Thursday, September 03, 2015


I like the word "abandon" and it has been coming up a lot, lately. There are three (at least) instincts when faced with chaos and danger. The most common is to try to control it. To minimize the chaos, to minimize the danger. To basically take chaos and  and make it "not chaos." Whatever the opposite of chaos is.

When you can do that, it's a powerful strategy. Damming flood-prone rivers has been so successful that only historians have a grasp on the immense damage that unpredictable flood cycles used to do. An aircraft carrier constructed of 60,000 tons of steel and powered with nuclear engines can ignore all but the most extreme weather conditions.

I would say that is the second most common strategy. Evidently, people prefer even an evil stability to all of the possibilities that come with freedom. But that's a long talk over coffee.

The most common strategy is to pretend to control it. You can, with enough resources, control things you understand. Without an understanding, and a fairly deep understanding, all attempts to control become a gamble. Most common example is central planning of an economy. The planners would have to deeply understand a huge number of industries, the interplay between those industries, and somehow have to correct for the fact that a large number of humans, the cleverest monkeys ever, will be actively trying to subvert the system.  This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "Naive interventionism." "Something must be done! We don't understand the problem, actually, and have no idea if what we are going to do will actually work or make things worse... but something must be done!"

On the micro, we have martial arts. Which are largely a stylized, impressionistic, ritual of violence and controlling violence. "When you achieve your black belt, you will be ready." Ready for what? You can't know the answer to that simple question-- no one gets to know what bad stuff the future holds. If you can't know the question, you should be incapable of feeling confident in your answer. But people feel confident all the time.

Like economics, violence and self defense always involve other people, and people are the cleverest monkeys on the planet. It's not just mechanics, but mechanics applied against a moving target who may understand what is going on better than you and certainly wants you to fail. And each of those people will be different in some way.

The third strategy is to give yourself up to the chaos. Abandon. To immerse yourself in it. Not become part of it, but recognize that you have always been part of it. You have always been one of these adaptable, clever, frequently unpredictable monkeys. This (whatever 'this' is in a given context) can be chaotic, but not beyond what the human brain and body evolved to solve.

It's scary-- humans prefer even an evil stability to chaos. But it is also powerful. And it works. It takes confidence, but also builds confidence. And there's no way to learn it theoretically. You have to get in and mix it up. Take chances. Push the edge of the envelope until the envelope changes shape.

It also requires faith. Not in the religious sense. Dangerous stuff is dangerous precisely because you can get hurt. Chaotic means that you can't know the outcome. And jumping into that with both feet pretty much defines faith. Or stupidity. No one gets good at this stuff because of their overabundance of common sense.

To sum up:
The first strategy--Control the chaos:
To an intermediate grappler, a beginning grappler is completely under your control. You just make him do what you want him to do.

The second strategy-- Pretend to Control the chaos:
"We train not to go the ground in our dojo. If you're facing a grappler, all you have to do is..." says the man who has never grappled.

The third strategy: Abandon
The superior grappler doesn't bother to control the intermediate grappler, because everything is a gift.


Josh K. said...


Maija said...

Of course to me the funny part is that even 'evil stability' is a randomizing agent. Trying to 'fix' things with good or bad information, deciding things by committee, in fact any and all attempts at change ... are still change. They are still random in their outcomes over time. They are still part of the 'dance'.

I suspect the major difference between the participants in 'evil stability' vs 'abandon' is just a somewhat more surprised facial expression ... and possibly a lack of humor.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I think that evil stability is a way for people to avoid the dissonance of making choices, decisions, and avoidances of directly dealing with the consequences, by putting the responsibility in to the hands of others.

The current migrant refugee "crisis" in Europe, is creating a great example of #2, lots of outrage that nothing has been done (ignoring the fact that the issues leading to this have been ignored and swept under the carpet for years)and calls that"something must be done!" with no real clear plan of what should be done or how to implement it, affects of long term consequences of those actions to how to change the actual context.
Also another Talib notion, skin in the game, lots of people calling for action, from others, while not doing things themselves.
Surety and responsibility lying with others, the notion of better the devil you know.

A Richard Feynman quote, "I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned." Mnay people are happy with the later.

The human brain allows us to see the chaos, and that chaos frightens the monkey, the monkey wants the certainty and is often strong enough to gets it's way

God's Bastard said...

"No one gets good at this stuff because of their overabundance of common sense."

This. I've tried to explain it to people so often, and nothing doing. Funny what people can consider aspirational.

Mike said...

"The third strategy: Abandon
The superior grappler doesn't bother to control the intermediate grappler, because everything is a gift."

Sounds a lot like Taoism.

Anonymous said...

Abandonment. I have noticed just living life regardless of engaging or abandoning myself from a situation will metamorphosis into either more pain and suffering or I am rewarded by my efforts. Both are momentarily events in my life. When I have engaged in fighting the good fight for something I believe in, I have reaped the consequences of my actions. I have also abandoned quests in my life, and I have reaped the consequences. I just think it comes down to a matter of rewards or no rewards.

2Rude said...

Surely the opposite of chaos is order. Most of the martial art styles I've tried over the years tend to prioritize control and order (with uniforms, traditional dojo customs, strict and well-rehearsed moves, etc.).

How can a person train for chaos without doing stupid things, like walking down dark alleys or visiting bars where trouble kicks off? I guess it's a matter of the people you train with and how in touch with reality they are. Like attracts like.

zzrzinn said...

Practical, but also poetry, great post.

Maryuu Niekłas said...

great text, bro, in "ran dori" we trust 8-)


Ymar Sakar said...

A lot of things at higher application levels of Tai Chi seems to be using the friction forces of Yin Yang on one's own body, and in that way allows it to adapt to any incoming force or contact with another person's body. Thus whatever the other person does is a "gift". It just lets you adapt to it and make it do something else that it didn't intend to do.

Instead of controlling the action, the control is on one's own body. A slightly difference in emphasis.

Instead of using combustion to make pistons move and then power a combustion engine, Ying Yang friction and spiral power is gears moving against other gears, in order to make a watch tell time.