The Strategic Disadvantage of Drawn-out Conflicts LO30149

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 04/30/03

Replying to LO30143 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.
Under the subject: Questions LO30143
i ended with

>May i also mention something else. Two nights ago i listened
>to the last commander of our military forces during apartheid,
>general Viljoen. He said the longer a conflict is allowed to go
>on, the less the number of strategic alternatives become to
>resolve it. It struck me as an incredibly wise thing to say. He
>learned it by experiencing it the hard way. Many politicans like
>conflicts. But true military leaders hate armed conflicts because
>they are the ugly and miserable part of their job.

I now wish to "explain" general Viljoen's wisdom in terms of LEP (Law of
Entropy Production). I do it because some fellow learners want to know
more about entropy production and its staggering panorama of outcomes in
the domain of human interaction. Literature in this regard is almost
non-existant. For those who "feel feathers" for entropy production, please
skip this contribution now.

About a year and a half ago, i think, we had a dialogue on "fitness and
other landscapes". In that dialogue i argued that entropy landscapes and
the fitness landscapes of Stuart Kaufman of CAS fame (Complex Adaptive
Systems) have similar forms. Actually, entropy landscapes are the physical
foundation for these mathematically generated fitness landscapes.

The more rugged the entropy (fitness) landscape of any system, the better
its capacity for adaptation, effective action and self-organisation in
general. But the ruggedness of this landscape can also be diminished by
processes which can collectively be called "ablation". Ablation is the
withering away or erosion of distinctive features of a system. For
example, when a space shuttle enters the earth's atmosphere, its surface
gets heated by friction which is an ablative phenomenon. The melting of
snow is another example.

Entropy is a measure of the organisation of a system. The more it gets
produced without getting captured into further organisation, the more it
is responsible for ablative processes. Any conflict between humans
produces entropy by entropic force-flux pairs. The longer a conflict is
allowed to continue without any organisational change, the more the
entropy produced by it and thus its ablative outcome. This flattens the
entropy landscape. One by one the peaks (local optima) in the landscape
disappears. Each peak which disappears is just another strategic
alternative lost.

Most humans and their organisations let conflicts continue until only a
few peaks (local optima) remains. This is strategically the worst option
to follow. I think they are afraid to explore at the beginning of a
conflict strategic alternatives. The worst which could happen, is that the
familiar conflict becomes replaced by an unknown conflict. But the best
which could happen is that the conflict gets resolved before the entropy
landscape becomes flattened too much.

To explore the ruggedness of an entropy landscape requires the spirit of
authentic learning -- the willingness to learn anything new. Learning
Individuals and Learning Organisations have very rugged entropy
landscapes. However, to be contend with what one has learned in the past
and trying to get as much mileage from it, is a sure recipe for drawing
out a conflict beyond any strategic advantage.

The reasons for drawing out a conflict are usually rigid mental models
which we dare not to question. The mental model which led to the ideology
and policy of apartheid which caused so much conflict for such a long
time, was that apartheid is a biblical principal. But actually apartheid
was introduced by the colonial powers of South Africa, first the Dutch and
then the British, to maintain their superiority. The next step was for the
descendents of this colonial powers to justify it for themselves too. In
front of the row was their clergy who "found" such justification in the
Bible and convinced religious people to believe it as the holy truth
rather than question it.

The conflict caused by apartheid destroyed too much of the ruggedness of
South African society. It is a pity that the aged Nelson Mandela had to
retire as president because with the will power of a genuis and the
integrity of a humble person he led the way to a more rugged entropy
landscape. But since his retirement, some cabinet ministers have allowed
themselves to become caught up in new conflicts. For example, the minister
of health believes that antiretroviral medicines are poisons which do more
harm than AIDS itself. Another example, the minister of sport believes
that the racial transformation of any sports team is more important than
for that team to win competitions. They cling to these believes like ticks
clinging to an animal.

The complementary of an entropy landscape, almost like an inversion of it,
is the free energy landscape. When an entropy landscape of a system gets
flattened by ablation processes, so does the free energy landscape get
flattened too. The effect of this is the inceasing lack of the system for
effective action and thus a resolution of any conflict. The system becomes
caught up in a local equilibrium -- its wheels fall off or its fuel tank
gets empty. What is needed in human systems are leaders who have
sufficient free energy with an internal rythm to maintain it. Such leaders
can lead the system into a rugged landscape once again. One clear thing
about them is that they quickly resolve existing conflicts while avoiding
new ones. This strategy has never failed to work.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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