The Art of War: Why is Common Sense so Special?

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This little book, The Art of War, has been celebrated for centuries as the military manual. That I can understand. But business gurus, writers, and no doubt other industries have also taken it up and wrote their own version of war for their industry.

It’s a great book. However, it’s full of common sense. It’s freaking obvious.

According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.

Laying Plans, Page 23

Kudos to Sun Tzu (or whoever, because there is some speculation whether Sun Tzu actually wrote it), for putting it together back in the days. I think it’s a great idea for military leaders to remind themselves of what seems like common sense to general public. As we have often seen through history, political and military leaders do not always seem to employ common sense when making decision. It’s a powerful book. Written in a concise manner, which is perfectly suited to military strategy.

I have nothing bad to say about this book. I want to focus this essay on thinking about the root cause of why this book is so important to us.

Why is common sense so special?

Common sense, by the nature of its very definition, should be…well…common. As in widespread, easy to find, and not special at all. But that, as all of you intelligent readers (I can assure, dumb people don’t like my blog) can attest to, is not the case.

Has it always been like this I wonder? Has it always been that a small percentage of the population, a number usually designated by the educated, would write up an instruction manual for those who couldn’t think for themselves, or had no other means of getting their hands on the knowledge?

Shouldn’t things have evolved by now? In 21st century, education is not a rarity. Certainly it’s available to more people than it ever has before. In most first world and even developing countries you at least have the option to get basic school education that will teach you how to read and how to write.

Yet, instead of an empowered population appreciative of the value of being armed with those two skills, we have millions of people staring at the TV watching dull people do even duller things – such as watching a bunch of strangers locked up in a house, and arguing with one another.

Is this why the obvious has become special?

Because we as a society have chosen to use our freedom to do whatever we want, to be lazy? Because we’ve chosen not to exercise our minds to the best of their abilities?

Instead of appreciating the gift mere literacy gives us, we have chosen to complain about the crappiness of state education, and how we are not smart enough because we can’t possibly afford further education.

To those people, I point out Ray Bradbury, a man who self-educated himself by spending 10 years in a public library. I say to those moaning myrtles who complain during Big Brother commercials about lack of opportunities and jobs, that libraries might be closing but we still have them. Had more of you chosen to use them, they probably wouldn’t be closing. Had more you chosen to check out books, the remaining libraries probably would not have begun to resemble internet cafés.

But how is this relevant to the Art of War? It is relevant, because the Art of War is really about the Art of Winning. Sun Tzu is not merely theorising about war, or about fighting, or about military, or about honour. He’s talking about winning the war.

In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

Waging War, Page 31

That’s why all these other industries have easily been able to apply the principles of this book to their own purposes. Because no matter what field we are in, the one thing that everyone wants is to win.

Some people are able to accept that they have to perform actual actions in order to win. Others wait on the sofa and expect that some will come, recognize their invisible and unproven genius, and tell them they have won at life. Suffice to say that these people would be in the delusional army that Sun Tzu’s trained warriors of winning will decimate. 

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