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Hasty Generalization: A
logical fallacy of generalizing
about a population based upon a sample which
is too small to be representative. If the population
is heterogeneous, then the sample needs to be large
enough to represent the population's variability.
Logical Fallacy of
Violence: It ISN'T What
You Think It Is
On this page:
Violence vs. Force | Why Do People Become Violent? | All Fights Are Violent, But Not All Violence Are Fights
When we talk about 'violence' on this webpage we are discussing a wide range of possibilities and degrees. Violence is much more complicated and variable than most people think it is. On this subject, misconceptions can be dangerous. When it comes to violence, it is not hyperbole to say: What you don't know can kill you.
One of the biggest difficulties about talking about violence is the fact everyone 'knows' what violence is. But once you get past the "Oh that's easy" stage, defining 'violence' becomes like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall. We started this page with a definition of a common logical fallacy because, odds are, whatever you think violence is, it's probably a Hasty Generalization Fallacy. While what you think of as violence is a type of violence, it is not all that violence is (1)
There are several reasons for this. First is that violence can manifest in literally, millions of ways. Second there are many different degrees, levels and goals of violence. Third, most people's definition of violence is not only subjective, but based on experience and -- often -- convenience. (That is to say, what one person thinks is violent, another doesn't). This page won't give you any simple answers, but it will help you understand how violence is a lot more complex than your current understanding.
Why is that important?
Well to begin with, violence isn't black and white. There is a huge continuum. And while your definition of violence is on it, that continuum that goes way beyond your definition. When you know this you begin to realize how quickly a situation can spin out of control -- especially when you discover the other person has no hesitation using a level of violence beyond what you would ever dream using.
Another important consideration is found in the old saw: Violence begets violence. While most people will admit to the truth of that statement, what they don't realize is how easy it is -- under the stress of intense emotions -- to cross from assertiveness to aggressiveness. In short, while they believe they are 'defending themselves' they are in fact attacking. As such they are not only participating in the creation and escalation of a situation, but they are themselves being violent! Then such people discover first hand that violence begets violence.
These two points regularly mix with bloody results.
Violence vs. Force
Let's start with the fact that there is a difference between violence and force. While the connotations of violence are almost always negative, force can have positive, negative or neutral implications.
The Random House Unabridged dictionary gives the
following as definitions of violence:
Violence: 1) Swift and intense force: the violence of a storm. 2) Rough
or injurious physical force, action, treatment: to die by violence. 3) An
unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights, laws,
etc.: To take over a government by violence. 4) A violent act or
proceeding. 5) Rough or immoderate vehemence as of feeling or language:
the violence of his hatred. 6) Injury, as in distortion of meaning or fact:
to do violence to a translation.
If you're like most people, your 'working' definition
of violence is number two. However, points four
and five include a screaming temper tantrum or a raging
as violence! And number is three is a can of worms.
Because what one person thinks is just and warranted
(usually the doer), someone else (usually the receiver)
thinks it is can be miles apart. This is why we say a
person's definition of violence can be subjective. This
is especially true when we look at the definitions of
Force: 1) strength; energy; power; intensity: a personality of great force. 2) efficacious power; power to influence, affect or control: the force of
circumstances, a force for law and order. 3) Physical power or strength
possessed by a living being: He used all his force in opening the window.
4) Strength or power exerted on an object; physical coercion, violence: to
use force to open the window; to use force on a person. 5) Law. Violence
offered to persons or things, as in the use of force breaking into a house,
6) Persuasive power; power to convince: They felt the force of his
argument. 7) Mental or moral strength: The force of one’s mind, intellect
or will 8) Might, as of ruler or realm; strength for war.
So basically force is deemed good or bad by how you use it. And commonly when when the use is deemed bad, then it is called 'violence.'
That is where things begin to get complicated. Quite often the person using the force deems it as necessary force, but the person on the receiving end deems it violence. As you will see, personal definitions of violence tend to revolve both around whether a behavior gets you what you want and to what degree you are willing to take it.
Another complicating factor is how when two forces collide (conflict) they tend to escalate. Although we tend to think of arguments 'escalating into violence' in fact, it's a violent situation that has become physical.
We now come to the subjective part of violence. One of the most common 'working definitions' is that any level of force a particular person is comfortable using is not considered violence by that person. Behavior is only considered violent if it exceeds that person's comfort zone. Or is used more effectively against that person. In other words, when you use it it's not violence, it's only violence if you lose. And then it was because the other person was being violent.
Why Do People Become Violent?
This is a question that we ask when we train law enforcement in de-escalation. Since LEOs, correctional officers and other security personnel are those most likely to encounter violent people, it's a pretty important question for them to consider.
Before you read any further, come up with your own answer. Why do people become violent?
We usually receive a barrage of differing answers: fear, anger, dominance, gain, conquest, etc., etc.. All of these answers are right. These are indeed reasons why people become violent. But they are not 'THE reason' people become violent.
People become violent because they want something.
More specifically they become violent because -- at that moment -- it may seem that the only (or best) way to achieve that goal is through violence. While at first glance this may seem like a "No DUH!" statement, realize that the implications of 'People become violent because they want something' is this field's version of E=mc2. Although simple, it has some mindboggling connotations, complications and manifestations.
Things begin to get complex when you realize that 'what someone wants' can either be external (e.g. gain), internal (e.g. emotional or psychological) or a blend of both. For example what someone who is angry wants is going to be radically different than what a serial killer wants. And those are going to be radically different than what a soldier in combat wants. All of them are going to use force/violence to achieve their ends.
Understanding that violence is a means to an end, not an end unto itself shifts our perspective. For good or bad, it opens a panorama of possibilities about violence. Both in its nature and in how extreme it can become.
For civilians this understanding shows that violence doesn't always have to be a fight -- especially an argument that escalate into physical violence. A person can approach you with the rational and conscious intent to commit extreme violence on your person in order to achieve his goals. Until you read this, you may have wondered how a person -- even a criminal --can just walk up and shoot a complete stranger without warning. This is an extreme type of robbery strategy. (On that is effective not only at immediately rendering the victim incapable of resistance, but due to trauma and shock, unable to ID the perpetrator). Now you might start to understand why we are such big advocates for the average person to practice avoidance instead of trying to physically engage the criminal.
For professionals (those whose job it is to say "no" to violent people) this understanding defines the game he's playing. This gives you a much wider variety of response options. Sometimes what the person wants is flat-out unacceptable and you will have to use force -- perhaps extreme force - to stop him. On the other hand, often you will be able to avoid a situation from becoming physically violent by working with the person to achieve an outcome that is acceptable to both of you.
All Fights Are Violent, But Not All Violence Are
The above is a grammatically incorrect rendition of a formal logic maxim. The reason we've done grammatical violence (remember definition #6) to it is to point out that most people's 'working definition' of violence is in fact, a fight.
Except like violence, the definition of fight is a little bigger than most people think it is.
Going back to Random House Unabridged again:
Fight: 1) A battle or combat. 2) Any contest or struggle: a fight for
recovery from illness. 3) An angry argument or disagreement: She starts
a fight every time she phones me. 4) Boxing. A bout or contest. 5) Ability
or inclination to fight. 6) Obs. A bulkhead or screen for protecting
personnel of a warship during a battle -v.i. 7) To engage in single in battle
or single combat; attempt to defend oneself against or to defeat, subdue
or destroy an adversary 8) To contend in any manner: He fought bravely
against despair -v.t. 9) To contend with in battle or combat; war against:
England fought Germany. 10) To contend with in any manner: to fight
despair. To fight the passage of a bill. 11) To carry on (a battle, duel)
12) To maintain (a cause, quarrel, etc.) by fighting or contending 13) To
make (ones way) by fighting or striving 14) To cause or set (a boxer,
dog, etc.) to fight. 15) To manage or maneuver (troops, ships, guns,
etc.) in battle.
Generally speaking people's working definition of a fight is mostly number #3 (argument/ disagreement) that might escalate into the less serious levels of #7 (engage in single battle).
The fact is this limited definition makes sense. That's because most 'fights' involve very little physical violence. Mostly they are an extension of threat display behavior (designed to frighten an opponent away). This is why when you watch video of 'fights' you will usually see a lot of yelling, screaming, posturing, shoving and only occasional physical clashes. These behaviors are typically followed by more yelling and screaming. And yes, we do recommend you surf Youtube.com to see for yourself(2).
The reason this is what most people think of when they think of violence is that is the extent of what they have personally witnessed (or even experienced).
But as we often have to explain: Just because it's the worst that you've ever seen doesn't mean it is the worst that we've seen. We know from personal experience: Violence can occur in a shocking magnitude beyond that small scale. In fact, there are entire lifestyles where extreme violence is the norm.
When conditions are right, those extremes can occur faster and with less warning than any fight you've ever seen. A situation can go from seemingly normal to a dead body on the floor in under ten seconds -- if that long.
While this can sound extremely scary (and in truth it is) there is some good news. Most violence is indeed, fights. And even better, an overwhelming majority of fights are non-lethal. That means a majority of physical violence is going to be survivable. Not fun, and it's going to hurt ... but odds are good you will survive.
It's that lethal percentage that is the biggest problem. Although coming in a close second is the percentage of violence that puts you into the hospital. And by that we mean not just the emergency room, but surgery. (And even then you may survive the bullet wound, but the secondary infection will kill you in the hospital.)
When it comes to engaging in violence, it's not like a coin toss where you either win or lose. It's more like a diabolical wheel of fortune with varying degrees of winning and losing. In gambling, the rules of the game dictate that you will only lose what you bet. Therefore you can control your losses by the size of your bet. But that idea doesn't apply in violence. You can go into a situation thinking the only thing at stake is your pride and -- in a blink of an eye -- discover your life is on the line.
But there also exists another extreme. If you go into any violent encounter with the attitude that it is life and death, then the person who is going to use excessive force (violence) is you. And you will be held legally accountable.
What we are trying to tell you is that unless you are an experienced or trained observer there is a really good chance that you will over or underestimate the threat. It happens all the time -- especially when you are angry, emotional, afraid, intoxicated or convinced that violence only happens to other people.
All of which are common roads to violence.
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1) While at first that might sound insulting, realize this: The study and understanding of violence has been our 'job' for nearly 40 years -- and what we still don't know about the subject could fill libraries. And if we're still trying to understand it after 40 years, how are you supposed to know it all? Return to Text
2) If you just put 'fight' you'll get a great many sporting event clips (remember fight definition #4). You will get better results if you put in 'streetfight' or 'streetfight'. You might be required to register that you are over 18 due to graphic content. Also realize that some of the video clips are, in fact, staged performances (watch for editing and changes in camera angle). Also some are preplanned bouts for illegal gambling purposes. Return to Text
Taking It to the Streets
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The Missing Link: Self-Protection Through Awareness, Avoidance and De-Escalation
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Real World Self-Defense
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Surviving Workplace Violence
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Freedom from Fear: Peyton Quinn
Defeating The Victim's Consciousness
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