January 14, 2008


Samson shows the way.

El Cabrero is convinced that there's a lot we can learn from the study of conflict and strategy that can help make the world less violent and more just. That was pretty much the theme last week.

This week I'm continuing in the same vein. Think of it as a peaceful person's guide to Sun Tzu's Art of War. People from all walks of life have been studying his writings for centuries for their application in many areas of life far removed from physical conflict.

First a little review. As I mentioned before, Sun Tzu believed that the highest level of skill in conflict is to accomplish your objective without a fight.

Sun Tzu also believed that attacking one's opponents is one of the least effective approaches. The best approach is to attack the opponent's strategy, as explained here. If one neutralizes an opponent's strategy, the opponent is neutralized without being attacked.

He taught that the next best policy is to attack the opponent's alliances. This is one of several areas where his thinking meshes perfectly with the theory of nonviolent action.

According to the latter, power is not monolithic and dominant groups are not as unified as they may appear to be. There are always tensions and contradictions. Even the most absolute dictator depends for his power on the active or passive cooperation of many people. Robert Helvey in his book on nonviolence refers to these as "pillars of support."

When the pillars of support--what Sun Tzu called alliances--are removed, the power collapses.

At a less extreme level, attempting to influence public affairs in a democracy involves trying to win over people to one's point of view and isolate one's opponent. Again, this is a matter of removing their pillars of support or attacking alliances. One mark of a good strategy is that it creates more support for your position, neutralizes some who were inclined to oppose it, and isolates one's determined opponents. Vice versa for a bad one.

More on this tomorrow.

SPEAKING OF PILLARS OF SUPPORT, this study of public opinion on the state of the economy shows that there's not much holding up the Bush agenda.

WHAT RECESSION? Here's an item from the AFLCIO blog about the current state of the economy with plenty of links that suggest what to do about it. And here's Krugman on the candidate's response to recession.

A NEW DIRECTION. In a new report, the Center for American Progress lays out an agenda for progressive growth. Here's an extract:

To grow our economy and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from this growth, we need to rebuild our infrastructure to support the transformation to a low-carbon economy, invest in human capital, and help support greater economic security. We believe our nation cannot afford to wait to make these necessary investments—in universal health care, education and lifelong learning, science and technology innovation, new green energy job training programs, and new wealth-creating opportunities for all Americans—if we want our economy to remain thoroughly competitive in the global marketplace.

THE MORAL SENSE. Here's a long but fascinating article on the scientific study of morality by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.

SAD HOMECOMINGS. This feature from the NY Times shows that the traumas US veterans faced in Iraq and Afghanistan have followed some of them home.


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