January 11, 2008


The dude himself, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme of Goat Rope lately is strategy and what even peace loving people can learn from the study of strategy, strife, and conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Yesterday's post mentioned Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese strategist of the Warring States period (402-221 BC). His Art of War has been studied for centuries by people in many walks of life who have found useful insights for daily life there--with "war" understood metaphorically for the world's constantly occuring collisions. I learned of this classic while studying martial arts.

The book consists of 13 brief chapters, although additional related texts have recently been discovered. I'm going to highlight some passages that I've found useful in personal experience in the course of dojo sparring and several peaceful campaigns.

Here's one of my favorites. As mentioned yesterday, Sun Tzu believed that the highest level of skill was to accomplish one's goals without a fight. Here's a related insight from Chapter 3:

The best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; and the worst to assault walled cities.

Let me unpack the first part of that a little. Imagine you are engaged in a campaign to either make something happen or keep something from happening and that you face opposition. Not too hard, huh? All too often, we tend to attack our opponents, at least verbally.

Personally attacking people may make one feel better for a little while, but it usually doesn't accomplish much and can lead to all kinds of trouble. It's far more effective if one understands the opponent's strategy and neutralizes it without attacking the opponent at all.

Here's a real example. A while back, there was an effort by A to push through a potentially popular but irresponsible policy as a first step to a wider agenda. That was their strategy. Group B put together an alternative proposal that many organizations supported. The alternative addressed legitimate concerns but avoided the negative aspects of A's agenda. Group B released their proposal at the best moment. It got a good bit of attention and helped shape debate on the issue and ultimately the outcome.

Group B didn't attack anybody, but rather deprived the opponents of their strategy. Straight Sun Tzu. It was fun too. That's what I heard anyway...

Here's another simple example. Imagine a woman walking through a dark street who is being followed by a potential attacker. She crosses the street to an area with more light and more people around and continues on her way. Without engaging her potential attacker, she neutralized his strategy, which was to attack her in an isolated place. Pretty simple but pretty effective.

More of the same next week.

RICH FOOD. In response to an item from yesterday's post about the dietary divide between rich and poor, a friend in Philly sent the following link which asks the question "can you afford to eat right?" Increasingly, eating a healthy diet will require more money, more education, and more time. Thanks, MM!

FRESH FIGS. Darkness and light and challenges and responses are part of the mix in the latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

EVOLUTION AND ALTRUISM. Here's coverage from the UK on an interesting scientific debate.

ABOUT THAT PROVOCATION AT SEA. The military isn't sure it happened. As the folks at Wired's Danger Room blog suggest, "hold off the invasion force."


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