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The Relation between Deception and Warfare

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Sun Tzu, in the Art of War, spoke at great length about the importance of deception.  To paraphrase, he said 'if you know your self and your enemy then you need not fear losing one battle, even if you fight a thousand.  If you know your self but not your enemy then the battle is only half-won.  If you know neither your self nor your enemy then your destruction is already assured.'  Of all the lessons he taught in that book the importance of deception was by far the one he spoke the most about.

The practical utility of this lesson is not lost on America's modern armed forces, for whom this book is required reading.  The amount of time, effort and money we've spent on gathering accurate intelligence on our enemies while simultaneously feeding them falsehoods, in previous decades, is now a matter of public record (as is its efficacy).

Ayn Rand made it clear that, while honesty is usually a virtue (under any normal circumstances) it ceases to be one when dealing with a certain type of person.  In Atlas Shrugged Dagny Taggart finds herself telling lies easily at a certain point (when she knows that the truth would directly lead to the death of her soul mate) and this comparatively brief period of dishonesty culminates in her shooting a man at point-blank range.  The parallels between this situation and that of a war are obvious.

Last summer I was keeping a journal of my daily musings.  Here is one excerpt:

Quote

Although anything that's required to deal with a dangerous person is permissible, there is never a good reason to deceive a good man.  Nor is it right to risk being trapped into a lie by failing to give the benefit of that doubt to any stranger.

To say that the good requires someone's outwitting is also to simultaneously declare them an enemy of the good (and thusly of Your Self).

A great man can be capable of telling a bulletproof lie, if he manages to get it out without vomiting.  And that very revulsion is a sign of his psychological health - he would eventually become desensitized to it (and also cease to be "great" or a "man") if he continued such deception for long enough.

 

I don't have one specific question here.  There seems to be some sort of ethical (perhaps even metaphysical) link between deception and warfare which I noted one year ago and haven't thought about since.  I'd be interested in hearing any additional thoughts or insights you see.

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9 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Although anything that's required to deal with a dangerous person is permissible, there is never a good reason to deceive a good man. 

What if two individual people who know each other to be good find themselves fighting on opposite sides of a war?

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On 6/26/2021 at 10:26 AM, Doug Morris said:

What if two individual people who know each other to be good find themselves fighting on opposite sides of a war?

That's an interesting question, although I am having a bit of a hard time concretizing it. If they're active combatants on opposite sides then how many opportunities do they really have to converse? If they're not active combatants but just part-time sympathizers lending their support to opposite sides then they'd presumably be obliged to lie to each other about any intelligence they might come across.

 

As I recall, the reasoning behind the notion that there's never any good reason to deceive a good man sort of hinged on said "goodness" necessitating rationality and that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men.

Francisco D'Anconia had to do something similar to Dagny throughout Atlas Shrugged and I can't really call her a bad person; she's a heroine. Still, in one of Rand's journals she described the crux of Dagny's error as a tragic sort of overconfidence (understandable, since it is proper for her to be confident in her own ability, but nonetheless irrational when extended to all the people she depends on to keep the railroad functioning). And she explicitly says once or twice that she would kill "the destroyer" (John Galt) with her bare hands, if she ever found him - because of her irrational attitude towards the society she lives in. And after she returns from Galt's Gulch, knowing the truth but still refusing to join the strike, Francisco drops the playboy act to make it perfectly clear "it's you that I'm fighting".

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On 6/25/2021 at 10:39 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Ayn Rand made it clear that, while honesty is usually a virtue (under any normal circumstances) it ceases to be one when dealing with a certain type of person.  In Atlas Shrugged Dagny Taggart finds herself telling lies easily at a certain point (when she knows that the truth would directly lead to the death of her soul mate) and this comparatively brief period of dishonesty culminates in her shooting a man at point-blank range.  The parallels between this situation and that of a war are obvious.

I'm not convinced that Sun Tzu's work is reflected by Dagny killing a guard for following orders, but I can appreciate parallels between The Art of War and Objectivism.  Sun Tzu was a rational warrior, and I think Napoleon's escape from Elba to march on Paris with troops he turned from his enemies may be a better example of The Art of War, and one that is better reflected by John Galt's actions, than Dagny's.

 

 

 

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53 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Isn't initiation what determines the moral status in the case of force?

It's one consideration. But what are you trying to ask or figure out? Deception is just a type of lying.

The only thing I could draw between deception and warfare is that it is not possible to have a completely flourishing society in the context of war because at the very least justifying "moral" deception requires that someone is morally bad. Even if the person you are deceiving is not necessarily the bad one.

I'm thinking of how Dagny was the enemy of Francisco, but not because she was evil or bad. Rather, Dagny was in some way victim of what society had become, and unwittingly supported the evil of that society despite her intention not to do so. Francisco had to deceive her, to lie to her, in order to fight back. In normal circumstances, in a society less damaged by all sorts of irrationality, Francisco could simply tell her about her errors instead of actually resisting her. 

Edited by Eiuol
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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

It's one consideration. But what are you trying to ask or figure out? Deception is just a type of lying

Deception (of another) is fraud. To be clear "deception of oneself is immoral no matter what" i.e. evasion.

So fraud is good when used in self defense.

Otherwise, initiating it is wrong as in one should not have the right.

The only other consideration that may have some relevance is the severity of retaliation. As in, what amount of retaliatory damage is justified.

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20 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Deception (of another) is fraud.

Not all deception is fraud, at least not what people usually call fraud (it involves economic trade). I mean, is there anything new you have to add about deception? I'm sure everybody here would agree that methods usually wrong are no longer wrong when used as self-defense or in war.

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7 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I'm sure everybody here would agree that methods usually wrong are no longer wrong when used as self-defense or in war.

I assume you mean a self defensive war. As written it could mean defending yourself in war which at least in Objectivism is going to be an ethics of emergency issue. Although, Peikoff once said we don't care about innocents in war in the O'reilly interview. Not sure what the position is exactly.

But the morality is far more clear cut if you are defending yourself in a defensive war.

Unless the ethics of war demands that you destroy the opponent at any cost which can't be the case because most people are innocents caught up in something they can't control when wars break out.

As far as deception goes, there definitely is a link between fighting (engaging in conflict) and faking the opponent out. I would argue it is part of the process of fighting.

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Even in a game, it may be appropriate to make a feint to mislead your opponent.  If your opponent is trying to spy on you, more active deception might be appropriate.  Similar considerations might apply to economic competition.

In the game Diplomacy that abstracts from military and diplomatic struggle in Europe, lying is part of the game.

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On 6/25/2021 at 10:39 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Sun Tzu, in the Art of War, spoke at great length about the importance of deception.  To paraphrase, he said 'if you know your self and your enemy then you need not fear losing one battle, even if you fight a thousand.  If you know your self but not your enemy then the battle is only half-won.  If you know neither your self nor your enemy then your destruction is already assured.'  Of all the lessons he taught in that book the importance of deception was by far the one he spoke the most about.

In Spielberg's Taken, Owen Crawford states (paraphrasing from memory), "The war was won by keeping secrets, knowing theirs and keeping ours". Deception, in the context of war, is a tactic, and history tends to be written by the victors. Taken together, the ethical value of deception depends upon surviving the application. 

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