TEOTWAWKI is NOW! Overcoming Normalcy Bias: Critical Thinking for Survival
One of the most important skills for survival that must be mastered, or at least practiced at a journeyman level, by the prepared individual, family, and tribe, is critical thinking. Of all the practical, tactical training and preparedness you can can do, the single most important, most often overlooked, is basic critical thinking skills. As I write, travel and teach, and interact with contemporary people, I regularly witness the lack of this in the broad majority of people. I’ve even been known to suffer from it myself.
People, even in the “firearms,” “tactical training,” “preparedness,” and “militia” communities, suffer from a pronounced lack of critical thinking skills, all too often.
An example of this can be seen in the recent frenzy within the preparedness and liberty-minded communities, over the Jade Helm 2015 UW exercise. For months prior to the beginning of the exercise, we saw unfounded, unsourced reports by sensationalist outlets in the preparedness and militia communities repeated across the preparedness “media” and social media as “fact.” Here we are, a full month into the exercise, nearing the stated end of the exercise, and most of the original source reporters have either stopped talking about it completely, or have taken a 180 degree course shift from their original stance, of “it’s an imposition of martial law,” to “well, it’s still an attempt to normalize seeing military personnel operating on US soil!”
This is despite the fact that COUNTLESS recent Special Forces veterans within our own virtual communities (yes, myself included), have spent an inordinate amount of bandwidth trying to explain to people the concept of a “theater-level” exercise, and pointing out the recent historical precedents for this exact type of exercise.
It’s funner, and far more entertaining however, to imagine resisting against martial law, in some form of masturbatory Red Dawn scenario, than to use critical thinking to recognize, “Hey, maybe we SHOULD at least listen to what the guys with actual experience in THIS EXACT TYPE OF TRAINING EXERCISE have to say, before we jump to conclusions. You know what happened as a result of the hyper-paranoia induced within the preparedness and militia communities by these Harbingers of Doom? The virtual community lost even more credence with the average Joe and Jane Citizen, who saw the community represented as a bunch of farcical, paranoid lunatics. Seriously.
That was a lack of critical thinking. It’s easier to blindly repost scary memes on Facebook though.
A similar example can be seen in the oversimplification of “use-of-force” scenarios among the preparedness and survivalists. Too often, discussions of use-of-force end up being artificially simplified to, “I’ve got mah .45! Ah’ll jest shoot that there sumbitch in the eye!” Or, “I’m going to use my gutterfighting, dirty tricks to gouge his eye out and skull-fuck him to death!” While those may work as standard responses to dangerous encounters in a TEOTWAWKI “Zombie Apocalypse,” the simple reality of life is, we’re not dealing with a Zombie Fucking Apocalypse. We’re dealing with an entirely different TEOTWAWKI situation. In the real TEOTWAWKI life we’re living, right now, today, those responses as standardized responses, will only end up in one result: getting buggered in the ass by your cellmate. Oversimplification of any scenario is, in itself, a failure of critical thinking, in recognizing that the world is NOT black-and-white, and there are always shades of gray involved. Maybe not fifty shades, but damned sure more than two.
The above example of the REAL TEOTWAWKI leads directly into the one failure of critical thinking that is currently, and will continue to be, the leading killer of otherwise solid, prepared individuals. This ranges from armed citizens, to soldiers, to armed police officers on the street. That is “normalcy bias.”
What is “normalcy bias?”
Wikipedia, that paragon of journalistic objectivism, defines normalcy bias as “a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to undestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects….The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur….People with normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before…”
That’s actually—surprisingly for Wikipedia—a pretty accurate description. So, how do armed citizens, who have actually, apparently overcome their normalcy bias at least enough to recognize that something bad enough to warrant needing a gun MIGHT occur, suffer from normalcy bias? How do soldiers and police officers suffer from normalcy bias? How can I say that preppers, who obviously recognize the potential for a disaster to occur—that’s why their preppers, for fuck’s sake—suffer from normalcy bias?
Well, let’s back up for a few minutes first, and look at WHY normalcy bias occurs.
The Why and How Behind Normalcy Bias
Humans as a rule, in any given scenario or situation, generally “see” exactly what we expect to see. An example of this regularly occurs in the shoot house during the decision-making drills when I teach CQB. As the shooter moves around the angles of the door, he “pies” quickly, to see as much of the interior as possible, before actually effecting entry. Many times, they’ll “see” a role-player inside “pointing a gun” at them, because they do, in fact, see the role-player’s hands up and to the front, and they do, in fact, see a gun. What they don’t recognize, because it’s not what they expect to see, is that the gun is actually laying on the ground at the role-player’s feet, and the outstretched hands are palms-out, in a placating or pleading gesture. For the first several iterations, almost invariably (certainly in more than 90% of cases) the shooter engages the role-player with simulated gunfire, because they “saw” a “gun pointed at them,” because that’s what they expected to see, and that was processed faster than their brain could piece together what was actually seen.
The same thing often happens in what later turn out to be apparently unjustified shootings by both armed citizens and sworn police officers. In dealing with an aggressive, combative subject, something appears in the hands, and the good guy, conditioned by sub-par training, to “expect” a combative subject to have a weapon, engages with lethal force, only to discover after the fact, it was a cellphone or some other innocuous implement that was not really a weapon at all (it’s important to note, I’m not criticizing the individual in this case, but their training. There’s no point in criticizing someone for following their human nature).
Besides seeing what we expect to see, the second why behind normalcy bias is the human tendency to ignore and/or deny those things that make us uncomfortable. Someone who is uncomfortable with physical violence may be in denial, even as they find themselves on the pavement, getting a boot stomp party across their forehead. This happens with police officers and armed citizens with a frightening frequency, and there is ample surveillance and dash camera footage to validate it. Even a half-hearted search of YouTube, coupled with some minor objectivism when watching the videos, makes this abundantly obvious.
Finally, if something cannot be “ignored” or “denied,” we dismiss it as unrealistic. I witnessed one major example of this on my buddy Greg Ellifritz’s Active Response Training Facebook page recently, when he posted a link to an article discussing the relationship, or lack thereof, between what “gun guys” wear in tactical shooting classes, and what is actually needed for personal protection, based off the recorded use-of-force experiences of armed citizens and police officers. The argument was made that, since the chances of a private citizen getting involved in a shooting that involved them using their rifle was slim to none, that training with a full load-out, and practicing things like speed reloads and related esoteria, was largely unnecessary and irrelevant.
There’s a lot of apparent value to that argument. While I do drive around with a loaded M4 on the backseat floorboard of my vehicle, and carry a Glock 17 or 19 concealed on my person religiously, I don’t drive around with a plate carrier and warbelt or RACK on. If we look at regular use-of-force incidents by armed citizens in public, and at home, most are successfully ended with far less than one magazine out of a Glock, let alone out of a rifle. One commenter noted that if an armed citizen fired an entire magazine out of an AR15, in a defensive shooting scenario, he or she would be the lead story on the national news. If they used TWO magazines, they’d probably go in the history books.
The problem is, THAT is normalcy bias, and it leads us directly into the crux of this article: We don’t live in what most of us recognize as “normal” times anymore. I would argue that we are, in fact, in the midst of TEOTWAWKI, and most people, including “preppers” are in a normalcy bias-driven denial of that reality.
For most of us, of a, shall I say, “certain age,” normal is defined as the America we recognize from our youth and young adulthood. That America is gone, as most of us recognize. The denial in question isn’t that. The denial is expecting that “normal” as we define it is going to return.
The core of this article clicked with me several nights ago, as my wife and I watched the Republican presidential candidate debates on television. No one of the candidates was arguing for a return, or even a conservation, of “normal” America. From Donald Trump acknowledging that he had—and would continue—to buy politicians, and that it was “no big deal,” because “everybody does it,” to Chris Christie arguing that there was nothing wrong with shredding the Constitution, in the pursuit of “security,” to Ben Carson arguing that taxes are a moral equivalent of tithing, there was really none of the candidates—with the arguable exception of Rand Paul, who made any argument that even hinted at a desire to return America to “normal.”
We face constant, and increasing foreign invasion across the southern border. We face increasing socialization of our society and government, and beyond calls for electing a “Republican” to roll back the socialist policies of the Obama administration, including his “unconstitutional executive orders” (no mention was made of those of his predecessor, I noted), no one really expects any changes to that either. We see calls from Mohammedan subcultures within our country to be allowed to deal with things under Sharia Law. Rather than laugh at the absurdity of it, too often, we give it credence by even taking it seriously.
Sure, they’re serious, but the only sane response to that is a resounding, “Go fuck yourself, or go home and fuck a goat,” by the political leadership of any community that finds itself confronted with such pleas. Even giving them the appearance of legitimate consideration is admission that “normal” is no longer “normal,” and is admission that it really us TEOTWAWKI.
Normalcy bias, in this instance, is the belief that TEOTWAWKI will be heralded by some obvious, major catalyst, like an EMP or the declaration of martial law by the government. Ignoring the absolute, absurd impossibility of effective martial law in the United States, as a whole, think about the actual definition of TEOTWAWKI. It’s HERE, NOW, and denying it is normalcy bias.
Yes, use of force by armed citizens are generally solved by 2-3 rounds in 2-3 seconds at 2-3 yards. Accepting that, and determining that, because this is “normal,” then that’s all you need to prepare for, even as we argue and discuss the infiltration of jihadi terrorists, and WITNESS the radicalization of home-grown jihadi sympathizers, is a textbook example of normalcy bias.
Stockpiling beans, bullets, and band-aids, in the interest of being prepared for TEOTWAWKI, without recognition that you are in the midst of TEOTWAWKI, is normalcy bias.
Overcoming The Bias
We see media pundits every day, telling us we have to move past our biases, and accept all people as the same. While that’s absurd, on the face of it, there are biases we do need to overcome, if we’re to survive long enough to ensure that our children and grandchildren will survive. How do we do so?
1) Accept that “normal” is no longer “normal.” This requires more than simply telling yourself. It requires internalizing it as reality and truth. It’s great for patriotic, conservative, Americans to long for yesteryear, and the greatness of the Pax Americana. It’s also completely fucking delusional. America is only a superpower now, among nation-state actors. The transnational terrorist groups do not recognize American sovereignty and superiority. If they did, they would never have started fighting, or would have yielded by now. A wall along the Mexican border is great…except we already know there are more tunnels than an goddamned ant farm, traversing the border. So, sure, let’s drop several billion dollars building a wall that won’t be any more useful than the locks on your car door are (remember, as my grandfather told me when I was a kid, “car locks only keep honest people honest.”). Illegal aliens are going to continue crossing the border, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it, outside of genocide, or the total collapse of our economy.
2) Recognize what the “new normal” implies for you and yours. This may range from reduced police presence in your neighborhood or community, especially for dealing with property crimes and other “minor” issues. Think about what happened in NYC last year after two officers were assassinated, sitting in their cruiser. If you live in a really shitty neighborhood, where people are as likely to assault cops as help them, you should—justifiably–expect the same thing. As my wife pointed out yesterday, when she heard that people were “acting out” in Ferguson, on the anniversary of the Wilson-Brown shooting, “if I was a cop, I wouldn’t even respond to calls in their neighborhood. Fuck them. If they hate me, why help them?”
Recognize that, as the elevation of “special groups” of people, of whom you are not a member, for whatever reason, continues, if you find yourself engaged in a legal or political struggle with them, you will lose, because they are “special,” and you are not. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to approve of it, but if you deny it, you’ll find yourself “married” to a cellmate, and the relationship WILL be consummated.
Recognize that, ultimately, you have to rely on yourself, and those with whom you’ve built trusted relationships. That may range from dealing with community problems in an “extrajudicial” manner, to helping those who’ve lost their employment and income, by either providing employment for them, or using some gray market type of exchange with them, to allow them to procure the necessary items of life, ranging from food to shelter and clothing.
Experience Is Only A Start
Experience is a great advantage when dealing with bad situations. Experience in violence is a great advantage when overcoming the normalcy bias necessary to self-defense situations, whether that’s getting caught in traffic in the midst of a “flash mob” and recognizing that escape means driving OVER people, or it’s recognizing—and accepting—the reality that the dude coming at you in the middle of the alley, with a knife in his hand is not curious if you could spare a pat of butter for his crackers.
When we’ve faced violence before, it becomes significantly easier to acknowledge its occurrence. This is why the criminal gangbanger with a Saturday Night Special has a far better chance of survival than a white-bread suburban stockbroker with a basement full of bunker supplies, but no experience with interpersonal violence, regardless of how many AK47 and AR15 rifles he has stockpiled in his safe.
Ultimately though, experience can be as much a hindrance as a help. If you expect all future engagements with people to reflect what you experienced as a neighborhood bully when you were a kid, or what you saw in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised when it takes a different face. Experience is useful, only when it is used as a springboard metric for improvement through further training.
“Hey, I recognize that trouble can occur. It will probably NOT look like what I’ve experienced, so let me look around, do some serious studying, and see what it probably IS going to look like.”
I’m a historian. I see and recognize the parallels between the TEOTWAWKI we are experiencing, and the TEOTWAWKI other empires have faced in the past. Expecting the Vandals to come through the gates, on horseback, swinging swords and lances, behind war banners and a single leader though, would be a hindrance. I recognize that the Vandals, this time around, are already here, and more are en route daily, not under one leader, but with a common shared cause, that includes marginalization and disenfranchisement of people like me. They’re not armed with swords and lances. They’re armed with computers, reporters in their pockets, guns, and IED.
Experience is a teacher, but we have to let it teach us.