Lufbery Circle Politics

A “Lufbery circle” was originally a defensive tactic, but today is a term in air combat for a phenomenon where the combatants are stuck in the fight across from each other. Each is unable to reach a firing solution, yet leaving the circle will immediately put them at a disadvantage.

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(Image: Gervais Raul Lufbery, WWI flying ace.  He would feel quite lost in today’s politics)

The “lizard brain’s” reaction to a Lufbery is to stay where you are. Keep turning and hope something changes. It is by its nature an energy-losing maneuver, continually spiraling to the floor. It will almost always get you killed because you run out of gas, run out of altitude/into a rock, or get shot by another guy who happens to poke his nose into your merry-go-round.

The four major divisions of Congress (ideological progressive/socialist left, ideological conservative right, establishment left, and establishment right) are in a Lufbery. The smaller factions have very little influence except perhaps the GOP Libertarians who tend to hang out in the ideological conservative right.

The establishment left and right are party before principle. They will always do what is most likely to help them gain or maintain seats, power, and money.

The ideological left and right are principle over party, but there is one big difference between the two (beyond their values).

The essential nature of the ideological left includes a large state and centralized power, and that lends itself to them working together with the establishment left. However, the essential nature of the ideological right is a smaller state and decentralized power, which lends itself to conflict with the establishment right.  Thus, the right side of the aisle tends to be at a disadvantage toward pushing traditionally “conservative” agenda, even when it is in the majority.

The result is this Lufberry circle. Everybody is chasing each other’s power. There will be some gains, and some losses, but largely I would expect to see the same results – a continued spiral to the floor.

Regardless of where you are in the various political spectra, the only way out of a Lufbery is to take the risk to exit the circle, separate, do something bold and unexpected, and pitch back into the fight with aggressive ingenuity, something for which few of our elected representatives have shown a willingness or aptitude.

We need virtue-based leaders.

How to Destroy the United States

In years past, different people, groups, and nations have tried to destroy the United States of America.  They’ve used conventional forces, guerrilla tactics, and, increasingly over the past years, terrorism.

Invasion

But today, if I wanted to destroy the United States, I wouldn’t use force.  Instead, I’d use the people against themselves.  I’d use not just their fears and insecurities, but also their pride and selfish desires to create division and friction between different groups within the country.  In targeting these different groups, I would use both real and manufactured criteria to define them.  I’d get them to define themselves by their financial status and occupation, by the color of their skin or country of their birth, by political party or even by on which side of the street they lived.

Now, this is nothing new.  It’s been tried to various levels of success in the past in this country and others.  We even have a new word in our Dictionary to describe one particularly successful venture from the 90s: “Balkanization.”  But today, I could be much more effective because of the additional leverage I could apply through advances in information technology, mass communication, and social media.

These are all tools that have advanced in capability and availability, rapidly and well beyond the pace of any ethical framework or practice with which to wield them.  Because of this, an entity, group, or even individual has carte blanche to say nearly anything, and to have those words or images transmitted instantly and globally.  Meanwhile, the consumer willingly makes himself available 24/7 to these unfiltered or even targeted messages through our enraptured embrace of personal electronics in lieu of personal relationships.  Moreover, that consumer is now able to interact with the messenger and, even more importantly for our desired ends, other consumers.  To make the attack even more effective, these messages can be transmitted either anonymously or with false attribution.

One way to execute this strategy would be by first creating several online anonymous profiles for legitimate news sites and social media outlets.  I’d make these identities represent both sides of a divide I sought to exploit or even create.  I might give them names like “BLM of Central Texas,” “TrueBlue Cop,” “Concerned Mom,” “Aryan666,” “In Christ Alone,” “Gangsta,” or… well, you probably get the picture.  If I had time, I might spend some time creating a backstory by commenting somewhat benignly on various issues, building a friends list, or even a “fanbase.”  Yet, to be realistic, few people check very deeply into sources these days, so I could probably spend my time and efforts more effectively simply by creating more shallow online identities.

Then, I would look for my opportunity – a current event that illuminated that targeted divide.  If no such event happened, I might even manufacture one with a contrived or adapted news story I reported and transmitted on a fictitious news site.  Again, fact-checking and contemplation are not strengths of my targeted population – the American people’s desire to get ahead of a near-instantaneous news cycle has outpaced their appetite for accuracy or even conscious thought.

A ripe opportunity would be the stories surrounding the recent officer-involved shootings, protests, and ultimately, the slaying of police officers.

Now, I’d commence my attack.  I’d make some inflammatory comments about black men killed by police – ranging from mild to wild.  I’d attack their character, and then black people in general. My hope would be that I’d get a response from other commenters, but I wouldn’t need to – I would also pit my online identities against each other.  They are cheap and expendable.

Simultaneously, I’d make statements about the cops involved, and continue to attack police officers in general.  Again, I’d hope someone would bite the troll bait, but I’d engage with empty personae as well, just to get the fires rolling.

I’d do the same on the fictitious organizational pages, lending credence to the growing appearance that these thoughts were held not by individuals but entire groups.

I’d post links to videos of “violence porn” – police brutality and shootings, looting in Ferguson, gang and drug executions.  I’d use the power of Google to find other links to stories, old or new, legitimate or false, to fan the flames.

Oh, and memes… I’d make lots of memes.  It seems easy these days to boil complex controversies into a couple lines of text written in bold letters on the photo of a Hollywood personality or generic protagonist/antagonist – and post those also.  The beauty of a meme is it is so shareable, and by simplifying the argument it sharpens the divides.

Soon, incredibly soon due to the modern phenomena of media, I wouldn’t need to do anything but sit back and look for the next divide I wanted to exploit.  If the fires of hatred, mistrust, and fear seemed to lessen, I might stoke them again, but that is unlikely.  Again, in the absence of ethical frameworks and practice, social media is like a drought-baked forest waiting for a match.

That’s what I’d do if I wanted to destroy this country.  It’s a good thing I don’t, because I’m pretty sure I could be successful.

In fact, this strategy is already in play by others, and we’re playing right into their hands.  By doing so, we’re allowing a small number of foes the luxury of a force multiplier heretofore unseen – the ability to turn masses of people against themselves rapidly and with little expenditure of material or personal capital.

Take a few minutes (and only a few minutes) and check out the comments on stories about current controversies.  You will read words you would never hear in even the most heated of in-person intoxicated arguments.  Angry, provocative, inciting, and hateful messages fomenting increasingly angry, provocative, inciting, and hateful responses.  If you don’t think a lot of this is intentional, you are fooling yourself.

The countermeasure is simple, but not easy.  In this age of instantly-available media, we need to take time to turn it off.  We need to take the time to meet people face-to-face, to shake hands, hear concerns, discuss differences, and have vigorous debate when necessary.

This is not efficient.  It is not quick.  It is not convenient.  It is not easy.

It is, however, necessary.

Is it Possible to Have Too Much Virtue?

Aristotle taught that virtue lay in the moderation within what he called “spheres of action,” or “spheres of feeling.”  Courage, he said, was practiced in the sphere of fear and confidence, avoiding excesses or deficiencies of either, which would result instead in cowardice or rash action.  Truthfulness lay in the sphere of self-expression, avoiding the vices of either boastfulness or false modesty.  In the sphere of pleasure and pain, temperance was found between licentiousness and senselessness. (See figure below).  In each case, virtue is found in the moderation of actions in a given sphere, while vices lay in either deficiency or excess of such actions.

Aristotle's Virtues

Figure 1 (Credit: Central Washington University – click to magnify)

Another philosophy, illustrated by the following meme (Figure 2). currently circulating around the Internet, hints at Aristotle’s teachings, while oversimplifying and thus corrupting them.  By eliminating the column Aristotle’s spheres, and instead relying only on a simplified spectrum of actions within those spheres, this philosophy forwards that we must practice moderation of the virtues themselves.  So, the illustration provides, a lack of integrity would lead to corruption (I agree).  However, it also infers that too much integrity leads to legalism.

Virtue spectrum

Figure 2 (copyright Jim Lanctot)

It is here I must disagree on several levels, finding such an argument to be a misleading argument based in postmodern relativism.

Starting with the first line of the chart, “integrity” is not a moderation between corruption and legalism.  Corruption certainly indicates a deficiency of integrity, but legalism by no means is a reliable indication of its excess.  In fact, one can have a complete lack of integrity and still be legalistic (and simultaneously be corrupt).  For proof, one need only watch a session of Congress in which individual representatives or Senators manipulate rules of order to benefit their own interests. And this is not new – witness the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus’ time.

If we did want to find a sphere of action, perhaps “application of rules,” with corruption and legalism as its extremes, a more appropriate label for the median might be “discretion.”

Likewise, I argue that judgmentalism is not an excess of discernment, but an absence of mercy.  To be sure, one need not have discernment at all to be judgmental!  And does one really believe that “enabling” is an excess of love?  Hardly – enabling behavior comes from a deficiency.

If we continue down the ladder, we will find similar arguments refuting the chart’s validity.  Disregard and idolatry both deny respect for what is truly important.  Pride and degradation (or false humility) live together, rather than across a spectrum.  Sloth and overwork both involve disregard for virtuous priorities.  Temperance may indeed lie between licentiousness and strictness (Aristotle said senselessness), but is meaningless without the context of the sphere of pleasure and pain.  And similarly, foolhardiness is not excessive courage but excessive self-confidence.

Further, there can be no such thing, as forwarded by this philosophy, as an excess of virtue.  Certainly not the virtues presented.  Can you imagine a world with too much Integrity, discernment, love, respect, humility, diligence, temperance, or courage?  Oh, if only that were the case!

Similarly, there can be no such thing as a healthy moderation of vice.  If “moderation in all things” were indeed true, we would ask the FDA to prescribe minimum levels of arsenic in our drinking water rather than only maximums!  Similarly, there is no healthy minimum level of corruption, foolishness, judmentalism, sloth, idolatry, legalism, or other such vices!

We should not practice moderation of either virtue or vice, but strive for the highest levels of the former and the elimination of the latter.

Mission: Develop Future Leaders

To paraphrase a good friend and wonderful leader-mentor, “All leaders are departing leaders.”  By our very human nature, our time in any position of leadership is temporary, whether that span be in decades, years, months, days, or even minutes.  Effective leaders understand this, and begin preparing for their departure as soon as, or even before, they take the reins.

Often, when we as leaders speak of “leaving our legacy,” we think about  the accomplishments, changes, vision, or policies for which we will be remembered.

Yet policies, vision, changes, and even accomplishments can have a short life-span.  Sometimes they are gone as soon as the leader departs, yet even when they last a relatively long time, they like the leader are temporary in nature.

The one legacy, however, that has the potential to stand the test of time is development the next generation of leaders.  For this reason, the best and most memorable leaders with and for whom I’ve served have understood the importance of pouring their lives and experience into the leaders of the future.

In my faith we refer to this as “discipleship,” and in business we often call it “mentorship,” but regardless of the title, it is the development not just of followers, but of future leaders, by providing a virtuous example, investing ourselves in their lives, passing along our knowledge, skills, and values, and (most importantly), teaching them to do the same for the leaders who will follow them.

And I believe we must not simply develop “good” or “effective” leaders, but virtuous leaders.  Leaders who are able to identify and discern what is right, and then have the moral fortitude to lead themselves and others in the pursuit of that right.

This process must begin with being virtuous leaders ourselves.  This starts with a clear assessment of who we are through prayerful reflection, honest introspection, involvement with our own mentors, and feedback from our subordinates.  Then continues, using all of these assets, to improve ourselves so that we can be virtuous role models for our followers, peers, and even superiors.

Virtuous leaders then must invest in the lives of our people – teaching knowledge, confronting and correcting problems, and training always.  As the young leader’s abilities and character matures, we move to a more supportive and less directive role, but we must maintain our high level of engagement.

And, when the leader begins to stand on his or her own, we must also invest in perhaps the most important and most-often neglected skill: replication.  The new leader must, through our example and our investment, learn to do likewise, to serve as an example and investor of virtuous leadership to the next generation.

It is only through this intensive engagement that we as leaders can create a true and lasting legacy.

Please join the conversation!  Do you have a mentor who made a profound impact on your life?  Have you passed on that impact to others?  What do you think are the most important aspects of developing future leaders?

What is Virtue-Based Leadership?

Contemporary theories on leadership, including “Servant Leadership” and “Transformational Leadership,” focus upon the interaction of the leader, followers, and organization toward the accomplishment of a mission.  And at first glance (or even after years of consideration), this makes sense, and has led to a vigorous debate as to which are the correct foci and which of these factors (leader, people, organization, and mission) should be take priority over the other.

Mission-oriented leadership theories and practices can be effective, allowing leaders to shape clear pathways towards specific and, ideally, measurable goals and objectives.  Pure mission focus, however, often results in the neglect of the organization, and the people and resources comprising that organization.

Organization-focused leadership, on the other hand, excels in developing structures and procedures to accomplish the mission with the available people and resources.  Efficient process is often the result, but often either (or both) the mission and people are neglected.

People-centric leadership concentrates upon the needs, capabilities, and development of those people making up the organization, with many contemporary theories including “Servant” and “Transformational” leadership championing the empowerment of those people to achieve their best.  The danger here, of course, is the neglect of mission or organization in the interests of that achievement.

Perhaps the most dysfunctional, yet sadly most common, of all leadership practices are those which are leader-centric.  For sure, it is important for the leader to embrace opportunities for self-improvement, development, or even fulfillment; however, the danger of prioritizing the leader is the slippery slope to selfishness and careerism.

Regardless of which of these priorities is set, the result often is not true leadership but manipulation, manipulation of the lower-priority entities to achieve the highest priorities.  Thus, a mission-focused leader tends to find ways to manipulate people and organization to achieve the mission.  A people-focused leader manipulates the mission and organization to help the people.  An organization-focused leader manipulates people and mission.  And a self-focused leader manipulates all three.

Nor is the answer a neo-situational leadership theory in which these four different priorities are selected and interchanged depending on the changing climate or situation.  Even if perfectly-balanced, such a theory is only an ineffective bandage on a serious wound.

Instead, I would like to champion what I call Virtue-Based Leadership, asserting that the correct answer to the dilemma of prioritizing mission, people, organization, or leader is “none of the above.”  Instead, true leadership can only occur when the leader starts with a foundation of virtue – the identification of what is right and noble, the establishment of that virtue as the ultimate goal, and the constant striving for that goal.

Thus, instead of focusing on the mission, the leader must first evaluate and define the mission on its virtues.  Rather than focusing on the organization, the leader must first identify then apply the principles of virtue to its structure and ethics.  Instead of focusing on the desires of the people, the leader must help set virtuous goals in their development and care.  And, perhaps most importantly, the leader must strive for virtue in his or her own life and actions.

But what is that virtue, how is it discovered?  That is another question for a future article!

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