More Pearls of Wisdom

Shortly after I started blogging, I stopped to capture some references to / reviews of the few books I’d read that had made an impression before I’d started the psybertron research quest (see header). T. E. Lawrence “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” was one of those. The review I posted then has never been more than a holding page, and the link to pictures of my TEL pilgrimage to Jordan has since died. (Must re-post the pictures to the live gallery location.)

From the previous post it will be apparent I’m re-reading “SPOW” and making some relevant notes. In fact, although it made a lasting impression, I’d never actually noticed any overtly philosophical content until this time around. Below are extracts from a passage in Chapter XXXIII that starts on p197 and runs through to p201. He is considering strategy and tactics and “immaterial factors”, planning what next, whilst recuperating on his sick-bed in Wejh. After a passage on the comparative merits of Napoleon, Clausewitz, Saxe and Guilbert, Cammerer and Moltke, Jomini and Willisen, Kuhne and Foch in which he concludes Clausewitz has all the generic bases for action covered, he continues …

My argument preened itself […]

The first confusion was the false antithesis between strategy, the aim in war, the synoptic regard seeing each part relative to the whole, and tactics, the means towards a strategic end, the particular steps of its staircase. They seemd only points of view from which to ponder the elements of war, the Algebraic element of things, a Biological element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas.

The Algebraic element looked to me a pure science, subject to mathematical law, inhuman. It dealt with known variables, fixed conditions, space and time, inorganic things like hills and climates and railways, with mankind in type-masses too great for individual variety, with all artificial aids and the extensions given our faculties by mechanical invention. It was essentially formulable.

Here was a pompous professorial beginning. My wits, hostile to the abstract took refuge in Arabia again. Translated into Arabic, the algebraic factor would first take practical account of [….]

[….] This was enough of the concrete; so I sheered off “episteme”, the mathematical element, and plunged into the nature of the biological factor. Its crisis seemed to be the breaking point, life and death, or less finally, wear and tear. The war-philosophers had propertly made an art of it [….] A line of variability. Man, persisted like leaven through its estimates, making them irregular.

The components were sensitive and illogical, and generals guard themselves by the device of [margin for uncertainty ….]

The “felt” element in troops, not expressible in figures, had to be guessed at by the equivalent of Plato’s “doxa”, and the greatest commander of men was he whose intuitions most nearly happened. Nine-tenths of tactics were certain enough to be teachable in schools; but the irrational tenth was like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and in it lay the test of generals. It could be ensued only by instinct (sharpened by thought practising the stroke) until at the crisis it came naturally, a reflex. There had been men whose “doxa” so nearly approached  perfection that by its road they reached the certainty of “episteme”. The Greeks might have called such genius for command “noesis” had they bothered to rationalise revolt.


I was getting through my subject. […. the algebraic …. the biological ….]

There remained the psychological element to build up an apt shape. I went to Xenophon and stole, to name it, his word “diathetics”, which had been the art of Cyrus before he struck.

Of this our propaganda was the stained and ignoble offspring. It was the “pathic”, almost the ethical, in war. [….]

There were so many humiliating material limits, but no moral impossibilities; so that the scope of our diathetical activities was unbounded. [….] The printing press, and each newly discovered method of communication favoured the intellectual above the physical, civilization paying the mind always from the body’s funds. We kindergarten soldiers …. without prejudice. The regular officer …. traditions of generations … the antique, the most honoured.

As we had seldom to concern ourselves with what men did, but always with what they thought, the “diathetic” for us would be half the command. In Europe it was set a little aside and entrusted to men outside the general staff. In Asia the regular elements were so weak that irregulars could not let the metaphysical weapon rust unused.

So, not just philosophical and metaphysical, but distinctly layered; intellect over the biological and phsyical, with an emphasis on the Asian distinction from the European.

Who’da thought it ?

2 thoughts on “More Pearls of Wisdom”

  1. Hi Robbie,

    Do you mind if I ask what your interest is in these on-line collaboration tools ? (Those on the discussion board posts, as well as this comment link.) Are you actually searching for something to use yourself, and after advice, or are you suggesting things I should try ?

    Of the four betas above …. the middle two are firefox plug-ins (I don’t generaly use firefox – I need wider business compatibility)

    The first just appears to be a blog, with embedded links to the MIT library content. I guess it provides a friendly front-end if searching the library is something you specifically need. I don’t see any way a user can add structure ? other than comments (and no-one it seems has commented.

    The fourth just looks like a library search engine, and I can’t see what is special about it ? None of the business and economics subjects I searched for actually returned any result.

    What’s your interest in these ? What am I missing ?

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