Your attacker isn’t an animal. He’s a lot more dangerous than that.

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What’s the opposite of anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism, as you know, is the attribution of human characteristics to animals (or inanimate objects.) People who believe that guns cause people to shoot each other, for instance, are engaging in a kind of anthropomorphism: attributing desire and the ability to command to a metal object. It’s a tendency that goes far back into our history, to a time when people believed in the spiritual powers of amulets and special stones.

It’s the opposite of anthropomorphism that I want to talk about today: zoomorphism, or attributing animal characteristics to non-animals (including humans.)

Zoomorphism in the training world bothers me, because I suspect  it leads people to think about their self defense in ways that cause them to underestimate what they face. It appears constantly in self defense literature: criminals referred to as “pack animals”; attackers using their “lizard brains”; innocent people facing “street wolves”. All of those terms paint a picture of a simplistic humanoid who acts in an unsophisticated manner; one who follows only instinct and — most importantly — one who is less intelligent, and therefore less dangerous, than we are.

None of that is necessarily true.

Your attacker is a human being, just like you, who can think, improvise and analyze the data flowing into his brain — in the same way as you do with the information flowing into your head. This makes him incredibly dangerous because he can outsmart you if you’re not very careful, and even if you are.

One big reason that attackers are consistently successful in their “career” is because they’ve learned how to spot a victim and how to exploit that victim. Some of them aren’t terribly complex or sophisticated, certainly, but there are more who are. These are people who are good students of human behavior, who understand what motivates others and how to use people’s own social conditioning against them.

Now it’s true  they might not be able to understand that’s what they’re doing; they may not have the education or command of the language to explain it, but that is nevertheless what’s happening. While you’re mentally calculating if you can afford that bauble in the window, they’re sizing you up and deciding of the potential gain (whatever that gain may be — it’s not always monetary or tangible) exceeds the risk they’ll take by attacking you. The is as true for burglars and identity thieves as it is for sexual predators.

I’m concerned that if you buy into the tough-guy talk and allow yourself to think of them as mere animals you won’t grasp the importance of what I just wrote, and you won’t understand why it’s so important to study and train to defeat them. If you think you can avoid them as easily as you do your neighbor’s dog you might miss the fact that they’ve pulled a complex flanking and enveloping maneuver, and now you’re in a spot where your formerly superior intellect stalls out. They win.

Never underestimate the intelligence of the criminal predator and don’t let the sound-bite zoomorphic expressions of people in the defensive training business lead you to do so. Always assume that the person you’re facing is just as intelligent, in all the ways that matter, as you are — even if he’s not very well educated.

You’re not as smart as you might believe, and he’s not as dumb as you’ve been told.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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