While this article starts off with political analysis, it leads into the discovery of what appears to be a universal social truth that can be integrated into multiple situations in any RPG.
I’ve done my best to avoid coloring the analysis with my own opinions, and have neither intent nor desire to belittle in any way the opinions of anyone else, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.
If, at times, I have failed to preserve this Olympian disengagement, I would assure readers that it is inadvertent and accidental, and therefore is likely to say something that I didn’t intend to say, which might not even be an accurate representation of my views – so just ignore it and move on.
The other day, I was catching up on some TV that I had time-shifted from last year, I found myself watching an episode of Gruen (formerly Gruen Planet, Gruen Sweat, and originally The Gruen Transfer).
One of the regular segments of this show about Advertising, Business, Politics, and Society, called “The Pitch”, challenges two advertising agencies to produce television adverts that meet “impossible” briefs.
In this particular episode, the challenge was to convince people to restrict the vote to under-60s. Neither of the ads produced to meet this brief were really convincing to me, but one at least got me thinking.
One of the problems of modern society is the “Youth Inheritance” issue. I first became aware of the issue in the season 4 episode of The West Wing, “College Kids”. This awareness was reinforced by one of the most celebrated West Wing episodes from Season 6, “A Good Day”. Both were episodes that touched on the youth vote, pointing out that most political decisions are made by older people, whether that is because older people are more likely to vote or because the majority of candidates for political office are older, and that it is the young who will have to live with those decisions for the longest time. It’s easy for authorities to take decisions that might be beneficial or “correct” in the shorter term but that have long-term problems, consequences that the leaders of tomorrow will inherit.
This was initially presented in the West Wing as an argument in favor of lowering the voting age, and on the second mention, was central to a concert attempting to increase the youth participation in the upcoming elections within the Season 6-7 narrative. But in connection with the “restrict the vote to under 60s” advert, it sparked a new thought, and that led me to an insight not only into reality but one that can easily be applied in RPGs in all sorts of ways.
Speculation into Insight
The “Youth Inheritance” issue means that there is an argument that the youth vote should be disproportionately weighted relative to an older voter. They have more “skin in the game”, as it were.
But hang on – age is supposed to bring Wisdom. Surely that’s a counter-argument implying that young people will make impractical decisions, choices of idealism over practicality?
Democracy works, in theory, by balancing both idealist and pragmatic extremes. It can also be assumed that the ‘idiot vote’ will be evenly distributed over both sides, leaving the actual selection in the hands of those who think deeply about the issues and who can be swayed, one way or the other.
One side of this idealist-vs-pragmatic balance will assume dominance for a while, and social progress will result – in an imperfect and not completely practical way, and sometimes heavy-handedly – shifting the social and political landscape in the process. Then the other side will assume power and shift things back in the direction of the way things were – but never be able to go all the way back, being forced to countermand only the most extreme misjudgments of what has gone before – ‘extreme misjudgments’ in the eyes of their supporters, that is. They can’t undo everything, no matter how much they would be ideologically disposed to do so, because going too far in that direction will cost them votes from the center, and its the center that holds the balance of power. If you want to win future elections, the art of the practical and pragmatic demands that you pick your battles – and let some of the changes stand. The upshot is that social progress takes place at, overall, a manageable pace.
Oscillation back and forth about a slowly-evolving median position – that’s the reality of western politics in the long term.
Validation Of Theory
This view plays into a whole heap of stereotypes that imbue it with a comfortable ring of plausibility – to those of us born into a belief in those stereotypes. I can point at four examples without thinking too hard:
- The Anti-war Movement of the 60s & early 70s
- The Ecological/Environmental Movements of the 70s-90s
- The ‘New Camelot’
The Anti-war Movement of the 60s & early 70s
The Vietnam War polarized opinions very strongly – so much so that draft dodgers fled to Canada to avoid it. Was the generation of the late 60s and early 70s any less patriotic, or any more cowardly, than those who fought in the two World Wars? That seems unlikely. So, what had changed? The biggest thing was the emergence of the generation gap – while I’m sure that younger adults had always opinions, prior to the 1950s and 60s, these were always subordinated to the authority of the older generation. That started to change when television advertisers identified the teenager as a separate demographic who could be marketed to; and that gave the youth of that era the self-confidence to back their own opinions. The anti-war movement – and the hippies in general – were the results.
This is always remembered these days as a conflict between youthful idealism and the pragmatic military necessities of the cold war. As losses mounted with no prospect of victory in sight, and as television brought the horrors of the war into the living rooms of the citizens, popular sentiment shifted against continuing involvement. To many of the idealists who refused to serve, the rest of the country came around to their point of view.
For myself, the war was a childhood memory, and I don’t support either side of the anti-war debate, or more accurately, I see and support both sides equally. My abiding reaction is of being appalled by the treatment meted out to returning servicemen, many of whom did not want to participate in the first place. Thankfully, attitudes since have moderated toward them.
The Ecological/Environmental Movements of the 60s-00s
It was in the 1970s that industrial pollution entered the public consciousness as it became clear that some business interests were putting short-term profits ahead of long-term sustainability of the environment and the welfare of their customer base. There followed story after story of profit being placed ahead of all other considerations, everything from the treatment of leather to asbestos being examples. Legislation that was protective of the environment was the inevitable result.
The other consequence is that businesses who were more socially responsible were unable to compete as well, and the direct outcome was the mantra of the 80s encapsulated by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street – “Greed Is Good” – and by “Larry The Liquidator” (Danny DeVito) in Other People’s Money. This in turn has engendered a lasting distrust of business that is still current; some operations have overcome this distrust through humanitarian engagement and an absence of negative publicity that fits the “profit vs responsibility” narrative, but it only takes one slip and the ingrained distrust rematerializes.
The beginning of what is currently lumped together as the “Green” movement, world-wide, can be traced to the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carlson, about the consequences of the indiscriminate use of pesticides in 1962, or to the Resources and Conservation act of 1959, or even to the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. But growing political awareness of the issue meant that for most people it was either another example of government interference, or completely under the radar. This was a rare instance in which government was ahead of public awareness, never mind public opinion. Public attention on the environment was focused on the Clean Air Act, Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Act, Air Quality Act, and at least four amendments to the Clean Air Act. While legislation relating to other forms of environmental damage were also around, the issue didn’t seem to grab public attention outside of the impacts of Smog and Acid Rain.
Initially, it was the hippies – principally a youth movement – whose sounding of the eco/environmental alarm that first raised public awareness, and the message was largely lost in a general dismissal that “long-haired louts” and “radicals” had anything to say that was worth listening to. Slowly the message permeated the mainstream, propelled by landmark court cases, and the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency, established by President Nixon in 1970, and built upon the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
Given that the EPA was established by the Republican Party, it seems ironic that President Trump seems intent on winding it back if not shutting it down completely! But I’ll have more to say on that a little later.
It was the Sierra Club and the somewhat anarchic evolution of the ‘Don’t Make A Wave Committee‘ into Greenpeace that established what many considered “radical environmentalism”, though other groups would adopt still more extreme positions in later decades. Ever since, environmentalism has been viewed as a youth movement – largely ignoring the fact that a 20-year old in 1970 would now be 67 years old! Even today, this perception, and associated attitudes, persist to a certain extent.
The New Camelot of the Early 60s
There’s a lot of Hype around the Presidency of JFK as it is perceived in modern times. At 43 years of age, he became the youngest elected President, and the second-youngest to serve in that capacity (Theodore Roosevelt assumed office at the age of 42 after the assassination of President William McKinley). There was wide criticism of his age, and the average age of his cabinet, at the time of his Presidency, and his inaugural address cemented the perception of a youthful idealist, with it’s call to the nations of the world to unite to combat “the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”
This impression of naive idealism was confirmed in many minds by the Bay Of Pigs debacle; few realized that the planning had been commenced under the prior Eisenhower presidency, and the failures were largely attributable to forewarning of the Castro regime by KGB intelligence, who knew the exact date of the planned invasion, and that the CIA were aware of this foreknowledge and failed to brief Kennedy about it before he gave final approval for the planned invasion – at least according to the Washington Post of April 29th, 2000. A second factor was that the then head of the CIA believed that Kennedy would authorize whatever additional support was necessary just as Eisenhower had done with respect to the Guatemala Invasion of 1954, a plan drawn up by many of the architects of the later Bay Of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Kennedy, however, did not authorize such involvement, focusing on the political impact of the failure rather than the military needs of achieving success.
Despite this, Kennedy received the adoration and admiration of a great many younger people (a vague term that some mean to refer to under 30s, others to under 35s, and still others to under 40s), largely because of his charisma and perceived idealism and principles. There are those who to this day describe his assassination as “the killing of hope”.
No history of the 1960s can fail to create the impression that he effected little lasting direct change except when forced into it. These days, he is best remembered for:
- His (somewhat half-hearted) support of the Civil Rights Movement, whose principally-peaceful approach was catalyzed by the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the violence with which the Freedom Riders were met, into the more aggressive and militant Black Panthers. It was Johnson, Kennedy’s Vice-President and successor, who made the next significant mark in this area;
- For the Space Race / Apollo missions which were ultimately curtailed, and which were largely undertaken as propaganda against the space successes of the USSR;
- And for the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which – according to legend – he was able to view and treat the Soviet leadership as people first and exemplars of ideology second, holding firm on what was considered by many advisors to be a foolhardy blockade that cost the US any opportunity to engage and destroy the threatening missiles.
The indirect legacies that resulted from these and other activities in office have arguably done more to transform the world than those of any US President since, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan. How much of the credit can be assigned to Kennedy is irrelevant; int the popular perception, they are his achievements or the legacies of his leadership.
Kennedy’s election had been a narrow one, the closest since 1916. Nevertheless, he won widespread approval for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the election of 1964 was still looking difficult; that was the primary reason behind his campaigning in Dallas on the day of his assassination. That event shocked and outraged even many of his political opponents, and ensured his elevation to near sainthood in the minds of many; a posthumous popularity that Johnson was able to harness to achieve a landmark victory in 1964, with the highest popular vote margin since 1820. In particular, it signaled the arrival of the power of the Youth Vote as a political force. By the end of Johnson’s term of office, discontent over the Vietnam War and with progress in Civil Rights was in the ascendancy, and led to his decision not to seek reelection; Richard Nixon’s promise to end the war was one of a multitude of factors that led to his becoming the 37th President of the United States.
The Populist Difference
Of course, even the Obama administration can be viewed as direct representations of this perspective. Obama’s “Yes we can” was a direct appeal to idealism, and his racial background made him a radical proposal for the Presidency.
That is why the populist Nationalistic movements that have recently been gaining traction in many countries around the world appear to be something different and new and potentially dangerous to those who expect reality to conform to these ‘youth idealism’ and ‘pragmatist’ stereotypes – the populist movements are largely youth-driven, or appear to be, while those in opposition are frequently older men and women who are viewed as having become part of the socio-political “machine” that has created the inequalities against which the populists are railing.
The two most dynamic leaders in the recent US elections were Donald Trump, playing the populist, nationalist, card, and Bernie Sanders as the older, radically-progressive opposition. Of course, Sanders failed to secure his party’s Nomination, leaving the task of opposing the populist movement that had (in some people’s eyes) hijacked the Republican Party – a naturally conservative group – in the hands of Hilary Clinton, a figure lacked the ability to polarize a sufficient opposition simply because she was more moderate than Sanders. People in her party supported her, but the passions that might have been aroused by a Sanders candidacy never seemed to be there. Instead, it appeared to be Trump who had a monopoly on the real passion in the campaign.
‘Was that a mistake on the part of the Democrats?’ was the question that I found myself asking by the time my thought processes had led me to this point.
Perhaps it was, or perhaps it was a reflection of the same Radical vs Pragmatist reality playing out – perhaps it was inevitable, given such a fiery, radically-conservative, and possibly impractical, figure as Donald Trump, that he would be opposed by a more pragmatic opposition candidate viewed as representing the ‘establishment’.
Even the problems that have beset the Trump Administration in implementing their policies and the resistance of the Washington Bureaucracy can be understood in this context.
The Australian Situation
Here in Australia, we have a conservative government led by a Prime Minister who had a reputation as a political moderate prior to taking power, but who has experienced extreme difficulty in enacting his policies. Why?
His predecessor in office (from the same party) was ideologically extreme, even radical, and polarized a relatively pragmatic and moderate opposition into existence – an opposition that Prime Minister Turnbull “inherited” when he took the reins of power in a leadership spill. With the moderate, centrist, political stance tied up by that opposition, Prime Minister Turnbull was forced to appeal to the extreme faction within his own party for support – the same extremists from whom his predecessor, former Prime Minister Abbott, had derived.
The result has been viewed as a largely paralyzed government, whose most extreme agenda items are regularly thwarted, forced to compromise with minor parties and a populist fringe, only watered-down versions of the government positions can actually garner sufficient support to be implemented. The rest of the time, the government just looks mostly helpless. The Opposition appear both more pragmatic and seemingly ineffectual – and yet, time after time, ideologically-extreme government proposals are successfully blocked.
These facts are not lost on Prime Minister Turnbull, and last week he made a direct appeal for his party to move toward a more centrist position, inviting – as good as daring – the opposition to become more radical in their policies. Should the Labor Party do so, they will be falling into a trap, conceding the rational middle ground to the current government and losing the advantages that have garnered them more then enough support to be elected to power, so great is the dissatisfaction with the current government.
Who are the Radicals?
For most of the twentieth century, then, the liberals and progressives have been cast as the radicals and idealists, and conservatives and nationalists have been viewed as the pragmatists and ‘realists’. Donald Trump, Malcolm Turnbull, and the architects of Brexit represent something that hasn’t been seen for quite a while: the conservatives and nationalists are now viewed as the radicals whose time has come, and their opposition are now the ‘realists’ and pragmatists. This is a complete inversion of the popular perceptions of both groups, something that has taken place over roughly the last five years or so.
The time before last that we had these forces in the ascendancy, the result was Fascist regimes and U.S. Isolationism. Is it any wonder that there are those who identify similarities in the postures and positions of various political forces and policies with those of that era? Prime Minister Turnbull sought (unsuccessfully) to ‘liberalize’ freedom of speech by weakening hate crime legislation, and has been backing a plebiscite over Gay Marriage, earning many comparisons with fascism. Donald Trump talks of Allies having to do more if they want to enjoy the protection and friendship of the US and attempted to distance himself from NATO, has attempted to restrict immigration (in the most heavy-handed and clumsy manner possible), and Scotland appears to be on a path to independence from England so that they can remain within the EU despite Brexit.
The last time, we had the wave of deregulation which undid many of the protections put in place by preceding governments, policies that led directly to the GFC.
That doesn’t mean that these will be the outcomes this time around; it merely means that Nationalism means putting a local perspective ahead of a more global one, and that in that environment, inequalities and repressions can potentially flourish.
The Architects Of Change
It’s almost always the radicals who bring about change, whether for good or ill – if they can. How long the radicals stay in power depends on how quickly the populace tire of radical failures, tilting at windmills, and attempts to catch the rainbow. The pendulum always swings the other way, eventually.
The Principle, for GMs
The Radical-vs-Pragmatist principle is an important one for GMs to understand when it comes to Politics within their RPGs. The natural opposition to a radical political force – whether in power or not – is NOT an opposing equally-extreme radical force from the “other side”, it’s a pragmatic, relatively quiet opposition. Equally, the natural opposition to a pragmatic, centrist position – whether in power or not – is by definition going to be more radical than the centrists.
Even if leaders are not inclined in those directions, they will always be forced in either the pragmatic or radical direction by the need to contrast themselves with the political force that they have to oppose. This will push that opposing force even further in the indicated direction, a pattern of escalating domino effects and counter-escalating domino effects that eventually push the two factions into these roles.
Even two moderate centrists, when opposing each other, will drift into these polar extremes. One will make a move – either in the direction of pragmatism, or in the direction of radicalism – and the other will react, setting the trends in motion.
The 20th century was largely the story of radically-liberal idealists (as they were perceived to be, whether they were all that radical or not) and a reactive counterforce that painted themselves as the pragmatic and practical ‘realists’. So far, the story of the 21st century has been built around the rise of a radically-idealistic populist conservative nationalism, and the resulting reactive counterforce.
Some applications may be relatively obvious, given the preamble described above. Others may come as a surprise. It took only a minute or so to think of more than half-a-dozen, but am under no illusions that this is a comprehensive listing – in fact, the entire article to this point took only about ten minutes of semi-distracted thought (while I continued to watch the TV show that has inspired it).
- Nations At War
- Negotiating A Trade Deal
- Nationalism vs Internationalism
- Rivals In Love
- Police vs Citizens
- Business Rivalries
- Competing Military Plans
- Entertainment Duos
Nations At War
Whenever you have a war, one commander will inevitably follow the best military doctrine they know, while the other will counter with radical innovation. If this were not the case, there would be no need for the war in the first place, the outcome would very predictable. Usually, it is the side with a shortcoming in military force to apply – whether that results from a relative shortage of personnel or from inferior equipment – who is forced to get innovative, while the force with the greater military might adopts the more traditional tactics. And, of course, it’s a never-ending cycle; if the innovative tactics work, they get added to the body of traditional military lore thereafter. Next time around, a new innovation will be required.
And, of course, it’s worth noting that military tacticians study all the battles of history, regardless of who they were fought between, on the theory that the principles of achieving victory haven’t changed, only the details, and you can never tell what will be useful until it is.
Negotiating A Trade Deal
In fact, in any negotiation, one party will always be more conservative than the other in his proposals, while the other will be more creative in terms of the offer they are making. GMs should always assess the nature of the tactics adopted by PCs when bargaining or negotiating and have the other party adopt the contrasting tone – traditionalism and convention vs innovation, etc.
In a three-way negotiation, the third party will align with the more conservative and traditional approach.
This doesn’t make an offer made by the PCs any more or less acceptable, or vice-versa; that’s down to specifics and personalities. I am specifically referring to the style of negotiation that will be adopted.
Nationalism vs Internationalism
One of the more obvious applications, but one that will apply from time to time in many different genres and games. Again, reality is distorted somewhat by the need to preserve PC independence, but if the PCs emphasize common interests between two or more nations, the response will be more nationalistic, more beneficial to the negotiator’s particular homeland (or to their clients, if a professional negotiator or third (neutral) party has been engaged, at least in comparison to the more internationalist tone of the PCs.
If, on the other hand, the PCs adopt a more parochial stance, the other party is more likely to look for an opportunity to further desired alliances, either with or against those the PCs are representing, because that represents and justifies ‘driving a hard bargain’ that yields the maximum benefit for the other party in the diplomatic exchange.
Most players will be expecting this; sometimes, it can be amusing (when the GM perceives a clear way for the other party to take advantage of the situation) to have them give the PCs everything they could possibly want and a little more, after briefly playing hard-to-get. This is akin to the players putting all their diplomatic weight to a door only to find that it was already ajar; healthy paranoia should set in, leaving them to wonder for hours what it is that they’ve overlooked.
Rivals In Love
When two rivals are wooing the same love (being careful with gender designations, here), one will generally go in for overtly extravagant gestures and declarations while the other will generally emphasize stability and safety while pointing out the instability and risks represented by the opposition. It doesn’t matter what the respective personalities are, even a bad boy or girl can represent stability and known quantities and a sense of community.
In addition, one will normally emphasize what they are offering, while the other emphasizes what the prospective partner will get from their offer. These may align with the radical/conservative differential, or may run in the opposite direction, which provides variety for the GM to exploit.
Police vs Citizens
If citizens are polite and respectful of the authority of law-enforcement, or are perceived by the police in that respect, the police will usually (in turn) be more flexible and innovative in their community relations. If citizens are untrusting and disrespectful, the police will tend to adopt a more hard-line approach and more conservative law-enforcement values. The former also lends itself to corruption while the latter lends itself to authoritarianism.
These same patterns can be observed everywhere from the slums of the 1990s through to the old west.
Two supermarket chains in Australia, until perhaps 10 years ago, controlled almost the entire market space. With the arrival of new players, both have lost market share, but between them, Coles and Woolworths still account for almost 70% of the market in foodstuffs. In 2005, that was nearer to 77%, which was close to the peak; go back twenty years, and the pair accounted for only about 1/3 of the grocery market, (I can’t speak to the conditions in other countries in this area).
This (effective) duopoly, with the pair concentrating their marketing clout almost exclusively on trying to steal market share from the other over a period of decades, puts Australians in a unique position to assess the way rivalries work between businesses engaged in what is basically the same market.
First, Woolworths concentrated on freshness of produce, while Coles concentrated on affordability. Over the years, each attempted to steal the focus from each other; Woolworths introduced cheaper brands, while Coles began to focus on its fresh fruit and vegetables sections to a greater extent.
At regular intervals, one would attempt some radical marketing while the other retreated to a position of conservative reliability, only to strike back when the effectiveness of the radical move was all but spent; thus, the two traded a few percentage points of market share back and forth for many years. And, to some extent, these marketing games continue to this day.
In the 1970s, many of the independent retailers formed a co-op in order to compete with the “big two”, but these did little more than slow the erosion of independent grocery stores, mostly in low-turnover low-profit markets. But, in 2001, a new and rather more radical player entered the markets when Aldi Australia was launched. Their signature is the ‘non-grocery items on sale at ridiculously low prices that you never expected to see in a grocery store’ – anything from TVs to Angle Grinders – but their ‘trademark’ is the substitution of low-cost alternative brands to the big brand-names. This permitted savings of up to 1/3 on a weekly grocery bill, significant savings when money is tight, and the combination has won them many loyal customers, eating into the market share of the big two little-by-little over the 16 years since.
As Aldi, with its radical and innovative marketing and promotions, gained a toe-hold in the market – it’s now up to over 12% – the big two responded by becoming more conservative in their approach. Only once people became used to the “Aldi Difference”, becoming perceived less as being radical more simply “the way things were”, i.e. more traditional, were the two big players free to become more radical in their marketing.
After a couple of PR disasters, Woolworths has, in the meantime, lost credibility as “The Fresh Food People” and are now seeking to re-brand themselves as ‘the home of premium products and brands who can also supply your everyday needs’, effectively conceding the traditional ground to Coles while latching onto what they hope will become a new market differentiator as Australian culture continues to evolve. But, to be fair, they had also suffered a number of financial setbacks and calamities which left them unable to compete on the old territory as effectively as they had done; they had to do something radical, they could no longer simply throw money at the problem in terms of subsidizing low-cost products.
As a result, for the last six months or so, you could say that the Australian Market had finally come to terms with having two major chains and two smaller groups that between them comprised a significant share of the market. And just in time, as Amazon are arriving in 2017 to shakeup online grocery sales, an aspect of the business that the big two had largely taken for granted until now! But that’s in the future.
The point is this: the same patterns apply, the entry of third and fourth players into the market notwithstanding.
Competing Military Plans
Military advisors rarely present just one plan to a political leader with the authority to order them into action. There will usually be three different plans – a best case, a worst case, and a most-likely case in the middle. The idea is to brief the political leader on how bad the costs in manpower and money could be, and what reserves should be made available, as well as the best estimates of the cost of any given action.
While I have no information on which to form a definitive statement, I find it improbable that this practice is a recent innovation. While it may have arisen along with the General Staff concept (a German invention, copied throughout the world), it seems even more likely that it extends as far back as Imperial Rome or even beyond, at least as a concept.
Traditionally, problems arise when Presidents seize on the most optimistic projections and base their expectations and instructions on them. This generally happens more often in fiction and media than it does in reality, I think, but some are incurable optimists.
Things can become even more confused when there is a filter placed between the originators of the plans and the authority; there have often been suggestions that Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and of the KGB, respectively, showed only the most favorable predictions to their political masters in order to encourage endorsement of their proposals, with the assumption that once a country was in trouble up to its neck, whatever additional resources might be needed would be forthcoming. Again, without evidence to confirm the supposition, this sounds an awful lot like the description of what went wrong with the Bay Of Pigs invasion discussed earlier. It’s certainly a central point in Red Storm Rising amongst other works of fiction.
As a side-note of relevance, it’s interesting to observe that in that novel, whenever the Soviet forces get radical and innovative, the NATO forces are forced into relatively conservative responses, but that as these become the accepted state of play and command patterns and routines become established, it becomes possible for NATO to become radical and innovative in its own respect. It’s a measure of the soundness of the theory that this seems entirely natural when reading the book.
It’s also worth mentioning the relationship between this phenomenon and Surprise. Surprise, by it’s very nature, means doing the unexpected, which in turn is automatically radical; and the only possible immediate response to Surprise is “by to the numbers”, i.e. a traditional and expected standard response. Thus, surprise tends to give the Initiative to the party with Surprise, and leaves the enemy reacting by rote, at least for a while. This also permits the force with Surprise to make great gains initially, even if progress later bogs down as the new status quo becomes established. Blitzkrieg tactics were effective in World War II because they tended to end the battle before the other side could regain their balance and take effective counter-action. As noted earlier, it’s the radicals who make changes in a situation.
Finally, one of the more unusual applications of this theory, and one that only really came to mind late in the writing. Have you ever noticed how, in any comedy or entertainment duo, one tends to be the straight man to the other? Is that not just another aspect of the same theory being discussed? Abbott and Costello, Penn & Teller, even George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley (Wham), and Sonny & Cher, and some of the Japanese comedian duos that have appeared on VS Arashi – they can all be viewed in this respect of one ‘radical’ and one ‘straight’ man. Another entertainment partnership that comes to mind is the partnering of Lennon and McCartney, both in the Beatles and after they split.
I’m not a big fan of the Three Stooges, but it’s my impression that they traded off the straight-man role between them. A fan more familiar with their work than I am might be able to extend the theory further with respect to multiple participants by analyzing the dynamics of the legendary comedians.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. This seems to be a universal rule of opposing social and political forces, regardless of the manifestation, and a literary truth to boot. It’s also relatively easy to apply in any given situation in a game – whether the protagonists of the confrontation in question are NPCs against NPCs or PCs against NPCs. And yet, at the same time, I’ve never seen it suggested anywhere before. Sure, reality can be more complicated – but in terms of the abstraction and simplification necessary for an RPG, it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal!