First Person Parables

The Stoic as Socratic OODA Buddha.

James Manning and I had a fun wide-ranging conversation about several topics. It’s out in the Quick Start Creative Podcast now.

I think you’ll find it to be fairly light and entertaining even though we touch on some heavier topics. I definitely have my casual deliberate voice on as I slow down and repeat myself and try not to overload with the high concepts I weave into my writing. But I think that’s also part of the mood James put me in too.

As an addition, as I’ve picked up a follower here and there, now and then I thought I might use this space to address one of my monikers, that of OODA Buddha. Something that has been consistent in my life is my willingness to iterate towards perfection. Up to my late 20s I have always used the watchword ‘small perfections’ as part of my direction. I think it started when I brought home straight As in elementary school and with a C in handwriting. You can guess what my father had me doing every night after homework. He pushed too hard but I did get an A in handwriting on my next report card. Nevertheless, the lesson was learned. You can perfect something you heretofore paid no attention to. Just do the work and push yourself while others are outside playing. I can’t say I was an overachiever. There was nothing so much I wanted to achieve as a kid. I played a role in my mishandling by being an insufferable smart-ass.

Fast forward to the 90s when I first started writing online and I discovered the genius of John Boyd. He wrote:

"The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom — you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero."
--John Boyd

Boyd revolutionized air combat during and after the Korean War by inventing the OODA loop, a methodology designed to help one literally fly circles around your opponent. My ambition has been bounded by my active work in reducing my needs to zero, but also increasing my skills such that not only might I lower the river but raise my bridge as well. Naturally, I have failed many times. But being dedicated to rapid evolution and learning from those failures, I have fallen forwards.

So the praxis of an OODA Buddha is more than dedication to the fast evolution, it involve the courage of occasionally taking a big bite of something you’d like to accomplish in theory. Thus is born my habit of overthinking. Yet this overthinking is not eclectic. I actually have an aversion to what I call ‘eclexia’ which is a dysfunctional hunger for diversity in everything, even as I use that loaded term consciously. So I repeat my father’s advice.

“A little bit of everything adds up to a whole lot of nothing.” — R.T. Bowen, Sr.

Overthinking is subjecting yourself to relentless criticism and comparison whenever you make a decision. It is comparison shopping even after you’ve bought the item. It’s always asking yourself “what was I thinking?” for every decision. It’s about making decision-making into a skill rather than a habit. A skill requires the conscious evaluation of results from actions with the aim to refine those actions in order to beget better results. To consider the role of chance and the dimensions of the rabbit hole you may be in. I would be bragging a bit if I called this practice something akin to Socratic humility. But I just read the following this morning on my walk…

It is important to see that this Socratic intellectualism is decidedly equalitarian. Socrates believed that everyone can be taught; in the Meno, we see him teaching a young slave a version of the now so-called theorem of Pythagoras, in an attempt to prove that any uneducated slave has the capacity to grasp even abstract matters. And his intellectualism is also anti-authoritarian. A technique, for instance rhetoric, may perhaps be dogmatically taught by an expert, according to Socrates; but real knowledge, wisdom, and also virtue, can be taught only by a method which he describes as a form of midwifery. Those eager to learn may be helped to free themselves from their prejudice; thus they may learn self-criticism, and that truth is not easily attained. But they may also learn to make up their minds, and to rely, critically, on their decisions, and on their insight. In view of such teaching, it is clear how much the Socratic demand (if he ever raised this demand) that the best, i.e. the intellectually honest, should rule, differs from the authoritarian demand that the most learned, or from the aristocratic demand that the best, i.e. the most noble, should rule. (Socrates’ belief that even courage is wisdom can, I think, be interpreted as a direct criticism of the aristocratic doctrine of the nobly born hero.)

Popper, Karl Raimund. The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton Classics) (pp. 122-123). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

That’s what I’m hoping I’m doing. At this age, it is fun to recall other books I have read that coalesce around the same contexts. For example the entire concept of teaching a slave the theorem of Pythagoras reminds me of the story of Gorgik in Samuel R Delaney’s Neveryon Tales. Indeed those tales are a beautiful meditation on the very nature of education in liberation. I wonder if I read it again if I would find it too revolutionary. Still, it was indeed beautiful.

To be an OODA Buddha is to be at peace with the accelerated evolution while maintaining the understanding that you are reducing your needs to zero and making yourself valuable by enabling the success of others. It is a gift that pays both ways. It is what Taleb calls a ‘barbell strategy’. It brings me inner peace and satisfaction and it enables my Stoic view. It forces me not to lie to myself or to others and to accept what actually is, so far as I can perceive it.

This then is the subtext of my interview. It is why I make a subject of myself and the lessons I have learned. Yet if you ask me who I am, it’s a damned awfully hard question. I am the history of my curiosity and self-checking, pockmarked by the craters of my self-wrecking. That’ll work.