Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Alliance

Kevin Baker has a new post up since Friday titled Fantasy Ideology in which he examines the recent resurgence of dispute within the (largely) US gun-owning populace over the proper method for protecting and advancing those ownership rights. I'm going to pick out one link he provides in particular because it so neatly illustrates what I regard as the more fundamental problem seeking address within this debate.

In a comment to his post, Caleb says:

I’m a prag, no doubt about it. Just like everyone else, I’ve got a line in the sand. I just don’t particularly feel the need to tell the entire world where my line in the sand happens to be, because that seems tactically unsound.

As a brief aside, and stipulating that Caleb is indeed a competent judge of his tactical circumstance, tactics are the immediate, transitory and situational-specific actions employed in response to a particular juxtaposition of events and locale. If in fact it was tactically unsound for him to reveal his "line in the sand" when Caleb wrote those words, the tactical situation has assuredly changed in the interim. As too, I should point out, has the precise nature of his hypothetical line.

What I believe Caleb was trying to express was the strategic concept of doubt, which I like to summarize as: Never let anybody know everything about you.

Literally anyone can choose (or be made) to threaten your position. This may be as trivial as influencing your decision to buy grocery item "A" instead of your preferred item "B" to the entirely non-trivial constraint against your buying a particular make and year model firearm (to bring this closer to the topic du jure, and thanks to Kevin for that link as well). Whatever the particulars might happen to be, the concept of doubt applies to all aspects of your life (and extends to literally everyone else in existence, to at least some degree); doubt as to your intentions, your capabilities and your limitations. Your parents, your children, your spouse, your colleagues, your closest friends and your most virulent enemies, all of them should be in some (and mutually contradictory) doubt regarding one or more fundamental aspect(s) of you. Doubt as to whether (or how) you either would (or would not) respond to a given stimulus in a particular circumstance with unreliable estimations being the only result no matter who is being asked. Doubt always empowers you, even in your most intimate relationships, because it provides a natural avenue of communication with anyone willing (or manipulated) to enquire of you. Multiplicity of options provides leverage to advancing your position without need of resorting to outright force - what Sun Tzu described as the epitome of good generalship. And, communication is the key to arriving at and maintaining an alliance.

While "country" can be limited to topological configurations, "nation" is always an alliance of insufficiently dis-similar competing positions. Kevin Baker's list of priorities is without doubt different from that of my own, but insufficiently different to preclude our mutual participation in that peculiar alliance known as the United States of America. The same could be said (if only barely :)) for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh, too. All of which serves to illustrate that the present contretemps over ideological determination and expression is not only fundamental to the existence of our national alliance, it is the mechanism by which we test and improve our selves and our relationship, both together and with other's national alliances. To put it in manufacturing and engineering terms I'm sure Kevin can appreciate, ideological divisiveness is the Non-Destructive Test mechanism in our national alliance, and is so as a matter of express foundational choice (see: 1st Amendment, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, et al). We dispute together whereby we may advance together.

Strategic science (principles of classification and organisation utilizing measurable and falsifiable theorem) teaches that advancement can be least damagingly achieved by utilizing other-than-violent means. This requires encouraging the competitors into communicating amongst themselves and cooperating to mutual advantage. The technique most commonly employed to do this is to expand the field of conflict such that non-violent competition becomes more advantageous (amongst and to the involved parties) than is the alternative of doing violence to one another. As can be seen, this process works well whether or not there exists conflict between the parties; expanding alliances between warring nations (or neighbors or relatives) or between competing businesses or ideological adherents provides equally effective opportunities without resorting to destructively violent means. It also happens to illustrate the sometimes confusing nature of tactics as well; even transitory and situational dependant options have their perennial aspect.

In this recent post, I draw a parallel between this Eric Raymond essay and the current circumstance of actress Denise Richards (and, yes, that's partly your fault too, Kevin :)). Whether or not you concur with my opinion of her as either a person or artiste, I submit that Ms. Richard's circumstance provides a viable example of one mechanism whereby we gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters might expand the national debate on this issue to our (and the nation's) positional advancement. You'll have to actually click on the link and read what I wrote for yourself to decide how best to utilize this option, but whether or not you agree that this is the best available tactic I stand by my assertion that it would extensively alter the terms of engagement over this nationally (and in my opinion largely falsely) divisive issue. TamaraK might have a suggestion as to yet another possible national sponsor of such an effort, as well.

Which leads quite neatly to the strategic concept of controlling the context of conflict or, in the modern military parlance, "shaping the field of battle". As is often the case, strategic manipulations commonly employ mutually supportive efforts that involve different contributors to the action. What makes mundane strategy different from the more widely recognised military application is the preference for involving "the enemy" in the process to a much greater degree than most soldiers would be willing to risk. I attribute this to the basic military premise that conflict is the foundational assumption whereas competition is the normal condition otherwise. However violent competition might become, it precludes actual destruction of the opposition, if only on economic grounds; destruction of the enemy's supportive infrastructure is the preliminary position for the military.

Answer me this: Chrysanthemum Empire or Dirty Japs; Teutonic Efficiency or Nazi Slave Labor Camps; and most recently, Islamic Freedom Fighters or Rag Head Terrorists? How you phrase the concept profoundly influences people's subsequent understanding of the topic. If you let your opposition supply the terminology you allow him a dominant position from which to further advance his position; you on the other hand find yourself constantly re-stating your fundamental position with little time to spare for additional advancement. In my opinion, the classic example of this from the 20th century is wide-spread adoption of the word "capitalist" or it's corollary "capitalism". Karl Marx popularised these words in his 19th century socialist encyclical as a means of disparaging the market economy and its participants by lumping them together with the excesses and abuses of its evolutionary forebears and all of their (to as recently as just last week - whenever you may be reading this) detrimental manipulations of their various currencies and economic models. By consenting to the word, we consent to the premise as well, thereby granting the context of conflict to the political and philosophical enemy.

In the 3% issue Kevin writes about, there remains understated as of yet one of the principal attributes routinely touted by practitioners of other martial arts and sciences - the individual benefit to the practitioner from the discipline that rigorous adherence to the strictures of the practice input to the student. Rather than re-state the observations from Eric Raymond's outstanding essay on this aspect of gun ownership, I refer the reader to this recent soliloquy from a widely respected gun owner that approaches this issue from it's more practical viewpoint, from which I excerpt here:

Make up your mind ahead of time to resist; that's the most important thing of all. When the flag flies, your decision will already be made, and your mental decks will be cleared for action. Resist. Do not go gently. Fight back. The life you save may be your own, or it may be that of the innocent person standing next to you who now has time to run, but make up your mind now.

As a student of strategic thought I can find no fault with the foregoing as a foundational principle. As a student of the gun, I hasten to point out that the tactical environment will play a huge role in determining when and to what degree this principle should be adhered to. While strategy is universal, the tactics utilized to achieve positional advancement are always situational and pragmatic. In more common philosophic terms, strategy addresses moral issues while tactics are always ethically challenging. As promoters of the RKBA, we need to involve the general American public in establishing a national discipline of gun-related martial arts and science principles that can be practiced without aid of an actual gun - think sport karate or kendo as opposed to Hong Kong street fighter or Samurai. I know that Krav Maga teaches some of these practices, but not as a philosophy per se, what we need is to develop that philosophy and involve as many non-shooters in the development process as we practicably can. They may still decline to own a gun themselves thereafter, but it almost certainly won't be out of ignorance or lack of understanding. If we gun ownership supporters can achieve such a national condition (per Eric Raymond, again) then we operate to advance our position over those who directly - and pretty much openly - threaten us, not seek to "protect" us.

A school of philosophy that safely teaches our children discipline and self-reliance, as citizens of a nation founded upon those very principles, pretty much becomes our national and personal "line in the sand", doesn't it?


Kevin said...

You call that LONG? ;-)

Good post!

Will Brown said...


Stephen R said...

RE: Your discussion of language and how being on the wrong side leaves you scrambling to continuously re-argue your premise...

Your particular way of describing it sounds something like a linguistic OODA loop.

Will Brown said...

@ Strider72

I'm afraid Col. Boyd and I are both trying to paraphrase from essentially the same basic principles. Our target audience is different of course, so the specifics will differ as well, but the basic intent is quite similar so the fundamental concepts are too.

I'd counsel caution in taking the apparent similarity too far though. Col. Boyd's basic conjecture is founded on an assumption of aggressive conflict being the minimum starting point of any engagement. My own is to achieve a similar victory while avoiding the expense of conflict by manipulating mundane competition in ways that make cooperation the more beneficial option. The tactics employed are quite similar as you observed, as can be the process, but the preparitory stages are completely different. Once engagement is commenced though, the key difference is probably that the fighter pilot seeks to compress the action beyond the oppositions decision-making capability while the cooperative strategy seeks to extend the window of engagement to co-opt an ally's decision-acceptance point - you actually can make him want to do "it", but he does have to want to.

Tempting as it may sometime seem, shooting the guy on the other end of the petard takes all the enthusiasm out of the hoisting, you know?