Intended Strength as Weakness

Kent Dahlgren
6 min readMay 5, 2023

There’s a few substantial advantages of physical labor over the purely intellectual, one of them being the ironic benefit of getting out of your body so you can better explore abstract concepts using tangible metaphor.

Today I’m using a sledgehammer and breaker bar to transform an unnecessarily-large concrete footing for an old mailbox into smaller pieces of broken concrete.

It took about 90 minutes to get to this point, but…

The concrete footing is 7 to 8 inches thick, and there’s a substantial quantity of half inch steel rebar, far too much of it to make any sense, because, you know: it was for a mailbox.

I was thinking…

I did a lot of this in my early 20s; for about three years 1990–1993) I was under the Burnside bridge almost every night, turning large pieces of asphalt and concrete into smaller pieces so they could be recycled into transitioned inclines we would skateboard upon.

But I’m not a big guy, so I have to be smart.

I could go whole-hog at this piece of concrete, but I’ll wear myself out, it’s not the most efficient or effective use of energy.

And so it’s: slow, low, and steady.

It was in this manner that decades ago, I found it beneficial to acknowledge concrete as a fluid, rather than a solid.

Subjectively, yeah: concrete is more solid than a human body, but actually concrete doesn’t dry, it CURES, and it takes years to cure completely, which is why the concrete used thousands of years ago by the Romans is still technically curing, and becoming stronger.

Concrete never cures, and the sun never sweats — skateboarder Marty Musch

When I use the word “curing,“ I’m speaking to a chemical reaction, because that’s what happens when you add liquid water to concrete: it kicks off a chemical reaction, resulting in a transformation, taking thousands of years to complete.

Meaning: the concrete is not in a solid state, but rather is in a “state transition,” and therefore structurally vulnerable to external disruption.

“States” and “state transitions” are important concepts in the context of AI, so pay attention.

Consider two states:
- in your home
- In your car

An example of a pertinent “state transition” is when you leave your home, but BEFORE you get to your car.

Pretty much everything is rendered more vulnerable when it’s in a state transition (including AI btw, which presents conclusive logic-based knowledge predicated upon sometimes falsely-assessed state transition metadata).

A simple example is: “how did Kent travel from his home to his car?”

There’s two known states:
- Kent in house
- Kent in car

An AI would issue a logic based inference that kent took the shortest path, reporting that it’s likely that kent just walked from the house to the car.

This overlooks the fact that kent tends to talk to people and neighbors, so it’s just as likely that he walked from the house, talked to his neighbor, then went to the car.

Meaning: false conclusions are common within “knowledge-based” systems predicated upon fixed state and inferred state transitions.

And one of the biggest reasons why people tend to be poor hackers (and poor entrepreneurs) is because they rely upon pedantry, ego, and arrogant conceit to incorrectly presume things are in a fixed state, rather than within a state transition.

Likewise, those within an institutional mindset tend towards pedantry, ego, and arrogant conceit, making them both more rigidly confident and likewise often less correct.

It’s my favorite, and probably why “the masons” were (are?) a private club used by the institution to create a society mindful of these kinds of vectors, because masonry is a decent metaphor for societal foundations upon which consensus trances might be launched.

So, when conducting a threat assessment, it’s important to examine the target, looking for attack factors, and one of my favorite methodologies is to assess presumed strengths as overlooked weaknesses, because they tend to reflect blind spots.

Let’s get back to this piece of concrete.

You can see that steel rebar is added to limit the risk of cracking due to modern concrete’s propensity to cure too quickly, and therein lies the first attack vector.

After the first 90 minutes, it took just five minutes to do this to the other side; notice how the rebar can now be used as a point of leverage, using the concrete material itself as the fulcrum

Our society doesn’t have the patience to wait six months for a slow-curing concrete to firm up, so we have “quick mix” concrete that “dries fast” for the sake of convenience, rendering the material vulnerable to cracking.

Ergo: the steel rebar.

If you were to use a microscope, you would be able to see that there’s actually a gap between the concrete and the steel rebar, basically because they are two different materials.

Additionally, you’ll notice that I flipped the footing on its head, and elevated it using broken chunks of concrete and stone beneath it, creating voids representing areas where the footing is not supported from beneath.

I bought myself this breaker bar when I turned 40, it’s one of my most prized possessions, because if you know how to use it: one person can eliminate an entire driveway in short order.

I’ve been walking around this footing, holding the breaker bar, meditating upon vectors of opportunity.

Once one’s selected, I strike a few times, take a few steps back, examine the next potential vector, lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve shared this before, but one of the most interesting insights which came from building our own skateparks is that stronger concrete is actually not better, it’s more brittle.

You’re looking at what’s commonly known as 3,000 psi concrete, and one would assume that 12,000 psi concrete would be better, because stronger is better, right?

No. It shatters.

So.

From the perspective of a mostly-fluid human body, concrete is a solid, but actually: it’s an extremely slow-moving fluid concrete still within a state transition.

And it’s hardened relatively quickly, which means that it’s subject to brittleness.

Obviously, this is metaphor.

Five minutes later: flip the turtle over and go for its smooth side, which didn’t last three minutes

Our systems of government were put into place when the largest American city had fewer than 50,000 people, and rather than examine the issues of scalable governance holistically, we’ve done little but add more at the top, without considering the following.

Two minutes later: it’s gone. It took 90 minutes to expose the rebar (reveal the intended “institutional points of strength”), and fewer than 15 to use the rebar as leverage to reduce it into rubble

If you want to deliver substantial scale to a large and complex system, you invest in the leaf nodes, not at the top.

Look a little closer at the remnants of this footing:

One thing we learn from holonic philosophy is that the large solid is illusion; it’s actually cobbled together from large numbers of mostly autonomous circles (holons). The glue that holds it together is the “consensus trance,” which enables people to bounce through their days mostly unconscious

The prior construction crew actually poured two “lifts,“ which are something like layers (see the paper at the top of the piece in the photo just above? It was between two layers of concrete, at the same level as the rebar).

Meaning that they probably mixed a wheelbarrow or two of concrete, poured it into the hole, and then took a lunch break before they mixed the next batch.

Which means that this footing had layers, sort of like a birthday cake, and right in the middle …. is the rebar.

Ergo: the intended strength was actually the block’s greatest weakness.

Meaning: they took care to add more rebar than necessary to the concrete footing, they poured concrete right up to the rebar, and then they …. probably took lunch, and added the rest of the concrete afterwards.

What resembles strength, might actually be the vector representing the greatest weakness.

Again, this is metaphor.

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Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”