In war, either you do or you die. Either you kill the enemy or he kills you. There is not much middle ground — maybe absence of common ground would serve well as definition of war. This is all common sense, but… Where does it lead us? More to the point, i wonder if there is some influence of this kind of thought in design issues.
If you either do or die, the incentive to doing at all costs is considerably bigger. You’d better try as hard as you can, all the time, for as long as you can. This is complete stupidity, in most other circumstances, for it would only lead you to exaustion. Life is not so much of a struggle. But war is.
And therefore in war you need perfection.
In war perfection makes sense even if it is economically stupid. It makes sense to pay 1000 times as much for a tank that has twice the chance of not blowing up. Maybe even more.
(And maybe this is the reason that the word “artificial” came to be used as “not-natural”)…
That is not to say that the army will have anything against the hack, against the “quick ugly fix” that works. But, if given the chance to choose between a quick fix and rebuilding the thing to be perfect, the military will never be sattisfied with “good enough”.
That is why “military specs” mean that you have the most effective configuration of a given thing that people could think of. The disregard for the superfluous seen in so many wartime movies is a consequence of this. The very idea of effectiveness (as opposed to efficiency) comes from military thought.
Now the idea of optimization also comes very directly from this military thought. Optimize is to enhance your chance of survival all the way up, without any other worry whatsoever. Put everything else behind your survival. In fact, disregard everything else.
You see, all of this is very, so to say, “natural” for living beings when faced with stress. In a normal situation you can’t even bring yourself to think of things like if you would prefer to lose your eye or your leg, but if you are in the middle of a city being bombed, you will take the option that makes it easier to you to go away and be done with it. You will “think militarily” by default. (Just let me clarify that i do not mean this is a justification to military thinking, i just want to convey that this form of thinking is not apart from other forms that could be seen as “normal”).
Now optimization leads easily to what has been called “functionalism”. This school of design thinking proposed that every project should be focused single-mindedly into making things work as best as they could. Though i really doubt that at some given point in time there was an engineer from the army making a lecture over at the Bauhaus, i nevertheless think that, in Europe at the time in between the two World Wars, this military-influenced worldview was probably not difficult to conceive.
Optimization is also close to viciousness. This is not a brawl to impress the fairest girl anymore, this is an all out no-punches-held attempt to kill your competitor, his mother, to burn his house and tear his teddy bear. It is not winning, it is annihilation.
Flusser shows this very clearly in “War and the state of things”. If we really want to understand things and their shapes and their ways, we can’t rest easily into a self-righteous illusion that good-design or functionalist-design or any other kind of design is a way to make “the best for everyone”. Design is a means to an end. And being such, it is not moral.
I am not exactly against functionalism. But i am not for it, either.
I am pretty sure that functionalism is tired and wasted. There is no more juice to be taken out of that orange. But it is not enough to overcome this concept to simply proclaim the “end of the meta-narratives” and naively assume that “not having an utopic agenda” will keep us away from the problems of military thought.
The contemporary world has taken some ideas from war and mixed them with our day-to-day lives, and the result has been far from predictable. In war, everything tends to die, and this puts a check into complexity, but when we apply military thought to a world outside war this can only contribute to the soaring of complexity. And to deal with it, we must think better. And this, in turn, will probably involve using, amongst others, ideas from military thought.