Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Course Syllabus: "The Art of War", Spring Term 2014

I have been working on a long-term book-length project that is tentatively titled "The Septivium" ("The Seven Ways").  It's really the culmination of a number of interests that I have held for much of my adult life in one form or another, and the premise is that there are seven fields of lifelong study which, collectively, give a man great leverage in terms of developing his human potential.  

Please conceptualize this as a set of comments and observations from the journal of someone who believes strongly in the material, but who cannot claim to be an expert or authority on any of the components.  

The Septivium:

1.  Building a Metabolic Dominance Platform.  High-performance "biohacking" lifestyle design and physical performance based on taking proactive steps to control six areas of life:  

-Food & Supplements
-Movement & Exercise
-Recovery & Sleep
-Social Environment 
-Habitat Serenity & Aesthetics

2.  Building a Cognitive Dominance Platform:  Developing powerful mental models for social systems using six "universal acid" analytical disciplines:  

-Evolutionary Psychology
-Game Theory and Decision Science
-Microeconomics and Political Economy (particularly the Austrian school and Public Choice school of political science)
-Classics of Military Strategy
-Big History
-Practical Philosophy

3.  Learning How to Fight

4.  Learning How to Influence and Persuade

5.  Developing an "AAPLE" (my own acronym for Alternative investment strategies, Asset Protection, and Lean Entrepreneurship) Capability

6.   Developing a Survivalist Capability

7.   Becoming an Adventurer

The elements of the Septivium are by no means exhaustive, and I believe that having a list---virtually any list---of core study areas with which to focus and articulate your lifelong search for knowledge is far more important than adopting someone else's list for yourself.  However, in the future I will attempt to persuade you that the Septivium does in fact present a very powerful, potentially life-changing set of tools.   

 I want to get into all of these things in a series of monster blog posts this year, but one immediate application for me has been the design of the courses that I teach undergrads.  I basically have been teaching pieces of the Septivium and will continue to do so as long as students find the information useful.   

This term I will be teaching a course that focuses more on military strategy than any that I have taught previously.  For anyone interested, here is the syllabus that I am using...


Pritchard/Spring Term//2014

Course Description:    
The New Art of War is a course on strategic thinking that will take an interdisciplinary "Intelligence Fusion" perspective.  My efforts will be directed towards the students gaining both analytical tools for academic research and practical tools that they can apply to their own lives and decisions that they confront. 

This course will feature discussions on how factors such as globalization and changes in technology have forced an evolution in national security planning.  As we intellectually frolic amidst an academic wonderland of entertainment, showmanship, camaraderie, bespoke tailoring, and, as always, great laughs, we will nonetheless get down to the serious  work of cultivating a strategic mindset and associated toolkit.  During the next several months, we 1) will examine both Western and Eastern classics on military strategy to look for enduring truths about the nature of the battlefield, 2) will study the science of how the stress and uncertainty of combat affect the human mind and body and what can be done to mitigate these factors,3) will learn the basics of mission planning and tactical operations and apply them to case study scenarios, 4) will analyze emerging hotspots and potential conflict areas, and 5) will consider how these all integrate with modern warfighting platforms such as elite military Special Operations Forces (SOF), drones, and cyberwarfare tactics and techniques..

Required Texts:

A) Strategy:  A History by Lawrence Freedman

Optional Supplement (Highly Recommended):

B) SH 21-76.  US Army Ranger Handbook  

I will occasionally also issue supplementary handouts and direct you to cool videos and links.  

Attendance Policy:   Please attend class.  I miss you when you aren't there, and I can become emotionally fragile and lash out. 

Assessment:  Grades will be based on 50% Class Participation and 50% Written Assignments.  Class Participation is subjective, but will generally reflect your level of engagement.  The Written Assignments will consist of three papers:  Papers 1 and 2 are worth 25% of this Written Assignments portion each, while the Final Paper is worth 50% of the Written Assignments portion of the grade.   


16 JAN/(1)    Why Study the Art of War?   Introduction to Strategic Thinking
-Strategy v.s Tactics.
-Concerns:  the Strategy Paradox and the Halo Effect.
-Basic Strategy Types:  Frontal Assault, Indirect/Maneuver, Turning the Flank (Frontal + Maneuver Element), War Behind the Lines.
-Strategy and Popperian Falsifiability.
-Core Elements:  A)  Strategy=Uncertainty;  B)  Strategy=Tradeoffs;  C) Strategy=Managing Strategic Reserves
-Morale:  Existential and Non-Existential Threats, "The War Curve"


23 JAN/(2)     "Could Captain America Exist?"  Supersoldiers, biohacking, epigenetics, and training.  

-War as an apocalyptic study of human nature and human potential
-Physiological, psychological, and cognitive demands of the battlefield.
-Body alarm reaction.
-BIE:  Metabolic Dominance.  Human metabolism 101.  Ketogenesis, autophagy, metabolic conditioning/hormone cascades, supplementation. 
-METIS:  Cognitive Dominance.  Situational Awareness and decision science for strategic supremacy.  Adaptive heuristics for tactical supremacy.
-Psychological Dominance.  -Sensorimotor Rhythm, Para-Sociopathy, and Predatory Aggression

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman Chapters 1, 2


30 JAN/(3)     Tactical Basics:  Force Multipliers vs. Lanchester Combat Model

-The Holy Trinity:  Fitness, Land Nav, and the Rifle
-Patrolling, Reconnaissance and Situational Awareness.
-Advantage of the Prepared Defense.   Concentration and Isolation.  "Range Me."
-Surprise: Raids and Ambush.  Types of Ambush.  Time decay, options, and Relative Superiority (RS)
-Overwatch and Support.  Rear Security.
-Deceptions and Camouflage.
-Contingencies, Redundancies, Immediate Action Drills, E&E Plans.

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 10 and 11


6 FEB/(4)     Mission Planning 101.  
-Commander's Intent and Concept of Operations
-Warning Orders, Courses of Action, Operations Orders, Briefbacks, Frag Orders.
-Mission Profile Templates and Phase Diagrams.
-Scenarios and Pre-Mortem Exercises.  De Bono and Lateral Thinking.  Creativity.
-Rehearsal vs. Planning
-The Importance of SOPs and Battle Drills

IN CLASS EXERCISE:  Planning A Bank Robbery
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT:  "Hit the Bellagio".  3-5 pages.   Be ready to brief it to the class.


13 FEB/(5)    Class Discussion: "Hit the Bellagio"  
       Watch Movie:  "Act of Valor."   

 ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 3, 4, 5


20 FEB/(6)    Western Lineage

-Thucydides, Vegetius, Machiavelli.  
-Achilles and Odysseus:  By Strength or By Guile?
-the Melian Dialogue and Geopolitical Realism
-Hanson on the Western Way of War
-Condottieri and Private Military Corporations

-Featured Battles:  Gaugamela, Cannae, Teutoburg Forest

 ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 21, 23, 24


27 FEB/(7)    Eastern Lineage

-Sun Tzu, Musashi, Hagakure, Bansenshukai.
-Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
-The Devil's Horsemen
-Modern Ninja?
-Featured Technology:  Mixed-Martial Arts and Combatives

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9




13 MARCH/(8)     The Napoleonic Revolution: Clausewitz, Jomini, von Moltke.  

-Best Practices?
-Fog and Friction, The Role of Chance
-Morale and Political Support
-9 Enduring Principles of War
-The Power of Combined Arms

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 16, 17, and 22

20 MARCH/(9)   Movie:  "Master and Commander."  

Homework:  Case Study:  "Leave No Man Behind?" Scenario Exercise.  2-3 pages. 


27 MARCH/(10)     Discussion:  "Leave No Man Behind?"   Sea Power and Air Power.

-Mahan and Corbett
-"From the Sea" and Expeditionary Warfare
-Douhet, Trenchard, Billy Mitchell
-Supporting Role or Leading Actor?

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 12, 13, 36, 37

03 APRIL/(11)     Game Theory, Operations Research, Weapons System Analysis
-Nuclear Weapons 101
-Decision Trees and Game Trees
-Chicken, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and MAD
-Axelrod and Simulation

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, 14, 15, 18

10 APRIL/(12).   Counterinsurgency, Counterterrorism, Nation-Building, and Humanitarian Missions.  

-Intro to Development Economics:  Sacks, Stiglitz, Easterly, Collier.
-The J-Curve
-The Maoist Template
-Billy Collins
-Killcullen and the Accidental Guerrilla
-Terrorist Cells as Social Networks
-F3EA and Phoenix Program
- Movie:  "Tears of the Sun".

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 28, 29, 30


17 APRIL/(13).   Corporate Strategy.

-Learning Curve, BCG Matrix
-Porter's 5 Forces
-Blue Ocean Strategy
-Du Pont Strategic Profit Formula
-Lean Entrepreneurship
-Mintzberg's Critique

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, Chapters 31, 32, 33



24 APRIL/(14).   Maneuver Warfare.

-Liddell Hart, Rommel, Boyd.
-"Decapitate the Snake"
-Decentralization and Rapid Exploitation
-OODA and Fast Transients, the Pivot--Orientation
-Criticism of Boyd
-Taleb and Anti-Fragility

ASSIGNED READING:  Freedman, 26 + Fun, Take-Home Short Answer Assignment


1 MAY/(15).   "The Way of the Knife":  Commando Operations, Cyberwarfare, Drones. 
 -"Relative Superiority" 
-SOCOM organization and unit specialties
-training anecdotes
-"Who would win in a fight between..."
-Capabilities and limitations
-Analysis:  Son Tay Raid and Neptune Spear.
-Drones 101

ASSIGNED READING:  None, Work on Your Papers



  1. I wish I could audit this course. My brain's exploding with the interdisciplinary energy of your lesson plan and bibliography. Any plan to integrate John Boyd, Karl Popper, VD Hanson, et al, is recipe for many (happily sleepless) nights in the study.

    Still, I'm reminded of "The Decay of the Profession of Arms", a screed published on Tom Ricks' blog ( ) in which a no-doubt soon-cashiered major teaching at West Point writes:

    "He relays John Hillen's remark that many senior officers would be "more comfortable with a copy of Bass Fishing magazine than with a book on military theory." One other gem Matthews recalled was a "distinguished Army four-star" boasting "that he never read anything but the contents of his in-box." The anti-intellectual bias in the military works in concert with the bureaucracy to form powerful restrictions on professional military judgment."

    My career included requests to help the USG solve the illicit network problem post 9/11; bureaucracy, and its impact on strategy and execution, is by my implication central to the modern way of war. (That story will be written only in a novel.) (I note: Lincoln managed the Civil War with a War Department roster of 50 men. When he wanted to know what the fuck had just happened at Sharpsburg, he rode his own horse to Bloody Creek.) The incentives, customs, practices and comp plans of the 800,000 humans with security clearances in the greater DC area are, to my way of thinking, the new 'weather' that any operator or strategist must confront. I don't know how one may do that, as I don't know how any man or woman manages "weather." On the one hand, "What difference does it make?" holds inordinate sway. On the other, the people who say "What difference does it make?" do not have operational tasks to complete. As the blogger noted above adds,

    "The symptoms are present -- the bureaucracy is suffocating both military judgment and the Profession of Arms."

    I'm unaware of a conflict situation not informed by the OODA Loop, but at the same time I'm unaware of any bureaucratic monolith that bothers to attend any conflict with an OODA-Loop brandishing professional.

    I am quite enlivened by this course summary, and appreciate the opportunity to comment. I do ask: is there any such thing as 'strategy' in bureaucratic context? Or, what bureaucratic imperative serves any strategic or tactical interest?

    My other out-of-bounds remark is that conflict, to me, grossly transcends the popular imagination now, and has for several decades. For example, Gates wrote in 1987 that the USSR was stronger than ever; in fact, there were more $100 bills in circulation (or so the anecdote goes) in Russia than the USA. From this perspective -- they're using our money -- the Cold War was already over, as it turned out to be. Another tangential observation: 30% of the global economy now is illicit; the illicit networks that articulate this new power are unconfronted, effectively, by any conventional, CTI, or unconventional means. So I would assert the very nature of conflict, that your course addresses, might mention the definition-creep of conflict in the bureaucratic West.

    Thank you for putting the time into this blog and its provocative ideas, Seb.

  2. Bobby, thank you so much for the kind comments. I very much look forward to discussing these modules with you as the course moves forward and I would benefit greatly from your input.. I'm also *extremely* interested in how you further develop your Sovereign Man framework, as it is inspiring my own work on the "Septivium" stuff and I believe that your approach provides much-needed philosophical depth and intellectual cohesion for what might otherwise be my ragtag collection of ideas. I think that you are embarking on a very important, legacy-type body of work and from my perspective it's great to have a front row seat!

  3. I am looking forward to those monster posts Seb. I would also like to echo Mr.Dupea's praise for this blog. I have been pleasurably reading your thoughts on various subjects for over a decade now and it always has steered me in new and interesting directions.

  4. Soooo, I'm now tremendously sad that I won't be spending this semester at Rollins. Makes a body wonder whom one would have to bribe to see about transfer credits and the like...hmm.

    Like the other commenters, I'm very excited about this new project. Although everyone on TPI misses your musings there, I'm glad to know that you're still very much an active contributor to the brain-trust.

  5. Martialis & Gabe: Thank you very much, men! I feel like I'm basically just applying TPI-type principles and concepts to a few other domains. That community has produced so many interesting ideas.

    Gabe: you are certainly more than welcome in my classroom at any time.

  6. This sounds like an absolutely fascinating course, and the sort of thing that could have extended my all too brief time in academic pursuits.

    Seb, Will these lectures be recorded either in audio or visual format? Will those records be available anywhere?

  7. Priest, thank you very much. Re: course materials---I'm going to try to cover a lot of it via the blog, because the syllabus that I had originally came up with has already been overtaken by events and the blog is helping me to process the changes and organize my own thinking.

    Right off the bat I can say that the Supersoldier/biohacker/ketosis/metabolic dominance stuff seems to be a big hit and we've been spending a lot more time on that than I had originally thought we would. I'm going to put a post up about it soon and hope to get your feedback on it.

  8. Seb,

    This is definitely a fascinating topic, and I'm really looking forward to seeing your next blog post. Since I'm impatient, where would you recommend one start reading to learn about the metabolic dominance/biohacker/etc type stuff?

  9. Hey Dan, I think we are really talking about four major pieces to this particular puzzle:

    1. Nutritional ketosis (liver producing ketone bodies out of fatty acids). NK is popularly used for cutting body fat, but it has some other, very interesting potential health benefits. The benefits can come both directly from ketone metabolism and indirectly from the sort of lifestyle that a ketogenic diet may cultivate.

    2. Health supplementation. There are some dietary additions from orthomolecular medicine that appear to work particularly well with a ketogenic diet.

    3. The Keto-Adapted Tactical Athlete (KATA), which is where the ketogenic lifestyle and a Strength & Conditioning programming designed specifically to exploit ketone metabolism may interact quite well.

    4. Performance Supplementation. At this time we do not have to rely solely on nutritional ketosis to provide ketone bodies; we can directly ingest them via ketone esters and ketone salts (normally taken with MCT/coconut oil). This emerging technology is where the DoD-funded met-dom stuff really starts to appear, and many of the self-test subjects doing independent experimentation are endurance athletes (ultra-marathoners, Ironmen, Tour de France cyclists, etc.).

    Self-experimentation becomes increasingly important as you through the process because there is a lack of published evidence about how ketone supps in an already keto-adapted athlete may interact with performance supps like, say, beta-alanine, or even with a nootropic like one of the racetams.

    In short, I think you can find quite a lot of info on 1 and 2, but less about 3 and 4 because A) not many people are going that far with it, and B) those that are going far with it generally prefer to be rather secretive about their results.

  10. Seb,

    I appreciate the detailed reply. I'll revisit my undergrad biochem textbooks in order to get a better understanding of the subject in anticipation of your next post, as well as trying to gain as much as possible off of PubMed, etc. Thanks again!

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