Machina, p.1

MACHINA, page 1



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  Title Page




  Vantages #1: Why and How

  Vantages #2: Below the Bar

  Vantages #3: Morality on the March

  Vantages #4: Ends, Means, and Blindspots

  Vantages #5: Mastery Anywhere

  Vantages #6: Crisis

  Vantages #7: Anticipation

  Vantages #8: Restraint

  Vantages #9: Classical and Romantic Play

  Vantages #10: Patience

  Vantages #11: Testament


  Temporal Control #1: Prelude

  Temporal Control #2: Unit of Account

  Temporal Control #3: Training and Hardening

  Temporal Control #4: Rational Accounting

  Temporal Control #5: The Intersubjective

  Temporal Control #6: The Heart of the Matter

  Temporal Control #7: Operations

  Temporal Control #8: Institutions

  Temporal Control #9: Machinations

  Temporal Control #10: Analysis and Power

  Temporal Control #11: Infinite Fronts


  Dubious Battle #1: Faith vs Works

  Dubious Battle #2: Ordinal and Cardinal Inclinations

  Dubious Battle #3: The Burden of Proof

  Dubious Battle #4: Rank

  Dubious Battle #5: Aristocracy

  Dubious Battle #6: The Legible and the Illegible

  Dubious Battle #7: The Three Paths to Power

  Stay in Touch


  Sebastian Marshall

  Copyright © 2017 Sebastian Marshall

  All rights reserved.


  21 January 2017

  Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends! In peace, there’s nothing so becoming in a man as modest stillness and humility… but when the blast of war blows our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger.”

  Thank you for joining me once again, dear reader.

  I say “once again” because probably the majority of readers will have already found TSR or read Progression already. With this work, I pushed myself – aiming for more challenging topics than Progression took on.

  Machina is divided into three sections: Vantages, Temporal Control, and Dubious Battle.

  Vantages is by far the most accessible of the three, and also the first time that I’ve taken on a single historical era in-depth. It goes through the path of the Three Great Unifiers of Japan in their fight to end the multi-sided Japanese Sengoku Civil Wars, where all order disintegrated and dozens of warlords vied for control of the country.

  Temporal Control looks at the tools needed to navigate all of time and space – certainly an over-ambitious attempt which I did not succeed at, but which nonetheless dug up some gems. Temporal Control opens with World War I which was perhaps far less inevitable than is commonly thought, flashed back to the origins of modern money under King Croesus of Lydia, and Croesus’s overthrow by Cyrus the Great who founded the first modern empire. We then march forwards in history to Leonardo da Vinci’s roommate inventing modern accounting (it was indeed shocking for me to learn that the inventor of modern accounting lived and was friends with Da Vinci), to Mustafa Kemal founding modern Turkey and the whole concept of “Turkishness” in the aftermath of World War I, and ended on the opening of the Cold War when President Truman was trying to decipher why, exactly, Joseph Stalin had gone from being “closest friends” with the Americans to a dramatic breach the next winter after Nazi Berlin fell.

  Dubious Battle is the most challenging series I’ve written to date – instead of prescribing best practices as is typically how we explore topics, it looks at the long-ranging conflicts that rage back and forth through all of history. It opens with Faith vs Works with Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, Henry VIII, and the conquest of Africa by the British Empire – and traces how it happened in thought, philosophy, and action. From there, we discuss the types of conflicts that rage back and forth, and look to clarify our thinking on these wide-ranging matters.

  2016 was hands-down the best year of my life; the backdrop of this work is that your humble author has been going up in the world tremendously fast. Years of toil have started to pay off across basically all the domains of my life – the nonprofit work at GiveGetWin is flourishing, the commercial company Ultraworking that I founded with Kai Zau at the start of 2016 is growing rapidly and get a dazzling reception from our customers, and The Strategic Review – where all these essays were originally published – grew through word of mouth almost every single week of 2016.

  I’m both sincerely grateful and honored that my work is seen as useful and helpful to you; I write partially to clarify my own thinking, but far more to be of use and service to those going up in the world. If the works I produce don’t fundamentally shape and shift your worldview and do not lead to large gains for you, dear reader, then I missed my mark.

  And yet, I seem to have to have hit that mark, or at least as evidenced by the hundreds to thousands of reader-letters I got last year (I read them all, and replied to most of them), and the constant spreading the word about what’s happening at TSR.

  The most popular pieces by original reader response were –

  Vantages #3: Morality on the March

  Vantages #5: Mastery Anywhere

  Vantages #8: Classical and Romantic Play

  Temporal Control #2: Unit of Account

  Temporal Control #4: The Intersubjective

  Dubious Battle #1: Faith vs Works

  Dubious Battle #7: The Three Paths to Power

  Both my personal favorite and the single most popular was Dubious Battle #1: Faith vs Works – I got dozens of messages about that one; it seemed to illuminate something very important for people. If you often start books and don’t finish them, or are busy and are only going to read a single thing here, I’d start with that one.

  I think the middle sections of Vantages outlining the rise and fall of Hideyoshi Toyotomi are the finest writing I ever did successively – Mastery Anywhere, Anticipation, Restraint, Classical and Romantic Play, and Patience – I’d stack that up any native English writing on Japanese history. I think you’ll greatly enjoy those sections and take an immense amount away from them.

  Of course, if you’re not subscribed to The Strategic Review, you can get a long-form essay of this type sent to you for free every Thursday at:

  My favorite message this whole year wasn’t an email, but a Twitter message –

  “I signed my 50+ year old dad up for TSR awhile ago - he gave it a glowing review yesterday; mom signed up too!” – @HuanWin

  I’m glad to see the work is resonating. Incidentally, if you like the type of thing we cover here, you might also like a dose of hyper-productivity from the tech we’re working on at Ultraworking, particularly the Pentathlon –

  And perhaps you’d like to point your expansive-thinking friends to TSR? (Or your parents?)

  Life is marvelous, is it not?

  Really, I’m so incredibly honored and grateful to be your chosen writer. There’s so many great works to choose from, and we’re all so incredibly busy… I’m moved and humbled by the fact that you and thousands across the world, from dozens of cultures, are reading and benefiting from this writing.

  But enough sappiness! As Shakespeare put it, in peace there’s nothing so becoming in a man as modest stillness and humility – but when the blast of war blows in your ears, then imitate the action of the tiger.

  And now, on with the show…!



  Vantages #1: Why and How


  Old Yamamoto-sama sits with his pen, arthritic knuckles aching, but mind sharp and alive; he writes the beginning of his masterpiece in elegant brushstrokes –

  “Although it stands to reason that a samurai should be mindful of the Way of the Samurai, it would seem that we are all negligent. Consequently, if someone were to ask, “What is the true meaning of the Way of the Samurai?” the person who would be able to answer promptly is rare. This is because it has not been established in one’s mind beforehand. From this, one’s unmindfulness of the Way can be known. Negligence is an extreme thing.”

  So begins the Hagakure.



  “Lord Katsuyori! Their gunners are tearing us to pieces! Your orders?!”

  Rain fell in hot and heavy sheets, shimmering through the air like so-many mirages; completely there for a moment to dominate the landscape… and then, suddenly, vanished into the earth.

  Japanese summer rains move like this.

  It has a funny quality to it.

  As the wind would shift, those mirage-like sheets of rain would mask and unmask the sounds of the unfolding battle.

  The crack of gunfire, loud and then quiet.

  The whinnying of horses, in and out of earshot.

  The screams of the dead and dying.

  The veteran general, of perhaps the finest corps of officers ever assembled in Japanese history, spoke again to his dazed young lord.

  “Kaysuyori-sama! Kaysuyori-sama? Orders? Your orders?!”

  Another loud CRACK-BANG came into earshot as the wind swirled.

  Screams of the men rose and then fell.

  Just as soon as it was spilled, those large and hazily indifferent sheets of rain washed the blood away at Nagashino.



  Why are we here?

  We’re here for a very practical reason: we want to extract vital lessons from history, and use them to build our lives more effectively.

  Vantages aims to be hyper-practical: looking at situations where you need to spot what’s going on in that situation, adjust rapidly, and take the right type of action.

  In this chapter, we will examine and lay down a framework for analyzing the Why and How of decisionmaking.

  It is, perhaps, of the utmost importance.




  It’s called a tengu.

  You’ve seen it. You just didn’t know the word beforehand.

  It’s a tengu.

  That horrible Japanese war mask, ghoulish expression, long nose, bright red painted face.

  It’s a tengu.

  The Takeda Clan were among the fiercest war clan in Japanese history.

  They had an eye for optics. Ferocity. They struck awe in their opponents.

  Painted on the banner flag of the Takeda was a compound-word borrowed from the Chinese –

  Fu Rin Ka Zan

  (Wind Forest Fire Mountain)

  It echoed Sunzi’s Art of War –

  As swift as the wind

  As silent as the forest

  As fierce as fire

  As unshakeable as a mountain.

  Under Katsuyori’s father, Takeda Shingen, the Takeda Clan innovated and built the first modern cavalry in Japanese history, commanded by perhaps the finest officer corps in Japanese history. There are still Japanese stories and legends celebrating “The Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen.”

  These forces would lead powerful shock-cavalry charges, dispersing enemies and mopping them up with brutal efficiency.

  One of the strongest Samurai Lords in Japan, Takeda Shingen died mysteriously in 1572 at age 49. His son Katsuyori, still in his 20’s, inherited the clan’s leadership.

  The Takeda went into battle flying the FURINKAZAN banner, clad in horned helmets and fierce war masks. They’d often wear tengu masks, making themselves look like demons in the field; TENGU, the Japanese demon, the harbinger of war.

  These were the forces that Takeda Katsuyori brought to the battle of Nagashino.



  The second paragraph of the Hagakure –

  “The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim.”


  Definition: MOL, QOL, Means

  Three useful, compact concepts for you. We’ve adopted these in our social circle, and found them very useful in navigating events.

  MOL = Meaning of Life

  QOL = Quality of Life

  Means = Means to an End

  This is a very useful shorthand for analyzing Why and How we are doing things.

  At the highest and rarest of levels is “MOL,” the “meaning of life” type stuff. You do this because this is what matters to you.

  “QOL” also matters and you would be a fool to neglect it. “QOL” is quality-of-life; it is health, rest, relaxation, and so on. If you pursue luxury, it is luxury.

  We live in somewhat silly times; America has hegemony over the world and there has been no truly existential threat to American existence since the Fall of the Soviet Union two-and-a-half decades ago.

  Some people, who are probably very much missing out on having a magnificent life, have no MOL except QOL. That is, the only thing meaningful to them is having some pleasure, a fun time, a comfortable life.

  But this is, hopefully, a rarity.

  The mix of MOL and QOL, happily, encompass just about everything worth striving for. You strive for things that are deeply meaningful to you – perhaps science or art, helping people, making a difference on local and global scales – and you strive for some measure of health, wealth, wellness, well-being, and perhaps comfort if that’s a priority for you.

  Means are how you get to the desired MOL and QOL. Obviously, some amount of money is helpful in most endeavors. Good friends and companions are necessary for both MOL and QOL.

  Then, there’s a whole lot of universal and situational means – you might use an iPhone as a communication tool to advance a core mission you’re on (MOL), or you might use it for leisure and consumption (QOL). Either way, it’s a means to those ends.

  Finally, there a whole lot of highly-situational means to the end. The companies Uber and Lyft recruit and onboard drivers to their platform, to the end of making their companies successful. In the 1500’s, armies would train cavalry and gunners to rule the battlefield and expand their political and philosophical authority.



  “Your orders, my lord?!”

  Katsuyori comes out of his stupor: “Attack! Again! Attack!”

  A samurai was not supposed to question orders in a situation like this. Displeasure could only be signaled in a variety of subtle ways.

  The Takeda general pauses and hesitates, hoping that Katsuyori will read his unusual hesitation correctly.

  But the hint is missed.

  The (rapidly proving incorrect) assessment had been that Oda Nobunaga’s samurai-gunner corps would be ineffective in the rain.

  It was mistaken. Takeda cavalry were getting shot-down en masse, and the Oda gunner ranks were holding fast.

  The 3,000 samurai-gunners under the Oda had built a strong defensive position. The fearsome Takeda cavalry would have to charge through a small stream, and then uphill, to try to break the gunner corps.

  Using some mix of oil paper and carrying many extra fuses, the Oda continued firing strong. Against all expectations, the muddy wet conditions were working against the cavalry more than the gunners.

  The gener
al surveyed the field, considered the reports. The Oda had further fortified their position with wooden stakes, inventing a new type of battlefield engineering – the few cavalry that survived the initial charge would not even be able to inflict mass damage on the gunner ranks.

  They were firing in three rounds of volleys, alternating. Gunfire continually came. Men and horses fell on the hillside, fell at the improvised wooden battlements, fell and thrashed dying in the shallow stream.

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