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Book Review: Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected (Rory Miller)

While “Facing Violence” is an interesting book, it seems to me its practical usefulness is limited. It will probably help, to some extent, in “Preparing For the Unexpected.” But the reader shouldn’t get overconfident as a result. It’s like being an armchair general—there is nothing inherently wrong with analyzing things from the comfort of your chair, but it’s not the same thing as, and does not prepare you for, actually being a general. Same here. Moreover, the book is dated by its complete omission of the defensive use of firearms, in these days of widespread citizen carry.

The book is not of NO practical use. It does help the reader understand the dynamics of violence that are almost certainly foreign to him. And intellectually, it’s useful to reinforce the lesson to normal people that there are many, many people who are not like you. Instead, they are some example or combination of grifter, predator, thief, or would-be alpha male (all at your expense). People, especially liberals, don’t want to realize that bad people are everywhere, and they must be put down. This book shows that reality clearly.

The author, Rory Miller, seems to have decades of experience in dealing with actual violence, primarily in the prison environment. He organizes his book into an outline structure, and divides it into a variety of topics, ranging from ethical and legal implications of violence, to the dynamics of violence (and how to de-escalate), through actual fighting, to the aftermath. Miller’s style is informal and somewhat discursive, but he seems to know exactly what he’s talking about, and he’s careful not to overstate his case, and to make clear that, as they say, your mileage may vary.

The most interesting, and I think most useful, chapters are “Dynamics Of Violence” and “Avoidance.” By dynamics of violence, Miller means the interactive steps people take in the period leading up to actual violence. Miller carefully divides situations into “social violence” and “asocial violence,” each having different subtypes, each with very different steps and implications.

As to social violence, every man (for this book is aimed at men, recognizing the reality that actual violence almost exclusively involves men as the active participants, progressive fantasies be damned) is familiar with what Miller calls the “Monkey Dance.” This involves ritualized steps between two men to establish their relative dominance, and rarely involves violence actually intended to significantly harm. He distinguishes this from the “Group Monkey Dance,” where multiple men focus on a single man or another group, where harm is common, and from the “Educational Beat Down,” frequent in structured hierarchies but usually not involving significant damage. Finally, he identifies the “Status Seeking Show”—an individual attacking a stranger, usually with extreme violence, to show his group why he should be feared by all, and simple “Territory Defense.”

As to asocial violence, in essence human predator violence (as distinguished from violence that conveys or affects social status), Miller differentiates between “process predators,” for whom the act of violence is the goal (serial killers; rapists), and “resource predators,” whose predation has the goal of acquiring something tangible, and for whom violence is incidental (robbers; burglars).

Miller’s next chapter, “Avoidance,” is also valuable. As the old joke goes (not that Miller uses it), “If I know I’m going to get into a gun fight when I leave the house—I don’t leave the house.” Similarly, different types of violence have radically different avoidance strategies, and what works for one type of violence may exacerbate another. Simply leaving the scene is often the best strategy (although it usually goes against the grain of male hard-wiring, and therefore can be very difficult). Miller both expands on scenarios from his previous chapter and gives specific possible responses, along with observations about what various physical cues and actions imply about the path of impending violence.

Miller’s later chapters focus on the actual mechanics of violence. Unless (like Miller) you train extensively in actual fighting, this is interesting, but not actually useful to most readers. You can’t train yourself to fight from a book if you haven’t fought before, and fought regularly, and trying to remember what Miller said on p. 96 when someone is attacking you probably will cause more harm than good. Nonetheless, there is good information on here, in particular heavy emphasis on the tendency of people not used to fighting to freeze, suffer gross motor deterioration, and/or experience very significant perception alterations. Miller also correctly emphasizes that after any fight, it is usually a big mistake to talk to anyone in detail, especially the police—and that after any fight, even if you avoid criminal liability, you’re likely to be sued. Miller’s book does not glamorize violence in any way, and when you finish, you certainly will want to avoid violence even more than you did before.

My only major complaint about the book is that it totally ignores firearms as a defensive tool (he occasionally mentions that criminals may have guns or knives). In these days where tens of millions of Americans, like me, carry guns every day, this is a huge gap in the book (the book was written in 2011, so this is really inexcusable). For example, it would be very useful if Miller were to update this book with, in his chapter on “Avoidance,” discussing the impact of the potential victim, in different scenarios of types of social violence, displaying, or alternatively brandishing, a gun. There would be pros and cons, of course—both practical and legal. Perhaps the answer is in a “Monkey Dance,” showing a gun is usually a big mistake, while for a “Process Predator,” guns are the first line of response. But expanding the book to cover such realistic possibilities would be very helpful to the reader.

If you really think you have a relevant chance of facing violence, this book is worth reading, because it should at least give you a marginally better chance of responding appropriately. It’s a quick read, and an interesting one, so why not?


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