The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu is best known for writing "The Art of War." He is recognized by many as the quintessential expert on that subject and one of the top war strategists of all time. Many people like to use his quotes. He simplified his strategies into wise maxims that many have extrapolated into other aspects of life. What does it say when one considers strategies of war to be appropriate to use in life's other endeavors? I thought maybe I'd take a closer look at some of his saws and see how they can apply to some situations I see cropping up in the politics of the times.
One saying that is attributed to Sun Tzu is that every battle is won before it is ever fought. I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that, or even if he ever really said it. The closest I could find is a quote from the movie "Wall Street" where Gordon Gekko says, "Read Sun Tzu, "The Art of War." Every battle is won before it is ever fought." Anyway, many others have gone with it, so I shall also. I don't know exactly what Sun Tzu meant by this, but two schools of thought that have been brought out are he was either a fatalist, or he felt that a great deal of planning before battle guarantees victory. I have problems with both schools of thought, but I would agree that believing victory is achievable before engaging in battle will certainly improve your chances.
If we are to look at the two major philosophies in modern politics, individualism versus collectivism, and apply Sun Tzu's point of view, I would suggest that individualism has already won. There are many reasons for this, in my opinion. First off, there is persistence. It seems to me that mankind has been striving to achieve a state of freedom since the dawn of civilization. This is due at least partially, in my opinion, to the tendency for any form of government to devolve into tyranny. Yet I think there's more to it than that. It's something that I believe is bred into each and every one of us, with perhaps a few exceptions, the desire to strike out on one's own and make a mark in the world. Once one truly understands the principles of freedom, it is likely that person will settle for nothing less and will continuously strive in his own way to achieve freedom.
Second, freedom is morally correct and humans have a tendency to strive toward moral correctness so long as they are not being subjected to extreme conditions, and sometimes even in the face of tribulations. We have a tendency to spot unfairness and to battle against it. Collectivism, while it sells itself as bringing fairness to humanity, is often the most unfair system as it punishes hard work by taking away rewards the hard worker should expect and rewards laziness by giving to those who do nothing what should rightly go to the hard workers. While collectivism often sounds fair in theory, in practice it does not work and it becomes inherently unfair.
Third, freedom is part of the human spirit and the human spirit is indomitable. Throughout history tyrants have tried to crush the human spirit through imprisonment, force and torture. They have tried to use fear to keep silent those who would dissent and speak truth to power. They have cowed whole populations using police state tactics. Such societies have almost always eventually failed. Some of these tyrants have met gruesome ends. It's a tricky balancing act the collectivists engage in when they try to subjugate a people to their mandates. It seems to me that a people will, unfortunately, always allow for a bit of tyranny if they think they will benefit, but that almost always inevitably leads to more tyranny. Eventually there comes a tipping point where the people just won't take any more, where the kids on the playground decide to confront the bully. Often in history, again unfortunately, this results in violent, bloody, terrible revolution. It's cyclical. When enough people realize this, the cycle can be broken.
Sun Tzu also said "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." It seems that perhaps the general didn't so much want to engage in battle after all. I happen to agree with him. We used to be a nation of statesmen. In fact, we were supposed to be a nation of citizen statesmen. We have ended up being a nation bowing to the will of the international corporatists. We go to war too easily and occupy other nations to protect the interests of corporations that have no loyalty to any nation. Yet we also claim to be a peaceful nation which values the friendship of others. I believe the people of this nation do, indeed, wish to practice such principles, but those who control the federal government most certainly do not. You cannot be peaceful while engaging in warfare.
As government in this nation continues to turn on its own civilians and push them to do something rash and violent, it is important to keep Sun Tzu's words in mind. The people are peaceful and need to remain so, the government is violent. This is proven by the actions of the police. As they mindlessly engage in violent behavior because their superiors tell them to, it is important to remain steadfastly non violent and show to the world who the bullies truly are. After a time, the police will begin to see their mistake. They will begin to realize they are in the wrong. They will begin to side with the people, and when that happens then victory is at hand, and it should be a lasting victory. If you wish to see peace in the world, then you must be peace, you must remain peaceful, and soon enough even those who engage in the violence of the legal monopoly of government force will become peaceful. That is how the world changes.
Another notable Sun Tzu quote is "What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations." Collectivism has been slowly creeping upon us for decades, if not centuries. I would suggest that it started in earnest back in the great depression when desperate people turned to the federal government for aid rather than insisting that government remain limited in its powers that the Constitution spells out. While I realize that many will point to the "good" that came out of this, I would ask what "good" would have come out of it if the federal government hadn't interfered? We will never know. Anyway, what did happen happened and over the decades it has morphed into the system we see today where so many are so dependent on the federal government that it will be nearly impossible to extricate them from their lives without serious repercussions. Still, extricate them we must sooner or later, for their prolonged operations has resulted in bankruptcy and something has to give or we'll see a financial collapse.
Finally, Sun Tzu said "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." We have won. Mankind will win. It is our destiny to find freedom. It is our destiny to live in a society where the individual is honored above the collective, where it is understood that when the violation of any individual's natural rights is allowed, violating everyone's natural rights is allowed. Remain peaceful even to the point of being beaten or worse by the authoritarian thugs, and you shall be victorious as were the followers of King and Gandhi. When the world sees who the bullies truly are, the bullies go home with their heads hung in shame.
I believe that most individuals know what freedom is and would prefer to live in a society that honors liberty rather than in a utopian socialist one, unless that individual is one of the control freaks that believes they know what's best for all people and strive to inflict their rule over others. I believe most people would prefer to be left alone to make their own decisions for what's best in their lives rather than having a nosy Nancy intruding at all levels and micromanaging every detail of their lives. You can raise to your feet and do something about intrusive government, voice opposition about their collectivist policies, and/or just simply refuse to obey their draconian mandates, or you can remain on your knees and grovel, allowing them to do with you as they please.
You win by simply resisting. You win by dissenting. You win by simply claiming your rights and insisting that they be honored. Even if they beat you, you have won. Even if they throw you in prison, you have won. No matter how they treat you, you have won, for you have stuck by your principles and acted like a free human being rather than some domesticated animal, and they have proven themselves to be no better than snarling, out of control beasts.
I am not a fatalist, but I do believe that some things are pre-destined. I do believe that every battle is won before it's fought, but it has to be fought anyway to see who wins it. Even the best laid plans can be foiled. Even the most ragged force can beat the best armed army. Even the most peaceful can defeat the most brutal. Even if there are no soldiers meeting each other on a field of bloodshed, the battle can be won in a different way. It's time we relearned the art of not only talking, but listening to each other. Only when we learn to respect each other's point of view and realize that we all need each other and one group should not rule over another will we realize a society where each individual can become the best human possible.
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