Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Mystique of Command.

So I've taken something of a break from my more serious reading schedule and knocked out a little bit of science fiction. Specifically, I recently re-read the original Dune novel (and the sequels, but they are an exercise in barely controlled insanity), and the Ender/Shadow series. For what I thought would be some light reading and essentially brainless fluff, I couldn't help but look at some similar threads through both. Granted they both deal with messianic themes as does most fantasy, IE. classic hero mythos. I started to analyze both from the point of view that both characters are conflicted leaders/generals. Paul Atreides, Ender Wiggin, and even Bean, are all driven by purpose, and are also unsure about the consequences of their collective actions.

We see in Paul what he calls the terrible purpose. Herbert puts into Paul the desire for a genetic "re-homogenization" of the human race. From a purely genetic/racial point of view, the fremen being the ultimate expression of human superiority in this writing establish their dominance through the jihad and spread their genetic heritage throughout the known universe. At first Paul seems to be an unwilling or at best complacent character who is more or less uncaring of anything other than the usual human desires. As he develops though we begin to see a thirst for what he see as his rightful place. He is able through a combination of shared goals and desires, and his identity in religious prophecy to become a leader in the fremen society. His training as a fighter is his "in" with the fremen, because of their militant structure. Their environment is one of such strong survival stresses that any member of a troop must continually make decision about the survival of the entire sietch/tribe. The loyalty to the seitch over the individual is so ingrained into them that their loyalty to another person is given without thought to the whomever is able to best serve the sietch. We can almost see a real life analog of this in the jihadists of the muslim faith, their lives are spent because of a personal loyalty to an imam, based on their faith in Allah. They would be loyal to any person who could convince them of their ability to convey the wishes of Allah. This 'group loyalty' seems to breed a fanatical follower who would spend themselves with very little relative concern.

In the Ender Series, we have Ender/Andrew Wiggin as our example. His leadership in the first book, is over other children playing what amounts to a game of paintball in space. He is actually recruited for his comparative brilliance and ingenuity, and for his ruthlessness. In several scenes he is attacked by other characters and in his flight or fight response(his flight response seems to be near non-existent), he does not relent until the future threat of danger is completely removed (the antagonist is killed). His first experiences with Battle School are marred by the teachers ostracizing him from all other students. He realizes this fairly early, and approaches it from a few different avenues. He realizes that the whole purpose of Battle School is to prepare them for fighting the 'Buggers'(the threat to humanity) and to that purpose he helps teach other kids strategy and how to improvise. In addition once he is put in command of an army based on his personal merits, he builds a core identity around his army. He does this by setting up a hierarchy within his army wholly unlike any other group. His group has structural differences from any other, this leads to both a personal pride and a pride in the group. The group gives to Ender a personal loyalty not because of his ability to win, but because of his desire to improve each of them. His goal isn't to make an army of soldiers but to make an army of commanders, each able to function on their own or in groups. I thought of this as a loyalty through love approach. They each loved Ender in a way, because of his loyalty to each of them in turn. There aren't very many real life analogs to this idea, the very ideal of personal loyalty is central to so many friendships that we tend to overlook that aspect of a relationship. I've most often seen this in the workplace.

Generally when you have a team working on a project, you have a set of individuals working together in parallel, every so often a project manager or other leader will unite a group into not just working alongside each other but working with each other. Some business buzzwords include synergy, while the buzzword when this is not happening would be 'division of labor'. Actual leadership reduces the need for management, where management removes the individual's ability for choice the concept of leadership promotes a subordinate's desire to choose the best option for the group/team. More and more often people confuse management and leadership, assuming that a good manager simply tells their what to do and thats it. Even in modern militaries there is little in the way of leadership except perhaps at the very top, where ranks and committees begin to become muddled. I should modify this though because in survival situations on the ground, troops unify and the CO no longer manages but relies on his troopers just as they rely on him. Mutual experience seems key to loyalty, an in leadership.

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