Friday, June 02, 2006


The ChaliceChick wrote about courage and specifically about 'cowardice' describing the 911 terrorrists. I've been thinking about this topic for a long time, and this is a good excuse to write it out. If it doesn't make any sense, it's because I haven't slept.
Courage is not about a willingness to sacrifice your life, it is about a willingness to sacrifice the success of your goal. Running into a burning building is not brave merely becasue you are risking your life to save somone, it is brave becasue you are risking something, yet you could still fail to save anyone.
In the context of warfare, this means giving your opponent a fighting chance. No sneak attacks, no killing unarmed people.
In the in old days, when muskets weren't worth a damn, they understood this. You both stood up and shot at each other. Not only might you die, but you might not even hit the other guy.
In economic terms, you risk A to get B, you have X% chance of losing A and Y% chance of failing to achieve B. whether or not you choose to take the chance depends on the specific numbers, and how risk-averse you are. (risk-averse=cowardly)
But...if if your chance of losing A (your life, some money) is very high, and the chance of failing at B (destroying a building) is very low, then how brave you are isn't so important, because it's effectively just a trade. You pay A you get B, is it worth it to you? So the terrorists may have been brave, but 911 was not a brave act. It was just a value choice they made weighing their own lives against a certain amout of destruction of their enemy.
These days we have laser-guided push button muskets. Spend a few million dollars, and you can bring down any building in the world. So yeah, it's the same low-risk game.

It's a double edged sword though, these tactics are popular for a reason, there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. On the other edge, a system that uses a lot of low-risk tactics will tolerate much more risk-averse leaders, and these may not be the people you want leading you.


At 3:37 PM, June 02, 2006, Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I like Nietzsche's definition of courage is "going out to meet at the same time one's highest suffering and one's highest hope."


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