By Brent Parrish
The Right Planet
A little while back I was on Twitter and started to express my frustration with something I’ve seen too much over my lifetime; and it’s only gotten worse, in my opinion. I’m referring to what I would call a “spirit of defeatism.”
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to people say they believe the whole game is rigged, so to speak. The “man” is in total control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. In the end, according to the defeatists, we’re just cogs in a giant machine being controlled by mysterious dark forces that we have no control over; but they have total control over us, as the story goes; we are simply helpless victims who are powerless to do anything about it: “It’s just how it is.”
This sort of defeatism has never sat well with me, because at the end of the day–even if it were all true, and it may be, for all I know–it’s an excuse to do absolutely nothing about anything. Why should one waste any energy trying to change something for the better that cannot be changed?
But I can’t help, at times, to feel the frustration, anger, and even downright demoralization, of living in a world where so much evil does exist. I always agreed with Ephesians 6:10 in the Bible: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
I don’t believe in defeat, even though defeat may be a part of life, even our own–which brings me to the ancient military philosopher Sun Tzu and his view of defeat. Years ago I read the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu. The book left a big impression on me. It is not a lengthy work. One might argue it’s not really a book per se.
Although Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War, it really is a collection of maxims from many sources throughout history that Sun Tzu collected and organized, along with his own maxims on war. I quickly discovered it’s not a book you read just once and put down; it’s really a reference you return to over and over again. People refer to the Bible regularly as a reference, and often see something new in it each time they read it. Sun Tzu’s treatise is much the same way; it could be thought of as the bible on warfare.
One day, not too long ago, following a day of frustration with certain individuals who I would say are seriously afflicted with the cancer of defeatism, I got on Twitter and sent out the following Tweet:
What’s interesting is who replied. It wasn’t just anybody; it was Thomas Huyne. At first, I wasn’t sure who he was, but for some reason his name and face just rang a bell. And then I thought about it a little more and wondered if I had seen him interviewed somewhere, or if it was his name that I recognized. The only thing I could think of was a rare documentary on Sun Tzu and The Art of War I saw on the History Channel a while back. So I Tweeted Mr. Huyne and asked him if he had anything to do with the documentary. Huyne responded by saying, yes, indeed, he was one of the primary consultants for the History Channel’s documentary on The Art of War. (I’ve embedded the full documentary below, along with the YouTube description, which cites WikiPedia as a source–which may or may not be completely accurate, but appears to be.)
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise that is attributed to Sun Tzu (also referred to as “Sunzi” and “Sun Wu”), a high ranking military general and strategist during the late Spring and Autumn period (some scholars believe that the Art of War was not completed until the subsequent Warring States period. Composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare, it is said to be the definitive work on military strategies and tactics of its time, and is still read for its military insights.
The Art of War is one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. It has been the most famous and influential of China’s Seven Military Classics: “for the last two thousand years it remained the most important military treatise in Asia, where even the common people knew it by name.It has had an influence on Eastern military thinking, business tactics, and beyond.
Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of positioning in military strategy, and that the decision to position an army must be based on both objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective beliefs of other, competitive actors in that environment. He thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations.
Now I’ve read The Art of War enough to know that Sun Tzu thought in terms of victory, not defeat. It did not matter whether Sun Tzu was facing a superior or inferior force; he would simply adjust his strategy and tactics accordingly in order to achieve victory. For example, if Sun Tzu found himself facing a superior force he would not just dig in and hunker down in a strictly static defensive posture. If I understand Sun Tzu correctly, he believed that if you only defend and never attack, you’re only fighting not to lose. If you’re only fighting not to lose, and not to win, then you’ve already lost. Sun Tzu would harass and harangue a superior enemy, much like our modern day enemies do to us (cf. Iraq and Afghanistan).
Often times I have compared the Western-style of warfare to Sun Tzu’s Eastern-style, in what I would refer to as the Clausewitz school of warfare versus Sun Tzu strategy. If you watched the documentary, the subject of strategy games was touched upon–specifically, the Chinese game of Go versus the Western game of Chess. Chess is a game of attrition, whereby you try to take out your opponent’s pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, king, in order to take out the queen for the win–checkmate. The Chinese game of Go is not based on attrition, but rather the capture of real estate. I happen to be a fan of taking real estate, as opposed to engaging in bloody battles of attrition, unless it is absolutely required in order to achieve victory.
The other reason I’m a student of Sun Tzu strategy is I believe it’s based in reality; it’s based on responding to fluid, dynamic, ever-changing conditions, instead of carefully laid plans that depend upon everything going according to plan–which rarely happens in war, if ever.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” — Robert Burns
Sun Tzu wasn’t just a general; he was an artist, hence The Art of War. He understood Earth and Sky–meaning: he would use the terrain, seasons and weather to his advantage. Sun Tzu didn’t fight against nature, he worked with it. In nature, the survival mechanism is fight or flight. Sun Tzu understood this natural instinct and used it to his advantage.
“If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.” — Sun Tzu, Ch. I
There are many examples in military history of leaders ignoring this all-important maxim. At times, if facing a superior force, it may be necessary to retreat to a more defensible position. An orderly retreat in order to gain better advantage is not defeat per se, but may very well ensure victory, as opposed to complete defeat by fighting in an indefensible position against a superior force. Not only is evasion or an orderly retreat sometimes necessary in war against a superior force, sometimes the enemy may be superior in every way and the only option is to flee.
“If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.” — SunTzu, Ch. III
The principles and maxims enshrined by Sun Tzu have withstood the test of time. Sun Tzu appears to have understood human nature very well … that some things never change; they are fixed and absolute. Despite the fact Sun Tzu lived some 2,000 years ago, his maxims still apply to this very day. One can certainly adjust their behavior or change their thinking; but one cannot change human nature. In my opinion, if human nature could be improved or changed, then Sun Tzu’s maxims would no longer apply.
So to bring this back to the subject of politics, since this blog is primarily about the conservatarian (conservative/libertaian) view on politics, Sun Tzu’s maxims can be applied to the realm of politics and business as well. For example, it often appears to me the GOP is simply fighting not to lose, instead of fighting to win. Furthermore, many who are on the right-side of the political spectrum, in my opinion, are often times infected with the cringe-worthy and loathsome spirit of defeatism. Until we believe we can win, we never will. Why would we? Sun Tzu taught that one must never attack unless victory is assured, which entails being thoroughly prepared. When confronted with a superior force, I believe one must think outside the box.
“To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.” — SunTzu, Ch. IV
My main point in writing this article was to force myself to examine the issue of adjusting strategy and tactics when confronting a superior or inferior force from Sun Tzu’s perspective, according to The Art of War. But I also wrote this piece to give a bit of background on Thomas Huyne. After I post this article, I plan on sharing a letter written by Thomas Huyne. It is an open letter to President Obama. It is very respectfully written, yet contains some powerful points.
Thomas actually made a rather profound impact on me tonight when I tweeted one of my articles with a pic of Barack Obama in clownface with the title: “Narcissist.” Well, let’s just say he found it in poor taste. Of course, I felt a bit defensive at first, responding that “perhaps after eight years of Bush-bashing I’ve become a bit cynical,” if not just downright mean.
But it did make me wonder if I’m becoming the very thing I say I hate. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never stop fighting for our freedom and our inalienable rights as Americans. But I would like to reach those who don’t necessarily agree with my politics, because I don’t believe politics is leadership–far from it. But I’m not above reproof; sometimes I need it.
Now, I won’t speak for Mr. Huyne, but I did read an open letter he wrote to President Obama and he states he did vote for Barack Obama twice. Of course, anybody who knows me, know that it would be a cold day in hell before I would ever vote for Barack Obama. I just can’t go along with the whole collectivist vision, which has never really worked anywhere, ever. I believe the reason for the failure of socialism/liberalsim is it goes against human nature; and typically it is forced upon people; it is not voluntary. I would call that simple tyranny.
But I believe there might be some common ground with Mr. Huyne and me in the political sense. Maybe I’ll start trying to be a little less offensive, which I know I can be at times, and little more assertive, yet respectful. Let’s face it, respect goes a long way. If the goal is to bring more people aboard for the cause of freedom, then respect is required. I really don’t want to become the very thing I hate. Unfortunately, that’s an easy thing to do.
- On Death Ground: The Right Planet