John Boyd writes about fingerspitzengefuhl. When you see the term in writing, the author says, “This word is hard to translate.” Then the author says it means “fingertip touch.” That’s not a bad description, since in a sense it refers to interaction between fingers and the brain. It also refers to interaction between any part of the body and brain, and most broadly, interaction between you as a thinking entity and how you act.

Here are some examples of fingerspitzengefuhl that stay pretty close to the literal meaning:

  • Musical improvisation, sophisticated performance of a piece on the piano or any musical instrument
  • Skiing
  • Soaring, hang gliding
  • Chess
  • Military operations
  • Dogfighting
  • Swordfighting
  • Football, basketball, soccer, boxing, tennis, sports that set teams or individuals against each other
  • Dancing
  • Seduction
  • Negotiation

You have the idea now. A general definition that fits all these examples would be fine sensitivity, sure instinct or great situational awareness.

John Boyd tied this idea to the so-called OODA loop. The letters in this acronym stand for:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

Think of the OODA loop as a process, one that applies especially well to situations of conflict. For people who are good in these kinds of activites, the loop unfolds rapidly. We can discuss the OODA loop in greater detail later, especially in connection with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings.

I’ve wanted to think about how fingerspitzengefuhl and the OODA loop might apply to civil conflict. You know from past posts that I have advocated planned, non-violent resistance to our government. I believe this resistance must come from the states. They are the political actors best equipped to secure freedom. Citizens acting together within their own states have the best chance of success. We need a handbook to guide state resistance to the federal government.

Since I started with a reference to John Boyd’s work, we’ll end this post the same way. Ten years ago, I bought Robert Coram’s biography of John Boyd for my dad, who like Boyd was a fighter pilot. My dad fought in World War II; Boyd fought in the Korean War. If you like to read biographies of leaders, pick up Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. If you hear an echo of Sun Tzu in that title, that’s not an accident.

Boyd developed a theory of warfare – and of conflict more generally – that emphasizes psychological elements of conflict. We can’t briefly summarize his fairly complex theories here. Instead, download this well edited version of his comprehensive slide deck, Patterns of Conflict. It is worth your time.

In connection with a handbook for civil resistance, useful for states as they interact with the federal government, we should keep some big questions in mind. How do republics fail or fall? Why does the government that husbands the republic lose its authority and effectiveness? Lastly, why do leaders fail so spectacularly, and others succeed? We want to keep these questions in the background as we consider effective means to save ourselves.