“If my intent is to write something useful that people can understand then it's better to write about the way things are instead of what we imagine them to be. Many have imagined the world in ways which don't really exist because how one lives is so far removed from how one ought to live that the person who abandons what one does for what one ought to do, learns frustration rather than clarity.”
Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince
During the Cold War, Russia was the most dangerous place to be an American spy. The men and women who survived this dangerous and brutal environment followed a set of concepts called the Moscow Rules. These weren’t official guidelines. For years they were never written down. The rules were simple, easy to remember and essential if you didn’t want to end up dead in the street with a bullet in your back.
In the 21st Century, America has proven itself to be a dangerous and brutal environment for women and minorities. Look at the police brutality caught on tape (See Thoughts on Police Brutality). Consider the institutionalized misogyny of the NFL (See My Sixteen Game Ban on the NFL), Uber and the legal system when it comes to rape. Spend a moment thinking about all the hate groups, militias and interpersonal conflict in the United States and you might see parallels between Cold War Moscow and present day Ferguson (See Writing While the World Burns).
Perhaps it is time for us to adopt the Moscow Rules for our own use. Maybe evolution is based on survival and survival is based on adaptation to circumstances. If you don’t know who to trust and you can’t rely on institutions or violence to protect you, then maybe you need a different approach.
Since there is no official set of Moscow Rules, I’m going to suggest my own. These are based on different versions of the Cold War ideas. I’ve simply modified them for the world we live in now.
- Assume nothing. (Help may never come)
- Pay attention. (You can’t avoid what you don’t know about)
- You are never completely alone. (Threats can come from anywhere)
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control. (I’ll let you define “opposition” for yourself)
- Go with the flow, blend in. (If they don’t see you, they probably won’t get you)
- Always give yourself a way out (of a conversation, altercation or attack)
- Vary your pattern. (if they know where you are, you’re an easier target)
- If it feels wrong, it is wrong. (Don’t ignore your instincts)
- Maintain a natural pace. (Too fast or too slow draws too much attention)
- Lull them into a sense of inactivity. (If they define you as a threat or an opportunity, they will attack)
- Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly. (Pick your shots and your battles)
- Don't harass the opposition. (Attack from a position of strength, not weakness)
- There is no limit to a human being's ability to rationalize their actions. (Being “right” won’t protect you)
- Keep your options open. (especially when it comes to getting away)
- Technology will always let you down. (Rely on your wits and your skills, not your stuff)
- Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action. (Understand the patterns of human behavior)
- Don't attract attention (Even by being too careful or prepared)
I’m not suggesting we need to be spies in our own country or personal lives. I’m not saying this is the right way for people to live. On a certain level, adopting these concepts as part of your daily routine involves a change in perspective. You might begin to see yourself as isolated and oppressed by your own society. Seeing life this way can create emotional and mental damage over time. But I’m not writing this in response to the way life should be. I’m looking at the world around me and writing about the way our society is now.
If you feel the institutions and systems you live in will protect you, then you have no need for the Moscow Rules. If you are willing to risk a bit of alienation to avoid being shot dead in the street, consider the Moscow Rules. They might help you adapt to the dangers and brutality of your environment.
If you hope the institutions and systems you live in will protect you, give you justice or make you whole again after you’ve been violated, good luck. Just remember; hope is not a plan and the news is full of people who didn’t have a plan.