Know Thy Enemy

A Letter from Roland in Kent, England (where my family name comes from), really got spinning through my mind, because it really helps to put everything in perspective. Let me explain — starting with Roland’s letter (the italics are from the original):

I’ve renewed and, like you say, hope to be on the dist list for many years to come. I think This is True does a sterling job, although it can be enlightening and frustrating at the same time; the phrase ‘I can’t believe someone could even think they could do that’ can cover disbelief, shock, anger and outrage, and I find myself hit by a variety of feelings whilst reading. That said, we need to know these things because we can’t fight obliviocy if we don’t know what the obliviots are up to. Thanks again for a great and entertaining newssheet and long may you continue you publish.

The Art of War

The idea that “we can’t fight obliviocy if we don’t know what the obliviots are up to” is the “know thy enemy” strategy, which is from The Art of War, attributed to the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu, who was thought to have lived from around 544 to 496, BCE. That pithy summary, though, doesn’t come close to capturing the true genius of his teachings on the subject. Here is a much closer translation of what he wrote:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

In other words, knowing yourself is at least as important as knowing “thy enemy” — and reading about the obliviots, and feeling the “disbelief, shock, anger and outrage,” informs you about yourself much more than them. And that’s why it’s so, so important to “Think first (about the stories), and react later, if at all,” because your reaction is about you, not about the people in the stories, or even about my tagline commentary.

Sure the stories are intended to provoke a laugh (most of the time — that’s the entertainment part). But that’s only the first half: I also mean to provoke thought. I’ve said it in a variety of ways: This is True isn’t really “about” the obliviots featured in its stories, or the “dumb things” they do. It’s about the human condition; social commentary that informs us about ourselves as humans, and what we do that gets in our own way. Or, as Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” put it: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo and his famous one-linerInterestingly, Kelly first used a version of that phrase in the foreword of his 1953 book, The Pogo Papers. (The first version: “…we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”)

What, back then, was the “enemy” Kelly was fighting against? McCarthyism. Who needs those dreaded communists attacking us when we do more damage attacking ourselves? Or, to put it in even more modern terms, who needs terrorist attacks when we willingly trade away our rights and freedoms for a false sense of security?

As Benjamin Franklin put it in the 1738 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.” — which has been paraphrased over the years as “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.” Something to think about next time you see TSA trying to strip-search a toddler.

Humorous, thought-provoking entertainment not only can be used for powerful social commentary, it has been for a long, long time. That’s why I bill True as “Thought-Provoking Entertainment.” Thanks, Roland — and all the other Premium subscribers — for helping to make it possible for True to be published. Know yourself as well as your opponent, and let’s continue to fight obliviocy together.

– – –

Bad link? Broken image? Other problem on this page? Use the Help button lower right, and thanks.

This page is an example of my style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. This is True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.

To really support This is True, you’re invited to sign up for a subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:

One Year Upgrade

(More upgrade options here.)

Q: Why would I want to pay more than the minimum rate?

A: To support the publication to help it thrive and stay online: this kind of support means less future need for price increases (and smaller increases when they do happen), which enables more people to upgrade. This option was requested by existing Premium subscribers.


10 Comments on “Know Thy Enemy

  1. I agree with Roland, up to a point. I also agree with you, Randy up to a point.

    We need to know this not because we need to know what obliviots do, it’s more along the lines of “We have met the enemy and he is us.” In every human being is the potential for obliviocy, and to fight our *inner* obliviot, we need to learn to recognize the symptoms.

    There’s a saying that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”. That’s why no matter how many stories one reads, one will still shake one’s head in disbelief at what this or that obliviot has done now. But over time one learns to make the contextual relationship between the stories into a sort of guide how not to behave.

    People who do not choose to study the condition (or who choose not to) are the type who unsubscribe in protest when it stops being “entertaining” and goes more towards “thought provoking”.

    An excellent insight, and indeed I was not clear enough at the end: “let’s continue to fight obliviocy together” most assuredly includes our “inner obliviot” since indeed, we are all obliviots sometimes — we have all done, and will again do, stupid things. The key is what we do when we realize we’ve done something stupid, probably when someone points it out to us. We can learn from our mistake(s), or we can stomp away and deny reality, just as you say. -rc

  2. What ever Sun Tzu might have meant, I believe that both views are correct. You cannot prevail without understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, nor can you take advantage of those strengths, or overcome those weaknesses, without understanding the same of those you would overcome/persuade/etc.

    I know that I don’t always agree with the examples chosen, but appreciate being challenged to understand the thinking that led to the choices (and whether the difference discloses a blind spot in my own thinking).

    As always, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the discussions in TiT. Keep up the good work, Randy.

  3. If thou art going to use obsolete pronouns, thou shouldst use them correctly. Proper usage is “thy” before a word beginning with a consonant sound and “thine” before a word beginning with a vowel sound – “thy friend”, but “THINE enemy”. Sorry, this misuse grates on my ears because of over-exposure to a teacher who insisted we use the obsolete pronouns and verb conjugations correctly in high school.

    “Know Thy Enemy” (put in quotes, so Google would search that exact phrase) gets 358,000 results, including a 2009 film with that title — I’m in good company, since clearly that’s the way I’ve heard it many times. “Know Thine Enemy” (again in quotes) brings only 62,300 results, including a 1997 book with that title. I’m not insisting what I’ve heard is correct; I’m showing what’s commonly used. -rc

  4. Are you not concerned that you could be dropping yourself into deep “doodoo” with TSA’s (& I think by unwritten innuendo HS’s) managers & political masters when you point out that they don’t appear to “get” the difference between liberty and temporary security to the point that they allow their underlings to go to the extremes they do?

    No. -rc

  5. I agree with the emphasis on knowing oneself. I am naturally introspective, and learn from my own reactions. Possibly my greatest difficulty in life comes from people who think that my failure to instantly see things their way proves a “lack of self-awareness” on my part (that expression really has been used!), and use this as an excuse not to discuss their perspectives with me.

    On a different note, I have seen “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security” (which I think has become uncontroversial) many times over the years, and imagined that it was an accurate quote. I can’t see how it’s synonymous with “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power”, which seems to me to be about corruption and temptation, not about (the illusion of) security.

    Yet as I understand it, there is no specific quote like that from Franklin. -rc

  6. Thanks for the cheap shot at TSA. TSA does not strip search anyone, and does not search toddlers. I expected better that this pitiful attempt at humor.

    Here’s just one of many of “Young Boy Strip Searched by TSA” videos on Youtube.

    “One doesn’t make a trend,” you might say, but even just one does prove my statement. But let me go on! “The TSA has been saying for years now that they don’t give ‘enhanced pat-downs’ to children,” says TSA News Blog. “Even though we have loads of evidence — verbal and visual — to the contrary, the agency and its mouthpieces continue to spout these lies. Here’s yet more proof…” linking to

    It’s been going on for a long time, too: here’s a 2011 report from about a baby’s diaper being searched. (Besides pee and poop, baby diapers also contain genitals, in case you were not aware.)

    “Cheap shot” or clear, ongoing truth? My readers will be the judge. A pitiful situation clearly exists. It’s not in my “humor,” but rather in the TSA’s ongoing actions. -rc

  7. Mark apparently works for TSA, but doesn’t know what his own agency’s policies are.

    The TSA’s official stance regarding children includes this: “Screening procedures for passengers 12 and under include… advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms on children.” The “advanced imaging technology” is backscatter, which looks through clothing. So yes, TSA agents are looking at naked children on a regular basis.

    I agree it’s arguable whether that constitutes a “strip search.”

    When a 3-year-old girl in a wheelchair was told she was going to get a “pat down” and became upset, a supervisor had to step in. Now, get this: when someone tried to record this incident on video, the passenger was told by TSA that it was ILLEGAL to do that. That’s a total lie, and the TSA even admitted this on its web site. It’s NOT illegal to take video of TSA abuses, folks! Here’s their actual policy on the matter: “We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.” (But, “don’t be surprised if someone (TSA, airport police, or a curious passenger) asks you what you’re up to” when doing something that’s both perfectly legal and within TSA policy!)

    So, was Randy unfair with his offhanded comment about the TSA? Not in the slightest. But then, by now we should expect misdirection from people representing the TSA. It’s all part of the Security Theater they perform daily.

  8. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    From Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, dated November 11, 1755. Benjamin Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Assembly from 1751 to 1757, so it is possible that he wrote these words. Authorship has been ascribed to him.

    Thanks for the citation of where that came from! I think I erred when I attributed it to a paraphrase of the Almanack (by misreading the reference). So I’m very glad to have this cleared up. -rc

  9. Randy, your commentary holds up as well as the Art of War has over the past two millennia. That’s one book i assigned to any student interested in military history ~ and there were several in Russia & China. It used to be widely read on Wall Street as well ~ but i wonder how many readers are as humble as Pogo.


Leave a Comment