War Mode vs. Peace Mode

[Epistemic status: rough heuristics, probably needs refinement, comments are always welcome.]

I first got this dichotomy by reading someone’s comment on how Mao was a wartime general but not a peacetime general. Of course, it’s possible that a more accurate model is not binary but a spectrum, or maybe it has more dimensions. Nonetheless, over time, I’ve found this heuristic useful.

In war mode, the objective is survival. There’s little room for ambiguity because one’s utmost goal is not to get killed, which means anything new that pops up is treated as a potential threat until proven otherwise. It’s prudent to assume the worst intentions from other people. Survival pressure is high; goodwill is low. Scarcity mindset and zero-sum games are common. Pragmatism is usually more useful than romanticism.

In peace mode, the objective is flourishing. There’s lots of room for ambiguity because safety and stability are given. Anything new that pops up can be treated with curiosity. It’s wise to assume the best intentions from other people, for it opens up possibilities. Survival pressure is low, though there might be pressure in status competitions. Abundance mindset and positive-sum games are common. Pragmatism might be seen as “uncool” compared to romanticism.

These two modes require distinct sets of skills, thus it’s crucial to have an accurate model of which mode one is operating. For example, A negotiation is inherently war mode with some room for positive-sum games; open-source software is a product of peace mode; psychological trauma is living chronically in a war mode mindset, unable to adjust to peace mode.

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