Monday, December 21, 2015

The Anatomy of Courage

 Image result for courage

 I received a request to for a post that continues to look at courage. I chose to use the 2007 edition of the classic, The Anatomy of Courage: The Classic WWI Study of the Psychological Effects of War by Lord Moran and in particular the introduction penned by General Sir Peter de la Billiere. De La Billiere explains that when he was commanding officer of the British SAS, he instructed every knew recruit purchase a copy of this eminently readable book so they might take Moran's experience into battle with them.

What does De La Billiere have to say about courage?

Courage conquers fear. Fighting in war creates an environment where fear is prevalent, and unless courage prevails, all is lost.

Courage and fear are in constant conflict, for without fear there would be no requirement for courage.

Intelligent people are more readily subject to fear, because in a battle they have a vivid appreciation of what is happening all around them, and of the threat that danger poses to them and their unit. An intelligent person has to make a positive effort to control himself, and may well break down because of his temperament and imagination. On the other hand, an unimaginative person, who fails to appreciate the significance of a threat, may achieve deeds that appear to be brave but are less so, simply because he lacks imagination. Courage is an individual's exercise of mind over fear through self-discipline.

The most important personal requirement for those who go to war is to understand the enigma of courage and its critical importance in overcoming fear.

Lord Moran summed it up: Courage is willpower.

There are a number of researchers who postulate a basic set of emotions. Only Magda Arnold in 1960 included courage as an emotion. Given the above is a fair representation of what people think courage is and no other researcher refers to courage as an emotion, we can safely assume that courage refers to willpower that is used to overcome the effects of fear. The use of intellect to overcome emotion.

The effects of fear? Emotion is not just a feeling. It is a process that involves an appraisal that elicits a subjective feeling that motivates an instinctive action tendency that an automatic physiological reaction prepares the body to enact. The effects of fear that courage overcomes is the action tendency of flight. What about the physiological effects of fear?

The physiological effects of fear are unfortunately considered under the ambiguous and abstract concept of stress. Bruce Siddle's work is based on the debilitating effects of the physiological response on survival and combat performance. It would appear that courage will not effect those debilitating effects on survival and combat performance as fear continues to be experienced when using willpower to be courageous.

There are more instinctive behavioural responses associated with fear than the simplistic fight-or-flight model. For instance, tonic immobility (often referred to as freeze) is an involuntary catatonic state. Does courage overcome fear induced tonic immobility?

When a person is described as fearless, a quality much admired in battle, how do you know they did not experience fear unless you ask them? If they are fearless then be definition they cannot be brave. Maybe they lack imagination as De La Belliere suggests. In like manner, how do you know a person experienced fear when performing a 'courageous act.' Medals are awarded for courageous acts, however, are they first quizzed over their emotional state at the time?

Cprl Ben Robers-Smith explains how training kicked in when his mates were pinned down and he charged a Taliban position for which he was awarded a VC. Training (including stress training) is designed to lessen or negate fear. If that training is successful then there can be no courage as courage requires fear as De La Belliere explains.

A lot of people refer to fight-or-flight but they don't understand the concept. They associate it only with fear, however, Walter Cannon, the originator of the concept associated flight with fear and fight with anger, and that fight was only enacted when fear is obstructed. Nature's way to overcome fear to support fight behaviour is to change the emotion from fear to anger. If a person performs a 'courageous act' while angry, as Nature designed, is that courage?

Countering Fear in War: The Strategic Use of Emotion refers to a strategy of turning fear into anger. This strategy is commonly taught to women in women's self-defence courses. The berserk warrior tradition takes it further to rage. This strategy is taken straight from Nature's playbook. In all of these instances, 

A recent study concluded, based on the responses of 51 winners of some bravery award, that those acts were by-and-large the result of instinctive responses to risk one's life to save another. They were awarded bravery awards but there is no mention of fear. There is no mention of willpower to overcome fear as they were split second decisions taken without conscious thought. Intuitive as the study refers to them as. Are these medal recipients courageous?

It appears to me that the term courage is often used by third parties to describe the actions of another when taking action in the face of danger. That is why I refer to 'courageous acts' as they are acts that others find courageous. How many bravery/gallantry/courageous medal recipients of those lauded as 'heroes' in the press refer to themselves as brave, gallant, courageous, or a hero?

Isn't it funny though, most people will not describe themselves as courageous, however, we have no such hesitation in describing and deriding ourselves for being cowards.

It is important we understand what we mean by courageous because we praise, respect, and denigrate those who do and do not exhibit courage when in a dangerous situation. The military rely on the concept of courage and attempt to instill it within their personnel, so it behoves one to have an understanding of what this man-made, artificial construct is. It's man-made and artificial because there is no courage nor cowardice in nature. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Criminologist Proves My Point

Image result for criminologist 

I exchanged messages with a professional criminologist today. Let's just refer to her as LS to protect her reputation.

I'd contacted LS to possibly exchange ideas after she posted a comment on the ABC website concerning domestic abuse and identified herself as a professional criminologist in order to give credibility to her views. It was because of that I contacted her in order to discuss and explore certain matters.

In my original email I explained that in my book I explain how many activities associated with violence refer to the fight-or-flight concept and how their understanding of FoF is limited and flawed as is the concept itself. She took exception to that:

LS: Fight or flight isn't flawed, it's a very real concept.

FoF is a real concept. I'm not disputing that. What I am suggesting, and which LS clearly demonstrated, is that most people's understanding of FoF is limited and flawed as is the concept itself.

Most people who refer to FoF do so in reference to fear and attribute both instinctive survival behaviours to fear, however, Walter Cannon, the founder of the FoF concept associated flight with fear but fight with anger. This small but important detail is often overlooked. It is important because if instinctive fight behaviour was associated with fear then there would be no need to develop ways and means to counter fear if fight behaviour was the desired behaviour.


LS: Anger doesn't activate flight or fight. I suggest that you do so,e (sic) proper empirical research instead of just relying on some guy's book.

The 'guy's book' I am relying on is Walter Cannon's, the guy would developed the FoF concept. The title of his book first published in 1915 indicates the association of FoF with anger and fear: 
Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage.

LS: No psychology text I have ever read talks about anger activating fight or flight.

LS is proving my point about the flawed understanding of the FoF concept that many/most people have.

FoF only offers two instinctive survival behaviours, however, that has been criticised in recent times. Read 'Does "Fight or Flight" Need Updating?' by Bracha et al. The updating they are referring to is in terms of the limited number of instinctive survival behaviours the FoF model provides. And even their updates are limited.

 LS:  Fight or flight is gender neutral. I'll stick to academic texts thanks. Don't think I can help you, sounds like you need to do more research.

I referred LS to Dr Shelley Taylor and her associates paper that attempt to update FoF for gender. They suggest that FoF is a male concept and most research on the concept has been done on male subjects, animal and human. The propose a female alternative, tend-and-befriend. They argue that females have different behavioural responses to a threat because they have had different evolutionary pressures.

Is Psychological Review a sufficient academic resource? The research came out of the University of California (UCLA). Is that sufficient credibility?

LS: Tend and befriend is not a concept I ever came across in my studies, ever.

Again, kind of proving my point.

LS: Fight or flight is a physiological response of the autonomic nervous system. Different behaviours may manifest when one experiences fight or flight, but it doesn't change the chemistry of the physiological response.

The stress discipline through the work of the founder of the stress concept, Hans Selye, hijacked the FoF concept and turned the focus off survival and the three components in our evolved survival mechanism and onto the effects of the FoF physiological response on health and later performance.

Cannon got it wrong. He describes two emotions that motive two different instinctive survival behaviours but only one physiological reaction. What colour does a person's face turn when scared or angry? The different colours indicate different physiological reactions are being experienced when different emotions are being experienced. The different physiological reactions are explained in terms of the different action tendencies associated with the different emotions. 

The FoF physiological reaction is a fear physiological reaction, and then only for a small part of the fear spectrum. FoF is associated with with increased sympathetic nervous system activation when fear is experience, however, another behaviour that Bracha (alone) identified as an instinctive survival behaviour is faint. Faint is associated with extreme fear but the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the SNS resulting in 'shut down.'

Taylor explains that the different gender responses to a threat, tend-and-befriend for females, is also physiological related. She explains that the same physiological reactions occurs for females as it does for the males (FoF) but when the hormones react with the sex hormones different results occur.

LS: Whatever man, I know what fof is I don't need schooling.

Again, proving my point. I really gotta get my work out there to 'school' people like LS (a professional criminologist).  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Was Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith VC medal reciepent couragous?

Image result for cpl ben roberts-smithThis post is based on a chapter I've been writing in my book concerning our evolved survival mechanism and the survival process. An understanding of these concepts not only provides a better understanding of our natural responses to a threat, they also provide a better understanding of all of the methods taught by martial arts, self-defence, law enforcement, and the military as they are all interventions in our/the survival mechanism/process.

The chapter I'm writing is tentatively titled, Overcoming Fear.

I initially refer to Petersen and Liaras' article concerning the emotional strategies used to overcome fear in war published in the Journal of Military Ethics. They provide five strategies that have been used since time immemorial to get people to fight rather than flee when threatened. The first mistake they make is to associate both fight and flight with fear, as do most people.

Walter Cannon developed the fight-or-flight concept and what most people who do not bother researching his work do is attribute both survival behaviours to fear when he attributed flight to fear but fight to anger. This small but important detail has important ramifications when attempting to understand natural and learned responses to a threat.

I then move on and use Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith's awarding of a VC for action in Afghanistan to extend far beyond Petersen and Liaras' work.

Robert's-Smith says anyone who is not fearful in combat is either crazy or lying. Fair enough. Given the most common instinctive response to a threat is fear and flight, how did Robert's-Smith overcome fear in order to take out the Taliban position that was threatening his platoon?

Moran, in The Anatomy of Courage, states courage is willpower. Courage is often stated, as evidenced in oh so many US military manuals, as engaging in action even though scared. General Sir Peter de la Billiere in the same book states that without fear there is no courage.

This produces an interesting dilemma. Medals of bravery by whatever description refer to courage or gallantry, and De La Billiere states that without fear there is no courage. If Robert's-Smith did not experience fear at the time of his actions then, by definition, he was not courageous.

I have this image in my head of, after an action, troops have to fill in a questionnaire with a question concerning their feelings during a particular engagement. 'You rushed an enemy position without regard for your personal safety in order to save your fellow soldiers.' 'Yes sir.' 'Were you fearful.' 'No sir.' 'Right, on your way. You're not brave. No medal for you.'

I've been trawling through news reports of Roberts-Smith's interviews. He talks about training kicking in. Stress training, even when the term itself is not used, is designed to minimise or negate fear and anxiety, although that is lost because of the reference to the ambiguous and abstract concept of stress (Everybody knows what stress is, but nobody really knows - Hans Selye, father of the stress concept). If his (stress/anti-fear training) kicked in, did he not experience fear when he rushed the Taliban?  His training overcame fear.

A most interesting discovery is a study that looked at extreme altruism of heroism medal winners. They found that an overwhelming majority acted on instinct and did not think about the action. The authors of that study wanted to see if acted without thinking or with conscious self-control to override fear. They, being members of the fractured sciences, did not follow through on that thought.

When I read the descriptions of the medal winners, many referred to adrenalin rushes and feeling no pain, both of which are physiological reactions associated with an emotion being experienced. What emotion? In fact, the authors defined intuitive action and decision making including emotion. What emotion?

They state that learning is part of our evolutionary heritage and that this extreme altruism can be an inherited trait or learned from life experience, or taught. It would be handy to know what emotion we are trying to teach and instill when training someone to 'have their mates' backs' in combat.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Women's Self Defence and Bejesus

The standard women's self defence marketing model is to scare the bejesus out of women.

Step one - provide women with the horrifying statistics that is violence against women. Step two - provide anecdotes of violence against women which unfortunately there is no shortage of. By this time they will be convinced if they haven't been attack or abused todate then it is only a matter of time. That they are defenceless without the aid of the WSD product being offered. Step three - after defining the problem - problem solving 101 - present the solution, the WSD product being offered.

That is a very effective business model. Very effective. But I have a different approach ... which may explain my lack of financial success at this point in time.

I explain that women are NOT defenceless. That Nature equipped them with a sophisticated defence mechanism and that I can prove it. I can prove it because if they were defenceless, they would not be here; we would not be here; the human race would not be here

I prefer to explain to women that Nature did not craft them to be row boats cast adrift in a turbulent sea. No. Nature crafted them to be naval vessels equipped with a sophisticated defence system including a sophisticated radar system - intuition.

This is the basis that WSD courses, and other activities associated with preparing a person to survive a violent encounter should be forced to start with. What can you do that is better than Nature? After all, Nature provided a survival mechanism that has proven highly successful over millions of years.

WSD courses teach to turn fear into anger. Man has constantly used emotion strategically to motivate and support fight behaviour by turning fear into anger. Please ... That is taken straight out of Nature's playbook.

Fight-or-flight is a concept that is understood by most in a limited and flawed fashion, AND, it is a limited and flawed concept itself. Most associate fight or flight with fear, however, Cannon associated flight with fear but fight with anger. Flee when you can, fight if you must. The different emotions motivate and support the different survival behaviours.

Fear into fight in order to support fight behaviour when flight is obstructed - Nature survival 101.

My point is, understand Nature's survival process before you dismiss it. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

There Are No Cowards In Nature

Cowardice. A word that is used to denigrate and motivate. We learn to overcome fear in order to fight because to not fight is cowardice. To run away is cowardice.

The U.S. Army nearly got it right when they said that the mission of the soldier in a survival situation is to stay alive. That mission is taken straight out of Nature's playbook. However, the U.S. Army also refers to staying alive with dignity and honour. Nature doesn't care about dignity and honour. Those are man-made constructs that are designed to get people to act in a particular way. Nature is only interest in our survival.

There are no cowards in nature. Does the lioness who runs from a wilderbeast get chastised and ostracised because she ran away? No. Judgements are for humans, and judgements are designed to get people to act in a particular way.

Many people refer to fight-or-flight to describe our natural responses to a threat. Those many people do not understand that they have a limited and flawed understanding of a limited and flawed concept.

Fight-or-flight does not indicate choice. These are instinctive, meaning unconscious, survival behaviours that were selected for in nature because they conferred a survival advantage on an individual. And there is an order to the survival behaviours. It has been consistently shown that the order of survival behaviours is dependent on increasing proximity of threat with flight being the first option followed by fight if flight is obstructed.

Flee when you can, fight when you must. Nature's way.

Man then comes along and places judgements on nature's survival process. What's even worse is that those judgements then cause damage and gets people killed after nature did it's job and the person survived.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Courage and cowardice - subjects that are of great interest to fighting activities. Subjects that are of great interest to politicians, the military, law enforcement, society ... to all of us. Subjects that are judgement-laden, and subjects that most of us are blissfully ignorant of as we judge ourselves and others.

Courage has been defined as doing something even though fearful.

Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith received the highest award in the Australian honours system, the Victoria Cross for Australia and later the Medal for Gallantry. Gallantry is defined as courageous. Courage, bravery, gallantry are all included in the descriptions for these honours, however, Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith explains that when he engaged in the actions for which he was awarded those honours, fear was absent as training kicked in.

No fear, no courage. No fear, no bravery. No fear, no gallantry. No fear, none of those by definition.

No fear, just training. Training is designed to eliminate courage, bravery, and gallantry, by definition.

I am braver, more courageous, and more gallant than Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith ... by definition :). You see, I have been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder, therefore, I live most my life in perpetual fear, however, I do things, accomplish things, get things done despite anxiety-fear. Despite sometimes crippling anxiety-fear. Therefore, by definition, I am braver, more courageous, and more gallant than Cprl Ben Roberts-Smith.

But your anxiety-fear is not associated with life threatening situations I hear you protest. Do you think your amygdala differentiates between life threatening situations and not when you have an anxiety and/or panic disorder? No. Your amygdala goes into protection mode when it detects a threat ... like picking up kitty litter, visiting the adopted nieces that you love, visiting your mother who is in a palliative care unit in hospital, attending a coffee with a friend ...

My point is to expose the fallacy that is courage (and later cowardice). It is a concept that we embrace that reveals more about us than it does about the supposed courageous person.

There is a wonderful book, The Mystery of Courage, that is a meditation on courage. Within its contents the author writes about 'courageous acts.' Courageous acts are what we consider courageous irrespective of the actors motivations. Courage is something that seems to be divorced from the actor.

There is a lot more to courage and cowardice, however, fodder for future posts.