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Never bring a sword to a pen fight?

Monday, March 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which I suggest that reality may be more like a river, our understandings more like canals ]
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Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, "Moon of Enlightenment" from One Hundred Views of the Moon


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I read a couple of things this morning that struck me. The first was in Zen’s post, Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have:

Getting your adversary to negotiate with powerless and ill- informed representatives while the real decision makers sit at a remove is a time-tested tactic in bargaining.

The side that uses this approach gets at least two bites at every apple which means the other side increasingly has to give further concessions to secure what they thought had already been agreed to. It is a classic example of negotiating in bad faith. Furthermore, the side using it is the one interested in winning or at best, in buying time, not in reaching an agreement.

When presented with this dynamic the smart move is to walk away and immediately implement whatever the other side would rather you not do or give up the game and move on to something else. Agreements and treaties have no intrinsic value unless they advance, or at least preserve, interest. If the other party has no intention of abiding by the terms at all then they are less than worthless, being actively harmful.

There’s this business about words and realities, or maps and territories if you prefer. The word is not the thing, the finger pointing is not the moon, the name that can be named is not the true name… and gaming a war is not the same as fighting it.

And yet troop movements near a border “in an exercise” are still troop movements, and thus threatening. And a threat is what? — an implicit form of violence?

Alex Schmid, in his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, #3, writes of “physical violence or threat thereof employed by terrorist actors”…

A threat, a promise, a plan, a scenario, a prediction, a prophecy, a self-fulfilling prophecy — words and images have impact, the pen can be mightier than the sword, just as it can be cut down by it. How does the saying go? Don’t bring a pen (or sketch-pad) to a swordfight? or should it be — never bring a sword to a pen fight?

So how do we talk about the disjunction Zen mentions, the “negotiating in bad faith” mechanism, in game theoretic terms? What kinds of maps allow us to note the positioning of minds as well as mortars?

And what if the minds themselves are split — how do we model that?

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Which brings me to the second thing I read today — this one in Graeme Smith‘s The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, p 96:

Like many Afghans, my translator’s extended family included both government workers and insurgents. Not all of them disagreed with each other ideologically; sometimes they followed the pragmatic tradition in which Afghan families hedge their bets, sending their sons to serve in a variety of factions in a conflict.

I’d seen this division of familial labor mentioned some years ago, and today a review of Smith’s book brought the memory back to me, and again I wondered — what does that do to all those network maps that show who knows who?

I guess what I’m saying is that reality is inherently fluid — like a river if you will, with its shifting banks and oxbow lakes — while our categories for thinking about reality tend to be as straight and inflexible as a canal.

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How do we transition, in understanding, from the neat, crisp idea to the rumpled reality? From the finger pointing, to the moon?

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Warren McCulloch’s lifetime koan

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from intuitive leap to confirmation in a celebrated paper by neurophysiologist and cybernetician Warren McCulloch ]
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As I mentioned in my earlier post, Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns, there are times when my HipBone-influenced style of reading suggests the presence of a hidden piece of text that forms the basis for the part that’s readily available — in that case, the Qur’anic passage on which a major speech by Bin Laden was based.

Something very similar happened the other day, while I was reading the cybernetician Warren McCulloch‘s paper What is a number, that a man may know it, and a man, that he may know a number? thoroughly for the first time.

McCulloch’s title itself triggered an intuitive leap — call it a HipBone / Sembl move — to the Prologue to St John’s Gospel, familiar to me since my altar-boy childhood as the Last Gospel recited by the priest at the end of Mass.

I’ll have more to say about St John’s Prologue, and scripture more generally, later in this post, when I’ve told you how my “intuitive leap” was confirmed by further readings, and what that means in terms of intuition and verification.

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I call that move from McCulloch to St John an intuitive leap — but as with all such leaps, it is important to verify that the leap is well-founded at both ends.

Reading on past the title, then, I found McCulloch’s description of his own background, which is relevcant here:

I was destined for the ministry. Among my teen-age acquaintances were Henry Sloan Coffin, Harry Emerson Fosdick, H. K. W. Kumm, Hecker – of the Church of All Nations – sundry Episcopalian theologians, and that great Quaker philosopher, Rufus Jones.

In the fall of 1917, I entered Haverford College with two strings to my bow – facility in Latin and a sure foundation in mathematics. I “honored” in the latter and was seduced by it. That winter Rufus Jones called me in. “Warren,” said he, “what is thee going to be?” And I said, “I don’t know.” “And what is thee going to do?” And again I said, “I have no idea; but there is one question I would like to answer: What is a number, that a man may know it, and a man, that he may know a number?” He smiled and said, “Friend, thee will be busy as long as thee lives.”

In Zen (Buddhist) parlance, Rufus Jones is telling Warren McCulloch that he has found an authentic koan, a paradox to explore and deepen into, sufficient for a lifetime.

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It’s only a little later in McCulloch’s paper that my intuitive leap is “verified” in McCulloch’s own words:

This lecture might be called, “In Quest of the Logos” or, more appropriately – perverting St. Bonaventura’s famous title – “An Itinerary to Man.” Its proper preface is that St. Augustine says that it was a pagan philosopher – a Neoplatonist – who wrote, “In the beginning was the Logos, without the Logos was not anything made that was made … So begins our Christian theology.”

But McCulloch doesn’t stop there, he continues right on from theology into mathematics:

So begins our Christian theology. It rests on four principles. The first is the eternal verities. Listen to the thunder of that saint, in about A.D. 500: “7 and 3 are 10; 7 and 3 have always been 10; 7 and 3 at no time and in no way have ever been anything but 10; 7 and 3 will always be 10. I said that these indestructible truths of arithmetic are common to all who reason.” An eternal verity, any cornerstone of theology is a statement that is true regardless of the time and place of its utterance. Each he calls an idea in the Mind of God, which we can understand but can never comprehend.

The idea (“mathematics”) and the thinker (“man”) — McCulloch is working at the interface of “mind and matter” — “word and flesh” — the eternal and the temporal. He’s working at what is these days called the “hard problem of consciousness”.

St John, too, was working at that interface, and brilliantly so — regardless of what credence you put in his theology of the Incarnation of God in Man, it is a brilliant attempt to join the Hebrew “In the Beginning” of Genesis with the Greek “In the Beginning” of his own writings.

My own point here is this: that an intuitive leap, once made, needs to be grounded or confirmed by slower, more explicit, rational or experimental means.

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Having made my point, I’d like to add some further notes here, for those interested in scriptural matters…

Here’s John 1.1-14, the celebrated “Prologue” to St John’s Gospel, in the King James version, worth reading whether you know it or not for the comparison that follows with St Augustine’s stunnning reading of the same text:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

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Here is Augustine’s comment, from his Confesssions, book VII:

Thou procuredst for me, by means of one puffed up with most unnatural pride, certain books of the Platonists, translated from Greek into Latin. And therein I read, not indeed in the very words, but to the very same purpose, enforced by many and divers reasons, that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: the Same was in the beginning with God: all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made: that which was made by Him is life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. And that the soul of man, though it bears witness to the light, yet itself is not that light; but the Word of God, being God, is that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. And that He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. But, that He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, as many as believed in His name; this I read not there.

Again I read there, that God the Word was born not of flesh nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. But that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, I read not there.

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That quote from St Augustine is a striking one — by way of comparison I would like to offer this no-less fascinating excerpt from the Islamic historiographer Ibn Khaldun‘s Muqaddimah, describing developments in the early church from the death of Christ to the establishment of the canon of scriptures:

The Apostles divided into different groups. Most of them went to the country of the Romans and made propaganda for the Christian religion. Peter was the greatest of them. He settled in Rome, the seat of the Roman emperors. They 420 then wrote down the Gospel that had been revealed to Jesus, in four recensions according to their different traditions. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Jerusalem in Hebrew. It was translated into Latin by John, the son of Zebedee, one of (the Apostles). (The Apostle) Luke wrote his Gospel in Latin for a Roman dignitary. (The Apostle) John, the son of Zebedee, wrote his Gospel in Rome. Peter wrote his Gospel in Latin and ascribed it to his pupil Mark. These four recensions of the Gospel differ from each other. Not all of it is pure revelation, but (the Gospels) have an admixture of the words of Jesus and of the Apostles. Most of (their contents) consists of sermons and stories. There are very few laws in them.

The Apostles came together at that time in Rome and laid down the rules of the Christian community. They entrusted them to Clement, a pupil of Peter, noting in them the list of books that are to be accepted and in accordance with which one must act…

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Theology, once the Queen of Sciences and now largely ignored, has been laying fallow for centuries. There are rich findings here for those who choose to dig.

h/t Derek Robinson.

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Ah, yes: my morning reading

Friday, March 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- featuring John Daido Loori and David Cook ]
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Loori: The True Dharma Eye; Cook: Understanding Jihad

L: Dogen & Loori, The True Dharma Eye; R: David Cook, Understanding Jihad

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Okay, they were side-by-side on the table — that’s pretty much what happens when you have a smallish table with two books — and then my eye catches the similarity between the two covers, the curious symmetry of the two figures, of the two books taken together.

So no, it wasn’t breakfast, just two very good books — and not even a croissant and grand crème could have improved the shining hour.

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Resources:

  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye: Zen master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans
  • David Cook, Understanding Jihad
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    Go or No Go?

    Friday, March 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- from the Crimea to jihad, via "perhaps the most famous move in the history of go" ]
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    As usual, my interest here is not in the geo-polemics of the affair, which I leave to others, but in the formal properties of the presentation. In this case, the form in question is a type of map I’m inclined to call a surround, threat or seige map depending on circumstances. Here, juxtaposed as is my style, are two versions:

    Zen posted the upper image on this blog earlier today, and I saw it around the same time I found the lower image in my Twitterfeed.

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    What each of these maps shows is an area x surrounded by the forces of y, with different emphases in the two cases — and note the ironic caption of the second!

    What they remind me of is a Go board, in which each side is, so to speak, surrounding, threatening or besieging the other, simultaneously.

    In 1846 in what I gather is one of the classic games of Go, a youngster named Shusaku played against a renowned master, Gennan Inseki, st one point in the game making a single move — which gave its name to the game as a whole — known as the ear-reddening move:

    marked black stone is the famous ear-reddening move, perhaps the most famous move in the history of go

    Note how distant that move is from other pockets of play, and how central to the game as a whole.

    As Arno Hollosi and Morten Pahle at Sensei’s Library describe the Ear Reddening Game

    This move is called the ear-reddening move. Gennan’s disciples were watching the game and not one of them doubted that Gennan would win. But a doctor, who also had been watching the game, thought that Gennan would lose. When pressed for an answer he replied: I don’t know much about the game, but when Shusaku played B1 [ie: the marked move] Gennan’s ears flushed red. This is a sign that he had been upset.

    B1 is a profound move having influence in all four directions. It expands black’s moyo at the top, it helps the four black stones below, it reduces the influence of white’s strong position to the right, and it also has an eye on white’s moyo on the left side. In short B1 is the central point for attack and defence.

    Eventually Shusaku won this game by 2 points after 325 moves.

    Gennan’s disciples read, or attempt to read, the board: the doctor reads the mind in a rush of blood to the ears.

    That too is an interesting move — in another game entirely.

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    In an article in tomorrow’s The Economist subtitled To understand war, American officials are playing board games, brought to my attention today by PaxSims, we find this comment –

    Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

    — fascinating to me because “wars of bombs and ideas” are what we have, and while a whole lot of effort goes into modeling “wars of bombs” it’s my impression that “wars of ideas” get far less attention.

    Something I hope, in my own small way, to rectify.

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    But to get back to borders and surroundings?

    The issue is a perennial one. Only today I was reading David Cook’s Understanding Jihad, on page 29 of which we find that the concept of the jihadist martyr as occupying the uppermost layers of paraise in the afterlife was extended, as time and events progressed, to include those who merely lived in (dangerous) border territory:

    Cities are also associated with privileges of this nature — for the most part, cities in dangerous locations, such as those close to the Byzantine border, along the Mediterranean Sea (subject to regular Byzantine raids), in northern Persia facing the mountainous and unconquered area of Tabaristan, and in Central Asia. In all cases, those Muslims who guard the frontiers are assured either the rank of martyrs or the privileges of intercession after their deaths. It seems clear that the issue of intercession was a very powerful incentive for people to live in what would otherwise be undesirable locations.

    Plus ça change…

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    R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law

    Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    At The Bridge, Victor Allen pontificates on R2P (“Responsibility to Protect“) as if it were an established, cardinal point of international  law and not a pet theory of a few years vintage pushed by a small but politically connected clique of Western elite activists.

    Strong State, Weak State:The New Sovereignty and Responsibility to Protect 

    The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. 

    As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

    That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

    Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration.

    Nor did the legal principle of non-interference in another sovereign state’s internal affairs ever mean carte blanche in diplomatic practice. States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright. They could also choose to recognize insurgents in a neighboring state as lawful belligerents or even grant them diplomatic recognition as the legitimate government.

    The rest of the piece continues on in this fashion.

    This kind of breezy overselling of R2P, given the exceptionally slender diplomatic reeds on which it is based, is a cornerstone of R2P advocacy, usually for ill-considered or astrategic interventions motivated by “do something!”

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