Don't be a Parrot

ISG's take on why 'safety in numbers' is crippling an honest discussion on the state of the self-protection industry. Join us outside the mainstream.

March 23, 2020


If modern society has made anything easy, it's parroting others to sound more intelligent than you really are. From TED talks to tactics, anyone with enough free time on their hands can have a risk-free background in the topic of their choosing. Part and parcel to this phenomenon, is the inability to construct a decent argument in defense of that position, which acts as a dead giveaway that the person is overplaying their hand.

No, yeah, no, I totally get it. Seriously. I already know what you mean.

Most of the time, this is an emulsion of hilarious and mentally exhausting, and the more you know, the more you have to lose.

"Wise men learn more from fools than fools learn from wise men"

This old cliche is one of my least favorites.

For one, when self applied, it sounds smug and rude. To someone higher on the totem, you're probably a fool, so it's not that everyone who doesn't know what you know is an idiot, it's that certain people can be reached, and certain people aren't ready for the information. Some never will be.

That's fine, but it yields the first point: 

Know the difference and don't waste your time. It'll happen anyway, but try and just avoid people who are irrationally committed to being wrong.

We've had a few examples of this, where ALL signs point to bad practice, and in the face of overwhelming evidence, people have doubled down on their charred ground.

Second, don't be that person yourself.

Paradigm Paralysis

Spheres of Violence is among our flagship articles, and is one of ISG's central themes. At its core is paradigm paralysis.

This is seen often when a Police Officer teaches citizens the interview stance as a way to protect their gun and halt a potential attacker. It's seen when SOF veterans teach citizens how to make dynamic entry into rooms while kitted up. Everyone wants to be an expert, and since very few people have any real, relevant experience, it's almost impossible to make a clean differentiation between things that work, things that don't, and in what context.

If you're an outdoorsman, for example, and your idea of fun is hiking 60 miles up into the mountains and camping out for 4 or 5 days, you might need to plan differently than someone who's idea of a hike is 1/10 of that, and is carrying kids most of the way. Both are enriching and enjoyable, but you need to be realistic when you train for the situation that most closely matches your own.

Since we now have the internet, we get the 20,000 foot view of all these things and the end result is a dizzying array of information.

One of the core concepts we discuss in the Spheres of Violence series is that "not all violence is the same". It varies greatly depending on your life circumstances, and therefore, what violence looks like to a beat cop is very different than for a special operator. What it looks like to a citizen is the proverbial dark side of the moon - not many people are interested in dealing with it because it's so variable and unpredictable.

The logical outflow of recognizing that violence changes is the knowledge that our approach to dealing with violence needs to change as well.

20 years of war and militarization of police forces has left us with instructors who come from backgrounds in professional, or institutional, violence. That which is done for pay, and is entirely apersonal. Soldiers don't engage in firefights with enemies they know over matters of respect/disrespect, for example. Police may have some idea of who a person is, but the authority they use to arrest them is institutional, not personal.

When those who've experienced war or a profession of policing return to the civil world, they bring with them a paradigm that worked in their context. The problem? 

It probably won't work in yours, unless you share a profession, and sometimes even more specifically, a specific job.

Image of innernet experts passing along their wisdom.

It Works for Me!

One of the most significant tropes in the self-protection world is "it works for me".

It's as cliché as "that wasn't real socialism!" When you hear it, what you should hear is "I've needed this skill or item so infrequently that I'm happy with things like they are."

Certain things verifiably don't work, and it doesn't matter who is pitching them to you, they're bad ideas.

The RATS tourniquet, verifiably 100less effective than a TQ with a windlass. Knives, 7.7% mortality rate compared to 33% for guns. Whether you're trying to establish best practice for yourself, or correct it so others don't make mistakes, you're up against a flood of people who's sole purpose in life is to make things that uneducated people want to buy, and don't think for a second they won't use their credentials to sell flawed products.

When that happens, you get legions of parrots who trust that the person they heard it from was telling the truth. Because most of the things aren't going to be experienced, VERY few people are left to validate them. If a dude tells you a 5.7mm pistol fires at 3000 feet per second, how many people are going to go grab a chronograph and correct him? A 15 second Google search is all it really takes.

If he says grab a RATS tourniquet, are YOU going to argue with a "ex-green beret sniper/MMA fighter?" or a Ranger?

How about if someone who's sole verifiable credentials include posting images of fruit knives smeared in fake blood on instagram tells you to grab a fruit knife or ice pick to smuggle around an urban environment? Do you question it?

You should.

No one has earned the right to be above questioning, and part of our purpose here is to illustrate that in this industry, too much variation exists for one person to be a unanimous authority on all the situations we discuss, especially when they're stepping out of their Sphere of Violence.

On certain topics, anecdote and personal experience are all we have.

On others, Tourniquets and BCON most notably, there's a ton of peer reviewed science on the matter. Not only that, but it's not enough to simply know that if you're serious about stopping an arterial bleed, you actually need training and equipment. You can't just take some dude off the internet's word for it, throw something in your pocket, and expect a good outcome. "I've seen it work" isn't a suitable exception for "this has been proven to work consistently", and we've all seen a lot of janky stuff 'work'.

What we want is something that works well, while minimizing risk of failure, and controlling the potential collateral damage. That requires critical thought.

The fact is that most of the self-protection industry is an inbred abomination whose sole objective is to make money. With all the talk about III% and alpha dogs and all, very few people ever do much more than practice in a safe environment. Compounding this problem is that those who do end up with experience often survive due to luck, technical advancements, and numerical superiority. A great deal of our "tactics" are passed on by those who survived - that should be a good thing.

...but the violence faced by a Ranger fighting in Somalia doesn't directly translate to a street fight in Boston. Using the same tactics - the tactics of the survivor of a 'worst case' scenario - won't effectively solve the problem.

This causes a split in the road to proficiency: we often begin to take our success as validation, rather than a cue for deeper understanding. We're comfortable saying "it works for me" for one reason: it doesn't really have to work because the chances of having to proof the concept are real low.

It's safe to be a parrot. It's easy, and you'll likely find comfort in validation from other parrots who've been taught to squawk similar sounds.

You'll live comfortably in the fantasyland of Dunning Kruger's where things like strapping a gun to your baby make sense. If you're happy being perched on someone else's shoulder repeating what they say, there are other articles and websites you'll probably enjoy more.

If not, let's work forward.


"iT wOrKs FoR mE"

This next part is going to ruffle feathers, but this isn't just for ideas in the martial world. Critical thinking should extend to every area of your life, from dismissing sloganized thinking like "9/11: NEVER FORGET!" to "Back the Blue".

Does this mean you can't be respectful of these events or organizations? You absolutely can - but you shouldn't just flatly accept patriotic slogans or authority any more than you should any other information. To do so is to blindly accept a truth without subjecting it to critical thought. Worse, it's an abusive, one-way-street relationship.

Does the Government back your play? Do the police show up to protest if you've been unfairly incarcerated?

If not, consider the meaning of loyalty.

On the flip side of that coin: those who create such slogans understand these things. Ask yourself, "what do they gain if I blindly accept a narrative?"

Complicated topics can't be distilled down into a simple phrase, and we'd be surprised if you were surprised that "Coexist" stickers do absolutely nothing for coexistence.

Sometimes it's an effort to simplify complicated thoughts into an easy to accept ideal. We're not above it, either. We often use the phrase "Carry the Fire" without fully explaining what that means, specifically. In our case, our goal is to get people to investigate what it means and embrace that ideology of their own volition. In most other cases, that's not so.

So, as a tool of critical thought, the opposite of being a parrot is being a thinker. We can use similar rhetorical devices to get people to think *or* embrace a lack of thought, and as such we have a few phrases you'll see over and over again:

  1. Always do the hard things first
  2. Always an asset
  3. Carry the fire

These phrases are meant to act as a compass in navigating, rather than a GPS giving you directions.

So as you read, listen to, or watch people present an obscene amount of noise, the best way of finding the signal in the static is to be critically minded. Most of the material you see that's designed to elicit feelings of camaraderie are intellectual bumper stickers, and it doesn't matter if it's something you agree with or not.

Apply critical thought.

"Of Each Particular Thing Asked..."

You could say I've seen some shit.

ISG has been around since 2009. For the vast majority of our time, we were a small, dedicated group of friends across various disciplines who discussed cross training and the utility of being versatile. In the last few years, we've branched out a bit and have discussed and observed a phenomenon that seems like it's universal in the world of writing:

The useful stuff doesn't sell.

The things that viewers really should be taking the time to read, such as Greg Ellifritz's discussions on how terrorists orchestrate attacks (this is one of a dozen or so excellent articles on that topic alone that you should read on his site), or Swift Silent Deadly's discussion of how to work with your neighbors and community.

Articles such as these are far more important in almost every way than say, an article on 'which gun is best'.

This is a frustration to authors, because we *really* want to have success in teaching things that will save lives. It's easy for us to forget that we don't know who is reading or what their skill level is, but the law of averages says there are probably more beginners who are well-suited to entry level articles on equipment than there are devout students who are ready to take those next steps.

Given that, we try and offer a little of everything, and in a way that builds from the ground up.

With that in mind, when you read articles, start with "What is this, in itself?" Is it about mindset? Tactics? Techniques? A sales pitch?

If it happens to be an actionable, verifiable truth - saddle up. Most of what you see isn't, though. It's an appeal to your ego, which if you've been following ISG and you're serious about the discipline of fighting, you should calmly set aside.

It's Dangerous

Here's the real deal: Being honest is a terrifying prospect.

Deviating from the accepted norms is traditionally reserved for the very knowledgeable and the entirely incompetent. Because straying from the main stream has so much risk, because it makes you an easier target, and because it's populated in equal parts with dipshittery, most people will choose to stay in the commonly accepted pools of thought. This doesn't just apply to citizens, either. Within professional circles, there exists stupefying amounts of institutional inbreeding that prevents meaningful, outcome-driven discussion on best practice.

When you challenge commonly accepted dogma, you expose yourself to hostility, slander, and logical fallacy. Anyone who's ever tried to make a point on the internet knows that the ultimate end is either:

  1. Ad hominem, and/or;
  2. Non-sequitur.

You'll be called out on your credentials and experience, and if you answer, it'll never be enough to satisfy the critics. Why?

Because the real goal isn't to establish whether or not your criticism is legit, it's to redirect the conversation in a way that forces you to explain yourself, which excuses the accuser from having to defend their position.

This is tiresome. This whole industry is rife with posers, phonies, cronies, and hype beasts. It's to the brim with gun-bunnies and brommandos that look like they're off an assembly line, and stylized highlight reels of dudes absolutely owning static cardboard targets.

Just like Professional Wrestling, it's an image and people tune in to live vicariously through these archetypes, and in the process, they sadly absorb some of their personas. When I was a kid, there were people who firmly believed that professional wrestling was real, and you couldn't convince them otherwise. They parroted lines from their favorite wrestlers, and strutted around as if they'd bodyslam someone for one wrong look.

Then MMA arrived, and all of a sudden, these lean, fast fighters who'd devoted their lives to the perfection of their discipline were showing that no unscripted fight looked like WWE. That the drama and pageantry was an entirely unnecessary distraction from the pursuit of real competence.

Now, MMA is ubiquitous and the cycle begins again. What the fighter experiences in the cage isn't the same as what the police officer experiences in the street, ad infintum.

Since I can't say it better than Musashi, I'll quote him and let you choose how this article affects you:

Go alone to places frightening to the common brand of men.

There is no single best teacher.
Build experience, read, train, think, and above all else, live.
Ruffling feathers in pursuit of greater knowledge is an entirely worthwhile trade.



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