abstract dragons.

the crisis of our peaceful age is that there are no worthy enemies. without enemies, we have nothing to drive us forward. no one to wrestle, no one to struggle with, no one to challenge forth greatness.

the renaissance was not a peaceful era. it was an era of upheaval and strife. nation rose up against nation. there were famines, wars and rumors of wars. but the heights of imagination were also reached.

the great conflicts are about ideas. when there is a war about ideas, the physical conflict is always overshadowed by the spiritual conflict. there is always an idea animating an army. there is a vision in the mind of a conqueror.

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans…

in warfare, there is a competition between visions, a competition between ideas — before there is a competition between armies. warfare is political. the will to fight comes from a sense of legitimacy, of moral superiority, of motivation and inspiration.

Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
The consummate leader cultivates the Moral Law….
The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

to achieve greatness, the leader must have a worthy enemy, a worthy cause, a worthy idea, a worthy vision. the strength of the story is what animates the army.

but in our age of peace and abundance, where are the enemies? there is competition between states, but the competition is limited. there is very little sense of moral superiority. there is not a Pax Romana — a sense of a superior system that must be imposed on the world. the west has lost its sense of moral superiority and there is very little imperial will left. the expansionist powers in the world are held in check, and their territorial aims are limited. there is no power that seeks total world domination.

the primary domain of competition is non-violent economic warfare. and in this domain the problems that exist are abstract.

woe to those who battle abstract problems! they must conjure dragons. they must become don quixote. to become a hero, they must type on laptops, and go to meetings, stay at hotels, sit in lounges. or live in their parent’s home. or sleep on their friend’s couches, and overstay their welcome. in both luxury and deprivation, they are fighting the abstract dragon that they have chosen. it is perhaps harder to fight a dragon with the strength of abundance, comfort and success — than with the desperation of poverty, sacrifice and failure. the desperate warrior fights valiantly. the decadent warrior loses his edge.

the focus must remain on the dragon. everything else is a distraction. for richer, for poorer — the dragon is all that exists. the commitment is to slaying the dragon. but the great dragons cannot be slain.

these are the names of some of the great economic dragons.
the dragon of ugliness.
make it beautiful.
the dragon of slowness.
make it fast.
the dragon of expensiveness.
make it cheap.
the dragon of impossibility.
make it possible. invent solutions.
the dragon of mistakes.
make it reliable.
the dragon of friction. make it coordinated.
the dragon of chaos. make it organized.
the dragon of quality. make it better.
the dragon of intelligence. make it smarter.

the great political dragon.
the dragon of violence. use violence to prevent violence, and only that.

and the great philosophical dragon. 
the dragon of values. make people value something they don’t value. make people stop valuing something that they value. correctly assign value (or price) to all things.

is a perfectly efficient economy a vision of heaven? would it solve all problems that can be solved non-violently? is inefficiency a worthy enemy? is it sufficiently motivating to attack inefficiency every day? is perfect efficiency even possible?

inefficiency is clearly a bad thing. inefficiency creates poverty, creates ugliness, creates scarcity, prevents problems from being solved, results in all sorts of disasters.

and progress towards efficiency is clearly possible. things are becoming better, faster and cheaper.

but inefficiency is an abstract enemy. it cannot be seen directly. it cannot be physically attacked. it requires imagination to motivate a hero to see and solve an inefficiency problem.

and maybe perfect efficiency would be a bad thing. maybe a perfectly efficient economy would be geopolitically unstable. an angry teenager could efficiently destroy a city. it is hard to imagine what perfect efficiency would look like in practice.

is perfect non-violence a vision of heaven? in the same way, a perfect monopoly on force — a one world government with complete military and police control — may not be possible (or desirable). creating perfect peace requires perfect conquest. this is a frightening realization.

is the perfect assignment of values a vision of heaven? a world where everything is perfectly valued may not be possible or desirable. everyone would have to agree on everything. and even then, how would we know if we are right? disagreement on values is not only the basis of individualism, but it is also through the disagreement that we evolve our values over time. and create new values. because perhaps values are not static things.

it is very difficult to visualize heaven. the very problems that we are solving for are so inherently difficult to solve, that we do not even know if they can be solved. but we do know that there is a path, and we are on it. progress is a persistent illusion. and it is better to struggle and hope, than despair prematurely.

where does this leave modern man? this leaves us in crisis. the worthy enemies are abstract dragons. they are difficult to imagine. perhaps impossible to solve.

the tao that can be spoken is not the eternal tao. the heaven that can be built is not the eternal heaven. the dragon that can be slain is not the eternal dragon.

who guards heaven?

if we could but slay them, 
we would have gained entry.