Pink Elephant Tactics
Scooby Doo Time
Scare Em Say Boo
Most of us know of Scooby Doo, the animated cartoon show where investigators check out ghost story after ghost story. The stories almost always have the same plot. Strange things are happening in some remote out of the way place. The people in the area are becoming afraid, and beginning to believe claims of supernatural occurrences. The heroes come in, begin investigating and become afraid too, or somehow get trapped. The heroes eventually stumble onto the truth, and discover the explanation for the apparent supernatural occurrences, which usually turns out to be somebody’s contrived cover for some illegal activity in the area. They then all laugh at having once again being fooled into believing in ghosts, and re-assure themselves once again that ghosts are not real.
The stories have the side-effect of keeping us mind-numbingly entertained for about half an hour. But the stories also are an example of one of the sad truths of life. People will make up distractions to keep you from wanting to discover the truth. In cartoon shows, we can laugh at the routine. In real-life, the stories may not be so funny. I call these type of stories ‘pink elephants’.
History of Elephant Tactics – Irresistible Force Beats Immovable Object
No description of pink elephant tactics is complete without a quick reminder of history of real elephant tactics employed in historical warfare.
The first recorded elephant tactics that I know of are from the times of the Roman Empire. No Empire becomes great without making enemies, and so it was with Rome. The particular enemy we are interested in is Hannibal the Great. Hannibal was located somewhere in the northern part of Africa. Hannibal trained elephants for warfare. He apparently also taught them to swim or ride calmly in boats, because he managed to bring his trained herd of war elephants (and warriors) across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe to attack Rome. He did well against the Roman legions. He did well because the Roman legion had developed their tactics around forming a strong square of fighters, called legionnaires. The Roman squares were the classical immovable object of ancient warfare. Hannibal on the other hand, had taught his elephants to charge, becoming what will no doubt be remembered as the classical irresistible force of ancient warfare. The first time the two met, immovable object cracked, breaking the square, and irresistible force ran amok amongst the individual legionnaires. Imagine if you can, a berserk elephant with men dressed in armor trying to scramble out of the way.
This tactic worked until a young hero named Scipio came along. The first part of Scipio’s breakthrough in ancient warfare was a stroke of childish genius. When you see a charging elephant, step aside. Charging elephants can’t turn as quickly as you can when you step aside. The second part of Scipio’s breakthrough came from being trained as a warrior. After you step aside, wait until you can see the pink of his flank, and counterattack. I know I know, elephants probably don’t have pink flanks (I really don’t know, I’ve never inspected an elephants flank), but it seems to fit with the story, and brings us nicely back to the topic of pink elephants. In any case, Scipio followed Hannibal back to Africa, and the subsequent battles did not go so well for the elephants.
Elephant Charging on Slippery Grounds
Pink Elephant Stories
So exactly what is meant when a story is called a 'pink elephant' story?
In general, it is just any concocted story that is designed to encourage you to be afraid. It is the type of story that is designed to encourage you give up hope, run from the battle, or degenerate into chaotic behavior. We’ve seen pink elephant stories all through our lives, stories of those scary aliens, UFO’s, global-warming, global-cooling, end-of-the-world, and conspiracies of various sorts. They usually have no basis in fact, or any facts they cite are contrived. There really is no such thing as Pink Elephants.
Fighting the Pink Elephant
There are at least two things we can do when we encounter pink elephants, assuming we recognize them as such. First is, be like Scooby Doo (Scooby Doo!), go investigate, find the facts and learn the truth. Once we have the truth, stare our fear in the face and laugh at it, and prosecute. Second is, if it turns out to be true, it probably will fall into the category of ‘this too shall pass’. Pink elephants are only scary if they are charging, and if they are, simply step aside. Then we can either laugh at the pink flank, or we can counterattack.
Why even talk about Pink Elephants?
Many people of today were raised on Scooby Doo, they learned the lessons, learned them subconsciously, and learned them so well they might not even know they learned them. But not everybody learned the same lesson. Some people learned to face their fears, others learned to create artificial fears as a distraction.
It is my hypothesis that many of those who learned to create artificial fears went into national politics, where they could lead those who fear what they are told to be afraid of. The politician can simply claim to have saved us from the pink elephant. Then when observant rational people claim to have never seen a pink elephant, the politician can say 'See there? I got rid of them for you'.
\And that’s why I talk about pink elephants. Remember, there is no such thing as a pink elephant.
Flying Pink Elephant
Postscript 2013: Fiscal Cliff
Imagine if you can, a pink elephant named Dumbo, jumping from a fiscal cliff hollering "Scooby Doo, where are you?"
How can those wings carry that weight?
Where does he get the energy to flap those wings anyway?
I mean, that's a lot of peanuts.
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