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Rival baboons likewise generally avoid combat.
Instead they sit in the treetops screaming
"wah-hoo" at each other until the one who shouts
longer and louder finally prevails. They get their
way by showing they might just become dangerous
one of these days. Biologists refer to these displays
of aggressive intent as 'ritualization.' They enable the
animals to trade ritualized signals instead of bites or blows
                     Richard Conniff
                                       The Ape In the Corner Office

Threat Display

On this page:
Intra-Tribal Violence and Inter-Tribal Violence | Text | Text

While deep in our warm and fuzzy little hearts we would like to believe that we are egalitarian(1) our monkey brain knows better. And in this particular case the head overrules our heart. In fact, large parts of our lives are spend on establishing, maintaining displaying and protecting our social status.

Deep in our primate psyches we are terrified at the thought of facing the 'jungle' of existence without the safety of a group. That's because without others we ARE vulnerable. Groups organize themselves into social hierarchies. By doing so they allow us to achieve our needs -- not necessarily our wants. The deeper we are in the hierarchy we are the safer we are. That makes our status within that hierarchy something of keen interest to our primitive selves.

We raise or lower our status in a group through a variety of complex displays, maneuverings, behaviors and attitudes. What many people do not understand is how often these are contextual. The same move that will increase your status in one context will reduce it in another. And this is in the SAME group.

Putting it bluntly, when it comes to our position in the hierarchy, it doesn't matter what we think we are doing, what matters is what other people think we are doing. And that is where a whole lot of people shoot themselves in the foot. They're so busy doing what they think will raise their status (or to display their distain for the society that protects them) that they have no idea how they are coming across. Oh yes, there is all kinds of jockeying for position in the group of being an outlaw or outsider to society

At the extreme end of our jockeying for social dominance is the threat display. To inexperienced or emotionally insecure the threat display looks like the fast lane to violence. As far as they are concerned, once you get into the threat display murder and mayhem is just around the corner. Their panicked monkey brain is convinced the end of the world is near.

When in fact, threat displays are how we AVOID engaging in violence. Both within our group and with other groups.

It is only when the threat displays fail that things can become violent. Not will, but can. Threat display is a very complex subject. One that is utterly ignored by martial arts training and turned into a macho parody by most reality based self-defense groups. (2)

That is why we address it here.

Intra-Tribal Violence and Inter-Tribal Violence
As much as white, middle class ideology would like to have you believe that violence never solved anything, the simple fact is that use of force is a viable method for resolving conflicts that cannot be solved 'reasonably(3).'

However, the popular blanket condemnation of 'violence' does not allow people to see how

For an inkling of the difference read the Kinds of Violence pages.

To begin with many people confuse a threat with a bluff. That's because most of the time when THEY are threatening, they are bluffing. We call this kind of behavior 'posturing.' Most of this kind of behavior is based in fear and in hopes of avoiding violence. The person posturing is afraid of engaging in violence and is using posturing to chase the other person off.

However, just because someone is posturing doesn't mean that he/she will not strike. And if there is a weapon involved, this can still be fatal. However, the nature of the attack is usually very recognizable and tends to lack intent to harm.

Legitimate threat displays are NOT threats, they are promises. Promises of dire harm. They are a warning of what the person is willing to do to alter YOUR behavior.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not recognizing that a threat display is designed to PREVENT violence! Unlike posturing the person doing a legitimate threat display is not afraid of engaging in violence. It is a  display to warn you either to leave or to change your unacceptable behavior.

If you don't take the hint -- or counter with your own threat display -- you've just participated in the creation and escalation of the situation.


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1) From
Egalitarian. [i-gal-i-tair-ee-uhn]
1.asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, esp. in political, economic, or social life.
2.a person who adheres to egalitarian beliefs. Return to Text

2) Remember social status is developed or destroyed by a complex set of factors. If you follow the typical RBSD ideal of establishing you're going to come across as an insecure alpha. Overall  you will seriously lose credibility in society in general and set yourself up to be gutted like a fish in other social circles (who do not respond to rude and obnoxious behavior by walking away from you like civilized people do. Return to Text

3) There exists several non-violent options for resolving these kinds of conflicts, including leaving the group, exiting the situation (including flat out running away) until tempers cool or calling in a mediating force. Return to Text


(#) #) Return to Text

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