Sam Harris Explains the Truth About Violence | The Preparation Station

via Sam Harris Explains the Truth About Violence | The Preparation Station

Most people don’t want to accept the violent side of humanity. It’s cruel. It’s easier to deny it exists. When you experience violence first hand, however, it’s impossible to forget, or ignore. Denial will only get you so far after all.

In 2010, 403.6 violent crimes were perpetrated per 100,000 persons in the United States. Thus, the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year. Those are not fantastic odds, my friends…

Sam Harris explains the truth about violence.  Here as some excerpts from his well thought out post:

“It may seem onerous to prepare yourself and your family to respond to violence, but not doing so is also a form of preparation. Failing to prepare is, generally speaking, preparing very well to do the wrong thing. Although most of us are good at recognizing danger, our instincts often lead us to behave in ways that increase our chances of being injured or killed once a threat emerges.”

“Unless you happen to be a police officer yourself, or are married to one, you are very unlikely to be attacked in the presence of law enforcement. The role of the police is to respond in the aftermath of a crime and, with a little luck, to catch the person who committed it. If you are ever targeted by a violent predator, whether you and your family are injured or killed will depend on what you do in the first moments of the encounter.⁠ When it comes to survival, therefore, you are entirely on your own. Once you escape and are in a safe place, by all means call the police. But dialing 911 when an intruder has broken into your home is not a strategy for self-defense.

“However, instruction in self-defense need not consume your life. The most important preparations are mental. While I certainly recommend that you receive some physical training, merely understanding the dynamics of violence can make you much safer than you might otherwise be.”

Principle #1: Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places.

“The primary goal of self-defense is to avoid becoming the victim of violence. The best way to do this is to not be where violence is likely to occur. Of course, that’s not always possible—but without question, it is your first and best line of defense. If you visit dangerous neighborhoods at night, or hike alone and unarmed on trails near a big city, or frequent places where drunken young men gather, you are running some obvious risks.”

“Nevertheless, young men are easily lured into social dominance games from which neither party can find a face-saving exit. The violence that erupts at such moments is as unnecessary as it is predictable. If you want to preserve your health and stay out of prison, you must learn to avoid or defuse conflict of this kind.”

“Take this maxim to heart: Self-defense is not about winning fights with aggressive men who probably have less to lose than you do.⁠

“Another principle is lurking here that should be made explicit: Never threaten your opponent. The purpose of his verbal challenge was to get you to respond in such a way as to make him feel justified in attacking you. You shouldn’t collaborate in this process or advertise your readiness to defend yourself. Even if violence seems unavoidable, and you decide to strike preemptively, you should do so from a seemingly unaggressive posture, retaining the element of surprise. (This requires training.) Putting up your dukes and agreeing to fight has no place in a self-defense repertoire.⁠

“Thus, whatever ego problems or impulse-control issues you have should be worked out ahead of time. You should forget about saving face while recognizing that if you ever find yourself in a social-dominance contest you will probably feel a deep urge to say or do the wrong thing.⁠  Deciding on an appropriate course of action in advance is your best protection against being dangerously stupid in the heat of the moment. The challenge for every man is to decline to play an ancient game whose rules and imperatives have been inscribed in his very cells. If you want to avoid unnecessary violence, you must keep your inner ape on a very short leash.”

You should also learn to trust your feelings of apprehension about other people—revising them only slowly and with good reason. This may seem like a very depressing piece of advice. It is. Most of us don’t want to see the world this way, and we take great pains to avoid being rude or appearing racist, suspicious, etc. But violent predators invariably play upon this commitment to civility. The truth is that most of us are very good at detecting ulterior motives and malevolence in others. We must learn to trust these intuitions. To read the reports of rapes, murders, kidnappings and other violent crimes is to continually discover how easily good people can be manipulated by bad ones.”

“You are under no obligation, for instance, to give a stranger who has rung your doorbell, or decided to stand unusually close to you on the street, the benefit of the doubt. If a man who makes you uncomfortable steps onto an elevator with you, step off. If a man approaches you while you are sitting in your car and something about him doesn’t seem right, you don’t need to roll down your window and have a conversation. Victims of crime often sense that something is wrong in the first moments of encountering their attackers but feel too socially inhibited to create the necessary distance and escape.”

Principle #2: Do not defend your property.

“Whatever your training, you should view any invitation to violence as an opportunity to die—or to be sent to prison for killing another human being. Violence must truly be the last resort. Thus, if someone sticks a gun in your face and demands your wallet, you should hand it over without hesitation—and run.”

“If you look out your kitchen window and see a group of youths destroying your car, you should remain inside and call the police. It doesn’t matter if you happen to be a Navy Seal who keeps a loaded shotgun by the front door. You don’t want to kill a teenager for vandalism, and you don’t want to get shot by one for hesitating to pull the trigger. Unless you or another person is being physically harmed, or an attack seems imminent, avoiding violence should be your only concern.”

Principle #3: Respond immediately and escape.

“If you have principles 1 and 2 firmly installed in your brain, any violence that finds you is, by definition, unavoidable. There is a tremendous power in knowing this: When you find yourself without other options, you are free to respond with full commitment.”

“This is the core principle of self-defense: Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape—not to mete out justice, or to teach a bully a lesson, or to apprehend a criminal. Your goal is to get away with minimum trauma (to you), while harming your attacker in any way that seems necessary to ensure your escape.⁠

“If you find yourself in such a situation, you should assume that your opponent is a career criminal who has victimized many others before you.⁠ Do not waste an instant imagining that you can reason with him. Most victims of violence are so terrified of being injured or killed that they will believe any promise a predator makes. It is not difficult to see why. “

“Imagine: You are loading groceries into your car and man appears at your side with a gun.

“Get in the car, and you won’t get hurt.”

Your instincts are probably bad here: Getting in the car is the last thing you should do.

“Get in the car, or I’ll blow your head off.”

“However bad your options may appear in the moment, complying with the demands of a person who is seeking to control your movements is a terrible idea. Yes, there are criminals whose only goal is to steal your property. But anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse). And you must understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be the wrong one.”

If someone puts a gun to your head and demands your purse or wallet, hand it over immediately and run. Don’t worry about being shot in the back: If your attacker is going to shoot you for running, he was going to shoot you if you stayed in place, and at point-blank range. By running, you make yourself harder to kill. Any attempt to move you, even by a few feet—backing you off a sidewalk and into an alley, forcing you behind a row of bushes—is unacceptable and should mobilize all your physical and emotional resources.⁠

“If you find yourself in a situation where a predator is trying to control you, the time for listening to instructions and attempting to remain calm has passed. It will get no easier to resist and escape after these first moments. The presence of weapons, the size or number of your attackers—these details are irrelevant. However bad the situation looks, it will only get worse. To hesitate is to put yourself at the mercy of a sociopath. You have no alternative but to explode into action, whatever the risk. Recognizing when this line has been crossed, and committing to escape at any cost, is more important than mastering physical techniques.”

“Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a “fight.” Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”

“Whatever your physical skills, when you commit to using force against another person, your overriding goal is still to escape. Even if you are at home, in possession of a firearm, and well trained to use it, when confronted by an intruder your best defense is to get out of the house as quickly as possible. In such a circumstance, a gun is a means of ensuring that no one can block your exit.

“Nothing good ever comes to people who allow themselves to be moved to a remote location at the mercy of a violent predator. The police call such places “secondary crime scenes.” They are always better for the attacker and worse for his victim because they are more isolated than the first point of contact. And although your home may be the most familiar place on earth to you, the moment an intruder enters, it becomes the equivalent of a secondary crime scene. You should also expect that any criminal who breaks into your home when you’re inside it has come prepared to murder you and your family. To naive readers, this may sound like an extraordinarily paranoid assumption. It isn’t. Mere burglars generally make sure a house is empty before breaking in.⁠”

“If a window shatters in the middle of the night and someone comes through it, your life is on the line. There is nothing to talk about, no offer of cash or jewelry to muster, no demands worth listening to. You must do whatever it takes to escape.”

One of the most common and disturbing features of home invasions is how the victims’ concern for one another and desire to stay together is inevitably used against them. By exploiting these bonds, even a single attacker can immobilize an entire family. By merely holding a knife to the wife’s throat, he can get the husband to submit to being tied up. Again, it is perfectly natural for victims in these circumstances to hope that if they just cooperate, their attacker will show them mercy. If you get nothing else from this article, engrave this iron law on your mind: The moment it is clear that an assailant wants more than your property (which must be assumed in any home invasion), you must escape.”

“What if your attacker has a knife to your child’s throat and tells you that everything is going to be okay as long as you cooperate by lying face down on the floor? Don’t do it. It would be better to flee the house—because as soon as you leave, he will know that the clock is ticking: Within moments, you will be at a neighbor’s home summoning help. If this intruder is going to murder your child before fleeing himself, he was going to murder your child anyway—either before or after he killed you. And he was going to take his time doing it. Granted, it is almost impossible to imagine leaving one’s child in such a circumstance—but if you can’t leave, you must grab a weapon and press your own attack. Complying in the hope that a sociopath will keep his promise to you is always the wrong move.”

“True self-defense is based not on techniques but on principles. Yes, it is good to know how to deliver a palm strike or elbow to a person’s head with real power (technique), but it is far more important to know when to unleash with whatever tools you have for the purpose of immediate escape (principle). You must install a trigger in your mind—to act explosively once a certain line has been crossed—and you must understand that your inclination will most likely be to freeze and acquiesce, in the hope of avoiding injury or death. Mental preparation is a matter of resolving, in advance, to burst past these inhibitions and escape immediately, or fight with everything you’ve got until escape is possible.”

Certain scenarios are intrinsically confusing and should be discussed with your family in advance: What if a person dressed as a police officer comes to your door and asks to be let in? Unless you are absolutely certain that he is a cop—e.g. you can see that he arrived in a marked police car—you should explain that you have no way of knowing who he is and then call the police yourself. Thousands of crimes are committed each year by people impersonating cops. (Anyone can buy a uniform and a badge over the Internet.) Similarly, many home invasions begin with a criminal’s acting like a person in distress: A woman or a teenager might come to your door reporting an accident or some other emergency. Again, the safe move is to keep your door locked and call the police.”

“It is unpleasant to study the details of crime and violence—and for this reason many of us never do. I am convinced, however, that some planning and preparation can greatly reduce a person’s risk. And though there are exceptions to every rule, I don’t believe that there are important exceptions to the advice I have given here. May you never have occasion to find it useful.”

I found Mr. Harris’ advice to be salient and helpful.  I hope you did too.

Sam Harris’ website is

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