The Three Types
The theory or idea of a Centre begins with the observation of man’s chaotic reality, his confusion, his sorrows. These are attributed to his ignorance, which renders him easy prey to inessential phenomena, to “shadows” which, eventually, turn him against himself, against his fellowman, against the world. In an effort to counteract the effects of man’s deadening and enslaving dependency upon the multiple and confusing variety of existential phenomena, the men of wisdom in Asia had sought to perceive the substance or essential Centre of existence–the Centre where…dazed and pained blindness became calm clarity, the unintelligible became intelligible. (from Secrets of the Samurai)
In relation to strategy, we find three types of people on this planet. On the lowest rung are those who respond to practically everything with their emotions. They are tied to the present. As I explained in the WAR book, strategic thinking is not a function of education. We often find the most educated people in the world living and breathing in this lower atmosphere. The educated types are the ones who are most dangerous.
Many of those in the media occupy this rung. You have probably noticed many times in the media how much hysteria plays a role. One possible terror attack, or one bad landing of an aircraft, or a bit of powder in an envelope, and all of the pundits are hitting the airwaves raising the alert levels. Of course, much of this is just business. The media thrive on stoking a constant near panic, a sense of THIS IS NEWS. But I believe many of the pundits become consumed with this. They become caught up in the day to day cycles.
It is strange how none of them are ever held accountable for their ridiculous predictions and analyses. Take David Brooks, for instance, a very smart columnist for the New York Times. Just after the Iraq invasion, he was in near ecstasy at the smoothness of it all, and berated all of the liberals and wet people who doubted the necessity for this war. As reality began to deliver its cold bath, his columns cooled. Now, he berates the incompetence of how the war was prosecuted. A little late, one might say. But at no point does he say, mea culpa; I was wrong; I see the light now.
On this bottom rung of life, people react to this or that, analyze immediate events through the filter of their prejudices, get heated up and cool down with the passing of the days, and never rise above it all to analyze where they went wrong or right. The larger picture is ignored.
From day one, I proclaimed that this war was foolhardy and virtually unwinnable. I pronounced this because of my reading of history and my analysis of the circumstances. It was based on the timeless wisdom that when there are too many factors you cannot control, in war this will spell chaos and defeat. These factors included the porous borders, the existence of inveterate enemies of the US (Syria, Iran, et al) on these borders, the lack of a democratic tradition in the area, the splintered nature of the culture, the years of living under Sadaam and what that had wrought on the Iraqi people, on and on.
I am no genius. These factors are obvious and anyone who has read a modicum of military history could say the same as I had. I wrote editorials before the war was launched laying out these ideas, and had my publicists send them to various newspapers. I had these ideas also sent to various producers on TV shows. We received not a single bite. Looking at this larger picture, in which events play out over years, there is no patience for that kind of analysis in the media. And if there is no patience for that in these circles, it tends to filter down to everyone.
In the meantime, various generals and strategic pundits occupy the air time with all kinds of tactical analysis of the war on the ground. They change from month to month. At one point, all of the top military brass and experts are marveling at the quickness of the victory; then they are concerned about the insurgency, but certain our superior firepower will prevail; then they are more concerned, and advocate this tactical action or that, none of which alters the dynamic. Nobody, virtually nobody in the early years of this war delivered the slightest rational analysis of what might ensue in this military adventure. To me, this is criminal.
These types can be recognized in talking about any kind of competitive environment. If it is politics, they are all agog about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But the moment they undergo the slightest glitch, lose a primary, make some slip, all of their charm and intelligence is ripped apart, and someone else becomes the star for a week or two. In the NBA, one team races out to a 6 – 0 start and suddenly it is predicted they will go all the way. Anyone who has followed sports over the years knows that over the course of the year, the better teams slowly rise to the top, and the fast starters slowly fall to where they belong. (In baseball, the same thing happens every year with the Yankees.) And yet the “experts” cannot raise their noses above the moment and bring some common sense to the discussion.
Above this lower rung you will find a lot of people who struggle to get their minds above the moment, the hubbub, and bring some rationality to it all. They undergo a constant battle between their emotions and their desire to see events more clearly. What separates these types from the first one is a strong hunger for power and control. They know they could do better if they could elevate their minds and analyze what is happening. And so they try. It is not easy when so many people around them have little patience, keep pulling them into silly arguments, or overwhelm the discussion with emotional salvos.
So, for instance, Mr. B of this second type is trying to talk about the Iraq War. He mentions all of the things I enumerated above, the various risks that make it a counterproductive adventure, a gamble. The interlocutor, trained in the Bill O’Reilly school of bullying, interjects: well, the situation now is certainly not worse than it was with Sadaam Hussein. What would you have done differently? Would you have simply left Sadaam in power? He was even more brutal than what we have now. And what kind of threats would he be raising today if he were still there? You are just advocating leaving things as they were. That is no solution. Blah blah blah.
Suddenly, Mr. B’s attempt at raising the argument above the day to day, to gain a realistic assessment of it all, is lowered to this new plane. He has to defend himself against this accusation that he is a de facto supporter of Sadaam, by virtue of his passivity, that he is an appeaser. That was not the original argument. The argument was whether this war was worth it or not. Mr. B is rational and willing to see both sides, before he makes up his mind. He wants to get at the truth and avoid the needless slaughter of American troops. But his opponent makes it a Hobson’s choice.
Mr. B. of the second type would like to argue that over the long run we could have evolved other strategies against Sadaam, with the idea in mind of attacking him when the moment was right, perhaps years down the line. But this is not allowed. I maintain that the basis for this kind of O’Reilly bullying is emotional. At first glance, a man like this is very intelligent and seems to entertain both sides. But he was a supporter of this war, and to admit he might have been wrong is too difficult. His insecurity and egotism outweighs his desire to get at the truth. I also maintain that many of the people who launched this war were emotional creatures who wanted revenge against Sadaam, payback for 9/11, who fell for the rosy scenario of democracy spreading in the Middle East.
Now, above this second level where many of us live exist a third type, the true strategists in life. These are types whom I have never met, but in whom I could detect (in their writings, in their actions) a superior form of intelligence. If you have read my books, you know exactly to whom I am referring.
Among this elite are several masters of martial arts. I did martial arts as a young man, but have not practiced it for many years. Nevertheless, the discipline and mental approach I learned has stayed with me over the years. The lessons I had learned from karate filtered their way into the WAR book. There were also many texts on the subject that had a huge impact on me.
One such book was Secrets of the Samurai: A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan, by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook. I highly recommend it. There were concepts in there I keep returning to over and over. One such concept in swordfighting has to do with your initial pose. This initial pose is not simply physical, it is mental as well. If you place yourself in the right pose, everything else will flow from that. Being pushed off balance is inevitable in any swordfight, but if you are able to resume this primary pose of balance quickly, quicker than your opponent, you will prevail.
This pose is your center, your haragei. It is different for different individuals and depends on your mind and your physical type. For some it is classical, and in the perfect position to strike or defend. For others, such as Musashi, it is the pose that is least expected by your opponent, that contains a surprise, but which is practiced and under control. For some, it is with the sword down, inviting an attack. On and on. It is a position of power, in which your mental focus is easily regained as your body and hara (belly in Japanese) center you.
This image has come to haunt me. Whenever I find myself being pushed off balance by someone else who is emotional and reactive, I think of that primary pose I must return to. I had this pose when I wrote the books: confident and certain of what I was doing. It has a visual equivalent of a samurai warrior preparing for a swordfight.
When people tear at me, trying to pull me down a notch with a personal attack, I go to that pose, and it saves me from being caught up in their nonsense. When I feel somebody’s envy breathing down my neck, I center myself, and forgive them. We all feel envy, and they are hurting more from this than I am. Nothing is ever bad in this life (a subject I will elucidate in a book that I am working on). Everything depends on how you judge it, after it happens. You can make anything bad turn into something good if you swear to learn a lesson from it, see in it the potential for something positive. The recent nonsense on this board, with many members sniping at me serves as a reminder that I have far to go as well, and need to constantly return to that pose. (I had forgotten about this over the course of the past few months, with so many positive things happening and few setbacks. Setbacks are very necessary in life.)
Find your haragei, know where your balance lies and when you are around those of type one and are being pulled into their whirlpool of reactions and emotions, hit that pose, stand back, regain control of yourself and the dynamic. It is no sin to be a type two. I would put myself there. The only sin is to not aim higher, or to grovel on the lower rungs.
As for those who want shorter little blog-like bites about the news, and for whom this ESSAY is too much to digest, please go elsewhere. I simply refuse to give you these easily digestible Macnuggets of strategic wisdom. They don’t exist. If you don’t have the patience to read two or three pages, then good riddance. You won’t amount to much in life anyway.
As for those who find this masturbatory and not as focused as my books: well, stay with my books. I didn’t invite you here, and I don’t mind if this is not your cup of tea. It is another medium. I will try to grow into it, and there will be birth pangs. If everything has to be neat and consistent and tight, then you have the three books to warm you up and I will not miss you here, I promise.
As for those who now find me less heroic and more human. Well, shit, I happen to be human and I don’t want to be a hero. If you have truly read the books and digested Law 48, as well as Strategy number 2, you know that what I advocate is thinking for yourself, not slavishly adhering to somebody else’s words or actions. You have your own life to live. I hope my ideas help you in your troubles, and don’t get in your way. Who cares about my private life or whether I adhere to my own principles when I shave or go to bed? I don’t want to start a cult, and I didn’t ask for adulation. If you are disappointed to know that I am a Democrat or that I drive a 96 Avalon, then you are really disappointed in yourself, in your need to have idols to worship, to escape your own inadequacies. Live for yourself and not for others and you will not find yourself disappointed.
For those who still want to stay with me here, I am more than happy to have you along and any comments or criticisms are happily accepted in the spirit of improvement.
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