Fragments of Thought: The Gun

I am at the start of a year long critical analysis of my own published work, as i consider the next steps in my exploration of the broader context of the Social Age. This retrospective analysis is structured across three main dimensions: [1] a critical appraisal of my published works, [2] a reflection on key experiences and communities and how they have shaped me and [3] a review of key literature that has impacted my thinking. I have already started to publish [1] and [2], and today am starting with a short perspective on a book that has shaped my thinking.

C.J Chivers’ book, ‘The Gun: the AK-47 and the evolution of war’ may sound like an unlikely choice, but this social history of the most prolific firearm on earth was a fascinating read, and helped to shape a number of key ideas in my own work.

In ‘The Gun’ Chivers’ explores a parallel series of histories: the technical development of the weapon, the mythology and storytelling around the gun, the political history of how it was licensed and used as a tool of empire, and the human story of how technology impacts lives.

He tells how the technology of the Gun, as with the technology of battle tanks, has an origin in innovations grounded in industrial agriculture. The innovations to allow production and distribution of food also feeding into the technologies of war.

The AK-47 is notoriously reliable, often despite it’s ownership. He describes how it can be dropped in the mud, submerged underwater, or neglected in a cupboard, then picked up and fired without issue. This stands in contract to more modern, Western, precision engineered firearms, and this led to one of the insights that inspired an aspect of my own work. He describes how precision engineering led to guns that jammed in the sands of the desert, whilst the AK is more rattly.. there is more space, a greater tolerance. It is, in effect, made with less precision, and hence more forgiveness. The sand simply falls out of it.

This notion, that strength can be held not simply through engineered precision, but through an ability to let things pass through, that ‘looseness’ can be strength, can trace an almost direct line to my statement in ‘The Socially Dynamic Organisation’ book that a dynamic organisation will be ‘Guided not Governed’. In other words, it will hold strength not engineered in, but held within space and fluidity.

Another aspect of this work that fascinated me was the mythology of Kalashnikov himself: a real man, a soldier, but not an engineer or metallurgist. An injured veteran with an innate sense of how things worked. But at this stage it’s almost impossible to discern fact from fiction: the fiction of the man, and the stories of the regime that surrounded him, which was itself desperate to portray the image of the popular soldier hero.

The mythology of Kalashnikov reminded me that what is true is often what we believe to be true. Something that has shaped my work on ‘trust’, and ‘belief’. Things that are not ‘real’ (like a brick is real), but nonetheless act upon us and the systems around us as if they are: they exert effect. The mythology of the soldier engineer was just that, and used to great effect against the West.

Chivers, C. J, ‘The Gun: the AK-47 and the evolution of war’. Allen Lane (Penguin), London, 2010

This work is early stage #WorkingOutLoud

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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