All right, this isn’t really about guns, per se. I usually write columns here that are pretty directly related to guns and Canada, and if that’s what you want to see, well, I guess just go read my piece on the 10mm Auto, because in this column I’m basically going to talk about what I did with my early university years: international politics, evolutionary biology, and working in sketchy bars and getting into fistfights.
I happened to be talking about this with someone the other day, and then I stumbled across a piece on The Havok Journal with a similar theme, so if this really grabs you and you want to go further into bar fights as a metaphor for politics, well hey, you’re all set.
But I’m here to talk about ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh/whatever they’re called this week. I want to talk about them because I think there’s a fundamental disconnect between a lot of people here in the soft, safe, first world, and with raw violence.
Back when I was younger, I used to work as a bouncer in bars. Some guys really wanted to be called doormen, but I was always fine with bouncer. Nothing we did was especially classy or respectable so I never really saw the point of getting snooty about the terminology, so I’m sticking with bouncer. I’m just bringing this up because I know hate mail is coming – it always is – and I’m trying to prevent one stream of complaints from clogging up my inbox and slowing down my process of deleting the complaints about my grasp of foreign policy. Don’t even get me started on the “this war is just a Bilderberg proxy” people. There’s no shutting them up.
So back when I was a bouncer, I worked a few really dicey bars, where you’d see all kinds of things happen. People would get punched, kicked, stabbed, hit with pool cues, glassed in the face and sent to the hospital…just everything. I’d drag guys out the back door while their girlfriends hit me with beer bottles, I’d get threatened by groups of guys who claimed association with this gang or that and who’d vow to come back and shoot me at closing time, I’d break up fights between pairs of guys that suddenly discovered they had a common enemy and that they could get along fine as long as they were both punching me.
It was a long couple of years and I can’t believe I did it when I was paying for my own dental. But what else do you do with a kickboxing degree?
The thing about it that I really value now is that it taught me a lot about violence and the human condition. I got to recognize a lot of different types of trouble, and a lot of archetypes of violent and nonviolent people. And one thing I can say with a level of confidence that I feel for almost nothing else: I know exactly what Daesh is.
Daesh is the guy who shows up in your bar regularly and starts fights, even though he’s a hundred and thirty pounds soaking wet. He’s a hard, scrappy, mean guy who picks fights and usually wins, through a combination of surprise, experience, and target selection. And there’s something I can tell you about this guy: you can’t buy him off.
You see, regular guys in a bar don’t really want to fight. Most of them figure out before the punches start landing that it’s going to hurt, and their clothes are going to get wrecked, maybe they might break their watch, and in general it’s going to suck.
And some guys realize it’s going to be a bunch of work and they’re still game, but really, if you give them an opportunity to save face by offering to buy them a beer, or buy a round for their table, they’ll grab that opportunity because they’ll still look tough, and trust me, if you can dodge a fistfight for thirty or forty bucks, that’s money well spent. Ask my dentist.
And if you think about it, any rational person should go for this deal, so if you’re a rational person, it’s tempting to think that this will always work, because it’s almost crazy that it doesn’t.
But some guys fight regularly. They like it. Sure, it hurts a bit, but they’re used to that. They like the challenge, and they’re often pretty good at picking people who aren’t as much of a challenge as they appear. These hard, violent, hundred and thirty pounders, they’re usually guys who work with their hands and their backs, often in pretty low-end jobs because they’ve been in jail a couple of times. They’ll roll up to a six foot tall, two hundred pound office worker with soft hands and figure they’re going to pick that fight and win, and they’re very likely right.
And if these big, soft guys try to buy their way out with a drink, man, for the hardened little guys, that’s just the kind of weakness they’re looking for. They’re now going to get all over that guy’s girlfriend, they’re going to slap the guy around, and they’re going to keep humiliating him until he fights back, by which time they’ve psychologically dominated him for so long it’s rare he can do much of anything. I’ve seen this many times.
It’s bizarre, in a way, because the guy who wants to fight is tiny. He probably needs his body to function in order for him to go to work on Monday, whereas the guy he’s targeting is generally much larger; he can probably get paid days off if he’s banged up, or even keep right on doing his job. The little guy has everything to lose, but he wants to fight so badly he can taste it. Why?
It’s more logical than you’d think, actually. You just need to step way, way back and look at it from Darwin’s perspective.
Violent little creeps like this don’t have much to put on a dating resume. They’re usually pretty poor, because their jobs are usually menial. At best, they’re firmly ensconced in some kind of criminal enterprise, but usually at a fairly low level because on average they’re too impulsive to rise up really high in the ranks. Furthermore, being physically small, they don’t usually carry the kind of imposing presence necessary to get far with other thugs, who are also capable of violence, but without the limitations of a light weight class.
So they’re usually not too successful at life, they’re short and slightly built (and no offense, guys, but women do consistently list height, social standing, monetary wealth, and deep voices as major attractive features). Big guys with social standing. These scrappy little guys are not holding a lot of cards.
What do they do, then? They are actually doing something really practical from a darwinian perspective: they completely sidestep the social order. They’re engaged in actions which unconsciously demonstrate that they outrank all the other guys in the bar. And the more wins they chalk up when they stomp all over larger, more conventionally successful guys, the more likely they are to get laid. That’s literally true; I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Sure, the women they can pull are, for the most part, spectacularly trashy, but guys like this aren’t super discerning. For the others that get left with no one it’s back to their lonesome bed with TubeV Sex or another adult site they frequent..
These little monsters are one of the worst headaches for a bouncer. They just keep coming back, over and over, and they feed on the violence they create, because it works for them. It helps them to accomplish their goals. They probably don’t know why it works, and they probably don’t even know why they like to get in fights all the time. They’re not listening to that part of their brain; they’re listening some part of their amygdala and it’s just telling them to go for it, so they do, and they get laid, and that’s exactly what the amygdala wants, so it’s happy and it keeps right on telling them to fight.
One of the difficulties, incidentally, with going after these guys is that you often discover that they have a bunch of friends in the bar, who weren’t quite as psychotic as the lead guy, but who’ll jump in on his side if you start raining blows down on him. That’s okay; they’re usually not very committed to the fight, and regardless, if they side with him when the chips are down, you want to know who they are, and you probably want to make them regret that choice. People who side with vicious thugs just because they’re from the same neighbourhood or high school or whatever weren’t people you wanted in the bar in the first place. Yes, the fight will get worse before it gets better. But otherwise you’re just delaying the inevitable. And sooner or later, one of those friends will stick a knife in you as you’re on your way through the crowd. No, better to get it all out in the open and have the big fight.
Now let’s get back to Daesh: Daesh wants to fight, because of their adherence to an apocalyptic vision of Islam which calls for a civilizational battle with the forces of non-believers led by an anti-messiah. They believe that a final battle will occur, in which their own forces will be reduced to a few thousand, before the anti-messiah is killed and Islam will conquer the world. That’s the short version; there’s a series of events involving a massive battle at Dabiq in which they expect to be victorious – it’s no coincidence that Daesh’s publication is named after the strategically unimportant site – and if you’re interested, Graeme Wood wrote a terrific piece about it for The Atlantic. But the bottom line is this: they want to fight, because they’re convinced they’re going to win.
Given this toxic combination of belief and desire, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that we need to get out of Iraq and Syria; that the harder we fight Daesh, the more we are playing into their hands. And in a sense that’s true. They thrive on the conflict, and if we allow them to remain in a state of conflict with us, as long as that fight continues, they’re going to be pleased, on some level, with the fact that they’re fighting us.
Now back to the bar, the brewing fistfight, and the mean, wiry, maniacs I saw so many times in grimy, dangerous bars. These guys, who are genuinely hoping to fight, for the exact same underlying reason as Daesh: they’re convinced they’re going to win.
There’s literally only one way to stop these guys: you need to beat them so badly that they can’t keep fighting, and that when they think about fighting next week, they can only think about how badly you just hurt them.
It’s not enough to smack them around. It’s not enough to throw them out. It’s not enough to win the fight. You have to win every future fight in their heads, before they step out of the door. They have to be convinced that you have not only the ability, but the will, to put them on life support. That’s critical, because these are guys that are convinced they’re going to win. You need to convince them they’re always going to lose. It’s got to feel like an office floor hockey team going up against the Canadian Olympic hockey team. They can’t just be defeated, they have to be crushed in a manner that makes all future games pointless, forever.
It’s last call at the bar, so let’s head back to politics to close it down for the night: Daesh want to fight us because they think they’re going to win, because they believe we’re soft-handed office workers that will always back down, and sadly the current US (and now Canadian) leadership has not really given them much reason to think otherwise. We need to change that belief by laying beatings on them they won’t recover from. Yes, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Yes, some people who are sitting on the fence will side with Daesh. We shouldn’t care. That part is necessary.
So let’s give Daesh what they want: an apocalyptic battle. If we commit, we’ll win easily. They have no hope against motivated Western powers; we’ve just permitted them to remain in a state of low-intensity conflict with us because we don’t want to have the big fight that’s going to bust up our knuckles and cost us a couple of teeth. But even though Daesh wants us to attack, even though people will tell you we’re playing right into their hands, we still need to take that fight to them, as hard as humanly possible. Because as luck would have it, if we give them what they want, they’ll go away.