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"The Art of War" as a Guide to Understanding the Trump Administration
How an ancient text, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, may be influencing the actions of powerful Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
Many of us had never heard of Steve Bannon before the 2016 presidential election, and, at that, not until somewhere in the middle of that extraordinary battle. We were introduced to him as a former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a news and commentary website on the far right of the American political spectrum. Bannon seemed to have now-President Donald Trump’s ear in shaping the candidate’s message, and since the election, his importance has become even clearer: Bannon was recently added to the Principals committee of the National Security Council (NSC). It’s a surprise. He has little, if any, direct knowledge of national security, and he replaces two people who most certainly do, the chairman of he Joint Chief of Staff and the director of national intelligence.
In the chaos created by flurry of controversial presidential orders coming out of the White House in the first days of the Trump Administration, many see Bannon’s hand. If it all feels like the disorienting Act One of a summer Hollywood war blockbuster, it should: Bannon’s the director of such alt-right films as Battle for America, and confusing your opponent in war is a signature tactic from one of Bannon’s two favorite books, The Art of War, by ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu. The other is the Bhagavad Gita, which uses the battlefield as an allegory for life.
Trump and Bannon (MANDEL NGAN)
Bannon apparently sees much of life as a war. Whether that’s military opponents or political adversaries, he has a long history of a fascination with it. Former close friend and Hollywood writing partner Julia Jones told the Daily Beast that Bannon used to use “Sparta” as his computer password, thanks to his fascination with the victors of the Peloponneisan War. Jones continued, “Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war — it’s almost poetry to him.” And Sun Tzu agrees. The very first precept in The Art of War is "The art of war is of vital importance to the state."
While it’s safe to assume that The Art of War isn’t the only book on war strategy with which Bannon is familiar, it’s still interesting that its precepts seem to explain some of what we’ve seen so far from the Trump team. Here's some of Sun Tzu's guidance and how it fits into the Art of Trump.
"All warfare is based on deception."
Whether it’s imaginary voter fraud, taking undeserved credit for jobs already created, or the fictional Bowling Green Massacre, the Trump administration clearly believes in made-up truth, and views reporting as "fake news" if it questions the veracity of the administration's “alternative facts.”. The Trump team seems utterly unfazed when anyone calls their fictions “lies” becuase they believe in them as a tactic.
"Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant."
Sun Tzu is a big fan of faking out one’s adversaries. In the transition period between the election and the inauguration, Trump’s team seems like the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Opponents took heart in the seeming disorganization, and made fun. But with the avalanche of action that occurred immediately after the inauguration, this may well have been a deliberate feint.
"The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers."
Is it any coincidence that the very first Democratic Party leadership emails released by Wikileaks were just the thing for exacerbating the rift between Clinton and Sanders supporters, a division that may have kept just enough of the latter away from the voting booth to hand Trump the win? (We may never know if it was Russia or Trump’s own people behind Wikileaks.)
"These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand."
As a candidate, Trump on several occasions faulted U.S strategy against ISIS for openly announcing its intentions to meet them at a particular location. There can be little doubt that Trump's team believes in the sneak attack after the Yemen raid in mid-January.
"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."
That the Trump administration hit the ground running with its early presidential orders should be no surprise. Sun Tzu warns against wearing out an army, and thus advocates attacking and winning quickly.
"Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak."
It may be that Bannon seems himself — and the president agrees — as America’s bulwark, the mighty heart of the government. A former Beitbart staffer told the Daily Beast, “Steve has an obsession with testosterone.”
Bannon deplanes (TIMOTHY A. CLARY)
There are some other ways in which the White House seems to be violating Sun Tzu’s advice:
"Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results."
This doesn’t mean, “Fire the expert military and intelligence offices and replace them with a political advisor.”
Sun Tzu also has some some guidance that may already be proving amazingly effective as it's deployed against President Trump by his own opponents:
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.