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Sunday, November 26, 2006

There is no dog but Rufus

.. and I am his prophet.
And surely this instinct of the dog is very charming; --your dog is a true philosopher.

Why?

Why, because he distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing. And must not an animal be a lover of learning who determines what he likes and dislikes by the test of knowledge and ignorance?
Plato's Republic, Book II

Here is the pivotal moment in Plato's Republic. Actually it's a little further up in the text, where Glaucon explains that what he wants is not so much a state that is good, but one that can allow him to "lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and [..] have sauces and sweets in the modern style."

Why?

Why, because the mechanics of reaching beyond the bare necessities of life requires people to specialize, then exploit one another, and then go to war, not necessarily in that order. It's a rather obvious observation made by someone (Plato) who knew a lot more about the life of a subsistence farmer in comparison to the life of a city dweller than any of us ever will. Consider it a primitive exercise in anthropology, if it makes you uncomfortable, or look past it and pay attention instead to Plato's larger project.

I've done my bit to talk about refinement, particularly the way in which refinement of processes and ideas can lead to a precarious plateau of false stability. But this is also the way change happens in social and behavioral systems. Paradigms fail, dramatically, sometimes tragically, and almost always along the fault lines of their internal contradictions, which are relentlessly exploited. Just because Hegel said it, doesn't mean it ain't true.

But Plato said it first, and I don't think I'm claiming anything unconventional to say that Plato's larger project, in the Republic as elsewhere, was to try to understand man's connection to the divine through his capacity for creation. To make things, to change things and to understand the process by which one thing leads to another is the divine, Plato would say erotic, act.

Glaucon wants sofas and sweets, for which he requires servants and slaves, hence power over others and the ability to defend oneself, ..., and all the rest follows. One need begets another until man is engaged in an amazingly complex social arrangement from which there is no return to simplicity. Imagination begets desire begets action. Action creates instability and uncertainty, and is answered with more action until finally a new plateau is achieved. A stalemate. It's as brittle as any other but for the moment, Glaucon gets his sofas and sweets.

And this is how man creates a civilization out of nothing. Out of nothing!

So how does one thing lead to another? Disruption, instability, renewal. Social and behavioral trends, as lines drawn through time, are a fiction. History never works that way. Like markets, or living organisms, social forces are opportunistic and advance through conflict and competition.

One application of this idea is as a criticism of the OODA view of the generations of warfare (h/t Thunder Pig). You can't draw straight lines through evolutionary processes to predict the future. If you could we'd all be rich and happy (we know now that fat is not happy).

Gen 4 was not a theoretical continuation of Gens 1, 2 and 3. It was a break from them. 1, 2 and 3 expressed a continued refinement of state organized massed (man/fire)power.

Gen 4 is simply not a continuation of any kind, but a response. Specifically, it's a response that is based on an ideology in which the very idea of a state is considered to be unnatural and evil, and comes at a time in which a single state, the US, is dominant in the world. Whether that dominance is a function of excellence in Gens 1,2,3 or is due to extraneous factors doesn't even matter. All that matters is that the trendline is broken.

And what is Gen 5? Speculations about its being all about stealth, or integration, all miss the point. Gen 5 is not going to be some kind of better, faster, lighter, more awesome Gen 4. Nor is it going to be some new development on a continuum of developments that can be theoretically skewered on an x/y axis.

It may not even happen, because to happen the states that are under attack have to make the choice to defend themselves. They have to want to survive. There are strong indications that they do not, which would prove that they really were just a momentary historical stalemate, in fact a bloody one that we'd all have been better off without and that, somehow unconsciously, we know enough to let go of. At least that's the question on the table.

If it does happen, Gen 5 will be the umbrella term given to describe the whole range of things we think up to do in response to Gen 4. I started looking at that list of things in my response to Christine here, but, as I note in that comment, the whole range of Gen 5 activities won't be enumerated until the war is over, assuming our side wins.

If we don't win, Gen 5 will be an internal Islamic rebellion, where the weapon of choice will be Rufus, the one true dog.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Shloky said...

It may not even happen, because to happen the states that are under attack have to make the choice to defend themselves. They have to want to survive. There are strong indications that they do not, which would prove that they really were just a momentary historical stalemate, in fact a bloody one that we'd all have been better off without and that, somehow unconsciously, we know enough to let go of. At least that's the question on the table.


What are you referring to as "states"?

I ask because states in their current iteration (nation-) may not want to survive (through ignorance of a viable threat).

4:52 PM  
Blogger Abu Nopal said...

I'm not exactly sure how to interpret what you're saying. It sounds like you're saying we might be better off without these states if they're not able to even perceive the threat to them.

By state I mean nation-state, and that's because it's the content of the social contract and the object of all our refinements, efforts, hopes, everything. We're totally invested in it (Is that the source of our vulnerability?).

I did a few posts touching on Hobbes (for example here and here and a few others around there) in reaction to the ideas I see bubbling up about a post-national era. But to sum it up, it scares me. I don't think anybody is ready for it, even if it's happening before our eyes.

It was in the second of those two here's above that I began to think about the relationship between the fighting class and their society. That led me to start looking more seriously into (and apparently getting confused about) the 4GW/5GW questions and ultimately led, I think, to your being here.

So, welcome. Feel free to shed some light around.

8:11 PM  

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