I',m speakingn with experience from back when the game came out, and many discussions with the game designer who has confirmed you can escalate 'downwards'. The word Escalation does suggest things getting more extreme, but the game mechanic does it.Here, I disagree. Escalation is and should only be to ever-increasing risk. Just look at Vincent's choice of word for it: "Escalation."
In the rules, and as I've always run it, under the section on escalating, it says, "Now I get to decide if I'll Give or Escalate to Match." I don't think this is misleading at all. I think it's all part of the design intent. Admittedly, the rules get a little vague in places. Vincent sets forth examples in a lot of places instead of clear rules. But I've always treated that phrase as written, because I see the intent here as... well... an old teacher of mine said it best... "Once someone hits you, you're in a fight whether you wanted one or not."
There are lots of ways a conflict can go. It might start with a shove, then attempting to talk down the situation, for instance.
Consider: you are arguing with someone, they draw a gun and escalate to gunfighting. You exchange a few shots, then try to run away - here you Escalate to physical. He chases you and tries to grab you, escalating to Melee. (Of course, you always have your full dice after escalating twice- the third escalation does nothing in terms of general pool dice, but it's for sake of example.)