Patterns: More pieces and parts

As I suggested in an earlier post, if you look at the structure of Patterns of Conflict, its 185 pages naturally split at no. 126, “Synthesis,” with everything that precedes it forming some type of analysis. In “Destruction and Creation,” Boyd described this analytical process:

… suppose we shatter the correspondence of each domain or concept with its constituent elements. In other words, we imagine the existence of the parts but pretend that the domains or concepts they were previously associated with do not exist.  Result: We have many constituents, or particulars, swimming around in a sea of anarchy.

This is what’s going on from page 3 to page 125. However, it isn’t all analysis, all “shattering.” From time to time, Boyd starts fitting pieces together, making what we might call “subassemblies.” For example, on page 84, he credits Heinz Guderian with synthesizing the concept of “blitzkrieg” out of four main parts:

  • Envelopment
  • Flying columns
  • Tank attack
  • Infiltration

all of which he has explained earlier in Patterns.

Another example is the “German operational philosophy,” chart 79, which he synthesizes from parts including:

  • common outlook
  • freedom of action
  • mission (Auftragstaktik), and
  • Schwerpunkt

One more, then you’re free to go poke around on your own. On chart 90, Boyd breaks down (shatters) guerrilla warfare. Chart 91, then, would represent a first synthesis, and chart 93 a second synthesis, where he incorporates ideas from two earlier sections, on Soviet revolutionary strategy and the “impact of 19th century capitalism on insurrection/revolution.”

Then after a couple more pages of analysis and subassembling, he reaches another synthesis on chart 96.

Then he does something really interesting. He notices that some of the parts and subassemblies in guerrilla warfare are the same as what he previously used for the blitzkrieg. He documents this in charts 98 and 101, suggesting that fundamentally, guerrilla warfare and blitz tactics are two manifestations of an underlying strategic philosophy. What this philosophy is will be suggested in his last section of analysis and sub assembly, “Categories of Conflict,” pages 110-125, immediately preceding “Synthesis.”

So you can see that at its core, Patterns of Conflict is a concrete example of the  process that Boyd described in highly theoretical terms—invoking such arcana as Gödel, Heisenberg, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics—in “Destruction and Creation.” In the starkest of terms, Boyd is telling us that “this stuff works.” By implication here, and explicitly in the Abstract to the Discourse, he’s insisting that you can use it, too.

One word of advice: If you and I shatter the same domain, it is unlikely and in fact undesirable that we would end up with the same set of constituent parts. In other words, shattering a conceptual domain is not analogous to disassembling, say, a car. It follows, then, that we would create different syntheses / snowmobiles. This is good; otherwise we’re just applying some type of formulaic dogma, and one of us is superfluous. Plus, if there’s only one school solution, it doesn’t take a Sun Tzu-class opponent to figure it out. So in Boyd’s framework, there can be no single correct answer, and this includes Boyd’s own example that constitutes Patterns of Conflict.

Instead, we need to follow a procedure like what Boyd outlines near the end of “Destruction and Creation” to test, refine, re-test, etc. our synthesis against a changing and brutal reality. Otherwise, “we can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often. Furthermore, unless some kind of relief is available, we can expect confusion to increase until disorder approaches chaos—death.” (D&C, again)

Or as Boyd told the Marines right after the publication of FMFM-1 Warfighting, in 1989:  This is a great doctrine, probably the best in the world. But now, you have to get to work destroying it and create a better one.

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