Hi there, we haven’t met yet. I’m new here you see, just finding my way around. I have to say it’s all very intimidating so far; everybody seems to have such important and valuable things to say, and most of what I do is, well, whimsy if I’m honest. I mean there might be the odd profound comment or bit of insight here or there, but trust me if there is then it’s there quite by accident, or more likely due to your generous interpretation of my writing than anything I’m actually trying to say.
So, anyway, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m Nathaniel Cooke, author of a book being released on to the word with literally zero fanfare this June 10th, called How Not to Get Hit. I’m not going to go on about it here, don’t worry, but if you’re interested you can find it on Amazon pre-order here, and should help explain what most of my writing is about. Equally, though, this is a forum for my soap box ramblings about the world, my place in it and where that place is at any given time.
Today, for example, I’m in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo – and last night I was chugging through wetlands and marsh on the edge of the rain forest, eyes peeled and on the lookout through the canopy and mangrove roots for Proboscis Monkeys, crocodiles and Spiky Haired Monkeys ( I made that last name up, but they did have spiky hair), to varying degrees of success. Monkeys, it turns out, are fairly easy to spot. They tend to have bright fur, make lots of noise and jump around the tree tops, generally drawing unnecessary amounts of attention towards themselves. The Spiky Haired monkeys even have punk haircuts, and one thing you can’t say about a punk is that he blends in to the background.
Crocodiles, on the other hand, were a more challenging prospect. It’s not that they weren’t there, we were assured, it’s just that as ambush predators they could be lurking a few feet from the boat and you would not know they were there, right up until they wanted you to. Our guide took great delight in explaining. As several people quietly and cautiously withdrew their hands from outside the boat.
If monkeys are the noisy, attention seeking punks of the animal kingdom, crocodiles are the seedy criminal underworld kingpin, trying not to draw much attention to themselves so they can go about their business undisturbed. See what I did there? Linked behavior in the animal kingdom back to human social behavior, didn’t I? You can expect more of that. A large part of How Not to Get Hit discusses how violence evolved in nature, and what that means for us as we drive about in our air conditioned cars, drink our Starbucks and surf the net on our shiny iPads.
There was a study a few years ago that explored how eyes have evolved, the findings of which I feel has dictated animal behavior ever since. The study (‘The Influence of the Sensory System and the Environment on Motion Patterns in the Visual Displays of Anoline Lizards and other Vertibrates’ by Leo J Freishman, March 1992 if you’re interested) discussed how our eyes and our neurology that interprets the signals they send us have been designed to filter out the background noise of plants & foliage, so that we can more easily detect animals moving within said foliage, and differentiate them from the rest of the jungle. A snake from a vine, for example – or a particularly fine looking monkey from a mouldy old tree stump. Watching out for my mobster crocodiles and punk primates on a boat in Borneo, I found myself thinking how animal behavior has also evolved to take advantage of this little fact. Predators movements are slow, rhythmical, designed not to be noticed so that they melt in to the background noise; prey have no need for such movement as they don’t hunt, so their movements are designed to be noticed – either for sexual selection (hence the nice haircuts) or to warn off potential predators.
What this tells us, the avid reader who wants to navigate the urban jungle we all live in without encountering any of ts own predators, is that the noisy man in the street making lots of threatening noises, shouting and acting as violent as possible is doing it for a reason – he doesn’t actually want to fight anyone, and is probably more scared of you than you are of him. Animals who make big displays of violence do so to avoid violence, not to instigate it. Otherwise he is engaging in a battle for territory (road rage, his space at the bar) or for sexual selection, in which case violence can be avoided if you understand what your aggressor wants, and how to give it to them. Get out of the way, let him have his moment of looking big in front of his girl, and go about your day.
Predators, however, will do everything they can to disguise their intent; a mugger will not advertise from across the street that he would like your wallet he will use subterfuge, trickery or disguise to close down the space between you until he can launch a surprise attack, not giving you the opportunity to defend yourself and run the risk of getting hurt himself. Predators are recognizable by their absence of signals, by their stillness, their intent. Their behavior is a ruse, intended solely to track down their prey. Their camouflage is not the foliage, or the patterns on their backs – it is the friendly smile, the blending with the crowd, the distracting question, the quiet alley. Know this, know your enemy, and you have a greater chance of evading violence altogether.
To win 100 victories against 100 enemies is not the pinnacle of skill – to win without fighting at all is the pinnacle of skills – Sun Tzu, The Art of War