I’m currently reading Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Jim Stockdale (again). I’m not quite finished yet, but the book is chocked full of wisdom that is applicable to [my] life once the translation between military life and civilian life is made. In his essay on “climbing the pyramids of naval aviation” he emphasizes that nothing is as important as one’s ability to improvise on one’s feet and adapt effortlessly to changing situations.

When a system is not stressed, it operates most efficiently, if everything moves according to procedure. There are rules and regulations and people who follow them and enforce them. This allows people to reduce personal risk by shifting personal responsibility and initiative to the system. There is safety in numbers and safety in doing what everybody else is doing. Why, many or even most office workers are perfectly happy trying to adhere to the various regulations and rules that govern their environment. Wear this clothes at the interview, smile at this time, be so and so sincere, use these words in your report, fill out this form, show up early and stay late but not too late, and so on. In fact, schooling is all about getting people used to following simple orders, adhering to forms, and eliminating initiative.

This line of thinking is seen everywhere.

If you want to survive, Stockdale uses an example of a test pilot dead sticking (landing with the engine off) memorizing procedures and checklists won’t do. If you want to create your own life and make a personal difference rather than just imitate others, you should practice some “antiestablishment” exercises. Those can and should be practiced in all situations, but they are best done secretly as they are somewhat contrary to establishment “thinking”(*).

(*) Establishment thinking: “Don’t think. Just follow our easy methods”.

Antiestablishment rule #1 reads “Think big, basically, and simply”.

Here’s an example. Between 18 and 24, I worked out as a bodybuilder. That is to say, I read Muscle & Fitness. I did bench presses, triceps extensions, biceps curls, leg curls, leg presses, etc. 3×10 of each followed by “cardio”. I tried pyramids, supersets, … protein powders. None of it made much of a difference though. I did not follow rule #1. When it comes to getting in stronger, few things matter: Force and intensity. These are very easily obtained by a very similar idea which was made popular by the Russian (Pavel Tsatsouline) namely “Low tech – High concept”. In other words, you only need one weight, the skill to use it in different ways, and the guts to use it a lot. Lifting gloves? You gotta be kidding! Calluses bleeding? Bah!

Of course the establishment won’t accept this idea. Particularly not in a society that has been sold on technology (the magic of our era). The establishment sells methods and products to people while giving people the impression that their problems are much too hard or complicated to solve on their own. This is done partially through selling complex “solutions”. Having only seen complex solutions and not thinking big, basically, and simply, it is easily presumed that no other solutions exist.

Much thanks to CS for the donation.

Originally posted 2008-07-18 07:57:47.