Meditations on the Stealth Stratagem

Trust is invaluable, and when a mind one trusts recommends something, one is well served to entertain the recommendation. This post is a strongly-advised evaluation of stealth as a philosophical concept.

Stealth conceals. Concealment preserves valuable information from losing its value to the party who holds it. In any ecosystem of competing agents, information is lifeblood, and stealth—that is, hiding information that confers you an advantage—is a preventative measure against murder. Lack of stealth, in this sense, is suicide.

The act of concealment may also signal to adversaries that you hold valuable information. In such cases where you cannot perfectly conceal stealth (think an imperfect chameleon), your opponents will presume you are being stealthy to conceal your private information, and may be able to derive the very thing you wish to conceal from the fact you have attempted to hide it. It is therefore best to maintain not only stealth, but a plainly visible dummy position so as to pass as a non-stealthy player in the game.

Stealth is like animal nocturnality: an innately defensive position. You either retreat from the light to escape what hunts in the daytime, or you enter the darkness to become a night hunter yourself. In either case, you must adapt to the new conditions of beginning from zero knowledge.

Erebus macrops. Dummy position: avian predator. True position: harmless insect.

Tyto alba*. Note the fingerlike feathers designed to disperse moving air silently; black eyes adapted to the night.

Contra stealth, complete openness is a comparable strategy if you believe you are unequivocally superior, and all agents present are similarly aligned. Forthrightness of opinion in high-agency circles reflects this. The candor of war rooms, where all information is shared so as to combine and amplify the powers of the collective; versus the intrigue of court aristocracies, where all actions assumed to have ulteriors. Consider, though, that this strategy breaks the instant a free-riding sociopath enters the ring.

Stealth is a precursor to deception: you can only deceive if your strategy is not transparent. But stealth itself also causes deception: through its concealment, it harms the opponent's perception of reality by denying them information. If their information is incomplete, your stealth forces them to make sense of only what they already know about you. This estimate of your position is probabilistically weighted and potentially liable to inaccuracy. The less probabilistic leverage (information) you allow your opponent, the worse their estimate will be, the less useful their perceived reality, the less prepared they will be for the next black swan (potentially you), the less likely they are to survive it (potentially you).

"What is all this talk about survival, selection, and predation? Philosophy is not a zero-sum game."

Isn't it?

"Of course not. Anyone may believe whatever they wish as long as they don't hurt anyone. Furthermore, developing an accurate theory of reality only empowers the average person to think more accurately about the essential questions. Why else would you write a blog, or discuss opinions in the open? You are designing a phenomenology of humankind, which benefits everyone. Any progress you make on this front is shared with everyone else."

Several contentions. 第一: examine your usage of "everyone", "anyone", and so on. The audience of this post is <1000, of any post in adjacent spheres <10000 on average (Scott Alexander's record is <10e6). Assuming 1 in 5 who read a post believe it, the maximum brain-footprint for a post in these spheres is ~200k. Discounting further for those who get the chance to put the content to good use, the real number may be closer to 20k (for Scott Alexander) or, in the fortunate case of this blog, 20\. This reflects not only on the context of the arguments made here, but also on the posture of the general population towards matters of phenomenology.

第二: given that our numbers are as small as these, it follows that any advancements we make on this frontier will displace us significantly from the rank and file. Ergo, the "opponent" is not so much a rhetorical construction as it is an acknowledgement of the tendency of large groups to homogenize thought, interactions, etc in the interest of managing populations more easily. Toeing the border of the system of ideology makes us daring; crossing the line makes us mavericks; exploring the uncharted territories beyond makes us future adversaries. Nobody fears Trump's rapier wit. They fear what he portends: an expanse of reality few, if any, understand. There is no such thing as coincidence: notice the lambaste of any and every political iconoclast. It is a question of survival whether we hide this separateness from the mainstream—even neutral parties when expedient.

第三: intelligence is a limited resource. Consciousness-hours are the standard by which economic activity is measured: just look at developer salaries. Enslaving brains is expensive. In terms of both cognitive labor and ideological supplication, there is no such thing as a free hunch. If only bread can buy brains, it follows that mental real estate is as precious as water in Vegas. (If you're not using yours, though, I'm sure we can find a place for it.) Whether it feels good to acknowledge or not, ideology (and philosophy, by proxy) is zero-sum.

"But does it have to be? Surely cooperation among all minds is more powerful than competition between a few ruthless ones, each spending its energy trying to claw past the others? What about landing on the Moon or developing GPS? Those accomplishments took thousands of minds working together to build, and even more today to maintain."

The Moon landing happened at all because of America's Space Race against the USSR, who had their own program competing against American scientists—and GPS was literally invented by the United States military. Show me a technology that emerged outside of competitive impetus, and I'll show you a dead end. The Manhattan Project: developed under the most tightly controlled conditions of secrecy (STEALTH) the world has known—until, well, we started on the next big project. Noticed any strange holes in the Google Earth map of Utah? More recently, take the mismatching file hashes released by that organization whose name starts with Wiki. The jig's up, and has been for a while (if you've paid attention). The decentralized internet-of-things-device attack on an upstream DNS server disabled social media communication just long enough for an "attack" at a London airstrip to go unnoticed by anyone not in the building. Who was supposed to have been in London? Who has neither been seen nor heard since the vans showed up at his door? Who stuck his neck out to expose powers whose prime directive is to remain concealed? Jules was a noble man, but in matters of life and death, the money power doesn't blink to keep citizens of the moral nobility from blowing its cover. Shadow above all. Umbra supra omnia.**

第四: Arguably, this post could have been a subsection of this treasure just unearthed. Read it, and when you return we'll go over it together.

Broadly speaking, Alice ideally must first be sphinxlike in character to pull any of this off. She must foster ambiguity about what her ultimate goals are in order to have an advantage over those around her. This style of behavior is called “robust action” in sociology. For Alice to be an ideal manipulator, her actions must be interpretable from multiple perspectives at once, potentially function as moves in multiple games at once, and conceal her public and private motivations. This maintains her flexibility and discretion and thwarts attempts by rivals to narrow her space of choices. Forced clarification of her commitments and lock-in to hard goals only gives Bob an ability to constrain her.

Stealth is asymmetric. Tactically speaking, it is the default.

Which clandestine pseudo-political movement has just risen to prominence under ironic cloak and pixelated mask? (Oracles doubt it will remain prominent, but change is the only constant. Buy Atlantis*.)

These [manipulative] processes play out in highly connected information-age societies that are manipulatable through various forms of “political technology.” The manipulator thus indirectly seeds/manipulates information and features of the environment such that large groups of people simultaneously yet semi-independently act, react, and interact in a way that a desired macrobehavior emerges from low-level microbehavior...

Fomenting fear, confusion, and insecurity within the group degrades their overall effectiveness... The very structure of our media culture facilitates manipulation via the stirring-up of online flamewars. This gives the manipulator a potent mechanism for achieving her aims, because all it takes for someone to unwittingly participate in the operation is a like, tweet, or share... Declining trust in media and other official sources of information also suggests that the manipulator can take advantage of an adaptive tactic the social media user employs to derail what they increasingly feel is manipulation from the establishment: paying more attention to information that people with strong ties tell them is important.

Land understands the importance of ruthlessness. Game theory is a cruel god; ergo, it is a just god. Scruples getting in the way of your good time? There's a voracious global superpower for that. No one seriously believes the Chinese aren't running experimental CRISPR black clinics—the human lung cancer trial is the bud of an enormous bamboo shoot. They've been conducting eugenics studies for years. And of course, the States are bound to have someone investigating this inevitability, as is part of the great game we play, but notice how the lung cancer cover story provides an excellent dummy position for the ceaseless hunger to hide behind.

最后: a study in flesh and leather. Weinstein, managing director at Thiel Capital, explores economy-size Kayfabe, aka wrestling writ large. Assumptions of perfect information naively discount the reality of layered deception that all humans live. Robert Trivers writes in Deceit and Self-Deception: "if we can only see our own point of view, we can authentically argue our case because our deceits blind us to the truth." Weinstein continues, "Deception, rather than information, plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures." In the tale of the WWE, we discover a compelling analog to another extended conflict with only marginally greater stakes: the election. Which candidate with intimate ties to pro wrestling ripped the mask off of an entrenched system of facade? Coincidence is everywhere, and nothing is ever a coincidence.

Stealth as a design pattern has worked wonders for the Trumpenrevolution. Born anonymous, leaderless, rhizomatic and antifragile, the greater rightward sphere developed such that none of its component parts needed any other part, and any drastic / shock to the system strengthened the movement further. Bottom-up versus top-down control. Operationally speaking, it would have been a brilliant human innovation, if any human had invented it. We have yet to see whether the effort will deliver on its promises—is the banking elite 3.14D eldritch Calvinball, or a kneebend to the money power?—but, at the very least, it won the electoral horse race in no small part due to its inherently covert operation.

A formal theory of philosophical stealth is forthcoming, but perhaps a more accurate term is forthgrowing. As reality shifts in response to tech, we uncover new abstractions by observing the emergent patterns of mass-scale groups of humans, corporations, organisms, money, memes, and information. We can only do our best to apply the lessons that we learn from these abstractions before reality outruns us yet again. Remember: who understands technology understands reality.