Trump’s Travel Ban Will Prevent a Clash of Civilisations

President Donald Trump’s travel ban has predictably incited a firestorm of controversy. Predictably, the mainstream media lied about Trump’s ban, claiming it bans Muslims from entering the United States. Also, quite predictably, they aren’t going to tell you that the ban will prevent a clash of civilisations in America.

This is the full text of Trump’s executive order. Nowhere it in mentions Muslims or nations by name. What he has done is to suspend the entry of foreign nationals from states defined in a law proposed by former President Barack Obama and passed by a Democrat-controlled legislature for 90 days, to suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and to direct the relevant agencies to strengthen vetting and screening processes.

87% of the world’s Muslims are not affected by the ban. It is not a Muslim ban; it is a temporary suspension of entry of nationals from states of concern.

These states of concern are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are failed states, either on the brink of collapse or well past it, and are engulfed in war and terrorism. They cannot guarantee that people leaving the country are not criminals or terrorists. Iran is a known state sponsor of anti-US terrorism, most recently in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and has recently conducted a ballistic missile test in defiance of a UN resolution. Tehran is not going to tell Washington whether a traveler is an innocent person or a Quds Force operative on an espionage mission. Until the US develops a robust means of screening out undesirables, it only makes sense to temporarily halt entry of persons from these states. The ban applies to all people, not just Muslims.

The media has run plenty of stories about the plight of people who were deported, refused entry or are in a state of limbo due to the ban. I sympathise with their situation, but the sad truth is that government policy must by necessity paint with a broad brush. I suspect Trump is once again using high-pressure tactics, wielding popular reactions to the ban as an instrument to exact concessions from the hard left and the hard right. Scott Adams has more information here. In the coming days and months, I will not be surprised if the Trump Administration or the federal agencies roll out a raft of exemptions and screening recommendations, making Trump appear more reasonable.

But only up to a point. If Trump is going to deliver on his promise to Make America Great Again, there will be much more stringent screening measures in the near future, if not an outright ban on almost all refugees. And this will prevent a clash of civilisations.

Inconvenient Facts about ‘Refugees’

In November 2015, Michael Cernovich of Danger and Play decided to find the ground truth about the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Traveling to Budapest, he documented his findings here. He discovered that most of the refugees were able-bodied young men, and were taught how to lie and where to go to receive the most benefits.

Why are these male refugees in Europe instead of fighting the Islamic State?

That should tell you something about the refugees. Here are three things the media won’t tell you about them.

  1. Most of the refugees are not refugees.

When you think of ‘refugees’, you tend to think of women, children and elderly fleeing from a war zone. That is not the case here. At least 60% of these refugees are economic migrants. This dovetails well with Cernovich’s findings about refugees being taught to game the system. They are not running from Daesh; they are attempting to take advantage of Europe’s generous welfare states. And ‘activists’ are aiding and abetting them in doing so.

  1. Most of these refugees are functionally illiterate

65% of incoming refugees from Syria are unable to read or write their own language. 70% of trainees in skills training courses for refugees have dropped out. And yet they are settling in a distant land that speaks a different language and embraces different cultural values. Most of these refugees do not have the skills to contribute meaningfully to their host nation; all they can do is simple menial labour.

If these were ‘regular’ refugees, this would not be a problem. They would simply stay in refugee camps until the war is over, then go home. But many of them are economic migrants. Their goal is to stay in their host nation. If they want to stay, they must contribute to society like regular citizens do. But if most of them cannot contribute, why should they be allowed to stay?

  1. Arab refugees are radically different from their host nations

People are not blank slates. Refugees are no different. They come from Arabic-speaking Muslim-majority lands with barely functional and highly corrupt authoritarian formergovernments. They expect despotism and nepotism everywhere, and their societies tend to be organised along tribal lines with strong religious influences. Democracy, civil rights and separation of church and state are unknown to them, and indeed fundamentally incompatible with the cultural values of their homelands.

They will experience massive culture shock in the West, and most of them will be unable to integrate meaningfully into society. They will be unable to communicate with ordinary Westerners. They will not be able to find work. They will have to acclimatise to a different climate. They will be surrounded by people with vastly different political and cultural norms. This is the recipe for a clash of civilisations.

Samuel Huntington argues in The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Orderthat the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War era will centre on religious and cultural identities. Peoples at the borders of distinct civilisations will clash with each other to secure dominance of their own culture and religion. And so far, Europe has proven Huntington right.

Sweden is now the rape capital of the West. Migrant gangs prowl the streets of Europe, enforcing shariah law and committing crimes. Germany has experienced a rash of sex attacks by migrants, and authorities are excusing rape culture. And now, the hard right is mobilising in numbers.

It seems to me that the Trump Administration has learned from Europe. It is a small miracle there haven’t been any major terrorist attacks in the United States yet, but large numbers of poorly-screened refugees and migrants are fertile grounds for terrorism. The implementation of more robust screening measures would ideally keep out the terrorist- and criminally inclined. An outright ban on most or all future refugees would eliminate the chance of a clash of civilisations, either now or in the future.

Muslim Refugees are not (European) Jewish Refugees

Inevitably someone will compare the Muslim refugees to Jewish refugees during World War II. This is a false comparison.

The Jewish refugees were European Jews. They were raised in modern states with modern education systems. They share the same cultural norms as the rest of the West, such as democracy, secularism and civil liberties. While they might have linguistic difficulties, they had valuable skills and had an innate understanding of public norms and codes of conduct in their new lands. Most importantly, the Jews did not remain refugees. After the war, they tended to do one of three things. They legally immigrated into their new countries, returned to their homelands, or emigrated to Israel.

Refugee status is not a permanent status. Once the crisis is over, they either assimilate or return home. On the other hand, many of the refugees flooding Europe have no intention of assimilating or returning.

However, there is one similarity between the Jews and the Arab refugees. The Jewish refugee crisis was solved by the destruction of the Third Reich. Similarly, the Arab refugee crisis can be solved through a similar way.

Strike the Root

The solution to the Arab refugee crisis is not to invite even more refugees and trigger a clash of civilisations. It is to strike the root of evil.

To be sure, genuine refugees do need help. Nobody should have to live at the mercy of Daesh, warlords or terrorists. But transporting them across the sea to a faraway land with vastly incompatible languages and norms is not the answer. Not when nearby countries with similar norms and languages can help. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has enough tents to house 3 million refugees. Similarly, these countries have functional governments with militaries capable of fending off terrorist incursions. Moving refugees to safe zones in neighbouring nations is cheaper, safer and faster than moving them to the West, and will not provoke an inter-civilisational conflict. Indeed, Donald Trump has secured an agreement from Saudi Arabia and Dubai to establish safe zones. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump implements a permanent travel ban alongside deportations to these safe zones.

With refugees secure, the nations of the world can focus their attention on destroying Daesh and other armed groups causing havoc in the region, and restoring law and order to these lands. And this is not something the West can take a lead in.

While America can supply the firepower needed to destroy the Islamic State in the field, this is not enough to win the peace. Eventually the power brokers must sit down and hash out long-term arrangements for a stable and peaceful society. The West must not take the leading role in such negotiations and state-building measures. This will be seen as imperialism and an attempt to impose their will. Instead, states from within the Islamic civilisation, such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai, will have to take charge. Their shared culture and religion will improve the chances of successful negotiations and long-term outcomes. What the West can do is play the role of honest broker, ensure all sides play fair, and pressure the key players to keep returning to the negotiating table until they find a win-win solution.

Donald Trump’s travel ban is not necessarily the best solution, but it might well be the least bad policy — for now. Trump must avoid inciting a clash of civilisations in America, and that means keeping out the people most likely to foment such a clash. Going forward, I expect Trump to roll back the ban and incorporate new screening measures and exemptions. But to properly solve the refugee crisis once and for all, Daesh and other warlords must be destroyed and replaced with stable states — and that is something the West should not play a leading role in.

Media credits:

  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/comments/4ao8b7/who_of_you_did_this_trump_is_now_officially_god/
  2. Mike Cernovich, Danger and Play, 2015
  3. Uri Dan, To the Promised Land, 1987 (Public Domain)
  4. http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-destroy-islamic-state/

Tired Tropes: The Potato Protagonist

If a potato has more personality than the protagonist of a story, the writer is doing it wrong.

The best stories are driven by their characters. The best characters aren’t two-dimensional constructs of excessive verbiage, but a reflection and amplification of the myriad facets of humanity. Characters must resonate with readers, acting, talking and thinking the way people in their situation would do. Shaped by their background, genes, personality and networks, these characters take on a life of their own, and in doing so become distinct people in their own.

Character creation is complex. The more complicated and technical a person is, the more likely a creator will make a mistake somewhere, creating a false note that jars a reader’s sensibilities. If there are too many mistakes, or if the mistake were too serious, the reader would drop the story there and then. Creators must give their all when building characters; at the very least they must try their best. But the ones who reach for the potato protagonist don’t even try.

The potato protagonist is as blank as a potato and has the personality of one. Everything about him is dull, flat and humdrum. His skills, backgrounds and talents don’t matter; his core is empty, his thoughts and behaviours utterly predictable by anyone familiar with standard storytelling tropes. There is nothing about him that makes him stand out from other protagonists, nothing that draws and retain the reader’s attention.

A classic example of the trop is Ichijo Raku of Nisekoi. Ichijo is allegedly the son of a yakuza family at odds with a rival gang. To prevent a gang war, Ichijo must pretend to date the daughter of the rival gang boss, Chitoge Kirisaki, during his high school years. This couldhave been a fascinating setup, but the creator wasted the potential of the main character.

(Unmarked spoilers ahead!)

Ichijo’s background has minimal influence on him. He is supposed to be the heir of a nation-spanning yakuza group, with an army of servants at his command and a fortune to his name. But from the get-go he spurns the notion of inheriting the group, and insists on getting an ordinary job in the real world. This is a thin excuse to explain how and why he goes to a regular school, but this falls flat.

Someone who grew up surrounded by wealth, luxury and (allegedly) murderous yakuza acts, talks and thinks differently from a regular person. He would have a cavalier attitude towards money and possessions, yet he would act and talk with grace and refinement. He would be mindful to act in a way that would not bring dishonour to his family, because the yakuza are allowed to exist only because of the goodwill they have built in their community, and because in the underworld, careless words leads to deadly violence. He would have been groomed to study people, keep track of favours and relationships, network with the children of the rich and powerful, and influence people. Depending on how violent the underworld is at that time, he would also have trained in martial arts and learned how to use illegal weapons.

Instead, Ichijou comes off as an ordinary high school boy. Indeed, his background is almost never referenced until a story arc demands it. For much of the story, you can replace ‘scion of a powerful yakuza family’ with ‘ordinary high school student’ and it would not affect him one bit. Ichijou fits the mold of Bland Shounen Harem Protagonist to a T. Nothing about Ichijou makes him stand out from any of the thousands of high school student protagonists out there…except for his utter inability to notice how the girls around him feel about him until the manga draws to a close.

Fundamentally, the potato protagonist is not meant to uphold a story. He exists to solve a marketing problem.

The primary target audience of shounen anime and manga are Japanese high school boys. The easiest way to reach out to them is to have a protagonist that vaguely reflects them andallows them to project themselves into the character. By granting the main character the personality of a potato, the audience has an empty vessel to pour their own unique selves into.

The same applies to other audiences of other categories. Want to write a trashy romance story for women? Create a blank ordinary everywoman. Drawing a shoujo manga? Have a fluffy emotional girl as the protagonist and a cool, handsome boy as the love interest. Writing a men’s action adventure novel? Make the protagonist a cold killer and play up the guts and gore.

The Potato Protagonist is easy, but writing is about truth, and most of the time, when employed this trope does not reflect the truth of the world. High school students do not embark on grand adventures; at least not without coming through unchanged. People do not exist to reflect the quirks and desires of other people.

And for characters to be realistic, they must pass as people.

The Potato Protagonist Done Right

(Mass Effect 3 wallpaper, http://www.hdwallpapers.in/female_shepard_in_mass_effect_3-wallpapers.html)

The point of Tired Tropes is not to deride a targeted trope, but to see how it can be employed effectively. And even potato protagonists can be redeemed.

Potatoes are bland lumps. They absorb the flavor of the foods, spices and oils they are cooked with. They can be steamed, fried, boiled, stewed, roasted, grilled or microwaved. They can be cooked as is or cut up into different shapes. This essential malleability is key to properly understanding this trope.

Potato Protagonists lend themselves well to choice-driven games, especially role playing games. The point of such games is to allow the player to shape his experience in the game world with the protagonist as his vehicle. As such, a protagonist without any unwanted baggage is excellent — the player is free to act however he likes within the confines of the game, without having to experience dissonance between a protagonist’s actions and his supposed background.

Where the protagonist does have a backstory, the intelligent developer would find ways to integrate that backstory into the overall choice mechanic to create a deeper gameplay experience. In Mass Effect, the player is free to customise his own Commander Shepherd , and can choose between three separate backgrounds. But these backgrounds exist independently of the player’s choice. If the player wants to play a Shepherd who ordered a massacre but later regretted his actions and is trying to be a better person, he can. if the player wants to play a Shepherd who survived a slave raid by hostile aliens, propelling him to become a ferocious war hero and twisting him into a ruthless xenophobe, he can. In games that allow players to deeply customise their experiences and see themselves as active participants in the story events, the potato protagonist is unmatched.

In print media, a potato protagonist is also acceptable…if he does not remain one. Events change people. Stories change characters. The reader must be able to compare a character at the beginning of the story with his future self and see how much he has changed. A potato protagonist facilitates character development, since there is no fear of violating established background or character regression. This also has the effect of making character development appear more obvious to the reader.

An example of this is Rosario + Vampire. Aono Tsukune is an ordinary high school boy who accidentally gets enrolled in a high school for monsters. Predatory monsters who feed on humans and who are learning how to blend into human society, starting with magic that makes them appear human. His innate humanity attracts the attention of a group of monster girls, leading to harem hijinks.

Not.

The story begins as a generic Monster of the Week manga. Then the creator delves into each character’s personal life, creating opportunities for drama and character bonding and deconstructing the Unwanted Harem trope. Soon, villains appear, threatening the fragile peace between humans and monsters, and targeting Tsukune and his friends. Tsukune, in turn, resolves to help his newfound friends and love interest, and embarks special training to grow stronger. At the start of the series, Tsukune is a high school boy well over his head, desperately trying not to be unmasked as an actual human; by the final arc of the second season, Tsukune stands alongside his friends to save humanity from a monster terrorist organisation.

Personally, I dislike potato protagonists. Such characters hold little appeal to me, and it takes a great deal of work for me to continue putting up with them longer than an hour. That is usually because they aren’t understood and employed properly. But done right, they can become icons in their own right. Case in point: Commander Shepherd.

The potato protagonist is the quintessential blank slate. In choice-driven games, he is a vessel for the player to shape his experiences. In fixed stories, he has maximum potential for evolution and development, pushing the story to greater heights. In both cases, the protagonist changes into someone better.

A potato protagonist is not enjoyed raw; he must be prepared and cooked through the events of the story. Or, like a raw potato, he could poison the reader and turn off the reader permanently.

The Rhetoric of Provocation and Offense

There are many people in the world who will not be persuaded by reason, and even the most rational humans can be swayed with the right emotional leverage. For years the Left has utilised outrage to dominate the political arena. Now the Right is taking up the same tactics, especially the New Right of America. Case in point: Ann Coulter.

Feel the rage? The pleasure? The amusement? Whatever you are feeling now, let it pass through you. When your heart is calm again, read on.

Coulter’s tweet was deliberate. With that one statement, she addressed three separate audiences, with vastly different reactions.

Her first audience are the people who oppose her. A tweet like that impinges on their beliefs and values, triggering outrage and denouncements. Indeed, the hate-fest on that tweet was epic, even by Twitter standards. That tweet would forever alienate this audience.

But what kind of people will get offended over the use of rape as a rhetorical device? People who sympathise with the plight of illegal immigrants, oppose Donald Trump and his policies, and Social Justice Warriors and progressives of every stripe. In other words: people who would never agree with Coulter’s views no matter what. If she is not concerned about their opinion of her, Coulter incurs no cost in offending them.

The second audience are the people who support her. These people support Donald Trump, agree with his proposal to build the wall, and believe illegal immigration is a scourge. They will support every argument against illegal immigration, no matter how emotional or contrived. This is Coulter’s core audience.

Most of them are regular people who despise rape. In their perception, Coulter’s tweet engineered a subconscious connection between illegal immigration and rape. And Trump’s supporters would be well-primed with facts and statistics pointing to the number of illegal immigrants who are gangsters, drug dealers, murderers and rapists. This tweet activated their sense of moral righteousness, triggering feelings of camaraderie and the pleasure of finding a fellow traveler. Coulter’s tweet spoke to the hearts and minds of this audience, and continues to resonate with them.

The third audience are the people who can view the subject dispassionately. They either do not have a stake in the situation, or are able to step back and view the exchange for what it is: an allegory reflecting the absurdity of the original statement. These are the people Coulter would like to win over — but it is a bonus, not her primary objective.

These people can’t be classified into a homogenous mass. Their politics span the entire political spectrum. Their values and morals are equally diverse. Some may appreciate her use of rhetoric; others will be turned off by her talk of rape. But more than a few will use the discussion as a springboard to further examine the issue and investigate Coulter. And they will learn that Coulter correctly predicted the rise of trump, while the sitting Mexican President has one of the lowest approval ratings in history (12%), has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, cracked down on dissenters, allowed the growth of crime and violence, and engaged in a multitude of reforms that weakened the rights of labourers while consolidating power in the hands of the oligarchs. If Coulter manages to convert any of these thinkers to her point of view, she has profited from the tweet.

This strategy of provocation works on three levels. By speaking to her core audience, she maintains and grows her support base. By offending those would be offended anyway, she gets them to blast her tweet far and wide and reach a greater audience, effectively manipulating them to do her work for her. By prodding the non-partisans, she sways who she can to her perspective, generating buzz that keeps the momentum going.

Let’s examine her tweets at the macro level. These are her tweets before her provocative tweet.

These are the ones after (excluding her retweet of Donald Trump).

Notice the sharp uptick in replies, retweets, and likes. Before the tweet, she had an average of 237 replies, 838 retweets and 3300 likes for her past three tweets. After the tweet, the average shot up to 533 replies, 2566 retweets and 7066 likes for her next three tweets.

But that’s not all. In the following three tweets, there is an average of 376 replies, 1086 retweets and 3666 likes. While the momentum generated by the rhetoric tweet is dropping off, the average numbers of replies, retweets and likes are still higher than before the tweet. When Coulter sees her numbers drop below a given threshold, I predict she will say something offensive again, and keep her base growing.

People are drawn to drama. Rhetoric provokes conflict and conflict leads to drama. On social media, retweets and likes are the lifeblood of public figures. They provide a gauge of how that person’s ideas are viewed. Replies are secondary — almost nobody has the time and energy to go through hundreds of responses. The retweets and likes are a rough-and-ready measure for everyone else to see how well-liked and socially-acceptable a tweet is, creating a bandwagon effect that recruits more people to their point of view.

There are many people who insist on decorum and reason — in other words, dialectic. These are nice sentiments, but social media is not the place for dialectic. Every social media platform is designed for entertainment and consumption. Twitter has a hard limit of 140 characters. Gab offers 300. Facebook emphasises one-liners with larger fonts and hides longer statements. Social media is not inherently designed for the rigorous arguments and logical thought processes required to properly deliver dialectic. That is the province of books, blogs, websites, speeches, podcasts, videos and debates — but not text-based social media.

Man is not a rational animal, but a rationalising one. After deciding his values and ideas he will invent reasons to justify his faith in them. To make this work for you. you must trigger a powerful emotional response linked to a specific idea. This will sway someone to your side, making him more receptive to follow-on arguments — if he will not create his own arguments.

The key players of the Alt-Right and the New Right understand this. They know the Left, especially the Control-Left, has used this strategy for years without fail. They scorn the Old Right who refuse to use such tactics in the age of Twitter and Tumblr; by refusing to adapt the Old Right has conceded the culture war to the Control-Left. The New Right, with the Alt-Right as their vanguard, is turning the Left’s tactics against them. The rise of the New Right, with Trump as their God Emperor, reaffirms their use of provocative and offensive rhetoric. They will continue to rely on such rhetoric while taking measures against the real-world consequences of uttering fighting words.

The culture war is upon us, and offensive rhetoric is the weapon of choice. Understand this, or be swept away by the inexorable forces of history, politics and human nature.

Three Essential Mindset Books for the Modern Man

There are three books every modern man must read today. These books are not for the faint of heart or weak of will. They are not soothing feel-good diatribes designed only to part your money from your wallet. These books are forges for the soul, created to scrub away your weaknesses and temper your spirit for greatness. If you desire to live a high energy life of accomplishment and greatness, these books are for you.

Gorilla Mindset

Mike Cernovich is an author and independent filmmaker. A lawyer by training, he blogs at Danger and Play, and is one of the world’s most successful mindset writers. Among his many achievements, he accurately predicted the rise of Donald Trump, produced the critically acclaimed documentary Silenced: The War on Free Speech and wrote one of the best-selling nonfiction book on Amazon. That book is Gorilla Mindset.

Gorilla Mindset is more than just a mindset book. It is a workbook chock-full of exercises for mind, body and spirit. These exercises are designed to bring out your fullest potential by developing proper posture, deep breathing, mental flexibility and more. The heart of Gorilla Mindset is to develop a mindset that allows you to take on the challenges and chaos of the world — and thrive.

While Gorilla Mindset focuses on instilling mindfulness and a positive mindset, it covers a broad range of topics: health, nutrition, emotions, fitness and more. Cernovich recognises that the mind, body and spirit are intertwined: to bring out your best, you need to improve all three aspects of your existence. The book also has interviews with subject matter experts, delving into the science behind some of the more esoteric principles discussed in the book.

Gorilla Mindset isn’t just for men. While it is targeted at men, anyone can apply the same principles to living. This is a book for everyone, accessible to anybody motivated to kick their life into high gear.

Gorilla Mindset can be purchased here.

New World Ronin

Written by Nick Kelly (aka Victor Pride) of Bold and Determined, New World Ronin is a handbook of hard-won wisdom, aimed at artists, entrepreneurs, rebels, warriors and outcasts. B&D focuses on building up men to become masters of their destiny. Both blog and novel are unapologetic about their core audience: men who desire to escape the humdrum of 9-to-5 life and become online entrepreneurs.

New World Ronin is a lean, mean book of principles. Delivered in a direct, no-nonsense style, it delivers hard-hitting advice on a plethora of subjects: the right mindset to be a winner, works of genius versus work that maintains business, how to be a professional creator in the modern world, and so on. Every line is crisp and brusque, filled with just enough information to spur the wise reader to read between the lines and live his advice.

More focused than Gorilla Mindset, this is a book that drives readers to cultivate a mindset of success. While there are many practical tips in here, there is only one major exercise in the book. Most of the work here is mental, demanding the reader to view the world through a specific mental paradigm and act to achieve his goals.

As Kelly says, do not overthink it. The genius behind New World Ronin can only be fully experienced when acted upon. It is not a book for deep meditation; it is a book that demands you to act, to seek out what he saw, and become the kind of man to seize the reigns of destiny.

New World Ronin can be purchased here.

The Nine Laws

The Nine Laws is a book that will be remembered through the ages. But it is not for everyone.

The author, Ivan Throne, is a man of action and achievement. He is a martial artist with over three decades’ of training in ninjutsu. He is a business manager and a veteran of the financial industry. He is a public speaker and writer nonpareil. He is also the writer behind Dark Triad Man, a blog that teaches men how to apply the dark triad of Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism to achieve success. In The Nine Laws, he describes the nine laws that govern existence, and discusses how a man can utilise the traits of the dark triad to leverage these laws and achieve success in a brutal, uncaring world.

The Nine Laws is not a book to be skimmed over. Every paragraph, every line, every word, must be studied and mined to the depths of meaning. Throne writer in a highly baroque style. Combining powerful rhetoric and impactful vocabulary, the book demands you to use both the logical thinking of your left brain and the intuitive leaps of your right. Seldom does Throne go into explicit detail; either you grasp the meaning of his words immediately or you do not. While I found his writing understandable, I should add that when I was younger I read Friedrich Nietzsche for fun — his style might not be for you.

The Nine Laws is a book of transformation, but it is not merely a mindset book. Read deeper and you will see how it combines Christian doctrine with Taoism, Ninpo and Buddhism. It coldly and unflinchingly describes the state of the world and the fallen nature of Man, and how you can live in accordance with the Will of Heaven. Karma is an everyday reality, to be understood and utilised for one’s ends. To live in such a world, you must have a strong spirit, and to have a strong spirit, you must train your body and master your mind. The Nine Laws will show you how. Filled with mental exercises, it demands the reader to hold up a mirror to his life, identify his weaknesses and strip them bare. Then, naked before the world, he must forge mind, body and spirit into the apex of mastery.

The Nine Laws is a masterwork of philosophy and personal transcendence. It is not for everyone. But it is a book the world needs at this stage in history.

The Nine Laws can be purchased here.

Uniting the Trinity

View these books as steps on a spiralling staircase, taking you from mundane life to an elevated state of existence. They are not books to be read, but advice to be acted on. Once you have exhausted one, move on to the next, and when you have completed the last, go back to the beginning and plumb it again for more insight.

Start with Gorilla Mindset. Its combination of practical advice, coverage of the mind-body-spirit unity, and accessible language makes it ideal as the foundation for a dedicated self-improvement plan. If there is only one book you can read, read this one. It is broad base upon which you can build a platform to explore other aspects of life.

New World Ronin is next. While targeted at a very specific group, it shows you the mindset of winners and creators. You may not have any desire to be an Internet entrepreneur, but his approach of taking life by the horns is critical to achieving the apex of success wherever you go.

Last of all is The Nine Laws. it is the equivalent of a graduate text. It offers no workable advice for mundane matters like gym, dieting and martial arts. It will not tell you how to shape your life like an entrepreneur, if indeed you want to be one. Its attention is on more rarefied subjects, delving into the nature of man and existence. The exercises here are all psychological and spiritual, and require you to think hard and deep.

Taken together, these books form a trinity of transcendence for the modern man. If you are not content with where you are now, if you strive to achieve greatness and immortality, if you seek to emulate magnates and join the ranks of the Caesars of the world, you owe it to yourself to study these books.

The Boston Tea Party and the Washington Riots are Not the Same

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery attempted to draw moral equivalency between the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots.

They are not the same. I can’t tell if it’s willful ignorance of history or deliberate distortion of the record, but when dealing with the far left, there is no difference.

By drawing comparisons to the Boston Tea Party, the Left is attempting to legitise wanton acts of destruction and rioting. They are attempting to create a narrative to justify future riots, the same kind of riots seen in Ferguson and Baltimore. But the Tea Party is not the same as a riot.

The Boston Tea Party


(W.D. Cooper. Boston Tea Party., The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving. Plate opposite p. 58. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

The primary target of the Boston Tea Party was the East India Company, a government-granted monopoly that benefited directly from the Tea Act passed by King George.

When the Sons of Liberty boarded the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver they destroyed the tea — and only the tea. They did not sink the ships. They did not attack the crew. They did not lay waste to the port.

It was a deliberate, focused act of violence aimed at property, with a government-linked monopoly as the primary target and the government itself as the secondary target. It did not involve anyone who was not a beneficiary of the Tea Act. Even so, the Sons of Liberty — and everybody else, including their allies and sympathisers — recognised that the protest itself was illegal. The colonial government did not suppress the Tea Party because the colonial government supported the cause, not because the protest was legal.

The Boston Tea Party itself was the culmination of decades of colonial frustration with the British government. The colonials believed it was not fair for King George to levy taxes on the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament. They saw King George and Parliament as remote rulers far removed from the goings-on in their lands, utilising taxes and the Regulars to keep the colonials in check. Despite decades of arguments, London did not budge. Taxation without representation was the order of the day. When the Tea Act passed, it undercut the livelihoods of colonial tea merchants while propping up a government monopoly on the brink of collapse. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Black Blocs of Washington

Now contrast this with the riots in Washington, fronted by the infamous Black Bloc.

This is in no way comparable to the Tea Party. The Tea Party did not deliberately attack people. The Washington rioters attacked police officers, and smashed windows and torched cars belonging to private businesses and individuals unaffiliated with President Donald Trump or the Federal government.

Disrupt J20 was an excuse to indulge in random acts of gratuitous violence. The rioters didn’t target anyone or anything belonging to Trump or his administration. They simply attacked ordinary Americans who live in a city that overwhelmingly voted against Trump, a President who has not done significant anything yet.

Think about that: the progressives, anarchists, antifascists and other groups were attacking their own supporters, in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Instead of peaceful protests and petitions in a nation known for responding to such methods, the rioters indulged in violence.

The Washington riots had far more to do with the Stamp Act riots than the Tea Party. And the Stamp Act rioters, it should be remembered, were so destructive that the Founding Fathers sought to distance themselves from them.

The Slippery Slope

To be fair, the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots have one thing in common: they were both acts of political violence.

Political violence rots the body politic. It is an irrevocable step towards chaos and bloodshed. Mob violence signals to everyone that the political process has failed, and it is time to unleash the beasts within. History tells us that mob violence is the death of liberty, democracy and civilisation. From the fall of the Roman Republic to Byzantium during the Imperial Exile, the French Terror to the Cultural Revolution, mob violence is a symptom of coming chaos.

The Boston Tea Party irrevocably led to the American Revolutionary War. America looks fondly upon the Tea Party today because America won the war. Had the British won, the textbooks and the popular narratives would be far different indeed.

The Washington riots allow Progressives to tell themselves that mob violence is acceptable, and a preferred tactic in future controversies. But this is a delusion. The riots also tell the Hard Right what to expect when the Progressives come for them.

I have seen discussions of armaments and tactics among the militant right. They are ready and willing to inflict bloodshed on a scale beyond what the Left can dream of. The Left calls for gun control, safe spaces and feminism; the Right believes in gun ownership, training and preparation. The Progressives may bring boots and clubs and stones; the Hard Right will wield AR-15s and Molotov cocktails and IEDs.

If the culture war goes hot, who do you think will win?

Martial Analysis: Mindset

Before the first punch is thrown, the fight is won and lost in the mind.

There are many, many instructors out there discussing a plethora of techniques and drilling down into the finer points of how to properly employ them. There are likewise many teachers who stress timing, footwork and distance. Technique, timing, footwork and distance are important martial skills, but they all rest on the assumption that you are psychologically ready for the fight. If you cannot match your mindset to the moment, no amount of fancy shuffling and technique can save you.

Try this exercise. Go to the middle of the most crowded place in your area, find a target, and ram your fingers into his eyes. No warning, no hesitation, just walk up to him and strike.

Can’t do it?

That makes you part of the vast majority of regular people out there. And that is fine. Most humans are hardwired to feel empathy for other humans. This allows people to cooperate and reduce the likelihood of conflicts flaring up into merciless battles to the death. In everyday life, there simply isn’t a need to switch off your ability to empathise with someone and go ballistic.

But a fight is not everyday life.

Professional athletes have it easier. They know the date and place of their next match, and sometimes their opponent. They have weeks, months, even years to train. As the day and hour approaches, they can pump themselves up, visualise themselves performing at their best, and mentally prepare for the fight.

Combat is nowhere near like that.

Nobody will warn you that they are going to attack you. Regular people won’t have a crystal ball that tells them when they will be attacked. All people can do is read the people and the environment around them. If you’re lucky, you get a monkey dance, with the participants working themselves up into throwing the first punch. If you’re not, you’ll get a blitz.

Being on the receiving end of a blitz is scary. The attack is close and sudden and hard and fast. You’ll have little to no time to react to everything coming in. The attacker will overwhelm you with screaming, constant forward pressure, attacks from multiple angles, shutting down your ability to respond. With so much going on, the mind shuts down. Everything does blank. You freeze.

And you die.

The Stranger in the Park

Many years ago, I was returning home from a writers’ gathering. It was late at night and I was heading for the train station. I decided to walk through a nearby park. It was well-lit, but the hedges and the plants and trees isolated me from the world. Deeper into the park, I sat down at a bench to take in the world. I looked around.

And saw him.

A tall, dark individual strolling down the path. The only path in and out of the area I was in, so narrow I couldn’t create distance. I glanced at him and felt the weight of his gaze on me. I looked down. He was still staring at me.

I stood up. Got out my phone.

Walked towards him.

As I approached I kept him in my peripheral vision, ready to trigger on sudden movements. I moved slowly and casually, but kept a tight grip on my phone. I readied myself to drive it into his throat if I had to. I took deep oxygenating breaths and readied myself.

We approached.

We brushed past each other.

Nothing happened. I left the park and headed for the train station.

Fortunately for everyone involved, nothing happened. But if he had attacked me, I would have been ready.

There was only one exit and no witnesses. When the person appeared, I decided I couldn’t leave from the other side. It would place my back to him, and a determined aggressor could run up behind me and strike. I decided I had to face him head-on to give myself a fighting chance.

I readied a tool, reconciled myself to the possibility of combat, and faced the danger zone head on. I had prepared myself for combat, and readied to strike at the first sign of imminent danger. And when I determined that violence was not called for, I calmed myself and left.

That is mindset. The readiness and willingness to respond if necessary, and the ability to step down when it is not.

Developing Mindset

For most of your life, there is a high chance you would have been raised to be a fine, upstanding citizen. Obey the law, follow directions, talk civilly, try to reason with people and so on. These are outstanding traits, but they only apply to regular life. Combat is not regular life. You must be prepared to harm people so quickly and brutally that they cannot do the same to you. It requires seeing them not as human beings but as harmful threats to be ended, like particularly dangerous cattle for the slaughter. If you apply the mindset of a civilised person in the toxic brew of combat, you will die.

The first step to developing a warrior’s mindset is to give yourself permission to attack. Reconcile yourself to the possibility that you may one day be robbed, assaulted, raped, stabbed or shot for any number of arbitrary reasons. Run yourself down a list of potential scenarios: a carjacking, a mugging, a home invasion, and ask yourself how you would respond.

Be honest with yourself.

Would you be willing to gouge eyes and rip throats if someone was trying to rob you? What if that person decided taking your stuff wasn’t enough, and escalated to rape and murder? What if a drug-addled home invader broke in late at night and went after your children?

What would you fight for? What would you kill for? And, most of all, what would you not fight or kill for?

The answers to these questions tell you what techniques you are willing to apply when under pressure. This is not about what you can physically do, but what you allow yourself to do. You may, for instance, be confronted with a pistol-wielding terrorist about to execute you. Your body may be physically capable of stripping the gun and turning it on him, but if you are so afraid or so unwilling to harm him that you won’t do it, techniques are moot.

You must give yourself permission to defend yourself and your loved ones in a critical event. If you do not, your brain will hang up and everybody will be at risk. Most of all, yourself.

The Eyes of a Predator

Armed with these answers, go forth and look at the world around you with the eyes of a predator. Identify blind spots and opportunities to set up ambushes. Look for choke points and kill zones where prey must funnel through. Look for signs that forbid people from defending themselves and see how you can circumvent local defences.

Observe the people around you. Are they fit or flabby? Do they have their heads up and scanning or their heads down and staring at screens? Are they listening to everything around them or are they listening to loud music pumping through their headphones? Who seems capable of defending themselves and who will not be?

This is how a predator looks at the world. This is how they will assess you and the environment. With this information, go one step further. Think about how you can bypass or observe these kill zones. Ask yourself if you really have to pass through danger areas, and if so, how you can minimise your exposure. See how you comport yourself with the eyes of a predator and ask if you are an easy mark. And if so, how you can change your behaviours and posture to be less of one?

Do not be where the danger is. That is the essence of self-defence. But if danger finds you anyway, you need to deal with it.

The Gravest Extreme

When faced with a blitz, it’s easy for most people to go, Oh my God I’m gonna die!

They flinch, get their hands up, rear away, and be bowled over. If they are lucky they can flail their arms and get off a few ineffectual ‘attacks’. But they are not ready, and they will lose.

When faced with sudden violence, your first response must be, FIGHT!

When training, this is how you should think and act. Respond to aggression with aggression. The goal is to survive and end the threat right now. He does not get a turn, he never gets a turn. You take him down and move on.

There are two ways most martial arts achieve this. The first is to cultivate raw aggression. When the adrenaline hits, you burn it to induce a ferocious rage. You charge the attack and wipe out the attacker before he can respond. This is the hallmark of many hard or ‘external’ styles, such as Krav Maga or Muay Thai. The second is to become cold and implacable, riding the adrenaline rush to eliminate the threat, utilising the calm to employ more sophisticated techniques and tactics. Many internal martial arts like Tai Chi and Systema use a lot of breathing and relaxation work to achieve this.

The former is like a relentless wildfire, burning down everything in its path. The latter is a black hole, consuming all. In either case, the ideal is to transcend your ordinary human experience and become the avatar of a force of destruction.

Remember that all techniques flow from mindset. If you are not ready to destroy your opponent, but he is willing to destroy you, the only question is whether you are going to the hospital or the morgue.

Now the difficult part: you have to know when to back off.

The law only allows for reasonable force to defend yourself. Gratuitous violence will be punished with criminal charges. And you have to live with what you have done. It is well and good to work yourself up into a all-destroying rage, but you must be able to calm down immediately or face the consequences.

Putting It All Together

Training technique is well and good, but if you are training for combat you must also develop a combative mindset.

Understand your personality and ethics. What would you fight for? What are you willing to do to your enemy under what circumstances? When you fight, are you the kind to become a wildfire or a black hole? When training, focus on techniques, combinations and tactics that suit your mindset best.

When training solo, visualise yourself being attacked out of the blue. Train your mind to go FIGHT! when the scenario begins and unload on the attacker. If you have friends, role-play scenarios as realistically as you can, and go as hard and as fast as possible. Don’t throw halfhearted attacks and blocks; do go full power if you safely can. Best of all, get safety gear and bang it out. Be dynamic and noncompliant: the attacker should respond realistically, looking for holes to counter the counterattack. Embody the ferocity you need in a safe environment.

When training, learn to escalate and de-escalate. Be cognizant of what your moves to the threat and the legal consequences thereof. If you’ve knocked out an adversary, stomping his ankle is illegal. But if he gets up despite the damage and his friends are rushing in, the ankle stomp is necessary. Train for both events. Train yourself to go hard when you must in the face of continued resistance, and to stop when the threat is no longer a threat.

All deeds flow from mindset. The human body can employ a veritable arsenal of techniques. But to use them effectively, you must give yourself permission to defend yourself.

Bonus for Writers

If you are a writer, look at your characters’ experiences, background and personalities. Apply the above ideas and concepts to them. What is violence to them? Something outside everyday experience? A possibility they must prepare for? Something they have only experienced in combat? Or part of their job?

The more familiar and intimate they are with violence, the more likely they will have developed a predatory mindset. For violence professionals — soldiers, cops, hired killers — it is mandatory when on the job. This mindset manifests in behaviours and actions: an abundance of caution and wariness, constant scanning, walking in circles to detect tails, carrying concealed weapons, body positioning to be ready for violence. Other characters experienced in violence will notice these tails and react accordingly.

What you want to do is to have your characters act and talk in line with their training and lived experience. A combat veteran should not act like a clueless civilian, a professional criminal will find ways to carry weapons on him when necessary, and a sniper would scan windows and high-rises everywhere he goes. If a character’s deeds are not consistent with his described expertise, it leads to cognitive dissonance and creates the impression of weak writing.

Any dissonance should be deliberate on your part. For instance, if you have a civilian scanning rooms and people like a pro, it’s a sign that he’s not what he seems. Similarly, someone reputed to be a heavy hitter may decide to act carelessly to lure his enemies into a trap. Dissonance must be justified to believed.

When in combat, one way to differentiate between characters is the emotions and the mentality they bring to the table. A berserker will charge the enemy in a combat high, disregarding danger. Soldiers and tactical units will work together to overwhelm the enemy. A more calculating sort would analyse the situation and strike accordingly. Understand how a character’s experience, training and personality intersect and manifest in their deeds. This allows you to make different characters distinct in a reader’s eyes.

Further Reading

I am not speaking ex cathedra and I am no expert. This post is just an overview; it is not a be-all and end-all guide. For more information, please read Rory Miller’s Facing Violence andForce Decisions, and Kelly McCann’s Combatives for Street Survival.

For another post on mindset, read Dark Triad Man’s post here.

To learn how criminals think, see No Nonsense Self Defense here.

Get Up and Ruck

Life is not lived sitting down behind a screen. Life is lived outside at the edge of your comfort zone, at the borders of your day-to-day experience. When everyday life grinds down your soul, when you weary of staying indoors and experiencing the same routine over and over again, there is a simple solution.

Get up and ruck.

Rucking is simple. Carry weight on your back and go out for a walk. Go solo or go with friends. Go as far and as fast as you can. The important thing is to get moving and keep moving.

To go rucking, you just need two things: a ruck and a destination. When preparing for a ruck, you need to manage your weight and bulk. Pack everything you will need first, followed by everything you may have to use in an emergency, and lastly things that are nice to have but not necessary. In the above photograph, my ruck was packed with the following:

  1. 40 oz / 1.18 litre Hydroflask
  2. Necessities pouch containing flashlight, spare batteries, medicine, stationery, packets of tissue and band-aids
  3. Umbrella
  4. 2 granola bars
  5. Coin pouch
  6. Kindle

These were packed in order of importance. Water is critical, followed by medicine and hygiene. Should an emergency strike, you need to be able to deal with it there and then with the tools you have on hand. While illumination, shelter and food are also important, in urban environments they can be found nearly everywhere. The coin pouch and the Kindle are the nice-to-haves, so light and small they go with me wherever I go.

There’s so little packed in the ruck that it makes the bag look floppy. That’s deliberate. Pack light, go fast. The less you carry, the more agile and mobile you are, and the more things you can do when you get to wherever you are going.

The point of rucking isn’t just to go from point A to point B. It’s to experience life. Keep your head up, your phone down and your legs moving. If you see something interesting, go explore. See someone interesting, go talk. Going light lets you do all this without losing your breath or acting awkward around strangers. And if you find yourself picking up or buying stuff, you have plenty of empty space inside your ruck to keep them, leaving your hands free.

This is not to say you shouldn’t carry heavy stuff. If I have to get work done on my computer, I bring it with me. If you want to challenge yourself by carrying more weight, go right ahead. But everything you carry in your ruck should serve a purpose. The heavier something is, the more the weight has to be justified. If that weight is not used somehow, it has to go.

Once you have your ruck, you need somewhere to go. Both a starting point and an endpoint. There are many areas of attraction everywhere in the world. The trick is to find them.

Many locals consider Singapore to be the most boring place in the world. In a sense, that is true. Everywhere you go you see the same thing: high-rise flats (apartment blocks to Americans) clustered next to private estates, a shopping centre at every major train station, offices and industrial buildings at designated business zones.

But life is lived outside day-to-day experience.

Rucking in the big city is simple. Pick a neighbourhood, preferably someplace you haven’t been before. Study a map of the area. Plot your route if you want, or not at all if you prefer to go rambling. Call up friends if they’re interested, or go solo.

That’s it. Head up, phone down, go ruck.

Here are some photos from my latest ruck:

Shophouses from the colonial era.

This side of the Singapore River, you’ll find fancy restaurants, pubs and massage parlours.

It’s quiet now, but come nightfall, this place will be packed.

Skyscrapers by the water. The building in the distance is the Fullerton Hotel.

The most important bar in Singapore’s modern history. Here, sociopolitical activists, bloggers, lawyers and politicians used to meet, discuss their latest plans, and carry out events.

Hotel Park Royal at Upper Pickering Street.

Lime restaurant inside the Hotel Park Royal.

The signature red truck of the Police Special Operations Command.

East and West: Green tea chiffon cake, paired with warm kaya dip.

Rucking is simple, yet challenging. It’s an opportunity for exploration and adventure. It’s a chance to go see what is in your patch of Earth. Immerse yourself in what you find, and share them with the world.

The next time you feel that you need to do something new, the prescription is simple.

Get up and ruck.

How to Write Different Kinds of Violence

I don’t read a lot of fiction these days. My tastes run towards action-packed thrillers, and as I discussed elsewhere, many writers have no idea how to write authentic action scenes. Outside the thriller genre, I can only name a small handful of writers who can instill in action sequences the ring of truth.

In a certain cyberpunk/space opera novel, the protagonist, a former Special Operations type turned private detective, encounters a thug on the streets. The thug woofs a challenge. The protagonist says, “Back off!” To underscore his point, he unleashes a series of strikes at the air, showing how he can kill the thug with his bare hands.

I can’t tell you how that encounter ends, because that was the point I closed the book — permanently.

Contrast this to Chapter 3 of Barry Eisler’s The Detachment. Here, protagonist John Rain discovers he is being tailed. Rain uses stealth and surprise to turn the tables, eliminating the threats.

That encounter had the ring of truth. But pay attention also to the flashback in the middle of the chapter, in which Rain describes how he dealt with a bully. Between the ambush and the flashback, Eisler elucidates the principles of violence authors should aspire to capture in their own work.

Types of Violence

Violence is an instrument to achieve a goal. From this perspective, there are two kinds of violence: social violence and asocial violence. The former is for status and image, the latter is for resources.

The cyberpunk example is classic social violence. By dancing his hands in the air protagonist hopes to impress the thug and establish dominance. By contrast, John Rain employed asocial violence to defend himself: the resource in question is Rain’s life.

Asocial and social violence have vastly different stakes and different goals. The resulting manifestation would naturally be vastly different.

The Monkey Dance

Imagine a pair of monkeys sizing up each other. They puff their chests and spread their arms, making themselves look bigger. Waddling up to each other, they hoot and shriek and gesticulate. At some point, one of three things happen.

*One of them submits and leaves
*One of them attacks, leading to a scuffle
*A higher status monkey breaks up the encounter

Humans behave in remarkably similar ways, which is where Rory Miller coined the termMonkey Dance. In his book Meditations on Violence, Miller describes it as a ritual with predictable steps. In American culture, it goes like this.

  1. Make eye contact with a hard stare
  2. Issue a verbal challenge, i.e. “What are you looking at?”
  3. Close the distance to bad breath range, sometimes ending in a chest bump
  4. Poke or push to the chest
  5. Punch

Here we see a progression of violence. First someone initiates the challenge and establishes status. As he closes, he continues mouthing off to psychologically prepare himself and to provoke the other guy into joining the monkey dance. Once in range, the chest bump and push serve as stepping stones, acclimatising the challenger to laying hands on the other person — and, if the challenger were skilled enough, to allow him to gauge the distance. When the blood is up and he is committed, he throws a punch, and the fight breaks out.

The point of a monkey dance is to achieve status, not usually to take a life. Monkey dances are not usually lethal by design. People committed to the dance do not usually strike from ambush, call for help, pull weapons midway, use deadly strikes or finish off the loser. Crippling injuries or deaths are usually accidental. If a target is down, the challenger usuallywon’t stomp the target into paste. On the other hand, a challenger would gladly knock out a target with a punch…and the target may fall on a hard surface and break his neck. But more often than not, the loser usually gets to walk away.

The same dynamic applies even where weapons are involved. In honour duels, the point is not to kill the other party — it’s to prove both parties’ bravery. Most duels, especially in the West, tended to be fought to first blood, not to the death. After scoring first blood, both sides can walk away with their honour satisfied: the winner has proven his skill at arms while the loser has shown that he is willing to risk life and limb. Note that this does not apply to blood feuds settled through duels, or to cultures where even the slightest insult must be answered with deadly force.

This concept, however, breaks down for the Group Monkey Dance. This is another dominance game, in which members of a group compete for status and prove their loyalty to the group by showing how vicious they can be to an outsider.

This is the gang recruit brutalising an innocent person to the cheers of his new crew. The knockout game, the happy slap, the king hit. At the far end, it is the Imperial Japanese soldier bayoneting a prisoner, a squad of Waffen-SS gang-raping a civilian, the concentration camp guards competing to kill the most number of Jews in the shortest time.

The Monkey Dance is a non-lethal ritual to puff up the challenger. The Group Monkey Dance reinforces group loyalty through atrocity. Predatory violence is something else altogether.

The Predator

Asocial violence is about attaining resources. The victim is seen as an obstacle, an enabler or the objective. Think of it as an armed guard protecting a bank vault, the manager who holds the key to the vault, or the CEO whose high-profile assassination will terrorise the people.

The attack is a premeditated act of violence that enables the aggressor to take what he wants with minimal risk to himself. It will not be a fight in which both sides have a chance to exchange blows. It is not a contest with rules and referees. If weapons are available, they will be used. If killing is required, so be it.

Versus ritualistic monkey dancing, predatory violence is remarkably simple. It boils down to this: get close and unleash hell.

There are two main ways to get close. The first is to use the terrain to conceal yourself and set up an ambush. The second is to charm the target until you are as close as you can, then strike.

Simple. Brutal. Effective.

Implications for Writers

To write violence effectively, you need to know four things.

  1. What do the parties involved want?
  2. What is their background with violence?
  3. What skills, resources, advantages and disadvantages do they possess?
  4. What does their environment allow them to do and prevent them from doing, and what are their culture’s rules of violence?

Let’s go back to the cyberpunk example. The protagonist wants to move on with his investigation and walk away alive, while the thug wants to inflate his ego. The protagonist is former military Spec Ops, the thug is a street fighter. The protagonist has the benefit of decades of training and combat experience, while the thug knows the terrain and is accustomed to dealing with innocents. They are on a wide, empty street, with no opportunities for cover or concealment, and Western monkey dancing rules are in effect.

With this in mind, when the encounter begins, the easiest thing to do is for the protagonist to hold up his hands, back up and say, “Sorry, bro. It’s been a long day and I’m just spacing out. I’ll be leaving now, okay?”

The protagonist is ex-military with extensive experience in undercover operations. If neutralising the thug won’t help him achieve his goals, why would he do it? Better to keep a low profile and walk away.

But let’s say the thug presses on anyway. He’s itching for a fight, and his friends behind him are egging him on.

“Not so fast, bro,” he says. “You’re on our turf now. You gotta pay the tax.”

The thug’s friends fan out, getting ready to cut the protagonist off. Here, we see the beginnings of a Group Monkey Dance, coupled with the opportunity for asocial violence — i.e. to get the protagonist’s wallet. Social and asocial violence aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and opportunities for one or the other may emerge as events unfold.

How do you handle the situation? Here’s an example:

The detective halts, his hands still raised.

“Sorry, man, I didn’t know this was your turf. But I don’t have anything in my wallet, ‘kay? If that’s fine with you, I’m leaving, okay?”

The thug smirks and steps up.

“Can’t pay the tax? Then we’ll just take it in–”

The detective jabs the thug’s eyes. The thug howls and rears back. The detective slams a V-hand strike into his exposed throat and drives his knee into his groin. The thug falls, his voice fading into a strange click-click-click. The detective lifts his foot and axe-kicks him in the head.

The other criminals are rooted to the spot. The detective coolly regards them.

“Your friend needs a hospital.”

He walks away, leaving the bad guys to their fate.

In this case, the detective short-circuits social violence with asocial violence. He lures in the thug with deceptive dialogue, strikes when he is distracted, and escalates beyond the point where the thugs are mentally prepared for. This causes the thugs to freeze as they try to process the new circumstances. He gives the gangsters a face-saving exit and quickly leaves before they can recover.

Note that the tactics involved would be much different if the protagonist were a civilian with no martial background. Instead of luring the bad guy in, the best approach would be to turn and sprint to safety. It’s an open street; there’s nothing stopping him from escaping if he’s fit enough.

Social violence is about status and image. Asocial violence is about quickly, efficiently and safely obtaining resources. To win, either refuse the fight by leaving the scene, or overwhelm the other guy before he can do the same unto you.

The first step to writing authentic action scenes is to know what kind of violence you’re writing about, and how well your characters fare and fit in those situations. Interesting things happen when characters are forced to overcome overwhelming force, navigate different cultures, or when they bring different violence paradigms to play. A battle-hardened warrior may scorn the idea of duels to first blood, or his culture may not even recognise such things, so whenever he fights someone it is always a duel to the death. A tipsy civilian may quickly find himself out of his depth after insulting a group of off-duty Marines. And so on.

Further Reading

The above is drawn heavily from Miller’s Meditations on Violence. However, it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Violence is a massive subject that no one person can cover in a single post. For further reading, look up Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, Lawrence A Kane, Kris Wilder, Ed Calderon (aka Edpoint) and Jin Roh (the blogger). In particular, I recommend No Nonsense Self Defense and the Conflict Communications Group. To see how violence paradigms are applied in fiction, I recommend Barry Eisler, Marcus Wynne and Loren Christensen.

Writing is about truth. Writing violence is about reflecting the truth of violence. If your fiction involves realistic violence, doing the research pays handsome dividends.

(First published on Steemit.com)

Tired Tropes: the Tsundere

Welcome to Tired Tropes, in which I dissect popular tropes I find annoying. While tropes are tools, they can be overused or done badly, and Tired Tropes are especially gregarious examples of them. Here, I take on the tsundere.

The tsundere is a staple of Japanese media. She—for the overwhelming majority of tsunderes are female—is defined by switching between harsh (‘tsun’) and lovestruck (‘dere’) personalities, due to how she feels towards a love interest and her reaction to having these feelings. While Tropes are Not Bad, it takes great skill to properly utilise tsundere archetype, and many, many, many creators have failed to do it properly.

When people think tsunderes they think Type A tsunderes: harsh and aloof as her default setting, but sweet or vulnerable towards her love interest…eventually. And by ‘harsh’ I mean abusive. Examples abound in media: Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere from Zero no Tsukaima, Ayatsuji Tsukasa of Amagami, Kirisaki Chitoge in Nisekoi, and so on.

Type B tsunderes, who have dere as their default setting, are also abound, but I haven’t encountered (too many) problems with their portrayals. This post will focus exclusively on the ultra-Type A tsunderes: the abusive types.

In the real world, abuse has consequences. It inflicts horrendous psychological damage on the victim over time. More assertive individuals would simply refuse to have anything to do with such people, or turn to the authorities (or arrest them, if they are the authorities). In fiction, for some reason, abuse is rewarded with love.

Louise physically and emotionally abuses Hiraga Saito throughout the entire series, including berating him, whipping him and punishing him whenever she gets jealous of another girl who talks to him—and they become the official couple. Ayatsuji blackmails Tachibana Junichi into helping her by threatening to accuse him of sexual assault when he accidentally picks up her diary—and in her route she becomes his lover. Kirisaki Chitoge is abusive, haughty and violent towards Ichijou Raku, especially in the early chapters—and he falls for her anyway.

Writing is about truth. Tropes are a tool to point the reader towards truth. And the truth of the world is that if a woman were arrogant, abrasive, manipulative and outright violent towards anyone, she is not girlfriend or wife material. This is a clear indicator of intimate partner violence—better known as domestic violence. And yet the relationships described above are portrayed as loving relationships.

Consider what would happen if the gender roles were flipped: if male tsunderes abuse their female love interests. There is no expectation that the relationship would end well. Yet this portrayal of female tsunderes endures. After all, Abuse is Okay if it’s Female on Male.

This is not to say that the tsundere archetype should be abandoned, rather that it should be deployed with skill.

Instead of playing abuse for laughs, especially in a serious work of fiction, it should be explored to the bitter end. Unflinchingly explore the consequences of being around someone who switches between harsh and sweet at the drop of a hat. The result is confusion, a tendency to walk on eggshells around her, and a dysfunctional relationship. More assertive characters will stand up and put a stop to such nonsense, or ruthlessly cut out these people from their lives.

If the tone of the story is comedic or light-hearted, downplay the violence or abuse to the point where it won’t actually harm anyone. Imagine the female lightly punching a male’s arm or softly bouncing her fists against his chest without actually hurting him, or limiting the use of insults and retorts. This provides insight into her character without crossing the line. Or, as in the case of Kaze no Stigma, the female may be lashing out at the male with full force, while the male easily avoids or no-sells the attack with boredom or amused mastery. In either event, it is immediately clear that what happens isn’t abuse, as it doesn’t actually affect the target in any meaningful way.

If the male does have a background in martial arts and/or a profession that requires the regular use of force (soldier, mercenary, police, etc.), show the real-world results of attempting to abuse that person. Force will be met with force, dodged or redirected. These are survival mechanisms, so deeply ingrained that they cannot be turned off so easily. Such people will also have no tolerance for abuse: either the tsundere shapes up or is dropped.

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An example of the Type A tsundere romance done right is Steins;Gate. Makise Kurisu is a classic Type A tsundere, who developed her acerbic tongue after being looked down on for being the youngest scientist in her lab. Okabe Rintarou roleplays a mad scientist all the time, to the point where nearly everyone thinks he acts like a twelve-year-old, and also displays classic tsundere characteristics. Unlike other media, the character dynamic is both hilarious and realistic, thanks to the way it’s handled.

While Makise and Okabe bicker over literally anything, their interactions showcase both chemistry and growing respect for each other. Makise maintains her tsun side by talking in scientific terms when annoyed, acting cynically towards Okabe, and (in the Japanese version) by using rude forms of address, while reserving her ultra-tsun moments for times when it’s justified—such as reacting to a perverted joke about her, usually with a sharp remark. And she doesn’t abuse people who don’t annoy her, like Shiina Mayuri. Okabe, in turn, feeds off her energy, responding with aplomb and genuinely hilarious comebacks.

Most importantly, when the chips are down and push comes to shove, Makise drops the tsundere act. She demonstrates her brilliance as a scientist, supports Okabe through difficult situations, and acts as a loyal member of his lab team. In this sense, Makise is more than just a two-dimensional character; she is a complete character who drives the story. And in the end, she (mostly) drops the tsun act and acts more affectionately towards Okabe.

Looking at Steins;Gate we see an instance of effectively deploying a Type A tsundere without alienating the audience. She doesn’t go overboard with her harshness, or when she does it’s met with resistance. She shows character development over time instead of flipflopping back and forth. Most of all, she is more than just an archetype: she contributes meaningfully to the story, becoming more than just a set of clichéd behaviours.

The tsundere archetype in of itself is not bad. But when poorly handled, it is a portrayal of female abuse and generates violent dissonance with the truth of the world. Properly crafting a Type A tsundere requires careful calibration of her character, showing her harshness without crossing the line into unchecked abuse, while giving her opportunities to be more than just a cliche.

Why I Avoid Reading Violence in Fiction

I’m not a pacifist. But I must confess: in the vast majority of manga I read these days, I skip most depictions of violence. In books, if I encounter an action scene that doesn’t make sense, I just dump the book altogether.

Fiction requires suspension of disbelief, and when a sequence triggers disbelief, then the story has failed. There are plenty of stories out there with excellent characters, tight plotting and sharp dialogue, but they all fail at the first punch. Here’s why.

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Violence is not about showing off your character’s skills

In a certain popular urban fantasy series, the first chapter in the first book has the protagonist interviewing an informant. The informant mouths off to her, so she punishes him by tossing him out the window. The protagonist justifies this by saying that said informant is a supernatural creature and would survive the fall.

Being a jerk is not a reason to throw someone out the window. Sure, the informant would walk away with nothing but bruises, but why would the informant come back to her? Why won’t he take his business elsewhere, or sell her to her enemies? He has no loyalties; why would he care about her? Why would he act like a jerk if she’s a known loose cannon? Why does she think physically abusing the only person in town who can help her with her job is a smart move?

From this perspective, it’s clear that the scene does not make sense. It exists only to have the writer the character as yet another stock Badass Female Protagonist.

But being a heavy hitter is not about showing off. It’s not about going overboard on idiots, taking every opportunity to pick a fight or use the flashiest moves. It’s about being so skilled you don’t have to — at least until there’s a compelling reason to.

Here’s an anecdote from Kelly McCann, a combatives instructor, from Combatives for Street Survival: Volume 1.

In the early 1990s, McCann visited a drug store to stock up on first aid supplies. At the time, he was carrying a Glock 27 in his waistband. As he paid for his purchases, 3 men entered and lined up behind him. One of them reached to grab something, noticed McCann’s cash on the counter, then retracted his hand. As McCann left, the men followed him out without buying anything. McCann realised at that point that the men were working up to mug him.Or worse.

In many stories, this becomes an excuse for the author to showcase the protagonist’s moves. The men will try to hold up the protagonist, giving him every opportunity to draw down and kill them all with precision headshots, or otherwise go ballistic.

In the real world, McCann turned to face the men, resting his hand on his gun, and said, “Don’t.”

The men backed off.

Heavy hitters do not go to guns whenever there’s a chance to avoid it. They will not act like psychopaths without a good reason for it — and those who do will face the consequences. Heavy hitters avoid, de-escalate, and deter whenever they can. If they have to draw down or go hands-on, it means all other options have failed — and they will unleash hell on the enemy.

Likewise, in stories, there has to be a compelling in-character and in-story reason to unload on someone. Showing off to the reader is not it. bloody-splat-8775057.jpg

Violence has consequences

In another urban fantasy series, the protagonist is a police officer on a task force that handles crimes related to otherworldly creatures. In one sequence, she is walking down the street when she is accosted by four otherworld gangsters. Insults and disrespect follows. She loses her temper, and next thing she knows, she has killed them all. With her bare hands.

The video goes viral on YouTube by the time she returns to the station. She takes a shower, wonders she’s done, then heads off to a stakeout.

The book lost me at that point.

Violence carries a great cost. Masters of violence pay for their knowledge with broken bones, spilled blood and psychic scars. They also have to contend with social repercussions.

If the above scene happened in the real world, there would be a media firestorm. The protagonist would be yanked off the job and must explain herself to Internal Affairs – especially since she initiated the violence. The story would have ended there and then. Nothing of that sort happened in the story; the only consequence was a short conversation with the Police Chief that amounts to nothing at all.

In the First World, societies have laws and mass media. If violence takes place, the protagonist has to be able to justify his actions to the police, or he WILL be tossed into jail. Or worse. If he can’t, then he’ll have to evade police attention somehow. In places where the norms and customs of civilisation do not apply, every act of violence is an excuse for a vendetta. The protagonist may make enemies too powerful to fight. A psychopath who picks on everyone he can would suddenly find himself outnumbered and outgunned. Or be shived in the back at midnight.

A good example of a protagonist who understands the consequences of violence is Barry Eisler’s John Rain. Rain is a hitman who specialises in making deaths look like natural causes or accidents. He is also a judo exponent. He lives a solitary lifestyle, dictated by security measures that any other person would call paranoia, and has very few friends. He has also been wounded multiple times on the job, which affects how he carries himself, the tools he carries, and his mindset.

Rain is a heavy hitter by any measure, but even he can’t escapes the consequences of violence. He mitigates this through personal security, and by being terrifyingly effective.

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Unrealistic Violence

A creator’s primary job is to create content that entertains consumers. But too many creators think that the best way to do that is to have flashy moves, complex techniques and sequences, multi-mook takedowns with a single technique, and duels between the major characters.

It just doesn’t work in reality. There are endless numbers of articles and videos criticising unrealistic violence everywhere, so I’m going to take a different tack.

Look at the combat scenes in Taken, John Wick, the live action Rorouni Kenshin films, the Jason Bourne series and the first two Batman movies starring Christian Bale. The scenes are noted for their raw brutality, the simple techniques and the uncompromising vision of violence. The protagonists are skilled, but they live in worlds where a single misstep would send them to the morgue. By careful employment of tactics and techniques, they will pass the gates of fire – plausibly cementing their image as powerful, capable protagonists.

Real world combat doesn’t have bullet time to show off moves. Adrenaline spikes make everyone stronger and clumsier. Complexity leads to confusion; gross motor skills are king. And multi-mook takedowns are rare, if not outright impossible.

Violence with Verisimilitude

To fully engage readers, strive to have violence with verisimilitude. Violence isn’t about showing off. It’s about doing what has to be done to achieve one’s goals, be it survival or otherwise. Violence always carries consequences, and the best way to achieve verisimilitude is to accurately portray both it and its consequences.

This is just a high-level post, providing a bird’s eye view of the situation. In coming weeks and months I will be writing more posts about how to plausibly depict violence in fiction, drilling down into specific aspects. In the meantime, check out Rory Miller’s Violence: A Writer’s Guide and Marc MacYoung’s Writing Violence for more details from people who have bene there and done that.