Fighting Reality-Based OODA Loops

A brief essay in three parts.

I. Chaos and the Iraq War

From time to time, one sees this old (and anonymous, and thus dubious) "quote" from an unnamed Bush administration official around the time of the Iraq War. It is raised to this day by people on the left to mock people on the right, which is ironic for reasons I'll get to in a moment. 
"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' [...] 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do'." 
This quote is mocked mostly because of the rhetorical error of conceding 'reality based' to the opposition, which leaves many with the impression that he (or she, if such a person even really existed) is purporting to be basing their actions on something besides reality. That sounds like an admission of a retreat into fantasy, say; and a concession that the other side is the realistic one.

The substance of the argument, however, is merely a restatement of Boyd's OODA Loop -- a widely accepted paradigm in strategy, whether military or otherwise. The basic idea is that one cannot act (the "A" at the end of "OODA") until one has finished observing what is going on, orienting one's self to the situation, and then making a decision about how to act. If the other side keeps changing the situation adequately rapidly, then, you may never get to an action -- or even to a decision. You have to keep re-starting the process by observing and orienting to the new changes.

(Or else act according to the older facts, which may be a strategic error that serves your opponent just as well as preventing your action, etc.)

One might raise the objection that this approach did not, in fact, win the Iraq War; the Bush administration found itself in a quagmire. This objection is both false and true. It is false in that the OODA approach did defeat the Saddam regime, and rapidly left the Bush team in control of the entire territory of Iraq. It is true in that the OODA approach was insufficient to defeating the insurgency that spawned in the chaos following the fall of that regime. 

This identifies a key flaw, or limit, of the OODA approach to military strategy. By its nature, it increases the chaos in the system. By keeping the situation constantly and rapidly changing, it keeps opponents off balance. Yet it also prevents the rise of stability, which is a necessary condition for success in counterinsurgency. Once the war in Iraq turned into a counterinsurgency, one of the most important jobs was directly contrary to the OODA approach.

At this point OODA was nonfunctional as a strategy, though it could still have tactical applications to particular bands of insurgents. What was needed was a counterinsurgency strategy built around reducing chaos. This strategy was developed and in place by 2007. It had two wings: attrition of enemy actors, coupled with rising prosperity. You might say it was a 'stick and carrot' approach.
If you put the American counterinsurgency strategy into plain English, it would be this:  We stop insurgencies against approved systems of government by raising the costs of being an insurgent, while also raising the benefits of participation in the system high enough that former insurgents have too much of a stake in that system to rebel against it. In other words, it is not just about killing people who are fighting the system. We also do good for people so that they have a positive reason to want to be part of the system. We might build them improved water pumps or treatment facilities, roads, factories, or get them jobs. They need a stake in the system that is better than what they can get by fighting.
By 2009, the war was essentially over; its subsequent return to chaos followed the incoming Obama administration's decision to withdraw too rapidly, removing the stabilizing element of US forces (who provided both the stick and the carrot, the latter by guaranteeing that the central government would keep the bargains with former insurgents). That loss is outside the scope of this essay. 

The point is that the OODA approach works perfectly well within particular limits. It is a functional strategy against for destabilizing an enemy regime; it remains a functional tactic against small formations even once a strategy of stability is needed instead. Yet there is a hinge point at which OODA is no longer a potentially successful strategy: the point at which success depends on reducing chaos within the system, rather than further destabilizing it. 

II. Wokeness as Chaos

Our current society seems to be rapidly destabilizing. In the wake of the successful BLM movement, policing has retreated in cities across America; the result is gigantic increases in crime. Homicides in particular is at rates not seen in decades, though it still has a way to go before it reaches its earlier peaks.

Coupled to that are the serious economic instabilities arising from last year's lockdowns. These included serial disruptions in supply chains (still ongoing: look at lumber prices and shipping container costs compared to last year). Small businesses were devastated. Amazon benefitted greatly, as did China; main street America, not so much. 

Now we have a new administration that has increased instability further. Canceling the Keystone Pipeline drove energy costs up, as has their move to further restrain coal production. Political instability is occasioned by any administration change, but this one has promised to study packing the courts, and is presently working with slim majorities in Congress to try to re-structure America's election systems along the lines they were able to effect in a few swing states last year. The intention here is long-term stability, not chaos -- they mean to rule forever -- but the short-term approach is to destabilize America's existing systems. 

On the activist front, the chaos strategy is particularly evident. The success in reducing policing, which is at least intended as a stabilizing force in any society, was noted above. The wokeness approach to life also involves knocking away the superstructure on which our society is built, as we have all noted (see e.g. the comments here.)

On top of that, there is an OODA-like structure to the way in which an ever-new set of demands is raised against the existing society. The right is currently striving to prevent biological men from being introduced to women's sports, which was not even under discussion a few years ago; but say one concedes that issue. Will that satisfy? Of course not. We are only having this argument because of concessions on previous ones, and ones before that. 

Nor will you win by winning, if the point is an OODA-like increase in chaos. Often these fights are in fact abandoned, because the point is just what the young alleged Bush advisor said: "we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Last week there was a big to-do about the introduction of "birthing persons" instead of "mothers," and right at Mother's Day! Well, of course; outrage and changing focus was the point. Remember "amen and a-women"? They don't really care about that; they just want to change your focus again. 

The point of this increase in chaos within the system is to collapse the system. Restoring stability can come later, after victory. Mao killed off the Red Guards when he was ready to restore stability, and many of these woke may find themselves likewise driven out when their purpose is served. Yet even for those who do not intend to collapse the system, who merely go along with wokeness because they think it is somehow connected to justice or niceness or something like that, the effect on the system is the same. It will not survive. 

III. Old Truths as Stability

Our recent discussion on grounding principles points to a way to introduce a stabilizing element, which is to stand on the ancient truths and objective moralities. 
I definitely believe that there is an objective moral order, one that is discoverable in nature -- for example, one discovers that the virtues Aristotle praised are in fact the things that make your life better if practiced. That is simply true; and yet the idea that one should draw ethical lessons from nature, even or especially human nature, is very much under attack. 
If one wishes to further justify them, one can point to the transcendent beauty that is only made possible by the existence of a long and powerful tradition. The competition has nothing similar to offer; neither the truth nor the beauty. 

This is only a partial approach. I do not now think that any of our institutions are likely to survive; and if the alternative to chaos is a stability attained through tyranny, as by court-packing and election-rigging and police states, I should rather have the chaos anyway. 

New institutions will therefore be needed. These will need to be based on volunteer principles rather than power, I believe, and in fact must reject the idea of concentrated political power essentially. A volunteer fire department; a volunteer militia of citizens who know and trust each other to take the place of police. Volunteer (and unpaid) offices: and, therefore, government kept on such a small scale that it can only be part-time, because (as we learned from Weber) it cannot be allowed to become a source of income. Government must be something one can do occasionally only, and therefore it cannot do much. 

I suspect that there may be a similar need for reform in institutions outside of government too; how, for example, a church (or the Church) should reform is beyond the scope of this essay. Yet there at least the basic principle is obvious: a restoration of objective morality as discovered by long tradition is surely within the scope of such organizations. Revelation will of course compete with objective morality; but if God made the world (however you and your faith conceive of God, of course), then the truths discovered there are also God's work. 

That I leave to others, and for other days. 

The Iron Dome


An extraordinary image from the AFP of the contest in Israel.

I listened to some Israelis discussing this, including a general officer and a political advisor. The political advisor thinks this is about a dispute over apartments; the general thinks it is really a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, in which Hamas is trying to establish leadership by showing itself to be the stronger and more virile party.

I do not think that either of them is right about what is happening here. There are more titanic powers afoot. 

Better Get Busy, Lads

The UK needs every man to help save the nation’s pubs by drinking 124 pints. 

Gypsy Music for a Thursday


Some Insights from Theodore Dalrymple

Dr. Bastiat posted a summary of some of Dalrymple's major themes over at Ricochet, and I think there are a number of important insights there. Apparently, this is from the Wikipedia entry on Dalrymple.

Here are the first three of 14 or so, to see if the post might be worth your time:

  • The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries – criminality, domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families – is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalisation of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.
  • Poverty does not explain aggressive, criminal and self-destructive behaviour. In an African slum you will find among the very poor, living in dreadful circumstances, dignity and decency in abundance, which are painfully lacking in an average English suburb, although its inhabitants are much wealthier.
  • An attitude characterised by gratefulness and having obligations towards others has been replaced – with awful consequences – by an awareness of “rights” and a sense of entitlement, without responsibilities. This leads to resentment as the rights become violated by parents, authorities, bureaucracies and others in general.

Fake News Today

BB: “Dick Cheney Invites Trump On Reconciliatory Hunting Trip."

Audit Update

Rasmussen Reports has taken an interest in the audit in Arizona, perhaps because its own polling supports the conclusion that the auditors are correct that Arizona was stolen. For whatever reason, they're a good source for updates from a reasonably reliable and professional source on the subject.

Currently they have published a rather explosive letter from the auditors. It appears that the ballots were unsealed before being turned over to the audit, and that the main databases of electronic records were deleted before the electronic storage was handed over. Of course, other servers and devices have still not been turned over to the Senate's auditors in spite of subpoenas. 

Destruction of evidence, and tampering with evidence, is usually considered a sort of evidence by itself. 

The New Labour

"The modern Labour Party seethes with sociologists named Hugo who wouldn’t know a wrench if it landed on their moccasins."

You Are Apparently Very Bad People

I've been considering leaving the Democratic Party for a long time, but the Republican Party doesn't seem like either a natural home or a real alternative. However, some Republicans have decided that they either want to be put firmly back in charge of their party, or else to leave it for a new party of their own.

“When in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice,” reads the preamble to the full statement, which is expected to be released on Thursday....

“I’m still a Republican, but I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth because how quickly the party has divorced itself from truth and reason,” Mr. Taylor said. “I’m one of those in the group that feels very strongly that if we can’t get the G.O.P. back to a rational party that supports free minds, free markets, and free people, I’m out and a lot of people are coming with me.”
Now, I did recently read about a conspiracy that effected the result (not a typo) of a recent election. However, I gather that many of these same people may have supported -- or even participated in -- that conspiracy, which is described by its members in their interview as 'bipartisan.' I assume that the "forces of conspiracy" they're worried about are the people taking notice of and commenting on the conspiracy, not the actual conspiracy to which the members confessed in a major publication. 

So, since many of you are disobedient Republicans of the sort that exasperates these officials, why are you being so ungrateful to your natural mast... er, leadership? Is it free minds that you oppose? Free markets? Free people? Is it your love of despotism? 

Maybe I'll join the Pirate Party.

She's outta here

Never-Trumper Liz Cheney was just booted from the No. 3 position in the U.S. House. I'm already hearing carping about how this is "cancel culture." It's hard to see how the cancel-culture concept applies to a politcian who's booted because of revulsion with the political ideas she expresses. One would almost suspect bad faith in the making of that argument, if it weren't for the incontrovertible virtue signalling that makes such a conclusion unpossible.

Idylls of the King

John Derbyshire still publishes a monthly memo that I very occasionally read. The most recent one includes quite a bit about poets, first at the beginning and then later on.

[O]ld-style colonialism was constructive as well as destructive, spreading the glories of our civilization world-wide. Today's educators, by contrast, only destroy—a colonial type of activity that they have the gross impertinence to describe as "decolonizing." To replace what they have destroyed they offer only worthless, soul-less dreck like Critical Race Theory.

A school principal in Massachusetts has boasted of removing the Odyssey from the curriculum. That, too, is cast as "decolonization." It is beyond ridiculous. For many decades, we have been tossing classical education into the ditch. Forget about studying Latin or Greek. Very few college students will have read Milton. Almost none will have read Tennyson. Most will not have heard of this Victorian poet; I know this from long experience.

That shocked me perhaps more than the average reader. For one thing, I am a major fan of Tennyson.... For another thing there was a memory from my days teaching English literature at a college in communist China forty years ago. My teaching materials were of course government-approved, the commentaries following the Party line. The classic English poets were well represented: Shakespeare (Marx was a fan), Shelley (major lefty), Burns (a peasant!), even Wordsworth (praised the French Revolution … at first).

Tennyson, however, didn't even get a mention. Why not? I consulted a standard 1979 ChiCom encyclopedia, which I still own. Here is the entire entry for Tennyson:

Dingnísheng (Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892). English poet. Born into a clerical family. All his poems beautify capitalist society and bourgeois morality and ethics. In 1850 he was made Poet Laureate. His works one-sidedly promote lyricism and become merely ornate. His most important poems are "The Princess," "Maud," "In Memoriam," "Enoch Arden," "Idylls of the King," etc.
So, a class enemy. Just another reminder, if you needed one, that there isn't much daylight between the ideology that has taken over our schools today and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought.

It occurs to me that an academy that is disposing of the Odyssey would of course not teach Tennyson. If you have gotten as far as disposing of Homer you have certainly disposed of Sir Thomas Malory, without whom Idylls of the King would make little sense. Idylls is too long to try to teach to contemporary undergraduates anyway; more likely, you would teach Ulysses for its heroic and inspiring close:
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
But how would they understand this story, if you have disposed of the Odyssey

It's not just that he is a class enemy, though he is also that. It's that his grandeur comes precisely from standing within a powerful tradition, one whose chief currents he could shape to new heights like Elrond bending the Bruinen into a flood of wild horses.  

Without the river, what power does even Elrond have against the Nine? Without that current flowing from Homer and Malory into Tennyson's hands, what power has he against the evils and corruptions of our own day? Little; none, except in the resistance he may still encourage in those few of us left who do know how to see the flood. 

Retired Flag Officers Call for New Defense of America

 A letter signed by more than a hundred and twenty once-top officers points out that Marxism is winning in America. 

Our Nation is in deep peril. We are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776. The conflict is between supporters of Socialism and Marxism vs. supporters of Constitutional freedom and liberty.

During the 2020 election an “Open Letter from Senior Military Leaders” was signed by 317retired Generals and Admirals and, it said the 2020 election could be the most important election since our country was founded. “With the Democrat Party welcoming Socialists and Marxists, our historic way of life is at stake.” Unfortunately, that statement’s truth was quickly revealed, beginning with the election process itself. Without fair and honest elections that accurately reflect the “will of the people” our Constitutional Republic is lost. Election integrity demands insuring there is one legal vote castand counted per citizen. Legal votes are identified by State Legislature’s approved control susing government IDs, verified signatures, etc. Today, many are calling such commonsense controls “racist” in an attempt to avoid having fair and honest elections....

There's quite a bit more, including rule of law issues, China, attacks on free speech, and so forth. It is good to see people with established reputations for service starting to say something.