Keep it to common terms of abuse

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Small-scale violence most frequently aborts, Randall Collins notes:

Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, a UCLA researcher, followed a loosely-organized gang in Tucson, Arizona, as they went looking for fights. It consisted of a couple of dozen young white men, all of them bored with middle-class life style, who went to parties hoping to find someone to fight with. They were looking for opponents who would give them some action and boost their prestige, at least in their own eyes: black guys, tough guys, Hispanic gangs, bikers, athletes. But although there were plenty of over-crowded house parties in this desert city, with plenty of loud music and drinking going on, the surprise is how difficult it was for them to find a fight. They took a belligerent attitude, bumped into people, gave people the eye, but most of the time fights didn’t happen. Fights were rare enough that when one happened, the group would spend weeks thereafter talking about it, going over the details, bragging about what they did and even about taking a beating if they lost.

Why did this action-seeking group have so much trouble finding fights? Jackson-Jacobs spelled out the subtle details that had to happen if two sides were going to fight. These little details were only semi-conscious, but they boiled down to the fact that both sides had to decide that a fight was coming up, and this had to be a mutual feeling of emotion and timing. Like a demo only turning into a riot a couple of hours in, no one walks into a party and starts a fight from the very first minute. And if the minutes go by long enough, there is a feeling that this isn’t the time and place, so the action-seekers go somewhere else.

[Another hypothesis is that fights were also inhibited because typically rival groups fight within the same identity or demographic: as we know from gang murders in Chicago (Andrew Papachristos’ research) and gang fights generally, most such violence is segregated: black gangs fight with black gangs, Hispanic gangs with Hispanic, Irish gangs with Irish, Italian Mafias with each other. Jackson-Jacobs’ white middle-class guys were an anomaly on the tough-guy scene; they didn’t identify as skinheads, so they had no counterpart group to fight with them. J-J’s crew were looking for the prestige of fighting somebody tough; maybe they didn’t perceive that the same goes for the other side, and real fighting gangs didn’t think they were a worthy opponent.]

The pattern holds generally across different kinds of small-scale fights: most encounters where people threaten each other with violence do not actually end in violence. Most stay at the level of angry insults — the human bark is worse than our bite. Even if it gets physical, most fights do not go beyond pushing and shoving. Videos of fights (posted from cell phones) generally show that after a few wild swings, fighters tend to spin away from each other, leaving themselves at a distance just out of reach while the fight winds down. Showing your willingness to fight is on the whole more important than what damage you do. Researchers in England, using CCTV from pubs and the streets outside, found that angry disputes were broken up, in the great majority of cases, by friends separating the fighters.


A key feature that keeps quarrels from escalating is when they are balanced. Two guys quarrel with each other. They push out their chests, get their hands into fighting position. They yell insults at each other, each getting louder, trying to shout the other down. A lot here depends on what the audience will do — whether other people take sides or encourage them to fight; or do the opposite, ignoring the quarrel, which tends to take the energy out of it. Left to themselves, the belligerents usually find themselves repeating the same insults, over and over; they are both talking at the same time, which means they aren’t listening to each other, and it just becomes a contest of keeping up the noise. (How long do dogs go on barking at each other? Check it out.) After a short period of time — usually less than 60 seconds — this gets boring. They get tired of a quarrel that is going nowhere. Typically they will break it off, with a gesture of disgust, or slamming the door on the way out.

This suggests some practical advice. If you get into a threatening face-contest with someone, keep it in equilibrium. Just mimic what the other person does; don’t escalate it. After a while it becomes boring — and boredom is your friend. (Sir Francis Bacon, 400 years ago, wrote that if you are in an angry dispute, keep it to common terms of abuse; don’t try to score a cutting remark with a personal insult that your opponent will never forgive.)


  1. Kirk says:

    I’m starting to wonder whether Grossman is a symptom of something a bit deeper than just being a well-meaning deluded dilettante parvenu of violence…

    Seriously, if you want to “study violence”, you don’t go looking at “…a couple of dozen young white men, all of them bored with middle-class life style, who went to parties hoping to find someone to fight with.” You want to study violence, you need to study serious practitioners of same, like maybe El Salvadoran cane workers on a payday night down at their local drinking establishment–And then make sure you’re fully insured and have access to modern medical care…

    Middle-class white boys ain’t going to tell you shit about violence. They’re not a category of human being that is used to either committing or even being around real violence on a daily basis, nor are they from a shame/honor based subculture where the answer to every affront is immediate deadly violence with sharpened cane knives. Studying this group, and trying to extrapolate outwards to a general rule for all of violent humanity is like studying the predatory behaviors of the vole, and trying to make general rules that would also cover predators like lions, tigers, and bears.

    Where the f%*# do they find these people, and how on God’s green earth do they develop the balls to even write this BS, let alone publish it?

  2. Harry Jones says:

    Certainly, all types of violent impulses are not the same, and bored middle class white boys are more to be despised than feared.

    As long as we keep this in mind, the article is useful for understanding certain very specific types of confrontation, which just happen to be very prevalent in US society these days.

    As for North Korea… does that regime not consist entirely of scions of rank and privilege? They’re a nasty sort of people, and it’s useful to know what particular nasty sort of people they are, because there are many nasty sorts of people, best dealt with via different methods.

  3. Kirk says:

    If they limited their conclusions to say that “Hey, this is how violence works among the spoiled upper-middle class poseurs…”, I’d be fine with it. However, when you try to take this work and extrapolate out to some general rule for all humans, everywhere…? No. Just… No.

    Those cute little middle-class wannabe thugs are going to discover that all their little chest-puffing BS counts for nothing, when dealing with the product of the MS-13 subculture, or some batch of off-duty Rangers that are actually skilled and experienced at inflicting violence on others, and who also possess little to no restraint when encountering the precious little darlings that are the subject of this sort of “academic study”. Which is precisely why this sort of thing is so damn dangerous–People are going to pay attention to this, and try to use these “lessons” out in the real world, and then subsequently get their asses handed to them.

    Academic theory is all well and good, but what I’ve found is that when you try to actually apply any of that carefully reasoned willful stupidity out in the real world, the results are rarely what you’ve been led to expect. As a “leadership practitioner” coming up the enlisted ranks in the Army, and being someone who put great weight on what the “experts” told me in all their tomes of esoteric knowledge back in the beginning…? I think most of these idjits need a swift boot to the head, more than anything. And, when they try to implement their brilliant plans in the real world, that’s usually precisely what they get.

    For examples, see the homeless policies in places like Seattle…

  4. Mike says:

    Kirk says:
    June 6, 2018 at 10:32 am

    I’m starting to wonder whether Grossman is a symptom of something a bit deeper than just being a well-meaning deluded dilettante parvenu of violence…

    From what I’ve read it’s a tendency of many ‘experts’ (i.e. middle-class academics) to run experiments on people just like them: middle class, high IQ, wealthy-ish, typically white, and completely ignore the rest of society, especially the scary elements. Psychologists are the worst at this. Famously Philip Zimbardo and his ‘prisoner experiment’ when he extrapolated his findings of a small, very select group of people, and applied it to the rest of humanity. I’d wager he’d get different results if he filled ran two experiments: one with Sierra Leoneon child soldiers, and one with Japanese herbivore men.

  5. Kirk says:


    One of the most common markers for me, when trying to recognize an “expert” on a given subject…? They’re usually really, really confused about what the hell they think they are doing. You see this all the time in failed companies and other organizations–They think their product is Widget “A”, when what they’re actually selling is that which Widget “A” enables or does.

    See, for example, all of the really spectacular business failures–All of them managed and guided by the self-declared “experts” in the room. You’d almost think that there was something fundamentally wrong with the model we’re using for organizing ourselves, and getting things done. But, no… That would be too simple, so we keep setting up our little commissions, bureaucracies, and hierarchies, then marching them off of cliffs. Surprising how hard that ground is, once you hit bottom…

  6. Kirk says:

    For some reason, not all of that pasted over from the editor…

    Anyway, to continue on to what I was getting at, the confusion about what they’re really doing extends backwards and forwards from academia: The academic thinks they’re modeling violence when they study middle- and upper-class frat boys, and fails to recognize the limitations of their study group. The blithe extension they then make to the rest of humanity…? Part and parcel of their limited world-view. Most of them truly think that the rest of the world is just like them, only that they insist on talking funny.

    It’s a lot like with Marx: Dude was a lazy-ass POS who never did shit in his life, and his entire philosophical construct is based around that. He has projected himself outward onto the rest of the human race, and the unfortunate fact was that the self-image he had was direly out of alignment with reality. He saw himself as this selfless advocate for the working man, never recognizing that he was actually setting conditions for their degradation. Or, maybe he did, and was just a really slick con man.

    Either way, the essential error is in failing to recognize reality and then aligning one’s conduct with that. The academic should understand that to really understand the truth of violence, they need to go out where real violence actually exists, like a Somali pirate crew, or an organization like MS-13. Studying those groups might tell us something, but odds are that the academic doing the study wouldn’t return to tell us anything at all…

  7. Mike says:

    Kirk said..

    The academic should understand that to really understand the truth of violence, they need to go out where real violence actually exists, like a Somali pirate crew, or an organization like MS-13. Studying those groups might tell us something, but odds are that the academic doing the study wouldn’t return to tell us anything at all…

    That’s one of the interesting points about watching documentaries by non-experts, e.g. ‘Ross Kemp Extreme World’ (, they give the common sense observations to situations rather than highly abstracted theories that they learnt in a book.

    And when you remember that studying people is a two way street, the academic types don’t always get a good rapport with the people they are trying to understand/study, and so they end up misunderstanding those people.
    Like anthropologists who go to live with and study hunter gatherers, they don’t really interact with the people in the same way a normal human would, and so they end up with a false representation of hunter-gatherer lifestlye. The biggest culprit of course being Margaret Mead who totally misunderstood the young girls she was speaking to.

  8. Kirk says:

    I dunno… Was Margaret Mead a case of her misunderstanding, hearing what she wanted to hear, or just plain old BS for the sake of creating controversy…?

    Maybe a mixture of all three. Or, not–I won’t rule out that she was like Kinsey, interested in normalizing the perverse, and justifying her sexual fetishes.

    There’s a lot of weirdness that goes on when you subject social behavior and society in general to research. There’s the observer effect, and then there’s the complete misunderstanding of what the observer is seeing.

    One thing I saw, and which explained a lot of the supposed “Polynesian sexual permissiveness” was that these were generally small (genetically), isolated populations. Whenever some “strange” showed up, you had to grab as much of it as you could, for the sake of genetic diversity–So, customs and society evolved to support that. And, when the Europeans showed up, all that carefully balanced cultural tradition and genetics went to hell in a handbasket in very short order.

    Whenever you find a feature of a society or a custom, you have to first step back and analyze it from the standpoint of “What purpose does this serve…?”, because there is little to no chance at all that a custom or behavior will remain after generations–Unless it serves a purpose. You may not like the purpose, but there is something there, or it wouldn’t still be practiced. Failure to comprehend this fact is something that most SJW types and the cultural Marxists fail to comprehend, and it is the rock upon which all their carefully-laid plans for perfecting man run aground.

  9. Sam J. says:

    “…Philip Zimbardo and his ‘prisoner experiment’ when he extrapolated his findings of a small, very select group of people, and applied it to the rest of humanity…”

    I read the other day, don’t have link, that the whole thing was faked. Just another leftist cooking the books to push his view.

  10. Mike says:

    Sam J. says: “I read the other day, don’t have link, that the whole thing was faked. Just another leftist cooking the books to push his view.”

    The most recent search on Google was this one (from a few days ago):

    Renowned Stanford Prison Experiment ‘faked’ by participants
    By Sarah Swain

    One of the most renowned psychological experiments ever done has been called a fake by people involved in it.

    The Stanford Prison Experiment involved young professor Philip Zimbardo mounting a test at Californian University Stanford’s Psychology department in 1971 to explore the psychological effects of perceived power, within the setting of a fake prison.

    He wanted to find out what happens when you; “put good people in an evil place – does humanity win over evil or does evil triumph?”.

    However the experiment, which inspired a Hollywood movie, was shut down after six days because the ‘guards’ became so “sadistic” and the prisoners showed signs of “extreme stress.”


    But now a report published by website Medium sees participants confirm claims over the past almost 50 years that all was not quite as it seemed.

    It confirms claims Zimbardo pushed participants towards the results he wanted, something he has disputed.

    ‘Guards’ and ‘prisoners’ have also explained their behaviours wasn’t natural.


    One of the ‘guards’, Dave Eshelman who was dubbed John Wayne for his fake Southern Accent, has admitted he simply wanted the experiment to succeed.

    “I took it as a kind of an improv exercise,” he said. “I believed that I was doing what the researchers wanted me to do, and I thought I’d do it better than anybody else by creating this despicable guard persona.”

    The doubt cast over the study is nothing new.

    American Psychologist called it flawed as early as 1975.

    Wowsers. I had no idea. It’s always listed in those ‘top 10 psychological experiments’ pages you see every year, so I just assumed it was all legit. Aren’t psychologists and other professionals supposed to scrutinise these studies (peer review and all)? I guess not.

  11. Kirk says:

    Just like with Kinsey, the Zimbardo “experiments” were suffused with agenda, and were essentially corrupt in nature. And, think of how many times the “lessons” of that crapola research have been cited and used to justify public policy that anyone with a lick of common sense would say were asinine–Not to mention, used to justify and excuse abuses conducted by prison and jail employees.

    Anyone taking on face value nearly anything coming out of academia over the last few decades is guilty of committing intellectual malfeasance–Or, just plain too stupid to be taken seriously. Much of the really outre stuff they’ve come up with can be refuted simply through the application of some common sense, and comparison to personal experience.

    It’s like the classic bullshit put out by such artistes of the form like Grossman and S.L.A. Marshall. Were one to stop and think about it, the idea that the junior leadership and the percentage of guys who were supposedly doing all the fighting would somehow overlook the fact that 85% of their peers and subordinate’s weren’t doing squat in the fight…? Yeah, right; pull the other one. There’s no way you could effectively hide “combat avoidance” from your boss, or your left and right flank peers. And, if you think that PFC Jones is going to take it kindly that you hung back and didn’t do anything effective, while he moved forward into fire…? Again, think about it: Were what Grossman and Marshall said true, then the question is, where the hell were all the retributive casualties caused by guys like PFC Jones coming back and demonstrating their utter lack of appreciation for the lack of support they were getting from the “non-participant 85%”.

    Things that just don’t make sense, reported to us by academia…? Generally, they likely ain’t true facts, either.

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