I want to talk about something that’s been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while. It’s a social phenomenon that is creeping into every aspect of our lives. Some might call it a form of progress, and I can see the appeal in that. But when it starts to encroach on self-defense, that’s where I draw the line.
I’m talking about political correctness.
When Life is On the Line
Let me say it loud and clear: PC and Self Defense DO NOT mix.
There is no room for considerations of group sensitivity (whether religious, racial, or otherwise demographic) when you are dealing with life and death situations. I really don’t care whose feelings get hurt when lives are on the line, and frankly, neither should you. As unpopular as it may sound, that is the cold, hard truth – so if you want to treat this self-defense stuff seriously, take the pill and swallow it.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Raise your hand if you ever felt suspicious or uncomfortable about someone in the street, or on the bus, and did absolutely nothing about it, only because of the color of that person’s skin and the way other people around you might perceive your attitude. (“If I move seats, wait for the next elevator, cross the street, they’ll think I’m a racist/bigot/sexist.”) We’ve ALL been in that situation, shoving a gut feeling aside because of fear of being perceived badly.
The reason is that in our (mostly) peaceful, western society, survival instincts have been gradually suppressed by social norms. We have become so “civilized”, so unaccustomed to violence, that we’ve rewired our brains to prioritize civil behavior above everything else. Now, from an anthropological perspective, this might be a wonderful thing. From a self-defense perspective, it’ll get you killed.
Don’t Mind Your Own Business
Case-in-point: I was reading about some of the eyewitness accounts from the November 13th Terror Attacks in Paris. There are at least two documented cases of suspicious behavior prior to the events: one was the Bataclan attackers scoping the premises the day before, the other was the gang allegedly setting-up in the apartment that was later raided by the police. In one instance, nobody thought to report to the police, and in the other, there was no follow-up. There is a pervasive “mind your own business” attitude that pushes us to bury our suspicions and keep them to ourselves. This would be unthinkable in my home country of Israel, where people are a) always poking their nose into other people’s affairs (anyone who’s ever stood in line at an ATM knows what I’m talking about) and b) much more attuned to and suspicious of out-of-the-ordinary and potentially dangerous behavior.
A bunch of guys carrying heavy gear in and out of an apartment building, noises of lock-and-load wafting from the apartment accompanied by shouting in Arabic? – I give it an hour before the place gets stormed by the police. Not so in Europe, unfortunately, partly because people are worried of being labeled racist if they call it in.
Entering Mushin Means No Prejudice
One of the Core tenants of Self Defense is the ancient Japanese concept of Mushin, or No Mind. The Samurai taught that the warrior’s mindset should be one of inner quiet, unaffected by the turmoil of surrounding combat, in order to better react and redirect the energy aimed against us. Entering Mushin means clearing the mind of any thought other than the moment… the battle. It requires casting off all outside influences and pressure including fear and doubt.
Entering Mushin means no prejudice (as in pre-judgment). It means no social inhibitions.
Back to my example from the bus: if your intuition tells you something is wrong, and you let social norms and peer judgment prevent you from taking action, then you are bringing outside considerations into the Self Defense picture. That’s not Mushin, it’s suicide.
When teaching abroad, I often find myself involved in conversations about the Israeli profiling method. For a long time many western countries, the US included, preferred to rely heavily on technology for airport security, in part to avoid uncomfortable or accusatory situations. “Why are you asking ME to take off my shoes?” “I’m sorry, sir, it’s not my call – the machine said so…”. But safety and defense aren’t about making people feel loved – it’s about safety.
Israel, on the other hand, continued to focus on the human factor, applying screening methods that can be extremely uncomfortable for travelers. Some of the criteria (not all – there really is a variety of factors) that influence who and how they interrogate people would make any civil rights lawyer grit his teeth. But it works. And since 9/11, there has been a shift back toward that model in almost every country.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should give way to every xenophobic impulse in the name of security. Quite the contrary – remember Mushin? No Prejudice.
If the ONLY reason that you want to move to the back of the bus is racial/ethnic, then you are also letting prejudice cloud your assessment of the risk. Which can be just as dangerous. Obsessive rage over the “enemy” as an ethnic group is not only morally questionable but potentially dangerous as it creates “tunnel vision” and keeps us from seeing the broader picture.
But NOW, on that bus, is not the time to start second-guessing yourself. NOW is the time to act, without social inhibitions: worry about what will happen, not what people will think.
After it’s all over, you can take a good look in the mirror – if it turns out you were acting on prejudice alone, then perhaps it’s about time you took some situational awareness courses and got a better idea of ALL the factors that come into play when analyzing your environment.
Self Defense is About Adaptability; Ideology is Not
To be able to defend yourself in real life, you must be able to react and adapt to your environment. Surrender to changes and “flow” as the situation requires.
PC, because it stems from ideology, is rigid and unbending. It is a mental inhibitor that will get you killed on the street. It is a distraction that has no place when lives are in the balance.