John and Carl, Sittin’ Under a Tree…

Disembodied Floating Clausewitz Head
Disembodied Floating Clausewitz Head
Genghis John
Genghis John

Recent outbreaks in the ongoing Cold War between advocates of Maj.Gen. Carl von Clausewitz, KPB and advocates of Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret) coincided with other outbreaks between supporters of Sun Wu and Clausewitz. Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that all such outbreaks would vanish into the maw of the Dread Zenpundit Comment Filter (DZCF), the same vortex that swallows <p>, <br / >, and other innocent HTML tags, never to be seen again. Yet, if these debates must rage until every tag destroyed by the DZCF is paid for by yet another tag marking up yet another piece of rhetorical excess, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I won’t attempt to reconcile Sun-tzu and Clausewitz. That calling was fulfilled by the late Michael Handel in his Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought with an aplomb that is far beyond my poor power to add or detract. However, I will second Adam Elkus’ efforts in pointing out where the frameworks of Clausewitz and Boyd coincide.

As a long-time fan of the Utah Jazz, I’m used to unlikely tandems of Carls and Johns, though the Carl in one particular tandem changed the original spelling of his name:

Malone said his original birth name was Carl Malone, not Karl.

The way he tells the story, his grandfather used to tell him he’d be famous one day. So did an elderly woman who was a family friend. The woman suggested Malone change the spelling of his first name to Karl because it would look better on an autograph. And it happened. His mother changed the name (“Nowadays, it would take an act of Congress to do that,” he said) and years later Malone got famous.

Karl Malone AKA The Mailman was a 6’9″ redneck from the backwoods of Louisiana. He was the most muscular postal employee who ever lived.

Karl Malone
Karl Malone

He almost didn’t join the NBA because he wanted to become a truck driver instead. He once found inner peace during the 1998 Finals by weighing trucks with the Illinois State Highway Patrol. Karl Malone was particularly famous for his mastery of the English language. My English teacher in junior high always told the class that her ideal job would be Malone’s English coach.

Karl Malone, like Julius Caesar, was a thing of wonder so vast that he had to speak about Karl Malone in the third person e.g. “This is Karl Malone speaking for Karl Malone. I have every right to say what I want.” or “This is Karl Malone saying what he thinks” or “As much as some of you guys might not like it, how is Karl Malone supposed to feel? When I feel good, I play good. Really, that’s the bottom line. It’s not really how Karl Malone feels.” or the infinitely recursive “Karl Malone do what Karl Malone gotta do.”

My personal favorite Malonism was “The pebble has been snatched from my hand, and it’s time for me to leave, like Kung Fu. I must move on…continue to live in Utah, unless I get hit by a beer truck or something.”

There is deep Zen there.

John Stockton
John Stockton

The other member of the tandem was John Stockton AKA Basketball John AKA the Pasty Gansta. John Stockton was a 6’1″ Catholic schoolboy from Spokane, WA. Basketball John was infamously taciturn. He had the standing heartrate of a dead man and huge gripping hands. He shunned the spotlight as if it burned like a laser. When his number was retired and, later, when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, fans were surprised by his unexpected eloquence:



He managed to do it despite the blight of Zeke, a basketball weapon of mass (self-) destruction.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, a dream realized when a large black man and a small white man joined hands to develop a deep simpatico that made them into a single entity known as “Stockton-to-Malone”. John Stockton was the greatest point guard who ever lived. Karl Malone was the greatest power forward who ever lived. Stockton would pass the ball, becoming the all-time NBA assist leader, and Karl Malone would put it in the basket, becoming the second leading scorer in NBA history. They played together for 18 seasons, from 1985-2003.  They were tough, missing a combined 37 games to injury out of the 2,948 they could have played in.

In Life
In Life


In Bronze
In Bronze
In Victory
In Victory

If one tandem of Karl and John can bridge a divide as yawning as the U.S. racial divide in pursuit of something trivial, surely the narrower differences between another Carl and John can be bridged in pursuit of something imperative. Sayre’s Law states that “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.” The corollary to this law is often quoted as, “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low”. As the outcomes of actual politics and wars are at stake in the internecine wars between purveyors of the magic bullet and appliers of sustained mass, the cosmetic politics and wars of trivia must be quelled.

Here’s another stab:

  1. Life is dominated by the trinity of power, control, and purpose.
  2. Power is the possibility of friendly conditions.
  3. Control is conditions friendly to aspiration.
  4. Purpose is an aspiration of how life should be.
  5. “Life is one damned thing after another.” said Elbert Hubbart. This is how the mind wants reality to be: sequential.
  6. The mind desperately wants life to rigidly follow the progression from POWER → CONTROL → PURPOSE as if it was the progression from 1 → 2 → 3.
  7. If life unfolded perfectly, an equal measure of power would be converted into an equal measure of control in order to achieve an equal measure of purpose.
  8. While, power is always converted into control to achieve purpose, it is rarely perfectly sequential like the progression from 1 → 2 → 3.
  9. The intensity of power, control, and purpose vary and even diverge because, in reality, life is many damned things after many damned things. Life is cumulative.
  10. The mind must slice through this accumulation by separating the necessary from the superfluous with the razor of parsimony.

    World's Tightest Fit
    Reason for parsimony
  11. Parsimony follows three steps:
    1. Gather necessary observations from the environment
    2. Store necessary observations for future reference
    3. Throw away observations after they cease to be necessary
  12. Parsimony operates on two different levels: strategy and tactics.
  13. Two models illustrate the relationship between strategy and tactics: the Clausewitzian Trinity and the Boydian OODA Loop.
  14. The Clausewitzian Trinity has three elements:
    1. primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force;
    2. the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and
    3. its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason.
  15. The Clausewitzian Trinity can be expanded as a trinity formed by three broader elements:
    1. the tacit: primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force, broadly equivalent to the knowable and foreseeable
    2. the contingent:the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam, broadly equivalent to the unknown and unforeseen
    3. the explicit: its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason, broadly equivalent to the known and foreseen
  16. Behold Boyd’s Observe → Orient → Act Loop (OOA Loop):
    Automatic OODA Loop
    Automatic OODA Loop

    This is the tacit loop. It is largely automatic and even quasi-non-linear. It draws on Orientation without slowing down for linear consciousness.

  17. Orientation is the source of the tacit within the Clausewitzian Trinity. Within the narrower scope of war, orientation is the source of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force as well as other tacit forces.
  18. Behold the Observe  → Orient → Decide → Act Loop:
    Reflective OODA
    Reflective OODA

    This is the explicit loop, the full flowering of the minds natural bias for sequential thinking. It draws on Decision:

  19. Decision is the source of the explicit within the Clausewitzian Trinity. Within the narrow scope of war, decision is the source of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason as well as other explicit forces.
  20. Combined, the tacit OOA Loop and the explicit OODA Loop form Boyd’s combined OODA Loop:

    OODA Loop
    OODA Loop
  21. Both the tacit loop and the explicit loop interact with the outside world:
    The Outside World and You
    The Outside World and You

    The outside world is the source of the contingent, the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam.

  22. The path from power to control to purpose follows the OOA Loop and the OODA Loop. It is 95% subject to the whims of the tacitness of orientation and the contingency of the outside world and 5% to the dictates of the explicitness of decision. Yet 95% of attention falls on the explicitness of decision and 5% on the tacitness of orientation and the contingency of the outside world.
  23. Action, observation, and their interaction with the outside world is the basis of tactics. A tactic is basically the “one damned thing” or one of the “many damned things” that happen after each other. “One damned thing” or tactic is a complete flow from action to observation.
  24. Tactics have the tendency to accumulate from many damned small things into one big damned thing. It’s the purpose of strategy to attempt to channel this accumulation into a semblance of a sequence, where it seems as if reality really is one damned thing after another building in a straight line from power to control to purpose.
  25. Much of this may be explicitly controlled by that pole of the Clausewitzian Trinity and the explicit decision phase of the OODA. However, most will be tacit or contingent, the product of unconsciousness or fate.
  26. Strategy is always present. There is no situation where there is an absence of strategy. There is only the experience of good strategy and bad strategy, much of which comes down to tacitness or contingency that ranges from the barely controllable to the absolutely uncontrollable.
  27. Strategy is a balancing. It balances past, present, and future; power, control, and purpose; and the tacit, the contingent, and the explicit.
  28. Much of strategy is accumulated by accident. Strategy is often a post hoc attempt to rationalize tacit assumptions and contingent events into an explicit pattern to make the whole thing seem like a product of conscious choice.
  29. The process of forming strategy is largely an attempt to move a collection of loosely connected notions from decision to orientation, from the explicit to the tacit, to make the conscious notion an unconscious guide to action.
  30. Strategy is successful when the tactical path moves from the OODA Loop to the OOA Loop.
  31. Knowledge that encourages specialization, division, and disintegration grows at an exponential rate while knowledge that encourages generalization, unification, and integration grows at a linear rate.
  32. This might be expanded further as trivia proliferates exponentially while the big picture proliferates linearly.
  33. More narrowly, this becomes tactical understanding increases exponentially while strategic understanding increases linearly.
  34. Humans are naturally drawn to tactical thinking over strategic thinking. The considerations of the moment tyrannize the considerations of the epoch. People usually are penny wise but pound foolish. They can’t see the forest for the trees but I suspect that even if the tree they were so intently studying fell in the forest, they still wouldn’t hear it.
  35. Strategic understanding tends to fluctuate between periods of equilibrium and massive disarray.
  36. The narrative underlying a strategic equilibrium, whether it’s called asabiya, the political formula, the national myth, the social consensus, or a paradigm, tends to be eroded and fundamentally undermined by increasing tacticalization. The strategic benefits derived from the original narrative, often the product of a fortuitous confluence of inputs, tend to diminish over time, driving people to increased tacticalization as a partial side-effect.
  37. Tacticalization is driven by the fundamental human bias toward overinvestment in specialized thinking at the expense of general thinking.
  38. Tacticalization is driven by a combination of the need to protect a parochial interest by erecting barriers against challengers real and potential, the habits of mind conditioned by immersion in a particular social niche, the need for specialized skills, and the imperatives of immediate necessity.
  39. Tacticalization tends to build, creating increased complexity, until it exceeds the mental computing capacity of a group available at the time, and then crisis and even collapse follows.
  40. Crisis is a massive razor that cuts through a thick accumulation and imposes simplicity on superfluous complexity. It makes straight the paths of society. Often times the outcome of this slicing is random and undesirable, driven more by the pul of the tacit orientation and contingent reality poles of the Clausewitzian Trinity rather than the weaker pull of the explicit decision pole.

No one expects Batman
No one expects Batman with a light saber
No one expects Batman with a light saber fighting a shark


2 thoughts on “John and Carl, Sittin’ Under a Tree…”

  1. “orientation is the source of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity,” No, Orientation is an isolation of ones environment that you observe, towards an advantage. Violence, hatred, and enmity is sourced from bias and feedback. The bias is found in what you see (observe), while feedback comes from your loop’s action and that of other loop’s action in your same environment, but perhaps oriented, towards an advantage, differently .
    The problem with the process of what-you-observe, it maybe simply contain an environment that “is”, instead of an environment “as-it-really-is”. Feedback is also bias towards your advantage, and not necessarily to the advantage of others in the same environment. There in lies the bias.
    Perhaps this bias and feedback can be explained better by this quote from Howard Bloom’s book, Global Brain; Jesus of Nazareth: “To he who hath it shall be given; from he who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away,” This is a system without bias or feedback, but whose orientation has a definite advantage that has survived over 2000 years, with out violence, hatred, and enmity. The environment that the loop observed and gained an advantage from did not fair so well.

  2. That floating Carl head gives me a 70s rock poster “blacklight” vibe.

    Also, this is where I admit I watch The 70s show and like it.


    – Madhu

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