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Duelling - Essentially a Bloody Stupid Idea

Every so often, somebody posts some wistful meme about how nice it would be if duelling were legal again.

I'm increasingly less gentle in my response. Partly I don't want non-sword folk to start to thinking of Historical European Martial Arts as some kind of Fascist death cult (we really aren't, and we're a very geeky and inclusive movement).

Mostly though, as a historical novelist, swordsman, and father of a teenage boy, I can tell you that duelling was - and is - a bloody stupid idea.

Look, I like swords. Love them, even.

I revel in their history, evolution and context. I get a buzz from handling originals - earlier this year, I examined a well-notched sword from the Battle of Castillon and I could almost hear the English army annihilating itself by charging a superior force in entrenched positions.

Most of all, I like fighting with swords or writing about people fighting with swords; Zornhau!

All this is what leads me to think duelling is essentially a bloody stupid idea.

OK. I'll make one exception. Ritualised and mostly physically safe duelling, like the German mensur tradition, is not entirely stupid, though it is bloody.

The awesome HEMA writer Christoph Amberger famously did a Jane Goodall and joined a couple of German academic fencing fraternities.

Their kind of duel is less swashbuckling than it sounds. You know how in old movies, the Prussian officer has duelling scars? Well that's what mensur was set up to create.

They wore - wear! - special comedy nose, mouth and eye protection, and tightly wound silk scarf covering all the blood vessels you wouldn't want slashed, and a heavy jacket with even heavier hand and arm protection (video).

They fight... not always entirely sober, and do so standing at a set distance or better still sitting on stools or chairs.

The blades whirl around, parry-riposte-parry-riposte all in a single movement, like intersecting clumps of eightsome reelers. Sooner or later the timing is off and SLASH-bugger-that-hurt! you have a scar, which is the point of the exercise.

It's somewhere between a rite of passage and an extreme sport. It may be bloody, but it's no more stupid than bungee jumping or BDSM. Each to their own. (I wouldn't do it, but I was once treated by a 60-something German surgeon who had scars to show and my god I felt envious of him having done it.)

However, real duelling - pairs of combatants facing off with sharp weapons and the possibility of death - was bloody stupid, and widely acknowledged as so at the time.

Yes, it looks so cool when the Three Musketeers do it.

Stop and think.

Those flashing blades are... blades. Sharp. Long. Not entirely predictable. Lethal and nastily so if they sink more than a few inches into the wrong place.

George Silver, an Elizabethan fencer, ranted against the rapier:

...two captains at Southhampton even as they were going to take shipping upon the key, fell at strife, drew their rapiers, and presently, being desperate, hardy or resolute, as they call it, with all force and over great speed, ran with their rapiers one at the other, & were both slain.

To make things worse, if we're talking classic continental sword duelling culture, and not its more edge-focussed  (and less lethal) Medieval and Early Modern precursor, then we're talking rapiers and small swords: thrusting weapons that can kill easily, but not always instantly or reliably. Silver again:

I have known a gentleman hurt in rapier fight, in nine or ten places through the body, arms, and legs, and yet has continued in his fight, & afterward has slain the other, and come home and has been cured of all his wounds without maim, & is yet living.

It was perfectly possible for a duel to result in two dead men, or one dead, and the better fencer dying slowly of internal wounds.

So, just because of the martial arts involved, sword duelling was dangerous, unpredictable, often unexpectedly lethal (and painfully so). Even greatly superior skill did not guarantee survival.

To me, that's enough to make it bloody stupid.

However, it gets worse when you look at what duelling culture was like and how it played out.

People talk airily about duelling as a "safety valve" or a "test of manhood".

However, consider what happens when it's OK and almost mandatory for young men to challenge each other to mortal combat for reasons that can best be called whimsical...

Alfred Hutton - one of the saints of the modern Historical European Martial Arts movement (real soldier, instructor of sabre to the British Army, early investigator of Medieval martial arts treatises) - wrote a wonderful book called The Sword and the Centuries in which he gathered all the anecdotes of tournaments and duelling he could find. Honestly, he should have subtitled it, "500 Years of Aristocratic Testosterone Poisoning".

Especially if you are the parent of  a young man, or have ever sustained a sword injury, the sections on French duelling culture are truly horrific. Duelling wasn't so much a safety valve as a public health emergency.

We're talking young men going out for a bottle of wine and coming back in a hearse because another youth caught their eye in the wrong way and they felt impelled to issue an immediate challenge.

We're talking three versus three duels where a stranger gallantly - read bloody stupidly - offers to make up the missing third on one side. And almost everybody dies. 

Reading between the lines, we're also talking appalling peer pressure, bullying and legitimised murder - a duel is an awfully handy way of getting rid of an unwanted heir or rival.

The death toll in the reign of Henry IV of France (1553-1610) alone reached 4,000 gentlemen killed by duels. Monarchs took to executing those survivors who did not immediately make it into exile. Even that wasn't enough to stamp out the practice, which came in and out of fashion and de facto legality (it was rarely truly legal) like a periodic influenza epidemic until the last official French duel, fought in 1967.

In what universe is any of this a good idea for those involved?

So if somebody posts one of those "Bring back duelling so we can be real men again" memes, please post a link to this article.

Or just tell them to grow up and not to be so bloody stupid.


M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of books like Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and teaches German Longsword for Edinburgh's Dawn Duellist Society. For his take on writing,  read Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic (Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.")

126 Comments

1:

As a parent of two boys, 14 and 12, my "equivalent fear" is regarding teenagers and cars.

Namely, that the modern demonstration of "too much testosterone" involves a small, light, car with the silencer removed, and the reactive wee twat who doesn't think more than one impulse gratification into the future; in other words, the same ones who would have duelled back then.

Scariest words on the planet? "Watch this..."

I keep hoping that self-driving cars become widespread, soon ;)

2:

As a moderately-experienced, but these days extremely out-of-practice fencer ( Sabre is my preferred weapon, foils are effing useless & err pointless *cough*... )
I'm only too well aware of how, if one was not wearing protective gear & the blades were actually sharp & had points, it would be remarkably easy to kill or maim someone - or be on the receiving end of same.
Two thoughts.
1: ALL sword-fights that I've seen of film or TV are pathetically unrealistic - far too much slashing & nowhere near enough careful positioning - it's the point that does the deadly work, at least 85% of the time ...
2: What's different between this & fuckwit teenagers carrying knives on the street? With results we all know about.

3:

I agree it's a stupid idea - and as wearing swords as fallen out of vogue so has duelling fortunately.

From my increasing decrepitude and lack of testosterone poisoning, the fact it carried on despite being illegal and carrying the death penalty and young men today find other high risk outlets, like street racing or whatever, suggests to me you're getting old.

Young women think they're immortal too, it's a function of being young not male, but that testosterone seems to make them want to compete in high risk behaviour. Yes, that's a generalisation but on a population basis men are more likely to do dangerous things than women and more likely to die during their teens and twenties, there's loads of statistics to back that up.

And, in the big scheme of things, is duelling more stupid than street racing or joining a gang or similar honestly? At least in a duel you're only risking two lives, you can't drive your car into an old lady crossing the road, or lose control and plough into a crowded nightclub or similar? I'm still not going to advocate to bring it back but some of the modern alternatives have the chance of multiple deaths of uninvolved folks when it goes wrong, not just the participants...

4:

I'm curious if you have information on Japanese dueling between samurai. My brain is, of course, flashing on Seven Samurai. I'm a huge fan of the play Hamilton, and it has three tragic duels in it, though my favorite movie duels are, of course, The Princess Bride and the first Highlander movie (the flashback with multiple perforations).

Ignoring swords for the moment, gang violence is certainly largely testosterone-fueled and sometimes based on perceived slights, and pistols just make it all the more lethal. Seems like a form of dueling to me. Romeo and Juliet, to me, epitomizes the senselessness of dueling and translates quite easily in to many eras and settings.

5:

I'm going to be mildly contrary and say that while duelling is a bloody stupid idea for us, it was not always so. We think it's stupid because we have better ways to resolve disputes, namely legal systems that are largely fair and honest; and because we don't believe that the outcome of a duel is determined by God.

If society in general believe that the unjust always lose, then a duel is a perfectly sensible way of resolving disputes. It's more reliable than a human judge would be. And a duel rather than a small - or large - scale brawl minimizes the number of deaths.

6:

I rather like the trust demonstration theory as a rationalization of the long survival of the code duello: your credit worthiness had to be demonstrable, with a willingness to cross swords as an ultimate pledge, of sorts. Not the best trust mechanism ever invented, granted, but an interesting angle.

https://books.google.se/books?id=BABNNdsSQNwC&lpg=PT164&ots=YEvLsLRYtW&dq=duelling%20economic%20reasons%20trust&hl=sv&pg=PT161#v=onepage&q=duelling%20economic%20reasons%20trust&f=false

7:

Which is why honour culture persists among teenagers in 'gang' areas - no-one can protect you, so you and your friends band together to protect each other. Any slight must be avenged to show the out-group your group can defend itself and the in-group that you can be relied upon and that you deserve your standing in the group. Vengeance need not be physical violence, but the out-group offender must be defeated.

So tell anyone who says they want to bring back dueling culture to move to inner city Chicago and start a fencing academy.

8:

I know very little about samurai dueling, but enough to know that while similarly testosterone-charged, there were some major differences.

First, it was almost always a SAMURAI duel. If you had a sword, you were either a samurai (i.e. a noble's retainer), in training to become one, or a former one (a ronin or "wave-tossed man"). You didn't really get lots of young punks carrying swords around like you did in Europe.

Secondly, they usually weren't spur of the moment things. While they were nearly always due to some sort of perceived insult (regarding oneself, one's lord, or one's school of sword-fighting), there was a certain ritualism to them.

And finally, there was no such tradition as "first blood". It was usually to the death, although making your opponent unable to fight due to injury or being rendered unconscious worked too. Indeed, since katana are almost exclusively slashing weapons (you can thrust, but not easily), the fights were rarely all that long. First solid hit won.

(I've heard contrary evidence about the edge-parrying so beloved by Hollywood, but my gut instinct is that it's bunk. You'd ruin your cutting edge that way)

9:

A tad unfair to present a one-sided view of the subject. It was a conflict management strategy that worked well; it at least came with rules, and was much better than simply turning to wanton violence. It provided a means of redress and while it looks stupid to us now, in that time it served a function. To dismiss the functions of things from the past by calling them stupid without thinking about why they existed strikes me as little more than presentism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Le_Gris#A_judicial_duel

10:

George Silver's testimony on duelling with the rapier is hard to read as an argument against duelling as such; he was an author of textbooks on duelling with traditional English weapons like the backsword, and an opponent of the rapier, an Italian import.

The theory of duelling I've encountered makes it a badge of identity as a noble. You are supposed to prize your honor, and a way of demonstrating this is to proclaim, visibly, by wearing a sword at your hip, that you are prepared to put your life on the line if your honor is challenged. That is, how much you value honor is measured by how high a price you're willing to pay for it. That sort of test only works if there is a real prize; but it only has to be paid at the margin. On the other hand, if you take away the chance of death entirely, then you have lowered the price, and the duel no longer serves as evidence of much of anything; it's a formalized ritual, like a cat hunting a red dot that it can't eat.

Though I'd also note that during the Three Musketeers era, duelling was already illegal; the French monarchy didn't approve of private use of violence. Paradoxically, that probably made duelling more useful as a badge of honor—if you were preserving your honor by doing something that could expose you to punishment as a criminal, you were risking a high price for it even if you won.

If you want a negative view of duelling, take a look at the duel scene in, I think, the first of the Villiers novels by Panshin, one of the classics of comedic science fiction.

11:

*What's different between this & fuckwit teenagers carrying knives on the street? With results we all know about.[?]*

Knives are less lethal and have a shorter reach, especially when being used for threatening and posturing. However, yes, they are similar. It's just that gentleman duellists are richer and more stylish.

12:

And, in the big scheme of things, is duelling more stupid than street racing or joining a gang or similar honestly?

More immediately stupid, yes, because escalation is more likely to result in fatality. However, your point about bystanders is a good one.

13:

You're talking about judicial duels/trial by combat. See longer response in a moment
v
v
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14:

(Self driving cars will be dead in the water the first time a terrorist uses one as a fertiliser bomb carrying cruise missile.)

15:

It provided a means of redress and while it looks stupid to us now, in that time it served a function.

You're really talking about *judicial* duelling, which is a different animal: a way of limiting the violence which would happen anyway due to an a dispute over something tangible.

Even so, this was open to abuse. For example, the Scandinavians actually outlawed "holmgang" in the Middle Ages because it became a handy way for champions to grab people's land.

16:

George Silver's testimony on duelling with the rapier is hard to read as an argument against duelling as such; he was an author of textbooks on duelling with traditional English weapons like the backsword, and an opponent of the rapier, an Italian import.

Yes. I was citing him on lethality rather than on whether duels were a good idea. He seems all for duelling as long as it's done in manly fashion with might strokes whacking off people's limbs or laying open their veins.

17:

I rather like the trust demonstration theory as a rationalization of the long survival of the code duello:

Yes, and that was certainly evident in Germany, which is well covered by a recent academic text "The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany". However, my understanding is that that tended to be with pistols. Harder to do with swords.

18:

(Self driving cars will be dead in the water the first time a terrorist uses one as a fertiliser bomb carrying cruise missile.)

I expect a technical lock-out to prevent that.

Current trend is towards "autopilot" -- lane following, adaptive cruise control, automatic collision-avoidance braking, and so on -- so the driver can sit back and relax. There are things like self-driving trucks working open-cast mines, but they're on heavily-instrumented routes. It'll be a long time (3-5 years minimum) before a consumer car can drive from A to B without the driver touching the steering wheel.

But even given fully autonomous driving, I don't expect it to be legal to operate a self-driving car on the public highwy without a human being behind the wheel for some years; and the crash-safety features will enforce this: mandatory seat belt engagement if there's a weight on the seat (squat sensor), gaze trackers in the rear view mirror (IIRC Volvo and Toyota are working on this to assist blind-spot elimination), and so on. Self-driving cars will be aware of their occupants, and disabling the sensors will be perceived as a fault requiring urgent maintenance for safety purposes.

So ... put a passenger in the bomb-car to fool the sensors? That'd work; but I'll refer you to the existing tradition of car bombs and the Provisional IRA's methodology in the 70s and 80s (hold driver's family hostage and threaten to kill the kids if the driver won't take the bomb to the destination).

19:

I've never been clear on how dueling works as dispute resolution. Not the challenge and fighting part, but the resolution of the alleged offense.

Lord Jerkface calls Lord Snotnose's sister a slut. LS challenges LJ, and LS wins. So the sister's reputation is unstained. Does LJ have to apologize to LS or to her? Is he obligated not to sully her reputation ever again?

What if LJ wins? Does that mean the sister is a judged a slut, with the resulting trashing of her reputation and marriage prospects? Or is the fact that her brother would fight to protect her reputation enough to keep it pure, even if he lost?

Is her reputation trashed if LS doesn't challenge LJ?

Is the sister's actual sexual behavior of any relevance in all this?

If the offense was an accusation of cowardice, does challenging and showing up refute the accusation regardless of outcome, for the obvious reason that a coward wouldn't fight a duel?

If the insult was an accusation of cheating at cards, and the "cheater" loses, does he have to pay back his winnings? Is the victorious accuser excused from paying any debts from the game? If the "cheater" wins, does that mean the losing accuser has even more obligation to pay any debts?

What if the dispute was over something more substantial like ownership of land or issues in local politics?

Or is this a case of "You've got it all wrong, no one actually cares about the sister/money/whatever"?

20:

See also the "Duellist kills your own people, not the enemy" argument used by L M Bujold in her Chalion/4 gods series ....

21:

In my industry, we've had driverless trains and trucks for a while (They were trialled a few years ago and it's a lot further ahead than the media would have you think)

But the modelling and psych research on driverless cars is fascinating. If you ask the average Joe, everyone's all for it. About a 90% take up. Too tired, had a few beers, broken ankle... happy days.

But when they put the question in if the same people would be happy if the driverless car gets to decide who lives and who dies (eg a semi trailer swerves in front of you and you can mow down 30 people on the footpath or you can get pulverised personally and die yourself when the semi mows you down), then it drops off by about 40-50%.

Even people who swear black and blue that they would die themselves rather than mow down 30 people in that scenario (it was a similar one but you get the point) baulk at having a driverless car make that decision for them (they were asked what they would do then asked if they would accept a driverless car making the same decision and it was an overwhelming 'Hell NO!'

The big questions which will need to be answered before this takes off are how much autonomy we, as a society are prepared to give up, not what the terrorist are doing.

On the duelling thing (sorry M Harold Page for wandering off topic), I grew up in a rural backwater where we played chicken with cars (males and females) cos there was f. all else to do. Same principle, different tech.

22:

Not quite my period, but I will answer from memory as best I can:

Lord Jerkface calls Lord Snotnose's sister a slut. LS challenges LJ, and LS wins. So the sister's reputation is unstained. Does LJ have to apologize to LS or to her? Is he obligated not to sully her reputation ever again?

Pretty much. Plus few other people will feel like insulting her.

What if LJ wins? Does that mean the sister is a judged a slut, with the resulting trashing of her reputation and marriage prospects? Or is the fact that her brother would fight to protect her reputation enough to keep it pure, even if he lost?

Mostly the latter. By this stage, it's not really trial by combat. Also, it's probably not *about* her anyway.

Is her reputation trashed if LS doesn't challenge LJ?

I think so. Yes.

Is the sister's actual sexual behavior of any relevance in all this?

LOL. No.

If the offense was an accusation of cowardice, does challenging and showing up refute the accusation regardless of outcome, for the obvious reason that a coward wouldn't fight a duel?

Yes no need to win. And if pistol era, both may in fact discharge their weapons to miss.

If the insult was an accusation of cheating at cards, and the "cheater" loses, does he have to pay back his winnings? Is the victorious accuser excused from paying any debts from the game? If the "cheater" wins, does that mean the losing accuser has even more obligation to pay any debts?

This I don't know. The obligation would be purely social. The loser would have lost face and thus lost backers. Certainly being accused of cheating, then losing a challenge would make you unlikely to be welcome at a card table again. If you won, it would be hard for people to refuse to let you play.

What if the dispute was over something more substantial like ownership of land or issues in local politics?

That would be judicial combat from an earlier era.

Or is this a case of "You've got it all wrong, no one actually cares about the sister/money/whatever"?

Kind of. With this sort of monkey behavior, the issue is rarely the issue.

23:

You're probably right, but that eliminates most of the potential benefits of truly driverless cars and trucks since there is still just as much need for drivers, they just have better working conditions. You still have to have someone awake, alert, and capable of driving safely there, they are just allowed to play games on their phone most of the time.

It doesn't help with getting grandpa to stop driving because he is getting senile. At least until the "must be a driver" law becomes a widely ignored pretext.

On the other hand, it prevents the economic convulsion when all those truckers and deliverymen become obsolete.

24:

When I read Anglo's The Martial Arts in Renaissance Europe, I was struck by the one case of the man who was in the Tower—but he got permission to go out a couple of times a week because he faced trial, and he was taking lessons in swordsmanship to give him a fairer chance.

25:

To dismiss the functions of things from the past by calling them stupid without thinking about why they existed strikes me as little more than presentism.

Do you think that, for example, the fact that duels in early modern France ranged from dubiously legal to very illegal indeed at vevaiou times suggests that some influential contemporaries thought that the habit of dueling was pretty stupid? That the authorities didn't think this conflict management scheme worked well? I might make the case that rather than being anchronistic, our gracious guest poster is in fact reflecting contemporary attitudes.

26:

Wow I managed to mess up typing various as vevaiou, which was pretty dumb. Sorry everyone.

27:

I fully agree that dueling is a barbaric, ineffective and unnecessarily bloody tradition. However, I would like to caution against using the Mensur tradition as a positive example for... anything, really. The fraternities practicing it are (and have been, since before the 20th century) a racist and ultranationalist institution (wikipedia calls the evidence for this "anecdotal", which I find hilarious considering they have an entire section dedicated to nationalist fraternity songs). They serve as networking associations for men who "fit the profile" of what they define as a good academic: white from a wealthy family, much like Skull and Bones and the Piers Gaveston Society do, except with maybe more overt Nazi nostalgia.

If I might try and act as a cultural translator here, a mensur scar, to me, is the German equivalent of admitting that the bearer fucked a pig.

28:

Like most things to do with swords you need to be careful about generalization

"Dueling" has meant a lot of different things over the years, with varying purposes and lethalities

Judicial duels, duels of honor, single combat between champions in times of war, organized entertainment like jousts , there are many other example.

In the modern era it might well be virtual or augmented in various ways...

29:
asked if they would accept a driverless car making the same decision and it was an overwhelming 'Hell NO!'
I am surprised we've seen no suggestion to use the traditional IT solution to user autonomy: make it a user-configured setting! (An auto-filled checkbox in the setup wizard run on first startup, then never seen again...)
30:

But it would still be bloody stupid.

31:

I don't want to sound like some sort of crazed revolutionary, but since I am one, it's hard not to. Which is why I'd like to point out that all your negative points about dueling sound like positives if we limit it to the peerage and/or the megarich! Or maybe just anyone with a public school education.

> "It was perfectly possible for a duel to result in two dead men, or one dead, and the better fencer dying slowly of internal wounds."

Tell me that doesn't stop sounding horrifying and start sounding appealing if I suggest that the duelists in question are David Cameron and Boris Johnson. :D

32:

Yes, "bloody stupid *for the people involved*". Your point is a good one.

33:

Not really. Duels between champions to define the outcome of a battle is not stupid. Even judicial duels were not stupid. Where it becomes stupid is where it stops serving societal goals and starts serving individual egos

34:

Yeah - a really sane way to resolve disputes: The gentleman (with the longer reach, better musculature, and years of instruction) will triumph over the feeble, malnourished and untrained because he was born with God on his side, dontchewno.


There have been legal systems not based on 'brute strength equals right' for millennia. 'Might is right' is evidence of serious regression to irrational, stylized/dogmatic absence-of-thinking.


BTW - I'm okay with fencing as a display of athleticism and physical skill; ditto for Eastern martial arts, archery, or swinging on ropes and climbing cliffs.

35:

> Or just tell them to grow up and
> not to be so bloody stupid.


In my experience, just about anyone who says `Let's bring back X so that we can be real men again' for any value single value of X has a bad idea of what a 'real man' is, much less a grown-up, and is uninterested in being anything beside bloody stupid.

36:

Consumer appeal re: automated (with driver) and driverless cars is already being widely studied. And, from what I've seen, the emphasis is driver/passenger safety and user affordability/economy (cost per unit distance traveled) as the main decision factors. Such a focus ignores a large set of other factors that are important to consumers/users. Plus, if results are reported only as percentages - as many such studies are - this will effectively ignore millions of individuals as irrelevant.

Not sure any comprehensive Gov't regulations exist on automated and/or driverless cars in any country - pls let me know if otherwise. Could be that gov'ts are deliberately holding back and seeing what 'the market' comes up with. Of course, by then, gov't would be playing catch-up and spending even more on undoing any harms.


37:

Even people who swear black and blue that they would die themselves rather than mow down 30 people in that scenario (it was a similar one but you get the point) baulk at having a driverless car make that decision for them (they were asked what they would do then asked if they would accept a driverless car making the same decision and it was an overwhelming 'Hell NO!'

Simple solution, which I think will in fact be implemented: The car does not weigh one life against another, but prioritizes the life of its passengers, always. And the superior senses of the self-driving cars will ensure that they will never be in the position to mow down 30 people in the first place.

38:

All these discussions seem to create such contrived scenarios for when a self-driving car needs to "make moral choices" because this has nothing to do with almost all real-world accidents. In the scenario above, I'd expect a self-driving car to realise that something is coming into its lane quicker than a human driver, hopefully while the option of braking hard is still there. (Of course, the vehicle I really want to be self-driving in this scenario is the lorry, to reduce the chances of the situation arising in the first place.)

The scenario which was discussed a lot a year or so ago was even more irritating - something like you come round a corner and find a dozen children in the road and the only way to stop is by crashing into a wall. If you didn't get the whole "you must be able to stop in the distance you can see" message drummed into you from your first driving lesson onwards then you shouldn't be on the road. I'd expect algorithms to get that wrong less often than people.

39:

As Martin notes, fighting with real weapons isn't "sport". People get maimed, crippled, and dead, even when the fight was not required to be "to the death", and when it was, then obviously the odds of death for any individual were 1 in 2--and there was a risk that both would die. About the only good outcome of this practice is that it reduced the number of sword-wielding sociopaths*.

* With the footnote that "sociopath" is a socially constrained term and varies historically and culturally in meaning. For instance, most modern societies consider "concealed carry" laws insane, but in the U.S., this is socially sanctioned behavior in most jurisdictions. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but "different strokes..."

Even in "tamed" martial arts (the -do's rather than the jutsus in Japanese parlance), people get hurt inadvertently. Frequencies depend on the martial art and the rules of engagement (e.g., full-contact vs. partnered kata).

It's also worth noting that expertise and training are no guarantee of survival. Neophytes get lucky, particularly when the expert gets cocky. All the martial arts experts I've trained with noted that they feared amateurs more than they feared their peers; amateurs are unpredictable and can't control their blows as well as pros can, and thus, were more likely to hurt their sparring partner. Plus, the pros usually weren't out to hurt their sparring partner -- just to defeat them.

For officially sanctioned dueling, gladiatorial combat is probably what most people think. I've seen credible estimates from different expert sources suggesting that the death rate in fights ranged from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10. The actual rate would depend on a great many factors, including whether one of the gladiators was sentenced to execution in the arena (in which case the odds were heavily stacked against their survival), whether the crowd was allowed to ask for a defeated favorite to be spared, and the historical period. One credible source (Lamb? I'd have to go digging) suggests it was rare for a gladiator to survive more than 5 to 7 fights. Extrapolating from that figure to other forms of dueling suggests that it wasn't a great choice for a long career.

I throw those numbers up not as hard estimates of actual mortality rates, which are highly variable, but rather to demonstrate that mortality and career-ending injury rates were high. Probably worse than those in American football. *g*

None of this stops us from enjoying swordfighting in fiction and film. The Michael York 3 and 4 Musketeers films are still a ton of fun more than 40 years later, ditto the Antonio Banderas/Anthony Hopkins Zorro. In that context, who cares whether they're realistic?

40:

What's the point of a self-driving car if you can't send it to park itself, not call it to pick you up at the entrance of the building you are in?

41:

I guess it's important to clarify are we talking "stupid at the time" or "stupid to resurrect now"

Stupid to resurrect now is absolute a given except in matters of sport

"stupid at the time" is a relative and complicated thing for judicial and martial duels. I think you can make a case that duels of honor were probably stupid-at-the-time

42:

It might not be as long as you think.

http://phys.org/news/2016-10-driverless-truck-uber-otto-colorado.html

"A self-driving truck built by Uber's unit Otto made a pioneering delivery of beer in Colorado last week, Otto announced Tuesday.

The 18-wheel semi loaded down with Budweiser made the 120 mile (200 kilometer) trip from Fort Collins through the center of crowded Denver to Colorado Springs using only its panoply of cameras, radar and sensors to read the road.
The truck carried a professional driver, but he simply monitored the progress from the truck's sleeper berth behind the driver's seat."

43:

If it is a self-driving taxi -- which is how I expect they will be used, as opposed to privately owned, -- then no, you cannot order it to park itself. It will let you out, then proceed to the next customer.

44:

Some comments about samurai duelling:

Official retainers vs young punks with swords:
Depending on period, this was more or less true. A lot of our popular conception came from the very stratified Tokugawa period. However, in more lawless periods, swordsmen weren't necessarily people who had been trained from birth. They might be someone who stripped the arms from the dead/dying on a battlefield & decided that they no longer wanted to be a farmer. Armies were always hiring as one lord conquered a new province or needed to defend against an ally who switched sides.

Also, later in the Tokugawa period, the samurai's lords were going broke from having to feed all the children of generations of samurai who weren't getting killed off. So there was a lot of pressure to have ones retainers go out & win a duel or die trying.

To the death:
Japanese swordsmanship has developed towards more towards the unstoppable counter-stroke than the perfect parry. I recall stories about duels between masters ending after single strikes with both dead. Certainly, in my training, parries are always followed by attacks, rather than returning to a safe waiting position.

45:

Yes, he did just put up a long post saying that duels of honour were stupid at the time.

46:

This puts me in mind of previous discussions here of stable far-future societies and how we might structure them. It was suggested then that some difficult and at least mildly dangerous activity for the young and stupid was probably a good idea. As I recall, this was a riff off of moving to vat-grown meat rather than slaughtering food animals; while that will certainly be nice as soon as technology allows for routine consumption, the social usefulness of sending out bored and twitchy males to hike through the woods and maybe kill something remains.

So... Maybe some dangerous (if rarely actually lethal) competition has its place? Bull running would seem to serve a similar role of ritualized danger. It's unclear what rewards society should offer the participants.

47:

Or just tweak the neurochemistry of young males so as to make this entire exercise unnecessary.

48:

I'm not very happy about routinely drugging large sections of the population. There are probably side effects.

Genetic modification would be even worse; while annoying in quiet times it's a survival trait when things turn bad. Sooner or later every population encounters major problems. You'll want your group to survive them to repopulate afterward.

49:

"If it is a self-driving taxi -- which is how I expect they will be used, as opposed to privately owned, -- then no, you cannot order it to park itself. It will let you out, then proceed to the next customer."

I expect to see a use case for them as hired cars - either day or longer for business travellers and tourists, or as by-the-hour town cars. Expect Avis/etc to be interested. In which case, yes parking and pick-up may be relevant.

50:

The Liechtenauer stuff you seem to be into is a heck of a lot of fun. However, I played for quite some time with a local school doing capo de ferro style Spanish rapier stuff "in the round". The ruleset was constrained so you could do it with minimal gear (tips always pointing below the nipple (other than in very specific circumstances, like disarms), no head shots, no real need for fencing masks. You'd start with novice-level constrained to something like 8 moves, double time (step-attack-step-defend), each moving being around the circle. Once you had it internalised even at novice level, bouting would be like squash, an intense aerobic workout where you are training your brain to operate at elevated adrenaline, pulse, etc.

The interesting thing was that you could do the same techniques and constraints with longswords or (even better) big zweihaender and this would add kettlebell style weight training to the mix, with only a minor difference in hand technique. And that particular type of bouting was, I think, the most fun I've had with clothes on (up there with mountain biking down steep fire trails or dinghy sailing in 30 knot winds). CLANG, CLANG, CLANG for 5-10 minutes at a time.

I can't imagine dueling being as fun. Reckon a for-your-life duel has 3 maybe 4 moves maximum before someone's hurt badly enough to end it. In certain areas in the renaissance maybe the locals for an area would have the local sword school style drilled in deep enough they'd stick within the rules and the bout would last longer. But I don't see that being the rule. most of that Fechtbuch stuff is in the 3-4 move range.

51:

>>(Self driving cars will be dead in the water the first time a terrorist uses one as a fertiliser bomb carrying cruise missile.)

I expect a technical lock-out to prevent that.

Technical lockouts have technical defeats. Heck, even I could just about write an Arduino code to defeat most likely technical checks (apart from mass, which needs no software). Body heat, eye movements, blinking, respiration, heartbeat, weight shifts ... all easily spoofed with trivial mechatronics.

Or will autonomous cars be able to carry out Turing tests on their passengers?

Back on topic, I'm going with presentism, too. My (limited) study of the European Middle Ages reinforced for me the adage about the past being a foreign country.

And besides, while monarchs may have officially discouraged duelling, it was a handy way of weakening potential rival families.

52:

Technical lockouts have technical defeats.

Something as stupidly low-tech as stealing a department store mannequin (or even just the upper half) would defeat many of the high tech smart sounding things mentioned above, with the bonus point that it's also likely to get by a bored human police officer who happens to see it go past.

53:

I'm given to understand this is a Shakespear quote:

“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting”

54:

The OP and discussion has now convinced me that we should bring back non-judicial duelling. It may be a bloody stupid idea, but that's not enough to make something illegal.

In Western societies we tolerate a range of dangerous activities on the grounds that mature individuals can choose to take risks. People die climbing Everest or sailing solo around the world. In competitive sport we go from say table tennis which is very safe, to cricket or soccer where the risk of death is very low, through to more dangerous sports like rugby and American football and ending up with boxing and mixed martial arts.

So, mixed martial arts with swords. It's to first blood or disarmed, not death. If two people really want to fight each other with swords and can do so without endangering others, why stop them?

It was pointed out above that Renaissance era kings of France thought duelling was stupid. I suggest that this was because the duelling aristocrats were both a small fraction of the population and regarded as the backbone of the military. (Don't tell me that pikeman and musketeers were the really important ones, I know that but we're talking perception here.) Like that Bujold character quoted above, the kings of France wanted the duellists killing the enemy rather than each other.

Today, we've got seven billion human beings. We can spare some dead duellists.

55:

If it is a self-driving taxi -- ......... no, you cannot order it to park itself. It will let you out, then proceed to the next customer.
Who will then puke his/her guts into it, having eaten/drunk too much/the wrong things.
Um, err ....

56:

(Self driving cars will be dead in the water the first time a terrorist uses one as a fertiliser bomb carrying cruise missile.)

No technology has to be 100% safe before it's implemented. Terrorists already have more than enough tools to build and deploy car bombs, but society didn't rush out to ban cars or massively beef up parking restriction laws. If there really is a big concern about SDVs being used as explosive delivery systems there's a bunch of easy features that could make the tactic less effective and less anonymous. Things like a black box for GPS and the last however-many-days of internal and external sensor footage making it easier to identify the culprits or restrictions on parking that tell SDVs not to park up around potential targets.

Sure none of that is would make it impossible, but throw in enough obstacles and deterrents and it puts off all but the most determined groups.

57:

& Ilya187 @37

Problem is, the road transport safety and licensing people (backed by the insurance companies) are already pushing to have a mandatory 'least harm' scenario prior to that driverless car getting on the road in the first place. ie. there will be no drop down box if you want the car on the road and no option to save the driver at all costs. If you get in a driverless car, you won't get to make that choice.

Road safety people see it as a logical extension of existing road rules (eg no drunk driving, you have to be a certain age and capable of a certain level of decision making, driver tests for getting a drivers license in the first place etc,) ie the whole system is set up to do the least harm to the greatest number.

From an insurance perspective, they don't want to be paying public liability insurance on the 30 people you just mowed down when they could be paying for only you and the passengers in the car. This is a classic insurance risk model we deal with every day in most scenarios. To be fair though, their financial models align closely with the 'least harm' models , so though it's all about the money, as a society, we pay money when we perceive it's unfair.

If your child / partner / best friend etc was mowed down cos some random stranger ticked box A instead of box B. (ie save me in the car and screw anyone else)then you might think differently and that's where these questions have come from

Plus I totally agree (and the modelling and research totally supports) that humans (as a class) often (usually) make worse decisions than a driverless car would (there are exceptions, eg Airline pilots but they are extensively trained etc)

At the end of the day, you can have the best and most sophisticated driverless car in the world, but unless it has a 'beam me up scotty' function within a nanosecond, then you will still be subject to the vagaries of mechanical failures, hacking in an automated world, solar flares (this has been a significant loss of productivity in the driverless truck and train area where I work and they haven't even looked at what happens when the GPS satellite owner shuts off the feed cos you were late on the bills yet)

Interesting times.

58:

In itself that's a watertight argument: Let consenting adults (with appropriate insurance) do as they wish, even if it is bloody stupid.

I suppose my problem is with duelling culture, which is what most of these memes seem to yearn for. At minimum the culture raises the stakes for bad teenage decision maker since it can happen so quickly and so instantly with little chance for deescalation. (See also comments up thread about knives.) At worst, it stops becoming consensual because face/honor becomes linked to the life chances of you and your family. At that point it's also a bully's charter.

59:

Unfortunately, dead in the water has little to do with rational cost/benefit analysis, especially given the way news organisations make their money from trolling. All it takes is one headling that starts "4-WHEELED CRUISE MISSILE..."

60:

Sorry again for the derail above. In my neighbourhood (currently) the duel is being played out in CCTV land where someone does something a bit dodge (but not enough really they couldn't fix it with an apology)

Someone else gets really offended and puts up a CCTV to capture the next 'offense'. Someone else is offended by the first CCTV thinking the first person went too far so puts up a CCTV to capture the first CCTV persons personal habits. And it escalates from there with cops being called etc. There are about 43 CCTVs in my (suburban) block right now, a year ago here was one.

I shit you not, I had the cops called on me (allegedly as I had moved out and someone was trashing my house - 3 times in a week) because my neighbour at the back put up a CCTV - ON MY PATCH and according to him, For My Safety!! The fact it was trained on my bedroom window and I might see that as creepy totally escaped him. I dismantled it, gave it back and advised him I would prefer to look to my own safety.

That was when the cops started being my new best friends (cos he called them on me) but hilariously, where I had dismantled the CCTV and handed it back, when they saw where it had been reinstated and where it covered, they (accidentally) ran over it before returning it to him. It was when I saw your comment immediately above that I realised that bully shit associated with duels, the de-escalation stuff which doesn't happen round here (I tried to get people to agree to get a community mediator in to no avail)etc that I saw the parallels. I thinks I might put the duelling banjos on tonight, loudly.

61:

I'd like to propose that practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts join up with those of Traditional Oriental Martial Arts, and call their combined sport "HEMATOMA".

62:

This problem also exists with regular taxis, and doesn't seem to have stopped them being a viable business. Self driving taxis are likely to have internal sensors as well as external, and to get their users' credit card details in advance, so should be more able to solve it rather than less.

63:

Awesome story. Will tweet.

64:

Current trend is towards "autopilot" -- lane following, adaptive cruise control, automatic collision-avoidance braking, and so on -- so the driver can sit back and relax.

Rather an unwise trend, as far as I can tell; Google has that right, Tesla has it wrong. Three reasons and a bonus:

  • Hand-over time — It takes a typical human 20-30s to take over from an autopilot, even if they're reasonably alert to begin with. In a car, that's pretty much useless — the car will have to be ready to handle any unexpected situation on its own, even if just by pulling over, at which point handing over to the human is superfluous. No amount of automated bullying will eliminate that.
  • Skill fade — Human drivers quickly fall out of practice. Asking an out-of-practice driver to resolve a particularly difficult situation is a recipe for disaster. Airline pilots fly a minimum number of manual hours per month, and even then there are incidents where being a bit rusty is a contributing factor.
  • Mode confusion — In semi-automatic modes, particularly if there are several, people will get confused about which parts are active and which are not. See for instance AF447, where the automatic stall prevention was inactive while the pilots believed it was active.
Bonus:
  • Little benefit — the majority (if not all) of the benefits of self-driving cars will only come when they are truly self-driving: no steering wheel, no pedals, no driver, just passengers (or cargo). Cost, availability to those who cannot drive (young, old, ill, disabled), flexibility, logistics... autopilots and similar semi-autonomous technology have none of those benefits, at best dubious claim to improving safety; all we're left with is convenience, where self-driving cars will be revolutionary.

65:

I would suspect that there will be both taxi and private self-driving cars. The taxis will be cheaper (even more so on multiple hire) and more flexible. Private cars will be the minor luxury of having nice upholstery and not letting strangers do unspeakable things on it, plus having your book on the shelf and your drink in the fridge. They'll probably look like the back of a limousine.

That's for generic personal transport; there will of course also be private cars which are basically mobile workplaces, whether that's a travelling sales rep with an office set-up in the car or a plumber with tools and stock, as well as vehicles with custom accommodation for a disability (or the combination of disabilities in the family).

66:

You're mistaking the purpose of autopilot-to-driver hand-over; the driver's not there to resolve unexpected situations the autopilot hands to them, they're there to be a moral crumple zone (PDF), absorbing liability to protect the autopilot manufacturers.

(Somewhat overstated, but in practice...)

67:

...practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts...

:) Well, my gun-fu and artillery-jutsu skills are slowly fading... (rifle-do is ticking over, though). You didn't say "unarmed" combat, did you? :)

68:

"Skill Fade"
Yes.
I was very fortunate, during the 10 years & a bit that I didn't have a car, that I was cycling a lot & was re-familiarising myself with local road conditions, all the time.
So, when I got the L-R it wasn't too much of a struggle.

69:

Thanks for the expansion/clarification.

70:

Re: ' ..."sociopath" is a socially constrained term and varies historically and culturally in meaning ...'

Not really - for example although the Soviets originally thought that sociopathy esp. as it pertains to serial killers was a western/USian construct, over the years they adopted this as a diagnosis/label because it was helpful in catching serial killers.

Although the definition and testing procedures change over the years because of more widespread usage and reporting (confirmation and/or revision), doesn't really mean that when applied within its technical usage that this term is unreliable. Some of the difficulties with psych/soc terms is that their meanings have been altered because of over-use and incorrect use in everyday language ... sorta like 'theory'.

Or, do you expect psych/soc to be a done-deal - as in everything that can be known is already known, and if it's not all known then the entire field is a massive sham. If yes: please apply this same logic/standard to physics, chemistry, genetics, etc.

71:

That's what they call themselves! One shows up at our fencing club every now and then. They're the same as normal humans, despite their claims to the contrary.

73:

Or, do you expect psych/soc to be a done-deal - as in everything that can be known is already known, and if it's not all known then the entire field is a massive sham. If yes: please apply this same logic/standard to physics, chemistry, genetics, etc.

Yes! Thank you for saying this, it's an exasperation that's often close to the fore for me.

A related concern is that there are those out there who do in fact apply the same logic to natural and mathematical sciences. The knowledge derived from social sciences and the humanities has value and actually includes a lot of the sort of background you need to defend the natural sciences. I guess it's partly specialisation - do we really need to train (say) biochemists to be defend the epistemological basis of science, when we have perfectly good epistemologists over in the Philosophy department? But doesn't not doing so lead to unexamined assumptions and a lack of self awareness?

74:

But when they put the question in if the same people would be happy if the driverless car gets to decide who lives and who dies (eg a semi trailer swerves in front of you and you can mow down 30 people on the footpath or you can get pulverised personally and die yourself when the semi mows you down), then it drops off by about 40-50%.

Even people who swear black and blue that they would die themselves rather than mow down 30 people in that scenario (it was a similar one but you get the point) baulk at having a driverless car make that decision for them (they were asked what they would do then asked if they would accept a driverless car making the same decision and it was an overwhelming 'Hell NO!'

I would guess that the same sort of push-polling could be used to turn people against trolley cars if you really wanted to. Just warn trolley-fans that they might be shoved onto the tracks at any time if there's a runaway car and any utilitarian philosophers with a poor grasp of physics in the vicinity. The actual chances of a SDV facing a kill-the-occupants-or-30-bystanders scenario seem roughly on par with a trolley-stoppingly-large fat man being available on a bridge over the tracks.

Present such utilitarian dilemmas enough times and the subjects will just learn to be wary of maniacal philosophers bearing contrived scenarios and cackling "intuition pump!"

75:

LOL. I sometimes joke that the traditional British officer's HEMA weapon is "a body of infantry with guns."

76:

I took part in some British Duelling Federation events back in the 80s. They were fun.

We used pistols, 9mm or better at ten metres. It was a knockout ladder, the survivor of each duel went on to meet another survivor. There was only one winner[1] in the end who got all the prize money.

We fired a single shot at man targets, side by side, starting from resting the pistol muzzles on switched pressure pads on a table. Microphones determined who fired first, a scoring system for where the target was hit added modifiers (a slower lethal hit overrode a faster peripheral hit, within limits, plus a calibre override with .45ACP and .44 getting a higher score than 9mm or.38Special. .22s were permitted in some competitions but only scored with head shots.) Jumping the gun (lifting the muzzle before the signal) was a disqualifier. There was even once a Stalingrad Duel competition run by the BDF, with scoped rifles at two hundred metres using pop-up targets.

[1]Joseph Cooper's book about defensive pistol use was entitled "No Second Place Winner".

77:

If you listen to the guys who fought their way from Normandy to Bremen in the last big mistake, you hear them describe the infantry as "a bodyguard for the (Royal Artillery) Forward Observation Officer..."

78:

A small, cynical part of me can't help but feel that the kind of hot-headed posturing idiots who got themselves into these situations were probably not a great loss to society.

79:

"I suppose my problem is with duelling culture, which is what most of these memes seem to yearn for. At minimum the culture raises the stakes for bad teenage decision maker since it can happen so quickly and so instantly with little chance for deescalation."

Umm, isn't that actually the opposite of the case? Duelling culture formalises these things, putting in lengthy delays and negotiations precisely to *allow* deescalation before any blood needs to be spilled.

(Honestly, I'm beginning to wonder if you've even watched Hamilton!)

80:

Wait, are you just suggesting he should get his history from a film?

81:

The problem isn't duelling; the problem is honour. Doesn't the term 'honour killing' mean anything to anyone? An honour-based culture is not a rule-based culture, it's a baboon troupe.

82:

See, also Eugene Onegin - originally a story by Pushkin, & now both an opera & a ballet.
Ironically, Pushkin was, himself, killed in a duel.

83:

I participated in some fencing down at the community rec center when I was a teenager. I was one of the peasants, but the young attorney types in their twenties who came would often be overheard. I will never forget one who said, "All the sword stuff is very dashing, but no matter how good you are, an idiot behind a tree with a machinegun can beat you every time."

84:

Parenthetically, there is a feature in the latest New Scientist Reputation is everything: Unearthing honour culture in America.

(Paywall I'm afraid.)

One of the issues it mentions is politeness versus rudeness. Your polite Southerner has no way of indicating that you are crossing a boundary, whereas with your rude Noo Yawker, you'll know you're pissing them off before it goes too far.

85:

And if it was push polling, I would agree with you but it's not. It's transport safety experts, insurance companies, people with skin in the game but not in an 'influencing mode' It's tangible evidence based modelling based on actual crash scenarios etc. (and while the 30 is usually hyperbole, it's not always - imagine the Nice truck slaughter in France where you get to choose to stay alive yourself in the truck (until you are shot by police), insurance companies and transport authorities all over the world are being asked how this will work in an automated world)

TLDR, it doesn't matter how many 'contrived scenarios' you put up, the powers that be won't let you on the road unless you agree with their conditions. It'll be up to you whether you choose to be on the road or not.

86:

Spot on. I would also add power though. A lot of the honour shit is about enforcing your power. It's hard to claim honour if you can't enforce it. Honour killings only work when there is killing done. You can blather about honour til the cows come home but if there aren't tangible consequences, it won't mean much.

FFS, can't believe I just wrote that, was coming from a tech perspective. I personally can't see any honour in killing, ever. (Except in self defence)

87:

On duels:

As said by others the problem is not the duel itself. Dueling was dangerous, but so are bungee jumping, urban parcour and parachutism. The real problem is the dueling culture and appears when the social ethos makes dueling mandatory in practice, because when dueling is legal but not optional you get legalized murder.

In such a system there is a market for thugs paid to provoke their targets until they explode, fight and get killed, or resist and get their lifes ruined, their reputations destroyed and their families ostracized. In a thousands fields, journalism to name but one, you have to be a skilled murderer yourself, friend of some, or know someone powerful that can provide duelists in short order when needed.

No. It's human to be occasionally tempted by the idea of liars, slanderers and cheaters having to risk their necks, but in real life the price is too damn high.

On driverless cars:

Sure they will be used by criminals and terrorists, that's a given. They will get safeguards, but no safeguard is 100% sure, such is life. And? You can send bombs by mail, you can threaten and blackmail people by phone, you can crash airplanes against buildings, you can smuggle drugs in drones, you can shoot people from speeding cars, and, incredible as it may seem, you can download music and movies from the net (and more seriously, you can use the net to paralyze a business or even a country)

All new tech has a dark side except cotton candy - perhaps - and that has never stopped us.

88:

I will see your Hamilton and raise you Sense and Sensibility.

...Have you," she continued, after a short silence, "ever seen Mr. Willoughby since you left him at Barton?"

"Yes," he replied gravely, "once I have. One meeting was unavoidable."

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying --

"What? have you met him to -- "

"I could meet him in no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier, she presumed not to censure it.

Elinor makes the case that she, as a woman and not subject to challenges, thinks the duel unecessary, yet Colonel Brandon, as a man and soldier, thinks that it is.

This (fictional) encounter engages with your argument in two ways; firstly, thanks to the requirements of honour no one seems able to de-escalate so a meeting with weapons occurs; secondly, thanks to the ritual nature of the affair no one is actually injured.

89:

I can't really see that panning out like that.

One obvious big market for self driving cars will be taxi companies like Uber. Even for private owners being able to send the car to collect someone on it's own is a big win. Google is pushing cars without steering wheels.

@M Harold Page

One minor overlooked advantage of dueling, it selects out a lot of impulsive and aggressive people with poor judgement.

But I suspect the public health aspect is a bigger deal. I suspect modern highly effective medicine would push the cost up since even gravely wounded people could be saved such that they continue to cost the health service money for a lifetime. A funeral is much cheaper for society, particularly if it's the funeral of a young heir before he got a chance to pick his fights with an army behind him.

90:

SFReader disagreed with my comment that "sociopath is a socially constrained term and varies historically and culturally in meaning ..."

SFReader: "Not really - for example although the Soviets originally thought that sociopathy esp. as it pertains to serial killers was a western/USian construct, over the years they adopted this as a diagnosis/label because it was helpful in catching serial killers."

Which is exactly my point: their original definition (at time 1) was that it was a Western construct, but that definition changed (at time 2) to acceptance that there is a real condition that the term describes. You're correct that once we establish a definition, that definition applies universally within the scope of its constraints, but the definition and its constraints vary over time (e.g., compare DSM 1 with DSM 5).

SFReader: "Although the definition and testing procedures change over the years because of more widespread usage and reporting (confirmation and/or revision), doesn't really mean that when applied within its technical usage that this term is unreliable."

My point was the first part of this response, not the last. Your response looked at this from the perspective of a modern (professional?) with a temporarily fixed (until the next DSM) and reasonably robust definition while ignoring that languages evolve, and that their evolution occurs within a cultural context. Compare, for example, the definitions of "gay" 100 years ago and today. Completely different meaning. For that matter, compare how "gay" is used within the LGBT community and within the pre-adolescent male community of the most recent generation.

SFReader: "Or, do you expect psych/soc to be a done-deal"

I think the phrase "varies historically" in my original post makes it clear that I don't believe it to be a done deal. Unless the definitions of "varies" and of "historical" have changed and I somehow missed it?

91:

Dueling was dangerous, but so are bungee jumping, urban parkour and parachutism.

The point I try to make to my sons is that there are things that appear dangerous but are actually very safe; for instance, parachuting and firearms sports. There are things which appear safe, but which are actually dangerous; like agriculture, fishery work, and driving a car.

The trick is to understand which is which...

92:

Of course, it would be even simpler if we could just take all the aggressive, competitive, dominance-oriented people and have them shot. At least dueling seems to be a sort of surrogate for that. But since we can tolerate neither approach, not really, the question becomes what do we do with these people? Does age mellow them?[1] Does our society engage with their in-group loyalties to broaden those through contact with different perspectives?[2] No, we appear to reward that sort of behaviour and give the pushy buggers more responsibility, which they use to try to dominate more people. At every frigging opportunity. So how do we fix *that*?

[1] Pfffffffft
[2] I really shouldn't laugh at my own jokes, they're not that funny

93:

Uhmmmm... the thing is some activities attract young men, and they are usually dangerous, but we shouldn't jump to the conclusion their attraction resides in the danger (I'm reminded of the SF story about the man that woke up in the far future, found it terribly boring, asked for some danger, and was infected with bubonic plague germs by his understading hosts)

For example, fishery work is demanding, exhausting and dangerous but I bet not many young men looking for adventure join the crew of a trawler. It's dangerous but it's not exciting. On the other hand there are plenty of exciting activities that look dangerous; some are, some aren't, and some can be (like driving a car). One would suspect addiction to adrenalin and the presence of girls both play a role... :D

@92 My modest proposal: Give them easy, cheap and fast access to Internet from an early age; trolling and MMORPGs will take care of their tendencies.

94:

... and then there are things which are both, such as attempting to summit Everest.

Also motor racing at the end of the 50s, start of the 60s. I've seen quotes that if you raced for 5 years during that period, you had a 50-50 chance of dying. That's an insane figure, but the per-race chance was much lower, and it's per-race which people concentrate on.

(My father was a professional driver for nearly that length of time — retiring when my sisters came along. He had a few crashes but though some permanent injury occurred, none was disabling)

These days it's vastly safer, and that safety has carried over to general road safety too, with crumple zones and the like.

95:

Does age mellow them?

Yes...

A friend who worked on Scottish Childrens' Panels stated that if you could keep youths out of the criminal system until age 25 or so, they seemed to settle down to lead normal lives. Unsurprisingly, this appears to be the point at which the brain settles down to maturity...

...but there are those who become adrenalin addicts. Allegedly, the British Army's various "special reconnaissance" units in Northern Ireland would accept you for a second tour, but no more - because after that you were looking for your fix, and were likely a risk to be around.

96:

"Of course, it would be even simpler if we could just take all the aggressive, competitive, dominance-oriented people and have them shot. At least dueling seems to be a sort of surrogate for that."

Unfortunately some of those people assert their dominance through agressive driving. I'm all for self driving cars and duelling if it srops the maniacs intent on proving their mastery over the world just do it by shish kebabbing each other rather than injuring and killing pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers and riders.

97:

Um
There is a clearly-visible (to me) subspecies of idiot driver, who simply MUST AT ALL COSTS overtake the Land-Rover which has just passed them ... ( Usually because, from my higher-up perspective & I have spotted a safe gap in the traffic, or can see further over whatever obstacles are in their apparent-view, but not mine )

If this is in a speed-limited area (anywhere between 30 & 50mph) it's remarkable how, at the next set of traffic lights, they always seem to select the wrong queue & I'm in front again, whilst actually driving more slowly & carefully than they are doing(!)
Alfa-Romeo & BMW small-models seem to be particularly prone to that type of owner.

98:

Sorry that last comment was less than perfectly intelligible.
I'm sure everyone has had enough experience of decoding garbled hurried pronouncements to work it out tho' ...

I'm wondering if duelling is a distant descendant of trial by ordeal/ trial by combat ? The essence of which was, do something painful and/or dangerous, which will let your god sort out the innocent (or right) from the guilty (or wrong).

Which does make it sound like an appallingly attractive proposition for extreme religionists with infallible gods.

99:

They'd also assert their dominance by pushing other people into duels and killing or maiming them!

100:

Overall, seems our opinions converge ...

A few other thoughts - would be interested in others' opinions ... and apologies if this seems a derail which it is not ... not entirely anyways ...


Lay vs. tech language usage/interpretation is part of the problem - makes it hard to tell which meaning is intended. Not sure how this can be addressed/resolved, although we’ve seen via the internet tech revolution that people are willing and able to add new vocabulary.


History ... most sciences experience hiccoughs, i.e., divergences from what the public feels they already 'know'. Usually it takes some time - decades even - for the new understanding to be widely accepted. Psych may be going through this stage as far as the gen-pop is concerned.


Another issue for psych (and probably other social sciences) is that everyone thinks they know what psych is about and/or can tell us about ourselves because they/we are after all people, and/or these folks believe (mostly) that all humans are like them, and that all 'human' traits (such as the ones they’re most aware of or self-identify with) are equally distributed across all other ‘humans’ through all meaningful life stages. Don't think that this happens as much in the 'hard sciences' even though observation esp. in bio/medicine has been saying otherwise for a while, i.e., that there is tremendous variation within any species. Stats, theory of knowledge and more basic science courses could really help with this.


How psych is researched/studied may also be an issue, as well as what specifically is being studied. Historically psych research has relied on two populations for its primary research: rats and freshmen. If you’re a fundie/creationist – just how much stock are you going to put into anything based on subjects like these? (Rats don’t exactly go to the mall, rake leaves, or cook dinner; ditto first year undergrads whose first year will probably be more about partying than studying.)


With better technology that can look inside the workings of the brain (without damaging it) in real-time, as well as an increasing number of longitudinal behavioral studies, neuro/psych will hopefully provide clearer, even if not easy to understand ways of explaining our brains and ourselves. Similarly, studying 'real-world' problems that affect regular folk may also help psych become more of a 'real science' to the gen-pop. Lastly, there's the so-what that has to be addressed: Great, you've identified the problem, so this must mean that you have a solution. (If not - then you're blowing smoke!) A bit of optimism on this front ... In the US, there’s considerable funding (via the VA – so hopefully safe from DT) studying and treating PTSD. Ditto for funding studying brain damage re: kids playing American football. (Initial findings: kids playing for one year already showing measurable evidence of brain damage.)


Overlap with other disciplines - psych then and now overlaps with disciplines that are not generally perceived as being related or close to each other, e.g., physics, bio-chem, genetics, ... philosophy, poli-sci, soc, etc. Why this seems to be more problematic for psych than other areas, no idea other than a general resistance to accepting that humans can indeed be studied 'scientifically' and their responses/behaviors modified-at-will/predicted.


Lastly ... hmmm ... how to say this nicely ... here goes: not all widely-read fiction authors incorporate current psych research into their stories re: character development and interactions. (Ditto screenwriters.) Face it - there's quite a bit of esteem for published authors and if they are generally known to have researched the hell out of WW2 munitions, surely they've also as deeply researched their characterizations and human-human human-machine interactions. (Ergo: So whatever writers write about humans must be true.)


BTW - I'm not a scientist ... just enjoy reading books on science (written for non-scientists), and have been reading SF/F since I was a kid.


101:

May I recommend Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad? (It has been, um, almost 50 years since I read that, so I think that's the correct book.) In it, he visits Heidelberg, and observes the, ahh, duels, set up with protection enough to only get one the famous Heidelberg dueling scars on one's face....

We won't even mention the utterly insane version wherein you take *turns* shooting or cutting/thrusting at each other (e.g., go listen to the old folk song of Matty Groves).

mark

102:

Wow, a hundred comments and nobody has said "B-b-but, an armed society is a polite society!"

Clearly you do not have enough trolls stopping by here!

103:

>Wow, a hundred comments and nobody has said "B-b-but, an armed society is a polite society!"

I think it was Pratchett who remarked that an armed society is a nervous society.

104:

Some people don't want to go faster, they just want to go first. That's the aggressive-dominant type in its purest form.

105:

... especially if it's standing in front of Sgt Detritus and his siege crossbow.

106:

Yep ...

He was the sort of person who stood on mountaintops during thunderstorms in wet copper armour shouting 'All the Gods are bastards.'

What heroes like best is themselves.

---- Sir Pterry

107:

Phil the grips* said something along the lines of "an armed society is a scared society", after noting the effect of widespread carry of pistols upon public discourse during a trip to the USA. And he was right; a society in which a minority of people claim the right to carry lethal weapons and use them when they feel endangered, is a tyranny where psychopaths and idiots with impulse control problems and generic haters, rule.

*An edinburgher most of you won't know.

108:

It's transport safety experts, insurance companies, people with skin in the game but not in an 'influencing mode' It's tangible evidence based modelling based on actual crash scenarios etc. (and while the 30 is usually hyperbole, it's not always - imagine the Nice truck slaughter in France where you get to choose to stay alive yourself in the truck (until you are shot by police), insurance companies and transport authorities all over the world are being asked how this will work in an automated world)

Nah, the "push-polling" aspect I object to is focusing on this rare edge case for discussion with the general public. Actual safety/insurance experts are (hopefully) thinking with numbers. But keep running stories about this one unusual aspect of SDV safety (and I have seen it crop up repeatedly in general-circulation publications) and the availability heuristic is going to slant public thinking of SDVs more toward "the technology that can kill you for the greater good" instead of "the technology that can save your life when you're impaired by fatigue", even if the latter would be a much more common outcome.

As a parallel example, cognitive biases are going to make many people mis-evaluate the desirability of airbags if you provide them with statistics about how many lives airbags save and follow it with multiple humanized stories or discussions about people killed by airbags in freak circumstances or in cases of manufacturing defects. People who don't think quantitatively (and that's most of them) are going to privilege concrete stories over statistics. The public can be misled by a pattern of publication/discussion even if every individual story or discussion is truthful. There's no need to outright lie to people to scare them away from something; just keep harping on the scary aspects (no matter how rare compared to the good parts) of a proposal.

109:

At some point advertising will start appearing in commercial driverless cars followed a few months/years later by premium pricing for ad-free vehicles/rides. Imagine being locked in a cage that has sufficient tech in it to monitor your pulse, respiration and perspiration rate and (probably) pupil size (dilation) and be submitted to an endless stream of ads and/or propaganda. The info gleaned during the ride will then be relayed via satellite to a datamarket warehouse where it will be further cross-matched with other data gleaned from your mobile phone, addresses, etc. All this to stream better-personalized ads to you wherever you are.

110:

cant believe noone has done this before, but...

How dare you!!!, (bitchlaps with a glove) i callenge you to a duel good sir!

111:

whitroth wondered "May I recommend Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad?"

Quite probably "The Innocents Abroad" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innocents_Abroad) which may just be as good as Twain gets, which is very.

See for yourself! It's free at Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3176/3176-h/3176-h.htm) and many other places.

Charlie, when are you going to do a Twain hommage in the Laundry series? (I know... in about 5 years at best, when you "catch up" [sic] on the current workload.)

112:

Jerome K. Jerome also had occasion to assist to a mensur duel and was... suitably impressed, sort of. In his own words, the subject cannot be made pretty.

Just a quote

"The whole interest is centred in watching the wounds. They come always in one of two places--on the top of the head or the left side of the face. Sometimes a portion of hairy scalp or section of cheek flies up into the air, to be carefully preserved in an envelope by its proud possessor, or, strictly speaking, its proud former possessor, and shown round on convivial evenings; and from every wound, of course, flows a plentiful stream of blood. It splashes doctors, seconds, and spectators; it sprinkles ceiling and walls; it saturates the fighters, and makes pools for itself in the sawdust. At the end of each round the doctors rush up, and with hands already dripping with blood press together the gaping wounds, dabbing them with little balls of wet cotton wool, which an attendant carries ready on a plate. Naturally, the moment the men stand up again and commence work, the blood gushes out again, half blinding them, and rendering the ground beneath them slippery. Now and then you see a man's teeth laid bare almost to the ear, so that for the rest of the duel he appears to be grinning at one half of the spectators, his other side, remaining serious; and sometimes a man's nose gets slit, which gives to him as he fights a singularly supercilious air.

As the object of each student is to go away from the University bearing as many scars as possible, I doubt if any particular pains are taken to guard, even to the small extent such method of fighting can allow. The real victor is he who comes out with the greatest number of wounds; he who then, stitched and patched almost to unrecognition as a human being, can promenade for the next month, the envy of the German youth, the admiration of the German maiden. He who obtains only a few unimportant wounds retires sulky and disappointed".

From "Thee Men in a bummel" also available in Project Gutemberg. By the way, I read it many years ago and found it chillingly prescient for a book written in 1900. If you want to understand what happened in Germany you could do worse than start by reading this supposingly light novel.

113:

'Supposedly', not 'supposingly'...

114:

I'm reminded that in Colorado's state law, criminal libel was explicitly the replacement for dueling. The law outlawing dueling is immediately followed by the criminal libel statute, which made it a felony to comment on the natural defects of the living or tarnish the memory of the dead. It was only repealed a couple years ago.

I can only imagine the kinds of violent altercations that spawned such an overreaching law.

115:

Ahh, sorry, perhaps I misread your comment or didn't articulate myself well enough. I agree with all you just said. It's part of my fascination with the way humans perceive things. In the original study I saw, some of the survey questions that participants were asked before they went in was 'how often do you fly? What are your concerns? etc' And pretty much no-one said 'the plane is on auto-pilot for the majority of the flight'

When it was translated to driverless cars, they did a 180 and wouldn't trust the tech. And a couple of people above indicated they would expect an opt in 'drop box' scenario for cars. Who gets on a flight expecting that? It might be that we are far more physically acquainted with driving a car than we are flying an airliner. There's a physical intimacy factor.

I'm fairly confident we'll get a reasonable compromise but I do believe it will be mandatory. (and I'm fine with that) If we ever manage to get real and actual AI tech, then all bets may be off

Cheers

116:

Thanks for getting me to think about this in a different way. When you are in the thick of it, it's easy to overlook the bigger (ritualistic) elements in favour of the perv over the fence.

He still is one, but now I have additional weapons in my armoury.

117:

ChrisB @ 81: I find it exquisitely humorous that at least some of the people yelping loudest for the return of "a culture of honour" in the USA and Australia are the same people who bitch extremely loudly about how "barbaric" honour killings under Sharia law are. Clearly it's different if we do it.

118:

There's also a physical environment factor; planes barrel on through the wide blue emptiness for hours with nothing whatever to hit, whereas cars are surrounded by things to hit or things that will hit you if you don't pay constant attention to what you and they are doing.

119:

That's true most of the time, but when the sky seems plenty of Jumbos circling around Heathrow not so much. The real difference is perhaps that Air Traffic Control takes the decissions when airspace becomes crowded.

By the way, automated ATC is definitely going to happen very soon. In fact it's already happening.

120:

You make a good point (and one I hadn't thought of - thanks), but it's still easier to crawl out the window at ground level than at 40,000 feet with a life jacket a torch and a whistle but no parachute :).

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

121:

I am a little surprised that nobody has brought up the story of Rudolph Virchow, the discoverer of botulism...in the story, he was challenged to a duel by a fellow student or professor, and as the challenged party, chose two sausages--one that had botulism in it (or so he said), and one that did not. The challenger got to pick. In the story, the challenger mumbled something about a root canal appointment and wandered off.

Apparently dying while voiding everything from both ends just isn't glamorous enough...

122:

There was always the famous duel in "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines"
In Balloons, with blunderbusses, over the sewage farm .....

123:

It's interesting that the complaints that made it illegal were that that kind of dueling was common with the upper class. They couldn't afford to loose officer material or nobility. When lower class people killed themselves, that wasn't considered dueling, and it wasn't about honor.

But when the rulers were killing each other, that needed to be stopped!

124:

Oh, please! The problem here is that the word "honour" is being used for two radically different things. The honour of an adult male (it almost always is that) which is at stake in a duel is completely different from the "family honour" preserved by murdering a woman who has had the temerity to object to being married off to a dirty old man - for example. And in the first case, both parties have a chance. Not so the unfortunate woman in the second.

"Honour killing" is practiced in societies or social groups where women are regarded as property. And, in Western societies, it ought to be stamped out with extreme prejudice. Life without parole (minimum) for the actual perpetrator, deportation for all the people helping it along or attempting to cover it up.

125:

When you suggest "deportation for the people helping it along", it says something about you. It shows that you consider this to be a crime only ever committed by first-generation immigrants.

So it's not a redneck thing, then? No Jets and Sharks, Montagues and Capulets, "no daughter of mine is marrying a (insert bigotry here)?"

It doesn't make you look good...

126:

I don't care whether the conspirators are first-generation immigrants ot the family has been in the UK for a millennium. Except, perhaps, that in the latter case all the enablers ought to be imprisoned rather than deported. Existing laws against conspiracy ought to cover that.

In any case, "honour killing" in the UK is overwhelmingly more commonly committed by recent (1st or 2nd generation) immigrants than others.

BTW, I'm not aware of any US-style rednecks in the UK. We have some pretty unpleasant, ill-educated and bigoted people over here too, but that particular word is not one I've seen applied.

Also BTW, I don't think it's bigoted to point out that some subcultures seem to think women are chattel. But sorry, I forgot; only white hetero Western-born Christian cismales can be racist bigots. /sarc

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