Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Rules of Game vs The Chaos of Reality

While researching for an un-related issue I stomped into a wonderful chapter book by John F Schmitt ("Command and [Out of] Control: The Military Implications of Complexity Theory"). The piece goes on the line of Western civilization being completely pervaded by the Newtonian view of the universe as a machine, whose mechanisms should be perfectly known and controllable. This view of the universe has driven military thought until today. Professional military leaders view command and control as a clockwork in which they should always be in control of the more minuscule aspects of an operation. This needs not further confirmation, just watch how the Pentagon invests the taxpayer's money in more and more sophisticated ways to know exactly where every platoon of a brigade is located. According to Schmitt, this vision of command and control is folly. Warfare is always in the edge of chaos, and not only chaos in the street meaning, but in the most strictly scientific one. Warfare with a commander in perfect control of the situation is the acme of generalship for many professional military leaders.

Classical war gaming doesn't fare any better. Hexes, tables of movement, combat result tables, specific intervals of times in which to intervene (turns), etc. Everything fits into the tidy, comfortable, "clockwork" frame of thinking. There is a written, well documented mechanism for everything in the little wars we play.These mechanisms (not surprisingly called "rules", the parallel with Newton's "laws" comes immediately to mind) provide the comfort of knowing exactly what could happen next. Despite their appearance, dice throws or any other mechanism to add chaos into turn-based war games follow the same philosophy of keeping control of things. The unknown and uncontrollable in our war games comes only at specific times in the game play. You know exactly when you will be out of control and paradoxically you are in control of when and how much you will be out of control.

There's no substitute for reality, but that's not a good excuse to ignore it.

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