Stop Making Sense

There are no contradictions in the physical world.  At the scale of our experience the universe is a perfectly tuned machine that simply does what it does — everything can be mathed out in a predictable dance of cause and effect.  Contradictions only exist in human language, a necessary construct to provide flexibility in social interaction.  Our survival as a species depends on our ability to make non-deterministic, nuanced, judgment calls.  We have a word for the kind of hyper-literal people who are incapable of that:  psychopaths.

The cause and effect of violence — a simple physical interaction like a finger in the eye — contains no contradictions.  In terms of monkey-see/monkey-do training, nothing could be more straightforward… until we try to make violence fit into a social framework, round-holing that square peg with the mallet of language, contradictions meant to make ourselves feel better about doing it and to communicate our sanity, stability, and continued trustworthiness to others.  In other words, to convince everyone — including ourselves — that we’re not psychopaths.  But there is nothing about “self-defense” that suggests the finger in the eye.  Indeed, such language obscures the necessities of physical action, injecting our hopes and fears into the matter — thick strokes of contradictory emotional content that obscure the requirements of cause and effect — language that acts not as a window but as a painting.

Trying to make violence “make sense” is pointless, and even dangerous — violence is by its very definition irrational, an utter failure of everything language seeks to build.  This is why the finger in the eye is not “self-defense”, and why “self-defense” does not communicate the physics of the finger in the eye.  There are lots of ways to describe the simple physical act of breaking the human machine, and the most direct and straightforward are naturally repellent.  Our response to this must be to understand that it is a separate thing from our emotional selves and our desire to cooperate with others — it’s not about maintaining our social standing, it’s about maintaining our existence during the very thin slice of time of our attempted murder.  And it’s okay for the descriptions of the action required to hurt another person so they can’t continue to be chilling, disturbing, and otherwise uncomfortable.  We’re describing facts, and the more we use language that gives us comfort or distance from them the less likely we are to be able to execute on those facts when our survival is at stake.

There are two ways to arrive at what’s required:

  1. We can do violence every day, where we will learn a thing or two through trial and error, and how we do that work will begin to converge toward a specific point — form following function where all effective violence ends up looking the same, or
  2. We can look at examples of that work (videos of effective violence) and emulate that movement on the mats, all the while seeking hard, spare language that describes that mechanical work (and the results) in the clearest way possible.

What’s required is the objective description of science, not the poetry of the heart.


— Chris Ranck-Buhr

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