Sins of a Solar Spymaster #87: Mittani's Maxims - On Politics

The Mittani offers his thoughts and a few tips on how to survive the cold and brutal politics of EVE.

I’ve said in the past that EVE makes you bitter; as you get more involved in the game, it either strips you of your illusions about human nature and politics, or it destroys you - yet another confused victim who may realize that they have lost, but doesn’t know why. But while the game can embitter you, it can also teach you valuable lessons which apply far beyond New Eden. I was browsing Linkedin the other day and came to the alarming realization that most alliance leaders are managing more human beings in their alliances and coalitions than the CEOs of real-world companies. I’ve been running Goonswarm Federation for almost three years now, and while some of the things I’ve learned have been soul-scorching, a few key lessons have repeatedly proven their utility - both in EVE, and beyond it. I’m dividing this topic into two columns; the first will be the rules I’ve learned about politics, broadly, and the second about leadership and management.

EVE Monkey

What is probably the most important lesson of all doesn’t fit into a quick aphorism, however. It is this: in every society or institution there are explicit systems of rules and behaviors which are commonly accepted as ‘the way things are’. Yet in practice these openly acknowledged truths are just masks for how the society or institution actually functions. If you buy into the explicit, illusionary laws you will either be a cog, or worse, you buy into the illusion and violate one of the implicit, hidden laws. A real-world example: corporate whistleblowers. In theory, holding corporations to account for their wrongdoing should be praised and protected - upholding the law and transparency are the kind of ideals we are spoon-fed from birth. Yet actual whistleblowers are inevitably ruined, slandered, and unemployable, having violated the implicit tribal laws of not endangering their institution.

“If a gentleman commits follies, if he keeps mistresses, if he treats his wife badly, even if he is guilty of serious injustices toward his friends, he will be blamed, no doubt, but if he is rich, powerful and intelligent, society will still treat him with indulgence. But if that man cheats at cards he will be immediately banished from decent society and never forgiven.” -Talleyrand

EVE is full of situations where a misunderstanding of how implicit customs trump overt laws will lead you to ruin. Humans are essentially slightly clever monkeys, never forget this. Look for the implicit customs and abide by them, and don’t trust in ideals. Here are some more tidy and quotable maxims that apply to politics in EVE and elsewhere:

Abhor Democracy, Mistrust Reason: Most of the western world is governed by ‘representative democracies’ of one flavor or another. In practice, most of these are republics or simple plutocracies, but when players come to EVE they often try to recreate democratic governments as their first structures, as they have been taught that ‘democracy is good’ while blind to the fact that their real-world country is not actually a democracy. Similarly, there are some who believe that human behavior is governed by ‘reason’, despite decades of research into cognitive flaws. If you encounter someone so misguided as to actually believe in ‘democracy’ or ‘reason’ in EVE, run. Or, more likely, take them for everything they’re worth.

When in Doubt, Wait

When in Doubt, Do Nothing: There are paeans to decisive action cluttering up the business section of every bookstore, because fetishizing action sells books and makes the reader feel like a bold hero. The truth in EVE is much more subtle: nullsec is often like a game of cards, and showing your hand when you don’t have to gives out free information to your opponents - who are trying to destroy you. In many cases in life there is a clear action to take, and you should certainly be bold and decisive then. However, if you find yourself genuinely in doubt as to which course to take, watch and wait: your opponents are likely to blunder and show their hand first, making your eventual decision both more clear and superior to theirs.

Use Women’s Intuition: EVE is laughably imbalanced when it comes to gender - mostly it is a game of men trying to deceive and bluff other men. Women have been shown in some research to be superior at detecting deception than men, and regardless of the research I’ve found it quite useful to ask female players for their analysis of the behavior and motives of male EVE players. Many times they have provided a more subtle analysis than my male directors.

Attack, Attack, Attack: If you are in an open conflict with an enemy, be they an in-game foe or otherwise, the only sensible path is relentless, unceasing attack. That attack does not need to be overt or obvious, but you must always be acting against your enemy on a number of fronts. This offers many advantages: you can put them on the defensive, you can surprise them with your ruthlessness, and you put yourself in a better position to make peace with your foe if that option presents itself.

Make Your Enemies Suffer

Cultivate Unpredictability: In politics, being predictable is death. If you see that you’re getting a reputation for a certain sort of behavior or personality, grievously violate those assumptions to keep everyone guessing. You should still remain within the implicit rules of your society - don’t cheat at cards - but don’t let your enemies get a clear ‘read’ on you. Shift between being a gentleman and the Joker and you’ll be well served. A personal example: when one of the corporations in GSF was caught selling supercapitals to neutrals and hostiles on the open market - which is not allowed - they had five CSAAs with supercaps being constructed, two titans and three supercarriers. The ‘normal’ punishment would have been to seize those ships, or buy them at-cost. Instead, we not only kicked out the corp, we torched their CSAAs, destroying hundreds of billions of isk to send a message about the unreasoning scope of our wrath.

Best Friend, Worst Enemy: The ideal reputation in politics is that you are the best possible friend but worst possible enemy. Treat your allies as well as you can afford to; be generous and always act in good faith. If someone becomes your foe, however, make sure not merely to fight them - even if they are ‘honorable’ - but to make the experience as awful as possible for them, even if they happen to be militarily superior to you. Find out what the enemy abhors and feed it to them at every opportunity. This builds a strong coalition: your enemies do not make war against you lightly; your friends know that you have their back, and you will rarely be betrayed for fear of your retribution.

Learn from the Mistakes of Others: If maturity is learning from your own mistakes, wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. Every conflict is an opportunity to learn, even if it doesn’t involve you - try to examine the failings around you and divine what you can from them. This is much harder than it sounds - learning is hard, and much harder when we don’t directly experience the pain of failure ourselves.


Next time we’ll examine the maxims of management: what I’ve learned about how to create and lead organizations in EVE and elsewhere.

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