Dark Arts: Defense in Reputational Warfare

First, the Dark Arts are, as the name im­plies, an art, not a sci­ence. Like­wise, defend­ing against them is. An art­ful at­tacker can uti­lize ex­pected defenses against you; if you can be an­ti­ci­pated, you can be defeated. The rules, there­fore, are guidelines. I’m go­ing to stage the rules in a nar­ra­tive form; they don’t need to be, how­ever, be­cause life doesn’t fol­low a nar­ra­tive. The nar­ra­tive ex­ists to give them con­text, to give the reader a sense of the pur­pose of each rule.

Rule #0: Never fol­low the rules if they would re­sult in a worse out­come.


Now, gen­er­ally, the best defense is to never get at­tacked in the first place. Se­cu­rity through ob­scu­rity is your first line of defense. Trans­la­tions of Sun Tzu vary some­what, but your ideal form is to be form­less, by which I mean, do not be a sin­gle point of at­tack, or defense. If there’s a mob in your vicinity, the ideal place is nei­ther out­side it, nor lead­ing it, but a face­less stranger among it. Even bet­ter is to be nowhere near a mob. This is the fun­da­men­tal ba­sis of not be­ing tar­geted; the other two rules de­rive from this one.

Rule #1: Do not stand out.

Some­times you’re picked out. There’s a bal­anc­ing art with this next piece; you don’t want to stand out, to be a point of at­tack, but if some­body is pick­ing faces, you want to look slightly more dan­ger­ous than your neigh­bor, you want to look like a hard tar­get. (But not when some­body is look­ing for hard tar­gets. Ob­vi­ously.)

Rule #2: Look like an unattrac­tive tar­get.

The third as­pect of this is some­what sim­pler, and I’ll bor­row the phras­ing from HPMoR:

Rule #3: “I will not go around pro­vok­ing strong, vi­cious en­e­mies”—http://​​hp­mor.com/​​chap­ter/​​19

The first triplet of rules, by and large, are about -not- be­ing at­tacked in the first place. Th­ese are start­ing points; Rule #1, for ex­am­ple, cul­mi­nates in not ex­ist­ing at all. You can’t at­tack what doesn’t ex­ist. Rule #1 is the fun­da­men­tal strat­egy of Anony­mous. Rule #2 is about en­courag­ing po­ten­tial at­tack­ers to look el­se­where; Rule #1 is pas­sive, and this is the pas­sive-ag­gres­sive form of Rule #1. It’s the fun­da­men­tal strat­egy of home se­cu­rity—why else do you think se­cu­rity com­pa­nies put signs in the yard say­ing the house is pro­tected? Rule #3 is ob­vi­ous. Don’t make en­e­mies in the first place, and par­tic­u­larly don’t make dan­ger­ous en­e­mies. It has crit­i­cal im­por­tance be­yond its ob­vi­ous na­ture, how­ever—en­e­mies might not care if they get hurt in the pro­cess of hurt­ing you. That limits your strate­gies for deal­ing with them con­sid­er­ably.


You’ve messed up the first three rules. You’re un­der at­tack. What now? Man­age the Fight. Your at­tacker starts with the home field ad­van­tage—they at­tacked you un­der the terms they are most com­fortable in. Change the terms, im­me­di­ately. Do not con­cede that ad­van­tage. Like Rule #1, Rule #4 is the ba­sis of your First Re­sponse, and Rule #5 and Rule #6. The sim­plest ap­proach is the least ob­vi­ous—im­me­di­ate sur­ren­der, but on your terms. If you’re ac­cused of some­thing, ad­mit to the weak­est and least harm­ful ver­sion of that which is true (be spe­cific, and deny as nec­es­sary), and say you’re aware of your prob­lem and work­ing on im­prov­ing. This works re­gard­less of whether there’s an au­di­ence or not, but works best if there is an au­di­ence.

Rule #4: Change the terms of the fight to fa­vor your­self, or dis­fa­vor your op­po­nent.

Some­times, the best re­sponse to an at­tack is no re­sponse at all. Is any­body (im­por­tant) go­ing to take it se­ri­ously? If not, then the very worst thing you can do is to re­spond, be­cause that val­i­dates the at­tack. If you do need to re­spond, re­spond as lightly as pos­si­ble; do not re­spond as if the ac­cu­sa­tion is se­ri­ous or mat­ters, be­cause that lends weight to the ac­cu­sa­tion. If there’s no au­di­ence, or a limited au­di­ence, re­spond­ing gives your at­tacker an op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue the at­tack. If there’s a risk of them phys­i­cally as­sault­ing you, ig­nor­ing them is prob­a­bly a bad idea; a po­lite non-re­sponse is ideal in that situ­a­tion. (For crowds that pose a risk of phys­i­cally as­sault you… you need more rules than I’m go­ing to write here.)

Rule #5: Use the min­i­mum force nec­es­sary to re­spond.

It’s tempt­ing to at­tack back: Don’t. You’re go­ing to es­ca­late the situ­a­tion, and es­ca­la­tion is go­ing to fa­vor the per­son who is bet­ter at this; worse, in a pub­lic Dark Arts bat­tle, even the bet­ter per­son is go­ing to take some hits. No­body wins. In­stead, mine the bat­tlefield, and make sure your op­po­nent sees you min­ing the bat­tlefield. If you’re ac­cused of some­thing, sug­gest that both you and your op­po­nent know the ac­cused thing isn’t as un­com­mon as gen­er­ally rep­re­sented. Hint at shared knowl­edge. Make it clear you’ll take them out with you. If they’re ac­tu­ally good at this, they’ll get the hint. (This is why it’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant not to make en­e­mies. You re­ally, re­ally don’t want some­body around who doesn’t mind go­ing down with you, and your use of this strat­egy be­comes difficult.)

Rule #6: Make es­ca­la­tion pro­hibitively costly.

You might rec­og­nize some el­e­ments of mar­tial arts here. There are similar­i­ties, enough that one is use­ful to the other, but they are not the same.


You’re in a fight, and your op­po­nent is per­sis­tent, or you messed up and now things are se­ri­ous. What now? First, con­tinue to Man­age the Fight. Your goal now is to end the fight; the to­tal dam­age you’re go­ing to suffer is a func­tion of both the am­pli­tude of es­ca­la­tion and the length of the fight. You’ve failed to man­age the am­pli­tude; man­age the length.

Rule #7: End fights fast.

At this point you’ve been rea­son­able and defen­sive, and that hasn’t worked. Now you need to go on the offen­sive. Your defense should be light and easy, con­tin­u­ing to re­act with the light­est nec­es­sary touch, con­tin­u­ing to ig­nore any­thing you don’t need to re­act to; your at­tack should be bru­tal, and put your op­po­nent on the defen­sive im­me­di­ately. At­tack them on the ba­sis of their ha­rass­ment of you, first, and then build up to any per­sonal at­tacks you’ve been hold­ing back on—your goal is to im­part a tone of some­body who has been put-upon and had enough.

Rule #8: Hit hard.

And im­me­di­ately stop. If you’ve pul­led off your coun­ter­at­tack right, they’ll offer up defenses. Just quit the bat­tle. Do not be tempted by a fol­low-up at­tack; you were an­gry, you vented your anger, you’re done. By not fol­low­ing up on the at­tack, by not at­tack­ing their defenses, you’re leav­ing them no rea­son­able way to re­spond. Any con­tin­u­ing at­tacks can be safely ig­nored; they will look com­pletely pa­thetic go­ing for­ward.

Rule #9: Rec­og­nize when you’ve won, and stop.

Defense fol­lows differ­ent rules than at­tack. In defense, you aren’t try­ing to in­flict wounds, you’re try­ing to avoid them. End­ing the fight quickly is paramount to this.