One of the long-running themes of my blog, Mountain Guerrilla, is the importance of focusing on underlying concepts and philosophies, rather than technical dogma. That applies to shooting as much as it does to preparedness generalities. I am a geek, down to my soul, and I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of the “philosophy of ideas.”
My overriding goal, from the beginning of the blog—and really, the reason the blog was started in the first place—was to act as an objective, outside voice, to help readers begin to recognize, and hopefully overcome, some of the cognitive biases and group-think errors so prevalent within the culture of preparedness. That emphasis on metacognitive considerations has not changed, even as the focus of the blog has moved away from sheer technical datum to a greater emphasis on my philosophy of emigrating outside of the failing imperial civilization.
I have always, and probably always will, write training- and gear-specific articles, but the blog was never about “training” or gear, specifically. As I pointed out from the very beginning of my efforts, any infantryman with even one enlistment under his belt, could teach basic tactics and riflecraft. Any graduate of any of the myriad combative pistol courses could—theoretically—come up with a syllabus and begin teaching basic combative pistol skills. Anyone who has lived in a few sketchy neighborhoods, and survived to adulthood, could—again, theoretically—sit down, write up a course on urban survival, and begin teaching it. All it would take is the ability to look at their experiences objectively, and determine causation versus correlation in what they determined were the key skills, and then focus on solutions for the causal factors that concerned them.
My goal has been to move readers past the elementary grammar phase (to borrow a concept from the classical education Trivium) on to some of the processes necessary to not just learn and teach those methods around you, but to discover the underlying principles behind those skills, allowing the individual to modify them to fit their specific need, in a way that is “relevant to reality,” rather than fitting the hyperbolic fantasies of dystopian fiction and political pandering.
The Socratic Method
One of the key elements in achieving this, in my experience, has been the development of a method for forcing myself, students, and colleagues, to think “outside of the box, in order to provide answers to questions that we maybe should have been asking, had we even known the questions existed. One of the most useful is The Socratic Method.
The Socratic Method, or “Socratic Debate,” is a method of inquiry and discussion that serves as a method of hypothesis elimination, through the deliberate asking and answering of questions. It is a tool utilized to stimulate critical thinking, in order to provide clearer illumination, in our effort to reach “better,” if not “best” hypotheses, in the search for solutions to problems. This is achieved, within The Socratic Method, by identifying and eliminating competing hypotheses, among those available, that lead to contradictions.
In its simplest form, The Socratic Method is just a series of questions, with the simplest but most useful, often simply being, “why?” in order to formulate tests of logic and fact. It can help us determine where the line of division exists between the actual facts about a subject, versus what are simply our beliefs—our preconceived biases—about that subject.
A History Lesson
In the 5th Century BCE, there was a class of professional teachers in Athens called “Sophists.” These teachers specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric to entertain, impress, and hopefully persuade those sons of gentility that could afford their lessons, to accept their arguments. In counter to the Sophists, Aristotle credited Socrates with developing an alternative method of using definition, induction, and deduction, to learn and teach. Plato famously formalized The Socratic Method in his earlier Dialogues (for a more in-depth discussion of induction vs. deduction in logical thought, within the context of intelligence analysis for preparedness, see my book, The Reluctant Partisan, Vol 2: The Underground), by portraying Socrates engaging in this method to interrogate his fellow citizens about moral and epistemological issues before becoming more Dialectic in his methods, while Diogenes Laertus credited Protagorus with the development of the method.
The Method In Action
Regardless of the actual development of the method, the central technique of Socratic Debate is called “Elenchus,: and simply refers to cross-examination for the purpose of refutation. In Plato’s early Dialogues, this cross-examination is the method Socrates used—as one example—to determine the definition of justice. It was comprised of four steps:
- The interlocutor asserts a hypothesis: “We need to have a minimum of one year of food storage,” which Socrates considers false, or incorrect—the two are NOT synonymous, from a philosophical perspective—and so, he decides to refute the assertion.
- Socrates secures the interlocutor’s agreement to further premises that are based on the original thesis, such as, “We need food, or we’ll starve, correct?” and “We can’t hunt for our food, because all the hillbillies will be out there hunting the same deer, right?” and “The deer will be extinct in a month or two, right?” as well as the ever popular, “90% of the US population will die in the first 30 days of a grid-down event, correct?”
- Socrates then argues, and the interlocutor is forced, logically, to agree, that these further premises—to which he has agreed—actually imply that the contrary of the original thesis is more accurate: “We do NOT need food storage for one year, because most people will be dead before all the food is gone, and then we’ll be able to gather what we need, for free.”
- Socrates then claims that he has shown his interlocutor’s thesis to be false or incorrect, and that its negation is true.
The problem that has been brought to light, of course, is that Step Four above, is nonsense. Having demonstrated that a given thesis is flawed on some grounds, is not sufficient to a) prove that the basic thesis (“We should have a year’s supply of food stored!”) is false, or b) that the alternative theory MUST be true. Rather, the discussion has reached a state of aporia; an improved state of still not knowing the “best,” but having a better understanding of what is “not best.”
Ultimately, the exact nature of this cross-examination—elenchus—is open to discussion and debate, itself. Is it a positive method, leading to knowledge, or is it a negative method, useful solely for the purpose of refuting false claims to knowledge.
Unlike his opposition among the Sophists, Socrates did believe that knowledge was possible, as long as one was able to take the first step of recognizing their own ignorance. The Dunning-Kruger Effect being what it is, this is a concept that the vast, vast majority of modern Americans, including within the preparedness culture, could profit from spending some introspective navel-gazing time considering.
Socrates himself claimed that he didn’t know anything. By this, of course, he was emphasizing that he didn’t know anything. The only way he was wiser than those around him, he claimed, was that he was conscious of his own ignorance, while they were not. The essence of the Socratic Method then, is to convince the interlocutor that, whereas he thought he knew something, in point of fact, he did not, because he could not.
This is the value that the Socratic Method offers those who would be prepared. It gives us the opportunity to determine what we know, versus what we believe.
Socrates generally applied his techniques to those concepts that lacked concrete definitions. These included things like moral concepts, such as courage, justice, etc. This challenged the cherished moral beliefs of the interlocutor, pointing out inadequacies and inconsistencies in their beliefs, ultimately resulting in aporia.
The contemporary use of The Socratic Method, compared to Socrates’ use of this method, are not equivalent. Socrates did not—or at least, rarely—use the method to develop consistent theories. Instead of arriving at answers, he used the method to break down theories that were held, to go beyond the platitudes that we take as “truths.”
Examples of this can be seen in almost every single “truth” we take for granted in modern shooting, preparedness, and political culture.
Jim: Smart preppers will move to small, rural communities, because they are safer retreat locations than large cities, because large cities are festering with crime and poverty!
Socrates: Fair enough. Small towns have crime and poverty as well though, right?
Jim: Well, yes. Of course.
Socrates: Small town people tend to be closer knit, with shared values, and people know each other’s business, as well, right? Keeps them safe, when there are no secrets, correct?
Jim: Often enough, yeah.
Socrates: Large cities often have safe neighborhoods of shared cultural values, within their boundaries, correct? Say, a Little Mexico, or a Little Dublin?
Jim: I suppose so, sure…
Socrates: A densely packed, urban neighborhood, assuming it is one of the safe neighborhoods, has more people available to mount an adequate defense against aggressors, right?
Jim: Well, yeah, I guess that might be true.
Socrates: And, in a world of modern, industrialized, monoculture agriculture, there’s probably a better chance of finding a warehouse full of a variety of good, and more manufacturing capabilities to rebuild necessary technology, in a large urban area than in a small community, correct?
Jim: Probably? I suppose, yeah.
Socrates: So, perhaps, small, rural towns are neither safer, nor more dangerous, than a well-selected neighborhood in a large urban area…
Of course, that’s neither going to end the argument, nor change Jim’s mind about the benefits of living in the sticks. That’s okay. What Socrates actually wants for Jim, is for Jim to develop a framework to question his assumptions and conclusions, and perhaps discover that his preparations are not perfect, or even “better,” and thus have the capacity to overcome his cognitive biases, in order to improve.
In another example, common to the preparedness cycle, we have a discussion about caliber selection:
Mel: I need a .308 Main Battle Rifle, because “it turns cover into concealment!” It’s more accurate at long range too! You can keep your silly mousegun!
Socrates: The .308 has better penetration than the 5.56? This makes it a better caliber?
Mel: Yes! Of course!
Socrates: Just to make sure we agree….308 is better than 5.56 because it penetrates better, right?
Mel: Yeah, like I said!
Socrates: You’ve seen the body armor testing I sent you, that clearly shows 5.56 M855 and M193 both, punching through body armor that stopped all the varieties of .308 and 7.62x51NATO that they tested. Right?
Mel: Uhm, yeah…but…well…in general, I mean, .308 will punch through stuff that 5.56 won’t!
Socrates: Do you accept that the difference between cover and concealment is that cover stops incoming projectiles, while concealment simply hides you from observation?
Mel: Of course! I’ve read the field manuals!
Socrates: And, as a “long-range shooter,” I’m sure you are well-versed in the fact that 5.56 has been the consistent winner in long-range National Match at Wimbledon for some time now, right? It is demonstrably true that .308 is NOT more accurate at long-range than 5.56 is, right?
Mel: Well, yeah, but that is just punching paper. It’s not real.
Socrates: If “cover” stops incoming projectiles, but .308 will penetrate it, then your “cover” was always merely “concealment,” and since 5.56 will penetrate body armor that stops your .308, and since National Match high-power is regularly won with 5.56, then your conclusion is flawed.
As in the previous example, this is not going to change the interlocutor’s mind. It has two purposes. First, to provide the interlocutor with a more robust means of questioning his own hypotheses, and second, to illustrate the fallacies of the interlocutor’s arguments to witnesses, and perhaps keep them from being led down the same silly trails.
Stop. Seriously, just stop. Stop assuming that, because you read a couple of books by “survivalism experts,” that you know everything you need to know about preparedness. Question every conclusion that you’ve drawn from your reading and study. Question the credentials of the experts.
It was pointed out to me once, that “experts” have a lot of knowledge. Inarguable, right? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be experts. The important question however, is two-fold:
- Is it knowledge, or is it supposition and belief? Is it predicated on factual, provable history, or is it theory, developed through uneducated imagination?
- If it is, in fact, knowledge, is it relevant to your reality?
There has been a tidal wave of change in the preparedness culture in recent years. The teachers available, in all areas of preparedness, have grown exponentially. We’ve gone from reading books written by people who had read some books, and maybe taken a couple weeks of training here and there, to combat veterans who have not only trained at those schools, but then actually put their training to the crucible of actual combat testing, day-in and day-out, for multiple tours in actual combat, for a decade and a half.
Instead of being limited to reading the pet theories of people who lived on small homestead-type hobby farms, who extrapolated from there, what would be needed for survival in Dystopia, we have the lessons being taught by people who survived collapsed societies firsthand, as well as the teachings and observations of people who are serious enough about living outside of the system that they’ve “collapsed now, to avoid the rush,” living completely off-grid, within the minimum legal requirements of paying property taxes.
There is no reason to maintain the status quo in the preparedness culture, and manifold benefits to upsetting that apple cart, and questioning the basic assumptions the subculture has cherished for decades. The only “authority” we should owe allegiance to, when it comes to being prepared to protect and provide for our families and communities, is the closest approximation to Truth that experience, logic, and reasoning can provide. Any other “authority” should be—must be—questioned, objectively, but incessantly, until we determine that their premises are flawed, and where those flaws are, in order to determine “better,” or “best” alternatives, or until we determine that the premises are—regardless of origin—the “better” or “best” alternatives available.
The Socratic Method offers one means of fulfilling that crucial task by playing “Devil’s Advocate.”
Thank you for this article. I was merely screening my inbox this morning to eliminate the detritus which accumulates daily when I came upon it. I began to read it because of your reference to Socrates, who enjoys my deepest admiration as, perhaps, the greatest “thinker” in human history.
Honestly, I was simply not prepared for the depth of your passionate thinking and I wanted to thank you for awakening my own passion for critical thinking and the Socratic Method. My day has been altered because of it.
I have followed some of your prepper articles before as interesting ‘light reading’, but now recognize that you are a heavyweight to be taken seriously. Have you ever posted your bio? You are, indeed, intriguing, and I would appreciate knowing from whence you came.
I’m not John but you can see his author bio at the end of the post.
Great post. Much more important than most might think. We always said “make only assumptions necessary to continue planning, then have a plan for when those assumptions turn out to be wrong”
Disciplined questioning to identify your biases is critical in every aspect of life.
Related, Forging the Hero provides more of this foundational philosophy for dealing with uncertain times.
Comments are closed.