Some theses for a manifesto of sorts

undying loyalty

I. Historical records are not composed and compiled by the victors, but rather by the survivors – whether the handicapped warriors and defeated officers who sometimes get the last laugh, or the protected opportunists and sheltered exiles who leave their marks while they still can. The ‘winners’ have only survived the latest round for the moment before they get back-stabbed and overthrown, and those at the margins still get to weave their fragile alternative narratives and counter-statements in other, less ‘legitimate’ ways.

II. Even the most brilliant of blueprints require competent executors, or at the very least reliable lackeys and useful idiots, in order to come to fruition. Circumstances and occasions matter as well: right time; right place; right people; right resources; right connections. Some schemers no matter how skillful and ingenious are just unfortunate (or unjustly disadvantaged) since they lack the needed or desired instruments, while others succeed because despite their folly people provide them with backup. In turn, as far as battles of wits are concerned, breakthroughs happen because at least one party to the dispute is sufficiently foolish, and sometimes all it takes to fall is one careless misstep.

III. To win a battle – or better yet, an entire war – without fighting (or at the very least, while minimizing needless costs and casualties in one’s side) is an attractive ideal, but oftentimes what happens is that elaborate research and planning are conducted even for relatively simple goals, and that preliminary moves and backup routes are included in the package for what is supposed to be a straightforward skirmish. Of course, one can recklessly do away with such niceties (and if one’s stock of tools is deficient and limited, making do and prioritization are inevitable), but the high reward of winning via sheer luck, instinct, improvisation, and/or determination comes with high risks.

IV. It may be a safer prospect to always stay a few steps ahead of one’s foes and allies, and to emphasize this point clearly so as to dissuade conflict. However, there is something more exquisite about gaining the upper hand by letting the relevant parties ‘know’ what one’s next few moves would be like and goading them to make their moves, before delivering the surprise decisive epiphany when it’s already too late to change course and reject the lesson. For such an elaborate ‘learning experience’ to occur though, the fog of war and the clouds of indeterminacy have to be modulated to some extent, and this is where careful preparation comes into the picture. Also, there have to be chickens who do not know of the setup (or at least its salient implications) lest their unexpected interventions give the game away – or worse, reverse the polarities of unknowing. Still, information leaks are hard to avoid when spies are on the move, and a greater worry would come from those who have seen through the charade but have remained quiet, spinning their own webs.

V. All warfare may be based on deception (or more precisely, a confusing and misleading array of direct and indirect maneuvers), but the goal has always been to gain a fait accompli – that is, the rigging of facts and truth-conditions (and opinions and claims) in one’s favor. Meanwhile, principles and values and virtues appear to be (selectively) mocked, ignored, and suspended come wartime, but what also happens is that violence and disinformation are utilized to shape habits, prop up certain ways of life, privilege a particular order of things, preserve or replace states of affairs, etc. Belligerent factions as a matter of course flout and twist specific appeals to the one-true-good-beautiful-real if it is in their perceived horizon of interests, and yet this also means that truth-telling and ethical cultivation are not bound to official channels and the edifices of the status quo. The difficulty of survival remains though, since the calls to take the ‘high road’ (even if there is indeed an eternal, inimitable, unnameable Way) are as fragile as they are repeatable. Mere cynicism is not enough of an explanation, and the so-called cynics themselves are not even cynical enough to begin with, given their partisan commitments and vested interests.

VI. Moving on from morality to morale, managing the ‘inner spirit’ of the troops and the officers and the advisers (and the auxiliary laborers) would require various sorts of tricks and external outlets. While reliable information about one’s force and the enemy’s forces as well as the weather and the terrain is indispensable for safe implementation, certain understatements and overstatements and misrepresentations prove to be of value throughout different phases of a campaign when mobilized accordingly. Of course, not all morale boosters and demoralization antidotes work the same way – for instance there are crude approaches such as rousing the soldiers with magnificent speeches or spectacles and blinding them with glitters of opportunity despite desperate situations and shifting the blame when things fall apart, and there are the more sophisticated gimmicks that involve conning and tampering with the motivation of foes.

VII. What then is loyalty? And what of continuity? A set is not empty if it has elements, and a group (formed on the basis of some ‘code’) remains intact so long as there are members bound to the ‘code’ of the group. Although in principle a ‘code’ when sufficiently recovered and still executable can rally yet another collection and lead to the revival of a deactivated group, in the cruel contexts of war it is hard to maintain a losing cause – after all, of what material use to the members is fidelity for the sake of group continuity when membership has harsh and fatal consequences imposed by rivals? And yet the ‘smart birds’ who scoff at undying loyalty nonetheless make use of faithful servants and disposable pawns to achieve their goals. To further complicate matters, the actual compositions of groups (not to mention the various commitments of members) may differ starkly from the matrix of appearances being generated by interactions among groups. Of course, there is the realization that for practical purposes all that may be needed for the show to go on is access to and control of the means by which persuasive simulations are maintained, and even then there would still be a smaller group of loyal cadres skillfully running the operations and judiciously negotiating and collaborating with reliable-enough alien groups. Loyalty and continuity remain operative, even if concrete groups collapse as a result of betrayal and overall lack of integrity.

VIII. In order to complete a mission (say, assassination or honey-trapping) or uphold a vision (for instance, usurpation or radical revolution), one has to be prepared when awkward situations arise to make sacrifices, to set aside peripheral trifles relative to the focal point, to disregard the call to suspend operations and evaluate the whole picture first, to marginalize and violate other missions and visions, etc. However, firm commitment and obedience to the cause neither offer absolution from responsibility and accountability, nor do they allow escape from having to deal with consequences and ramifications. Excuses and alibis of various sorts can be given, and some may come off as rather sensible, but such additional acts are not in themselves justifications. And yet the contingent realities of uneven power-relations can amplify or diminish prospects of payback, or even the very feasibility of conducting the principal tasks being demanded.

IX. Although not everyone gets to bask in the spotlight (and even those who stand out have different screen times and stage positions), it is important to remember the contributions of the masses, and those operatives behind the scenes.

X. The articulations in these theses have been culled from years of engaging with The Ravages of Time, as well as various other insightful (con)texts.

XI. The acts of making and reading Ravages may have changed the world in some way, and we enthusiasts of Ravages are encouraged to philosophize and interpret the trajectories in various ways. This point does not invalidate the more revolutionary Eleventh Thesis, for it is also possible as a result of our theory and praxis that we can wield Ravages more effectively as a means (no matter how small) to help change the world further, for better or for worse (hopefully the former).

P.S. One of course does not need to read Ravages to gain similar insights, or to contribute meaningfully to the feast of being. (Count this as XII.)

(XIII. Despite the caveats, read Ravages anyway.)

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5 responses to “Some theses for a manifesto of sorts

    • Thanks for the additional sites. I was contemplating on compiling a more extensive bibliography of sorts, but I realized that it would be too taxing. So the ‘official links’ section only contains overviews or portals to more links.

      I’m not actually acquainted with the one running the archlich tumblr account. I just found some of the analyses and comments to be helpful, even if way too slanted.

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      • Exactly. He’s way too biased in Wei’s favour. He exaggerates their virtues, while he just glosses over their more unsavoury actions.
        He’s a bit more balanced when it comes to Wu, but he completely trashes Shu, and quite unfairly too at that.
        I understand, that after you have read Sanguozhi(records of the three kingdoms) enjoying the novel or liking Kongming or Mengde becomes a bit difficult. But his character analysis are ridiculous!
        I think it’s a bad idea for any beginner to the 3K period to read his articles, cause he’ll just start spreading his prejudiced views to others.

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        • Well, methinks the helpfulness of that account is that it’s written with a clear enough slant. In a way, it can be used not only as a counterpoint to the usual way the 3K saga is portrayed, but also as a preparation of sorts to the more diverse perspectives offered in Ravages.

          In another note, I really wish that the Sanguozhi would be completely translated into English sometime in the near future though.

          As for the Chinese Text Project, I didn’t bother to link the main page, since I linked its page containing the Sanguozhi instead (then readers can start finding their way from there).

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