Friendly Advice from Erwin the Wise

If the future's looking dark
We're the ones who have to shine
If there's no one in control
We're the ones who draw the line.
Neil Peart
Here is some advice. Why you should read it: because it is common sense, and that isn't very common these days. Who wrote it: Erwin the Wise, opinionated Concordat amateur ideologue and nanotech gourmet.

Mindless activism is for mindless people

You cannot get ahead while you are getting even.
Dick Armey
Many think that the best way to fight the InfoWar is mindless activism: embarrass or blow up the enemy, force the media to look at you by being the most dramatic and dangerous contestant - action before thinking.

It doesn't work. Terrorism is a great way for the opposing side to get sympathy and support for even harder attacks; it can be argued that the FOG needs loonies like the Age of Mayhem or the racists to have a foe to fight and a reason for huge security budgets. Even nonviolent methods of attacking the enemy doesn't work; a straight attack can easily be blocked or the damage repaired, and you open yourself to retaliation.

Sure, it would be great to see [fill in your favorite politician] thrown from a high window or blown to small pieces. But then what? The bugor would just be replaced by someone even more despicable, and the enjoyment would be short-lived. Better go for real victories instead of petty revenge.

It is when you start to think and be tactical activism become dangerous. What are your objectives? How can you achieve them? How can you do that without the FOG being able to stop you? What will the consequences be? If you can juggle these questions and implement the answer, you will be truly dangerous.

The lesson of the japanese farmers

Remember the lesson of the Japanese farmers: when swords are outlawed, learn to use your farming implements as weapons. A staff, a rice flail or a fan can make a deadly weapon with the right training.

Look around you - within reach you most likely have a lot of potential weapons. A thrown bowl of cornflakes, a cloud of paper or a key-ring thrown against the eyes of an adversary can give you the time to get away. A pen, pair of scissors or a kitchen knife may not be the best weapons there are, but they can be used for jabbing. Home electronics always provides strangling cables, and an ordinary toolbox is a veritable arsenal. It is all a question about observation and sneakiness. Take inspiration from Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks. Everything - and everyone - is a potential weapon.

And this goes not just for violence, but for all other areas.

Use tech to your advantage, don't let it use you

Advanced technology is our greatest asset. We have access to stuff and expertise most other groups can only dream about: strong encryption, worldwide trade, smart drugs, biotech, nanotech, mental tech and AI. Used well this can give us a tremendous edge against others, but don't become too reliant on technological superiority. There are people out there that have as much toys as you, technology can fail (ever encountered a machine that never misbehaves?) and sometimes low tech is more suitable, cheap and reliable.

Gadgets don't solve everything: a piece of advanced technology cannot solve all your problems. People who rely of technology too much will sooner or later get a rude awakening when they encounter a situation where their devices doesn't work, fail or just aren't applicable. Even worse, there are stuff that technology cannot do.

Everything has limits: even the most powerful device has its limits. You cannot find all information on the net, nanodevices still need to be programmed, bugs can be detected and have limited range, vehicles run out of fuel and smart drugs won't make you a genius.

Tech will not make you invincible; it can give you new abilities and augment your own, but it has limits, it can fail, others have it too and in many cases can be overpowered by a simple trick. Of course, the same goes for the enemy: the more hi-tech somebody packs, the more possibilities for truly devious sabotage.


Keep It Simple, Stupid. Even the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray - especially the clever ones. Some people think that devious plans involving many subtle steps are the best, so they create elaborate chains like Mission Impossible episodes. But a chain is just as strong as the weakest link, and if there is just a 10% chance that a single step will fail, then a ten-step plan has a chance of 65% of failing.

It is much better to implement a simple, robust plan that has a large chance of working, and if it fails doesn't do much damage, than a "rubber duck plan" that involves everything from cracking the central computer to decoy ducks. Elegance has to be sacrificed for realism.

Think orthogonally

Frontal assaults will be met by straight defenses; usually you don't have a chance since the enemy has already thought about that. Be sneaky. Ideally you should do something the enemy had never expected, might not even perceive as an attack. Most people try the straight way, and end up with a frontal assault. Some people think a bit, and make an ambush; they appear to move in the opposite direction. We should ideally move at right angles to everybody's expectations. That way we can exploit our advantages the most.

If the enemy expects a fight, launch a media storm. If the enemy expects media attacks, exploit his preparations for your own profit. If the enemy expects you attacking in some way, do something completely different and let him waste his resources in pointless defenses.

Anyone who plays by the rules can be defeated. But if you cheat, defeat becomes a choice rather an inevitability.


A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
Wag the Dog
Act quickly but not rashly. As long as you can move faster than the enemy, you can always outwit him, create diversions and strike when he isn't prepared.

Besides tech, speed is one of our advantages. The FOG cannot react as quickly as we can most of the time, and we are global. The Red Queen Principle is true as ever: as long as we can adapt and evolve faster than others, we will be able to out-compete them. But this requires that we run as fast as we can without stumbling too much.

The greatest art is to both act efficiently and as fast as possible at the same time. As Harry Harrison said:

You made your own luck. You kept your eyes open as things evolved, and at the right moment you acted. If you acted fast enough, that was good luck. If you worried over the possibilities until the moment had passed, that was bad luck.

Incomptence is our shield

We have an advantage over FOG: they are a group of huge, slow dinosaurs where decisions have to be approved by several levels of executives and implemented by less motivated employees. Inefficiency, garbled orders and plain incompetence is a chink in the armor of the FOG. Use it!

But don't forget that there are fast and efficient groups in the FOG too - just because they work for it doesn't mean they are bumbling idiots. They can be competent and deadly. But if you can keep the FOG at large misusing its resources it will also send its deadliest weapons in the wrong direction.

Two can play the game

The power of government in growing... BUT... the power of individuals (thanks to technological advance) is growing at a FASTER RATE.
Vernor Vinge
Almost everything the FOG can do, we can do too. They start a moral panic, we start a moral panic. They crack our codes, we crack theirs. They institute laws against us, we add clauses to their laws that subvert them. They develop forbidden technology, we do. They send the police after us on trumped up charges, we can set them up to strike the wrong people and tip off the media. They frighten the public about the dangers of nanotechnology, we frighten and enrage the public about the dangers of not having nanotechnology. The important thing is, through our technology and skills we can match them or even outdo them in many respects.

Epistemic warfare

Why change the world when you only need to change people's perception of it?
Advertisement guru
The important thing about information warfare is that it isn't about hacking people's systems or crashing their computers. That just hinders them a bit. But if you can misdirect them or make them believe in what you want them to believe then you can make them do whatever you want - they become your allies in some sense.

The trick is to start out small, giving slightly modified but otherwise correct information. When they swallow it, give them more, always biasing it. In time they will begin to truly believe the biased reality, and you can twist it even further. In large organizations you can also exploit the snafu effect - people like to tell the boss what the boss wants to hear, not the entire truth. Give something the right bias and the enemy will bias it even more as the information percolates upwards in the hierarchy. The top of the pyramid is less likely to know the truth than the bottom.

Cloaks and Daggers

It is only in the shadows and bushes we are dangerous. In the open we are sitting ducks.

Don't let anybody find out about what you are doing. Not even your friends - especially not your friends, since they are the first place someone would start to research when tracking you down. As long as your identity is secret, your plans only known in your head and your current whereabouts hard to discover you are fairly safe. As long as you are nearly impossible to find the FOG has to spend a lot of energy and resources on the hunt while you can use the secrecy to your advantage - a classic guerilla tactic.

The same goes for your cell and the entire Concordat. Don't let outsiders learn about its existence, don't leave evidence that people can piece together into the truth about us. If you use sota tech, make sure you pick it all up or destroy the evidence - we don't want people to know what we can and cannot do. If you can, try to appear as some other group to confuse the enemy.

This is a covert war. It must never become overt. As long as it is secret, the FOG cannot bring all its power to bear on us. If it becomes overt, then the FOG can rally public opinion against us ("Nanotech anarchy terrorists!") and bring everything it has to crush us. But the FOG doesn't dare to make it overt either, because it knows it would be risking everything - there would be causalities on their side too, and they cannot bear the thought of that. We better make sure it is clear to them that we can strike back, but keep it cool.

The Concordat could not last long against the true skills of the world's intelligence services. They are good. But as long as the InfoWar is a cold war and they have much more dangerous enemies to fear, we are reasonably safe (yes, they mostly seem to perceive us as fairly minor enemies - a mistake they will regret). But don't become complacent, CIA, DGSE, PLA and all the others are trying to infiltrate us. They and their masters are quite interested in what we have, and want it too.

The weapon of openness

Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It wafts across the electrified borders. Breezes of electronic beams blow through the Iron Curtain as if it were lace.
Ronald Reagan, 1989
Open, good; closed, bad.
Something the FOG has never really understood is that openness can be a powerful weapon, maybe the best weapon we have on our side.

Once information is out in the open, it cannot be stopped. It can be hidden under mountains of bullshit or denials, but it is there. And some information is in itself active: the news that a certain government can be toppled, how to build a device that the FOG doesn't want people to build or ideas that make people think. FOG works by controlling, limiting and forcing. We can circumvent this.

In the end, the more people, even quite ordinary people, understand what is going on and what is possible the harder it will be for FOG to run the show. Knowledge is power, and in the information age you can give others power without loosing yours.

Create Alternatives

It is easier to destroy than to build up, but being constructive is more rewarding in the end. Instead of blowing up or fighting FOG, build an alternative.

As long as people think of FOG as the only possibility, they will support it. But if we can show them a working alternative that is better in all respects, FOG becomes an option. This is why it is so important to introduce people to strong encryption, IOUs and new forms of government. This is also why we ourselves need to build new institutions like the Underground Academy or the Market.


Failure... it's a much better teacher than success. My failure was in underestimating my competition, which was far more complex and dangerous than I had suspected. I'll know better next time.
Jim Profit
Everything is a learning experience: if you succeed, you have learned something. If you fail, you have learned something. No point in fretting over it, look at the possibilities you now have.

If you can learn faster than your enemies, you will out-adapt them.

The 36th stratagem

The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.
Abbie Hoffman
Don't get caught. There is no point in valiant last stands. If things go badly have a bolt-hole ready and live to fight another day.