Whenever I speak out about the latest dumb thing people are chasing in the name of firearms and all-things-tactical, there is at least one guy who hits me with “this is America, I can spend my hard-earned dollars on whatever I want!”
Yes, sir. This is indeed America, and you can certainly waste your hard-earned fiat tokens on whatever junk or gimmick your little cholesterol-hardened heart desires. But you don’t get to pretend that you’re a wise and shrewd consumer, and that the stuff you bought isn’t dumb. Or worse – that you have any idea how to properly utilize it.
Having broadened my own international horizons somewhat lately, I have concluded that this particular disease is not restricted to the US. It is alive and thriving in many foreign lands. Including South Africa – where the majority of folks reading this are likely to reside.
So, what exactly is eating Gilbert Grape today that he feels the need to write an article about it? My gripe, my friends, is with two separate fads that have joined forces and combined into a unified abomination of unbridled stupidity: Grey-Manning and an obsession with overt tactical gear. Aside from the fact that the two concepts are inherently contradictory, they are also (from what I see and read) applied incorrectly – and with an extensive absence of understanding or proficiency.
Grey Man is always temporary to achieve a specific goal
The Grey Man is genuinely a very simple concept. All it means is that you adapt yourself regarding appearance and behavior in order to blend in with your surroundings. This is always and without exception a temporary activity – you cannot “embrace a Grey Man lifestyle”. Unless you are a very special and unique individual, you will have a permanent address, some form of permanent employment, a stable(-ish) social circle (or maybe not), and other permanent investments and subscriptions to infrastructure and services.
To put it bluntly: a lot of people will know you and where to find you. So this idea that you can “embrace a Grey Man lifestyle” is nonsense.
In order to successfully “Grey Man” (a term I loathe) you need to understand the baseline attributes pertaining the intended location. You need to know how people there normally dress, talk, and otherwise conduct themselves. Then you need to apply that knowledge by adapting your own behavior and appearance (clothes, accessories, cleanliness, etc.) in order to match the baseline as closely as possible. Thus your goal is to blend in and not stick out.
Oh, and you have to do this without appearing uncomfortable or unnatural. Which usually means keeping it simple.
Grey Man is not being situationally aware and practicing good PerSec: that’s just being normal
Going to the mall down the way from you and dressing the way you (and other gentle suburbanites) usually do when visiting said mall is not being a Grey Man. That’s just being a normal everyday variant of you in your own natural surroundings.
However, if you dress in a black hoody, black skinny jeans, a black cap, sunglasses, facemask, and backpack in order to infiltrate an Antifa rally (as demonstrated by my brother, Joe Dolio – he’s a great guy, read his blog), I would call that being a Grey Man. Similarly if you adapt your normal appearance in order to conduct business in a bad part of town so as to appear like the denizens infesting it (as opposed to a high-value target), that’s also being a Grey Man.
The point is that in both examples you have a common and clearly-defined goal, in an abnormal location or context, where you have analyzed and established a baseline, and where you intend to spend a limited amount of time before extracting yourself. Like I said, visits to the mall or coffee shop down the street do not count.
Grey Man – Looking “tactical” is not blending in
Do you know what is not being a Grey Man? Wearing overt tactical gear and clothes that you think (and which the product marketers assure you) is going to let you blend-in while “enhancing” your “tacticality”.
Anyone with more than two braincells to rub together (including criminal perpetrators) know what they are looking at when they see a pair of 5.11 “civilian” pants. Or a CAT sticking out of a pants pocket. Or that rad paracord bracelet opposite your Casio G-Shock. How quickly do you think a discerning observer will ping that “concealable” plate carrier you think you’re rocking? Seven seconds? Here’s a free caveat: if you are dressing as if you are going to the range while out and about in town, you are not blending in. Let alone Grey-Manning. Unless everyone dresses like that where you live, in which case ignore everything I just said.
If I had a dollar for every time I spotted a so-called “covert” close protection officer (or armed civilian thinking they are conceal-carrying) based purely on the clothes and accessories they are wearing, I’d nearly have enough money to buy a tank of gas.
On that note, let’s segue to the other axe I am grinding today: over-fixation on overt tactical gear.
Overt tactical gear and low skills just makes you a loot drop
There is a time and a place for overt tactical gear. And the time and the place for it is almost always, and with rare exception, very bad. If you need to make use of a plate carrier and full loadout, then it stands to reason that circumstances dictate you are in a high threat situation which you are unable to avoid participating in. These types of situations can happen anywhere and at any time. So there is a good argument for owning the necessary equipment and – most importantly – possessing the necessary mindset and skill to use it to a very high degree of effective and consistent proficiency.
Here’s where reality and people’s expectations tend to badly diverge.
If your plan in a Without Rule of Law (WROL) situation – or “boogaloo” for the mentally handicapped – is to bug-in or bug-out through the shitstorm in a full tactical loadout without the necessary support: you are going to die. Any well-organized and proficient predator (or group of predators) will see a lone-wolf LARPer or group of kitted-out amateurs as an exploitable resource and not a serious threat. Unless you are part of a very well-trained and cohesive group, and are nonverbally communicating as much through body language alone, you are just a walking loot drop for hostile elements more proficient than you.
Just wearing tactical kit might intimidate ignorant layfolk, but it certainly won’t those who know what they are looking at. Posturing your way out of a bad situation may work the first three times you try it. But you will soon enough run out of luck and roll snake eyes. If you are lucky you’ll just lose all your stuff. If you are unlucky, you’ll lose all your stuff and die.
Which brings me to the crux of the issue: tactical gear is always and everywhere supplementary. It serves to enhance abilities and skills that are already honed to a high degree of proficiency. It does not create ability out of nothing.
If you do not know how to effectively identify cover and concealment, let alone use it, then tactical gear is a wasted investment. If you do not understand how to move tactically – with purposeful and controlled speed or stealth – then the gear won’t help you either. If you are not proficient in the basics of non-GPS land navigation, BLS and emergency bleeding control, secure communications, and operating a firearm beyond intermediate proficiency level, then relying on your gear to give you the edge will result in failure and potential death. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
You have a responsibility to become skilled if you want to own gear
If you want to own the cool guy gear, then you have a responsibility to invest the considerable amount of time and effort required to develop the necessary knowledge and skills.
The firearm industry (and many other industries) love marketing equipment or technology-based solutions for skills-related problems. And that is probably never going to change. Hence the behavioral change has to come from the consumers’ side. If you buy a lot of cool guy tactical gear because you “might need it when SHTF”, but you do not invest in developing and anchoring the necessary skills to support using said gear – then you are a liability. To both yourself and others. You are merely creating a resource that will be terminally exploited by bad people better skilled, better prepared, and better organized than you. And they will then use the gear they took off you to do the same to others.
So by all means buy that plate carrier, helmet, and NOD setup. But you better seriously train with it and get good. Otherwise you are just a high-value target looking for a place to die.
Written by Thomas Highway*.
*Thomas is a US military veteran who did things in strange places with strange people sometime in the past. He now lives somewhere far away from cities in Blue States.