a person or group that causes you to feel fear.  Are you not being warned?  Are your instincts not telling you to avoid that situation, just as it would tell you to back away from that wolf?
Fear is good.  Fear is a messenger that wakes you up.  Fear is not something you need to overcome in your life.  It is simply an impulse to be understood.

But most people try, at all costs, to override this impulse, or they mistakenly believe that experiencing fear somehow means that they lack courage.

They try to deny fear by mentally saying, “I’m not going to be pushed around” or “I don’t want to ‘profile’”, or “I must be imagining things again, there’s probably nothing to worry about”.  And they stroll blindly forward into the teeth of the wolf.
Yet, courage is not the absence or fear, but rather the ability to act in the face of fear.  And intuition is one of the most powerful, and incredible, mental faculties you have been blessed with.  Intuition allows you to know, without knowing why, and when safety is at stake, intuition communicates through fear.

Denial, however, is the exact opposite.  Denial is seeing the facts, yet choosing to disregard them.  Denial could flat-out get you killed, and it will always leave you vulnerable.

And remember…the predator needs vulnerability…

But to the mind of a decent person – one conditioned to courtesy and reciprocity – its hard to imagine the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and when our primal instincts send a warning, often it gets overridden by denial simply because its so uncomfortable.  It’s uncomfortable to accept that there are those among us who would victimize us, our families, and our organizations without the slightest remorse or regret over the pain and damage they inflict.

Situational awareness – attention – is the active embracing of your primal instincts.  It is something that must be cultivated.  It must be practiced, and done so consciously.  But for awareness to even have a chance in the first place, you have to accept reality for what it is, and not ignore the messenger, even if it feels like profiling!

Your mind are fundamentally hardwired to rapidly assess, judge and categorize, especially when it comes to your safety.  If you want to call this profiling, than embrace it!  My suggestion though, would be not to bias your instincts by profiling “dangerousness” on a purely racial basis, as this could leave you significantly exposed from those groups with whom you have pre-conceived as “not-dangerous.”

Pay attention, rather, to your environment and trust your instincts no matter what the person looks like, and no matter how your logical mind desires to interfere or make excuses.

All violence is situational.  Pay attention to your environment, and don’t allow yourself to be preoccupied, particularly with technology – when you do, you shunt your senses to such a degree that your mind cannot do its job, and you create a situation of vulnerability, even if you wouldn’t otherwise have been perceived as vulnerable by a predator.

Trust me, the call or text message is not that important.

Target Transference
I am a realist.  There have been, and always will be, wolves looking to prey on the sheep.
There are those who’s job it is to hunt the wolf, and much as one might thoroughly enjoy being lawfully allowed to eliminate predators from our midst, that is probably not your job.

The predator is out there, and he’s going to victimize someone.  Your job is to ensure that someone is not you.

The first rule of personal security is simple:  Identify the people who could pose a threat to you, and avoid them.

Is there a silver bullet?
Surprise has always been the most powerful factor in offensive violence, whether a mugging or war.

If an attacker ambushes a target, before the target even knows there is a threat, the attack will likely succeed, decisively.  And, without the fundamental pre-incident threat recognition, no physical technique or special training is going to stop the attack.

You could be Mario Andretti, and still get sideswiped by a drunk driver, if you don’t see the collision coming.

This is NOT to suggest that training is valueless.  On the contrary – training is invaluable.  Training tunes your situational awareness and fundamentally makes you a less inviting target.  You cannot hide the non-verbal cues that you are willing and able to protect yourself any more than the predator can mask his intentions from your intuitive faculties.

And as predators are inherently cowards, you don’t have to be bigger, stronger, faster, better to deter them, you just have to be willing and able.  Willingness comes from ability.  Train the body, the mind follows.

Thus the best way to win the knockout game is not to play

To recap in 4 simple rules:

  1. Accept, first and foremost, that there are predators out there who will prey mercilessly on those whom they perceive as vulnerable.
  2. Your first objective is to cultivate situational awareness, and to trust your intuitive threat recognition software.
  3. If you perceive threat, move.  Get off the “X”, as we say in protection terms.  Take decisive action to avoid the situation and remove yourself as a target of opportunity.
  4. Training is invaluable as it tunes your awareness and makes you a less inviting target, but remember that there are no silver bullet techniques if you don’t follow rules 1 through 3 above.

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