De-escalation is for Losers, according to Winners

If he wasn’t so destructive it would be tempting to feel sorry for him. That can be said for many angry, tyrannical, violent people, and it applies to our president, of course. Raised in a home where his ruthless and lawless father taught him that only “winning” matters, he never really had a chance not to be warped the way he was. Still, I’m not tempted to feel sorry for him. Not every abuse victim grows up to double down on abuse as an adult. Those who insist on their right to abuse others deserve our scorn.

This type sees every conflict as a zero-sum game to be won or shamefully lost. My father, an infant victim of vicious abuse, came to see the world this way, but deeply regretted the life-crimping idiocy of that view as he was dying.

Only in sports, where a neutral party keeps score, enforces rules of fair play and the team with the higher score beats the other team, does winning and losing in the strict sense actually come into play. The team that loses is not regarded by the victors as “losers” unless the winning team is composed of immature jerks. The rest of the uses of “winner” and “loser” are metaphorical and used to justify exploitative behavior by zero-sum thinkers, people too stunted to see the world otherwise.

At the same time, of course, there are winners and losers in every negotiation, victims and beneficiaries of every law. Every time the super-wealthy get another tax break, they win, the public’s ability to pay for programs and maintain infrastructure loses. Every time a court rules that private parties can be as homophobic as they like in conducting their business — a win for homophobes, a bitter day for homosexuals and their friends. Whenever an unarmed person is killed by police and an investigation determines the killing was justifiable– somebody wins and the family of the dead person (and society at large) loses again– and has their noses rubbed in their “loss”. There are countless examples of this kind of shit, which some call injustice, but that doesn’t mean the world, or nature, actually works in this smash ’em in the fucking face and WIN! way. It is a construction favored by authoritarian types.

Every sustainable system requires some give and take, cooperation and compromise always leads to better results than zero-sum warfare. Cooperative systems do not view things in absolute terms — that one party wins everything, the other must lose everything. Seeing things as win-win is for LOSERS, according to those who believe the world is composed of winners and losers. Like I wrote at the top, you could feel sorry for this type if they weren’t such ruthless, destructive fuckers.

Their approach to conflict is to dominate. You dominate people who work for you, dominate the news cycle, you dominate protests in the street, dominate the news about the protests in the street. You escalate conflict constantly, to prove your strength (which you always doubt and so must continue to prove). You provoke confrontations to demonstrate that you are capable of using more violence than the other side.

I recognize this idiocy from my senseless childhood battles with an adult who waited almost fifty years to realize he was wrong for framing everything as a war. When we’re upset we need somebody to de-escalate the situation, not enflame things by framing it as another instance of a war we are going to lose. Even as a very young boy, I understood this, was dismayed that my hurt was always quickly recast as irrational anger. If I wasn’t angry before, I was once I was angrily accused of being angry. And so it goes.

It’s now common to call the recasting of legitimate feelings as crazy delusions “gaslighting,” though I always still think of it as reframing. As the Kenosha sheriff said the other day about the people murdered by a 17 year-old from out of state who came to “police” the protest over the Jacob Blake shooting, a kid in illegal possession of a deadly long gun; if they had obeyed the curfew, they wouldn’t have been killed.

See what he did? Now we’re talking about lawbreakers, and maybe they shouldn’t have been killed, but clearly, they shouldn’t have been on the street after dark, openly violating the curfew. Not saying it was their fault, but if they’d obeyed the law they’d still be alive.

When people with a legitimate grievance, protesting legally, are met by a display of unyielding state violence — the outcome is not hard to predict. Maybe instead of “defund the police” the call should be more explicit:


recruit police who are prone to de-escalate, mediate, problem solve, change the culture, send police out to emergencies with people trained in these things. Make violence a last, not first, resort.

When police show up where somebody is upset, acting crazy, if they have no training in how to de-escalate the situation, they will use the only tools they have and it is likely that someone will get hurt. A person who doesn’t need to die will often lose their life in this situation [1].

It’s a very weak definition of “Law and Order” to insist that a naked man acting irrationally is justifiably killed by police who inform him to lay face down on the ground. He disobeyed a direct order: subdue him, choke him, shoot him if necessary.

The police are not trained to de-escalate these situations. They should be. There is nothing weak about someone with the power to kill you instead calming you down, protecting you.


These killings of citizens by police are so common (contrary to Bill Barr’s lying assertion that “only seven” unarmed blacks died at the hands of police last year) that most of them don’t even make the news:

In Arizona, body-camera and surveillance footage released Tuesday show Phoenix police officers held a man on the hot asphalt for nearly six minutes before he died in the back of a police car earlier this month. Twenty-eight-year-old Ramon Timothy Lopez was apprehended on August 4, chased and tackled to the ground by one of the officers. Two others later arrived on the scene. After pressing him into the scorching hot pavement for six minutes, Lopez was lifted and placed in the back of a police car, where he was later found unresponsive. Photographs revealed his skin was covered in burns.


When I mentioned this story to a friend she asked me what the guy had done. I have no idea, but I whatever was doing — how does it justify what they did to him — killing him without a trial by burning him and suffocating him on the hot pavement? Depraved indifference to human life, at best.

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