Monday, January 5, 2015

Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-centric analysis of terrorist mindsets: a critique based on STA (4th of 4 posts)

This fourth and final post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s book The Time Paradox focuses on their analysis of terrorist mindsets. After summarizing their time-perspective approach and noting some of its shortcomings, I reiterate my proposition that space and action orientations should be taken into account as well, separately, along with time. Indeed, spatial perspectives may be as key as temporal ones — possibly more so — in determining who becomes a terrorist.

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Zimbardo & Boyd’s analysis of terrorists mindsets: identifying and applying the transcendental-future time perspective

Zimbardo & Boyd’s chapter about the transcendental-future time perspective is where they turn to analyze the psychology of terrorists, primarily suicide bombers.

The chapter starts with a small vignette about young man, somewhere in an Arab society, who is surrounded by close friends and a proud father before he goes out to blow himself up, along with his target (162). In asking why someone becomes a suicide bomber (or other kind of terrorist), Zimbardo & Boyd propose that it’s because he/she values having a transcendental-time orientation.

But before touting that explanation, they discount what they deem common explanations for terrorist behavior (actually, experts already discounted them long ago): Abnormal-psychology explanations that view suicide bombers as crazy or mentally ill don’t work because most are normal, come from intact families, and are educated and married (163+). Brainwashing explanations that blame religious cult leaders are unverifiable as well (165). Rational-strategy explanations — achieving the most “bang for the buck” — may make some sense, but run counter to the value that most people place on human life (170). Religious explanations lack credence too; for many suicide bombers are not religious fanatics, and act mainly because of secular grievances.

The hopelessness that attends the “unbearable present” — a kind of time perspective — offers a better explanation, according to Zimbardo & Boyd:
“A third common explanation for suicide bombers is that they have lost hope and therefore feel they have nothing to lose in taking their own lives. We would describe such individuals as being high in present fatalism, low in future, and low in present hedonism time perspectives. They do not enjoy the present; they do not look forward to the future; and they do not believe their acts can have any effect upon the future. Having a past-negative time perspective — which is strongly associated with anger, perceived victimization, and aggression — they may be likely to escape their unpleasant present through violent means.” (167)
Thus Zimbardo & Boyd agree that hopelessness explanations have merit, especially if a suicide bomber feels victimized. But they also find that many bombers are not thoroughly hopeless or despairing people:
“Suicide bombers are typically normal, healthy, upstanding members of the communities from which they originate. They are not poor, disenfranchised, or crazy — at least no more so than everyone else in their communities … ” (168)
Against this background, Zimbardo & Boyd opt to modify their time-perspective explanation so that it applies better to suicide bombers (170). What the authors notice is that many bombers feel motivated by a religious belief in a future that transcends earthly life (169). But that far-out kind of future perspective wasn’t in their original past-present-future typology — instead, it held that individuals predisposed to commit suicide bombings would have time perspectives that were high in past-negative, low in past-positive, high in present-fatalistic, low in present hedonistic, and low in future-time (171, my underlining). That profile, though it seemed on the right track, didn’t capture the notion of a transcendental future, especially one that meant having sense of responsibility to God in a religious sense or to future generations in a secular sense.

So, sure that time-perspective analysis could explain suicide bombings and other sacrificial terrorist acts (170), Zimbardo & Boyd turned to “test whether beliefs about the goals, rewards, and punishments that await us after we die foster a unique time perspective”. To do so, they “added questions to the ZTPI that suppose a life after death” (172) — resulting in a new scale, the Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI).

In general, they found that different religious believers scored differently on this new scale: Christians and Muslims tended to endorse the transcendental-future perspective the most (173). Moreover, Protestants tended to be the most extreme (whether high or low) on every time perspective; Catholics’ the most moderate; and Buddhists the most unique (174).

Moreover, groups that felt oppressed scored highest on the transcendental-future scale (179). Indeed, “a firm belief in the transcendental future may make present inequities less painful to endure and rebellion less imperative” (180). The new scale also clarified that transcendental-future beliefs are sometimes related less to religion or life after death, than to secular concern for generations far into the future, the sustainability movement being their example (181).

More significant for this blog post, Zimbardo & Boyd’s big finding is that the transcendental-future time perspective helps explain why some people become terrorists. For this perspective generates “an abundant hope” that becomes “the secret ingredient” in terrorist mindsets:
“Seen from a transcendental-future perspective, a suicide bomber’s act is not crazy, fanatical, hate-filled, or hopeless, but an act committed by a religious person who may have had little hope for his future in this life but has abundant hope in the transcendental future.” (178)
“Time perspective helps us to unify these disparate explanations conceptually, and it also adds the explicative power of the transcendental future. The transcendental-future time perspective is the "secret" ingredient. In the end, suicide bombers are fighting for time.” (178)
Expanding on the point that “suicide bombers are fighting for time,” Zimbardo & Boyd argue that the entire war on terrorism is a war of time perspectives (reflecting Jeremy Rifkin’s 1987 notion of “time wars”?). If our opponents in this war were “ordinary people”, then destroying their mundane future expectations would diminish their motivations (183). But the terrorists waging this war are not so ordinary — for them, the transcendental future has become more important and more achievable than the mundane future:
“We now face an enemy whose visions of the mundane future lie smoldering in the ruins of Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This enemy’s remaining hopes lie squarely in the transcendental future. ... Fighting an adversary with strong transcendental-future goals by destroying it's mundane goals ensures that transcendental-future goals alone are obtainable. We will win the war on terror not by destroying our enemies future but by nurturing it. The motivational power of the mundane future must be restored if mundane future goals are to compete with transcendental-future goals.” (183+)
On this basis, the authors propose that U.S. policy and strategy focus on changing people’s time perspectives. Accordingly, U.S. policy should work to restore “the motivational power of mundane future goals” in societies riven by terrorism, in order to keep “the transcendental future from being the lone oasis in an otherwise desiccated life” (184). In a sense, then, the “war on terror” is a war about whose time perspective wins:
“The war on terror is a battle between the United States government's vision of the mundane future and the vision of the transcendental future held by those who are its enemies.” (184)
Therefore, they call for U.S. plans and programs to develop societies in ways that can “reset” a people’s sense of time, enabling them to adopt a practical, less fatalistic view of the future:
“We can reset this clock. Doing so requires replacing past-negative and present-fatalistic time perspectives with past-positive and present-hedonistic ones.” (185)
To accomplish this, Zimbardo & Boyd urge that U.S. policies and programs be designed around three steps to help “reset” a people’s time perspectives: The first  is to provide “resources and opportunities” to people who lack them. The second is to instill a sense of  responsibility and initiative in people — “Fatal passivity must be replaced by an “I can do it” stance.” (185) Their third step emphasizes “moderating transcendental-future time perspectives and supplementing them with more practical future time perspectives.” Accordingly, “People must believe that their actions today will lead to predictable and desirable rewards in the future.” (185)

Zimbardo & Boyd are not opposed to people having a transcendental-future perspective. Like other time perspectives, it too may have both positive and negative effects. The authors just want to see moderation and balance, favoring good effects, so that “transcendental-future goals encourage civil behavior out of concern for the living and for generations into the future” (186).

Toward doing better at explaining terrorist mindsets — comments from an STA perspective

Despite my criticisms, I am pleased to see a popular book offer an extended discussion of people’s time perspectives, especially in regard to explaining terrorist mindsets. This study is on the right track, more so than are writings that use grand abstract concepts, like humiliation or alienation, bundling all sorts of space, time, and action orientations together, without the writer ever dissecting them. Furthermore, I can imagine that a briefing based on Zimbardo & Boyd’s approach would captivate some policy analysts and strategists in Washington, helping them to understand the importance of time perspectives.

Even so, this book provides an incomplete and insufficient way to analyze terrorist mindsets. It is insufficient, first of all, because it so dependent on a past-present-futures typology that does not include other important dynamics of people’s time perspectives (see Appendix). It is also deficient because, in emphasizing time above all, it takes little account of the influence of people’s space and action perspectives. In other words, I’m back to my critical refrain, as laid out in my three prior posts about this book.

Here are some insufficiencies I spotted while reading this chapter on the transcendental-future time perspective with STA in mind:

• Zimbardo & Boyd’s thesis is that suicide bombers (and other terrorists) have transcendental-future time perspectives, and that this helps explain why they become terrorists. But there’s an analytic problem that they recognize but don’t resolve: Whereas many terrorists may have transcendental-future perspectives, few people at large who have such perspectives turn out to be terrorists. So their thesis offers an interesting but insufficient explanation. Which raises questions as to what else needs to be identified for their thesis to hold up well: Something else about people’s time perspectives? Or about their space and/or action perspectives? My view, of course, is that STA could provide a better, more comprehensive explanation.

• The opening vignette about a suicide bomber surrounded by family and friends in his village seems more about his spatial connections than his temporal perspectives. Besides, I doubt it’s a very representative vignette. Evidently, few suicide bombers leave on a mission that way; many more set out after being secluded with and monitored by fellow fighters, perhaps far from family approval. The spatial setting may be as significant as the temporal.

• To reiterate a point in my Part-3 post, it’s unclear whether the vignette’s suicide bomber is driven more by a transcendental-future or an ascendant deep-past perspective. Many terrorist bombers may have a transcendental-future perspective, as Zimbardo & Boyd propose. But I gather that many are also motivated by ages-old tribal traditions that obligate vengeance and retribution, as may be the case with many Taliban soldiers.

• Much as I appreciate Zimbardo & Boyd’s (and earlier, Rifkin’s) point that the United States is engaged in a kind of time war against terrorism, the point should not be overstated. For this war is also very much about space and agency — indeed, the full space-time-action complex. For example, the time-war point applies rather similarly to both ISIL and Al Qaeda. Yet these two entities have very different spatial outlooks: Al Qaeda has urged attacking the “far enemy” and hasn’t tried to hold territory. In contrast, ISIL has gone after near enemies and worked to hold territory and build a caliphate. Moreover, ISIL’s action orientation is even more savage than Al Qaeda’s.

• The three steps that Zimbardo & Boyd specify as policy implications are quite conventional, for these very kinds of goals regularly appear in statements about U.S. policies and programs for the developing countries. Just a few days ago, for example, I heard a U.S. diplomat say that a purpose of President Obama’s opening toward Cuba is to “encourage Cubans to take control of their own destiny” — clearly, an intention to alter time and agency perspectives among Cubans. What’s missing from the three steps in Zimbardo & Boyd’s brief formulation is how, if enacted, they would result in our doing things much differently.

• Zimbardo & Boyd’s analysis of terrorists’ time perspectives repeats a pattern I mentioned in my prior posts about other parts of their book: They embed people’s action (efficacy, control) perspectives under their time perspectives, though they are fundamentally different kinds of cognition. This embedding appears in this chapter when the authors observe that suicide bombers in the grip of a transcendental-future orientation feel little control over their lives — “they do not believe their acts can have any effect upon the future” (167). It re-appears when the authors claim, in discussing U.S. policy implications, that “Fatal passivity must be replaced by an “I can do it” stance” (185), and that “People must believe that their actions today will lead to predictable and desirable rewards in the future.” (185). As I’ve said many times, this suborning of action to time makes for a flawed approach to mindset analysis.

My overall disposition toward these matters is still summed up pretty well in the following comment I left at a Zenpundit blog post years ago:
“Of the three cognitive domains — space, time, and action — the one that often receives the most attention in terrorism analyses I’ve seen is action, notably the belief in violence. Time orientations — as in an apocalyptic intentions — are often second in emphasis. Spatial orientations generally receive the least explicit attention. But my reading of points made by analysts, as well as by terrorists and by people who live in locales that produce terrorists, indicates that spatial disorientations, antipathies, and ambitions figure as strongly and distinctly in terrorist minds as do time and action. It is not simply a loss of hope (a time orientation) that accounts for despair and the turn to terrorism, but more a loss of connection to one’s identity, to one’s people, and to what one values in the surrounding space. The loss of temporal hope derives from the loss of spatial connection.
“In particular — and this is my theme — terrorists come to acquire a very enlarged sense of social space; and within it, they become keenly resentful about the boundaries and barriers that constrain their own and other people’s lives. They become intent on bursting beyond those boundaries and barriers, and they want none placed on their use of violence. Hiding underground and then exploding outward is, for terrorists, an epitomizing, spatial act. A key aim is to accomplish a vast reconnection among like-minded brethren, while disconnecting the rest of us — in other words, it’s a spatial war as much or more than a temporal war.” (source)
Nonetheless, as I wrote here later, extra care must be taken in analyzing the mindsets of millenarian terrorists — the kind who have transcendental-future perspectives — for their space, time, and action dispositions may be quite different:
“If/when I get around to viewing millenarian terrorists from an STA perspective again, care must be taken in claiming that their spatial orientations may be more significant than their time orientations. After all, millenarianism is about breaching into a new future. But while the millenarian mindset is knotted up with urgent notions about time (the “end times”), it is also about space (e.g., barriers everywhere) and action (e.g., violent deeds to achieve divine breakthroughs). What’s crucial to millenarians is apocalyptic “time war” (term from Rifkin, 1987), more than a spatial “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1993).” (source)
In other words, there is still much to be figured out. And on that note, I shall end this four-part book review about time perspectives and move onward to a book about STA’s action component, namely Alberto Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997).


Endnote — Here is a list of other posts at this blog, plus a comment elsewhere, that offer more extensive discussions about the space-time-action orientations of terrorists:

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Appendix: Some old notes about terrorists’ space-time-action orientations

Before I leave this post, perhaps the point should be reiterated that people’s time perspectives involve a lot more than can be captured by a past-present-future typology: e.g., regarding the kinds of pacing, rhythm, linearity, etc., that people may prefer. I’ve not written much about this in prior posts. So, to offer some clarification, I’m pasting into this Appendix some sketchy notes from a 2007 draft I started about the STA orientations of terrorists. I didn’t get far at the time, but some of my notes may help address the above point (even though these notes are far from being good enough for a stand-alone blog post).

Here are the notes about aspects of terrorists’ time orientations. While I figured that time perspectives may vary greatly from one terrorist to the next, some key patterns may occur frequently, for they seemed to be inherent or implicit in the process of behaving as a terrorist:
• The time orientation often seems explosive. Terrorism emphasizes especially violent, threatening deeds that capture enormous public attention and that are relatively short duration. The events may assume epic, even apocalyptic proportions, whose imagery symbolizes the urgency to destroy all that is wrong with the present order, as well as to create a new future. The terrorist’s emphasis on such explosive deeds seems to imply a different time perspective from the standard revolutionary’s preferences for protracted mass struggle. Time is measured more in terms of dramatic events than of continuous social processes.
• The terrorist incident often creates a tremendous, high-speed compression and acceleration of time, both for the perpetrators and for the system at large. That may be part of the inherent gratification for the terrorists, giving them a sense of speeding the system to its own self-destruction by infusing it with an explosive fuel that seeps into all cracks.
• Their objectives often seem to entail bringing the “system’s” time to a sudden halt in the present, while simultaneously accelerating future change. Apart from such symbolism, the dramas are often designed so as to involve acute, fast-paced schedules that require attention and put pressure on the victims and authorities. (But the passage of time during the unfolding of an incident may have a schizophrenic or dualistic quality, in that looming deadlines may be mixed with periods of slow waiting that tries patience.)
• Where a campaign of terrorism is involved, the time experience may oscillate between slower dormant periods (underground, preparing and planning in secret, and possibly brooding) and fast-paced explosive moments (when the deed goes public, above ground, in a highly expressive climax). Thus time may seem to pulsate more than to flow, and to move more like a spiral than a linear progression. The time experience would seem to seek discontinuity rather than continuity.
• The pause between deeds may partly represent a down-time for the terrorists. But it may also represent a playing-out of the waves created by the prior deed. In strategic terrorism, the incidents are often intended to create waves whose duration and impact need to be examined by laying back awhile. Thus the will to create new events, even rush to create them as soon as possible, may have to be balanced against the interest to assess the waves from the preceding event, the better to plan the timing for the next effort.
A smaller set of those old 2007 notes began to sketch what may be distinctive about terrorists’ space orientations:
• Terrorists have spatial horizons that, probably sometime early in their personal development, were expanded enormously, even overwhelmingly.
• At some point, they also began to feel that their lives were uprooted, rootless, and/or displaced, subject to a world of giant, distant, uncaring forces.
• People who become terrorists acquire a great sensitivity to the social barriers and boundaries affecting their lives.
• They simplify space by coming to perceive it in terms of black-and-white, Manichean polarities.
• They are amenable, even prone, to going underground to hide, in a kind of compression, and then emerging to run amok, exploding into the world at large.
• They think change can be achieved — a system brought down — by striking at critical points and weak links.
• For some terrorists, especially one with a megalomaniacal mindset, a key aim and reward is the narcissistic permeation of the world with his identity.

Evidently I stopped working on this old draft before making comparable notes about terrorists’ action orientations — perhaps all the more reason now to put this Appendix aside and turn to work on Bandura’s book, as indicated earlier.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Grand strategy and social evolution: implications from the TIMN framework (plus a postscript about Cuba)

[UPDATE — January 28, 2015: Be advised that I've grown increasingly displeased with this post. It has too many shortcomings. I’m going to leave it up for now, since its theme — that thinking about grand strategy would benefit from better thinking about social evolution — is a worthy theme to raise. But the parts about TIMN’s implications need a much clearer, more thorough write-up. So if you read this post, please regard it as a very tentative draft, in need of much improvement, that I hope to replace before too long.]

Grand strategies tend to rest on judgments about social evolution — who is gaining strength, progressing faster, posing new challenges, etc. Thus, what a grand strategist thinks — or fails in thinking — about social evolution can make a decisive difference.

Yet, grand strategy and social evolution are rarely paired for their relatedness. Instead, grand strategists tend to think grandly about strategy — but only selectively and piece-meal about political, economic, military, and other aspects of progress (and regress), at home and abroad.

Examples of ideas that connect grand strategy with social evolution via one aspect or another include containment theory in the 1950s, modernization theory in the 1960s, and democratic enlargement in the 1990s. Also, in the 1990s two ideas that touch on social evolution — the “end of history” and the “clash of civilizations” — gained influence among strategists. In the 2000s, however, grand strategic thinking about the “war on terrorism” became notable for its presumptuous naiveté about imposing democratic evolution in strife-torn societies, as seen in U.S. policies in Iraq.

Today, I see more fretting about grand strategy — what it means, how to do it — than ever before (as attested by postings at Infinity Journal, Small Wars, War on the Rocks, and Zenpundit). Grand strategy appears to be up for grabs. At the same time, I never see social evolution explicitly considered in connection to grand strategy — only those selected aspects about political, economic, and social development. I suppose that’s understandable: Unlike grand strategy, social evolution is an unpopular concept. In academia, it’s been on the outs for decades, though scholarly books — e.g., Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1999), and Frank Fukuyama's, The Origins of Political Order (2010) — occasionally come to the fore. A few online sites — notably, Social Evolution Forum, and The P2P Foundation — discuss theories about long-range social-evolution, but they rarely take note of grand strategy.

Thus, there are few formal choices available for grand strategists to consider if they want to be explicit and comprehensive about long-range social evolution. The established practice is to draw from here and there about this and that kind of development.

TIMN’s advantages for grand strategy

My purpose with this post is to note that the nascent TIMN framework about social evolution (tribes + institutions + markets + networks) may have advantages for grand strategy, several (but not all) of which may be as follows:

— TIMN recognizes the crucial importance of the tribal form and its bright sides (e.g., family, community) for all societies and their prospects for progressive evolution. TIMN also explains the dark tribalism so rampant in many regions, and the difficulty of getting beyond it.

— TIMN recognizes the importance of strong hierarchical institutions (e.g., good government, professional militaries) that depend on meritocracy and law more than patrimonialism and corruption, which are often holdovers from the tribal form. TIMN also implies balancing state and other sectors (e.g., business, civil society), so that power and control are distributed to benefit a system and its people as a whole.

— TIMN recognizes the importance of developing strong open market systems, relatively free of government interference. TIMN also recognizes that a market system is essential for liberal democracy. But TIMN doesn't necessarily imply American-style capitalism; nor does it mean that opening up to foreign investment by major corporations will necessarily lead to a free fair market system. TIMN cautions that the latter, in a context of authoritarian rule, may result in fascism more than capitalism.

— TIMN views the rise of networked information-age civil-society NGOs and other non-state actors as harbingers of the rise of the next form of organization that promises to reshape social evolution: the +N network form. Power is migrating to actors who are organizationally and philosophically suited to this form. TIMN maintains that the rise of a new form will create a new sector, but I remain uncertain what a +N sector will be all about — only that it will exert significantly different influences from the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors.

Overall, then, TIMN is consistent with liberal democracy being history's most advanced system to date. But it implies that, as the network form takes hold, democracy may look substantially different in the future. Moreover, TIMN allows for major variations as well as other outcomes, in accordance with local approaches to each TIMN form. The optimal outcome for one society (say, the United States) may be significantly different for another (say, Singapore), largely because of their differing local approaches to the TIMN forms, their combination and progression.

TIMN as a way to assess a society for strategic purposes

A full-fledged methodology for applying TIMN is still to be developed. But even at this nascent stage it offers a promising way to think about trends in particular societies that may interest strategists.

For example, consider Russia and China from a TIMN viewpoint: Russia remains unable to get the market (+M) form right. That’s partly because Russia is so committed to the hierarchical institutional (+I) form. To compensate, Russia is increasingly reverting to tribe-like (T) practices, while suppressing social activists who represent information-age network (+N) activities. These are not good signs that Russia will progress in TIMN terms.

In contrast, China has adopted (and adapted) the market form rather effectively, though far from fully. China also seems capable of further progress in TIMN terms, without necessarily reverting to tribe-like xenophobia, or crushing all networked civil-society actors. Unlike Russia, China is on its way to becoming a full-fledged triformist (T+I+M) society, though probably not a liberal democracy. Thus TIMN helps show that China poses different challenges from Russia, with different implications for grand strategy.

While grand strategy normally focuses on what’s going on abroad, the strategist always takes into account what’s going on at home. Conditions here in America should not be omitted from a strategist’s calculus. TIMN indicates that America is starting to evolve beyond its triformist (T+I+M) system, in order to become a quadriformist (T+I+M+N) society. If so, +N forces will ultimately lead to a vast reshaping and rebalancing of the entire American system. Meanwhile, this evolutionary shift explains some of the turbulence America has been experiencing at home and abroad. Indeed, our society is thoroughly out-of-balance in TIMN terms: Venomous political tribalisms keep growing. Our government institutions are fraught. And our market system is increasingly distorted. Moreover, +N forces in civil society are still feeling their way, with difficulty. And there’d be many more points to make if I were trying to do a full TIMN profile.

My TIMN view — yours may differ — is that America’s strength is more limited and fragile than we know. Strategists should be concerned about TIMN conditions and trends at home as they ponder options abroad.

TIMN and U.S. options for grand strategy

TIMN does not imply any single grand strategy. But it may help assess why some options are inadvisable, and suggest some options that have not surfaced much.

I’ve not given this section much prior thought — indeed, this post is rather impromptu — but it seems to me that two kinds of strategies are inadvisable for the United States from a TIMN standpoint in the current environment. One is energetic pro-democracy activism, the other is tight-border isolationism:
• TIMN cautions against the exportability of U.S. models to make others “more like us” — especially if it is accompanied by a preachy meddlesome evangelism. Promoting democracy is a worthy endeavor, but it should be kept within pragmatic limits, for it’s likely to violate one TIMN principle or another if it is made the driving impulse of U.S. strategy. After all, a belief in American exceptionalism (which TIMN accepts) should make a strategist wary of trying to remodel others’ societies along American lines.
• TIMN also seems to mean that tight-bordered isolationism is inadvisable, especially for a triform society in the throes of change into a quadriform society. For one thing, isolationism tends to foster reactionary tribalisms (and vice-versa). For another, the further a society proceeds along the TIMN progression, the more its actors need and seek external connections — long the case with +M actors, and potentially more so for emerging +N actors who can be assets for U.S. strategy. Isolationism would retard and distort America’s prospects for continued evolution along TIMN lines.
A grand-strategy option that looks potentially compatible with TIMN is “forward partnering” — Frank Hoffman’s idea synthesizing other options (here and here). It’s mainly about military (especially naval) strategy, but it’s proposed with a keen awareness of new limitations on U.S. power at home and abroad, and it’s directed at achieving a circumspect partnering with allies:
“In sum, a strategy of forward partnering reassures allies and builds up partners, with limited footprint and maximum freedom of maneuver. … To the degree practicable, U.S. involvement will be devoted to collective efforts of prevention and the maintenance of the international system via an array of formal and informal partnerships.” (source)
Even though his proposal barely touches on aspects of social evolution apart from China’s rise, I sense they could be added in without much effort.

As for TIMN’s own implications for grand strategy, so far I have come up with only one idea to suggest: accommodational positioning — an awkward name, but the best I can do for now. The key is giving a TIMN-related meaning to accommodation: Here it does not simply mean accommodation between U.S. actors and whoever else is involved; it means accommodation by all actors to a higher set of organizational principles that have philosophical principles embedded within them — namely, TIMN. (Thus, meta-accommodational or meta-positioning might be more accurate, but also more awkward.)

TIMN is not sufficiently developed to serve as a blueprint for grand strategy, but it still offers some tentative guidelines that seem worth considering. I limit my remarks to sketching what the above concept — accommodational positioning — might mean in dealing with partners and rivals who are amenable to relations.
— First of all, TIMN points immediately to the importance of recognizing all expressions of the tribal form: e.g., conditions at family and community levels (including health, education, and welfare), trends in ethnic and national identities (including nationalism and patriotism), along with the influential roles that patrimonialism (including nepotism and cronyism) may play in local institutions and markets. There are many instances of U.S strategy neglecting the roles of the tribal form; using TIMN can help correct that shortcoming.
— Accommodational positioning may mean caution about promoting democracy as a priority, depending on circumstances. In general, the more democracy can be properly promoted, the better. But hammering for a society to open its party system and hold free elections as a condition for U.S. attention may also prove inadvisable, especially if a society is not well along the TIMN progression to having professional government institutions and a well-functioning market system. If a society is sorely lacking in such preconditions, a push to democratize may have counter-productive dysfunctional effects. If it is important for U.S. strategy to promote reforms, it may be wiser to focus on helping to improve the performance of local institutions (e.g., civil service) and markets (e.g., for credit) than pressing for democracy immediately.
— Accommodative positioning would seek to engage a range of civil-society actors, especially those that are organized into influential information-age networks and thus seem to represent the rise of the +N form. This may prove particularly important, but also difficult, if a target society is lacking or resistant in this regard.
The points above proceed form by form. A few points that span all four TIMN forms should also be noted: Accommodative positioning would mean working across all forms to improve organizational readiness in ways that have philosophical import. It would mean creating plans, programs, and other measures that engage all sectors of a society, not just government. It would create complex coordination issues that will make some actors uneasy about assuring central control, but it must be made clear that creating conditions for progress à la TIMN depends as much, if not more, on decontrol, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

What I have in mind for accommodative meta-positioning, then, is a world and a strategy that is still suited to hard-power realpolitik, but is also increasingly subject to soft-power noopolitik (nöospolitik), particularly where success depends on non-governmental and governmental actors working together. In light of such complexity, perhaps what Paul Van Riper describes as the “systemic approach to operational design” could be helpful (source).

One further concern: TIMN implies a need for new kinds of expertise. Implementing a grand strategy often requires the creation of an array of supportive political, economic, military, and other plans and programs, led by experts from established political, economic, military and other such disciplines. However, if TIMN were developed as a basis for strategy, the expertise would need to be about the dynamics of tribes, institutions, markets, and networks. That’s a rather different set of categories for defining expertise; such specializations don’t quite match the established disciplines. This could lead to difficult lengthy learning experiences.

Postscript about yesterday's shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba

As I was finishing this post, news broke yesterday about the U.S. policy changes toward Cuba. A quick mention seems appropriate for the following reasons: The U.S. government, and presumably an array of business and civil-society actors, have just embarked on a process that might be suited to a strategy of accommodative positioning, even though Cuba’s leadership doesn’t want to countenance evolving a +M society at present. Meanwhile, this new rapprochement may serve to keep other powers (Russia? China?) from trying to use Cuba for their version of Hoffman’s forward partnering.

There’s little reason to be optimistic that Cuba’s fidelistas and raulistas can be convinced of the benefits of decontrol to create a market system. Here’s why, according to what I wrote five years ago in a TIMN analysis of Castro’s Cuba:
“In sum, Fidel Castro remains committed to a theory of social evolution that is fundamentally erroneous. He is not entirely wrong to rail against the evils of capitalism — it can have detrimental effects, and what’s happening in the United States today provides new evidence. But by failing to see that the market system is essential for continued social evolution, and by not figuring out how to make it apply in a balanced, positive way in Cuba — even so that it deserves a name other than capitalism — he keeps Cuba’s potential arrested in an evolutionary cul-de-sac of his own fabrication.
“Eventually a breakout will occur. Odds are, a multitude of U.S. actors will then rush ahead with their usual patterns about promoting democracy and freedom, including free enterprise. But if the objective is to see Cuba turn into a balanced T+I+M system, new kinds of advice and assistance may be needed. The United States has policies and strategies for promoting capitalism — basically saying, open your markets, and we will come. But do we really have adequate policies and strategies for building a properly free, fair market system? I gather not, for that’s never been as major a goal as promoting capitalism. It’s time to rethink. Otherwise, assuming that the post-Fidel regime endures, the model it prefers next may be a mild kind of fascism rather than a potential liberal democracy.” (source)
This does not mean I am opposed to the shift in U.S. policy. It may well work to our benefit, but for it to do so, we will need a wary strategy akin to accommodational positioning à la TIMN. Onward we go.

* * * * *

Addendum: “A sound theory of social evolution would be handy to have.”

The text above offers some recent thoughts about grand strategy. Here’s an earlier statement — an except from In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes—The First and Forever Form (2006) — that raises some similar points. Though this statement is directed at U.S. policies and programs rather than grand strategy per se.
“There is never a bad time — and now seems a fine time — to inquire anew into how societies evolve. The world is in awful flux, and debates keep sharpening across national, cultural, and other divides regarding what progress means. There is continual talk that the information age will remake the world and propel societies up the ladder of progress; yet the gaps between the most-developed and least-developed societies are larger than ever. Many people want better lives; but while some aim to advance in a secular, liberal, Western sense, others would rather back up, cleanse, and restart their societies, with a religion as their guide. Meanwhile, much of the world remains mired in ancient tribal dynamics; only a part of the world has succeeded in developing modern, complex societies — or so it seems.
“A sound theory of social evolution would be handy to have. Although there are philosophers and social scientists who question whether evolution has brought real progress to humanity, U.S. policymakers and strategists operate on assumptions that societies based on political democracy, market economies, and independent civil societies are better — more advanced, civilized, peaceful, stable, productive, equitable, and responsible — than other societies. And, indeed, many foreign policy problems facing Washington concern one aspect or another of social evolution — such as how to keep former communist countries on democratic paths, how to sustain economic liberalization in Asian and Latin American nations where elites may prefer cronyism to capitalism, how to motivate tribal systems in Africa and the Middle East to modernize, and how to deal with ethnic conflicts in places that lack professional states and may be under the sway of criminal clans. In addition, assumptions about social evolution lie behind both international and U.S. assistance programs, which are supposed to lift people out of poverty, diminish the lures of crime and terrorism, create middle classes, and put all on paths to freedom and prosperity.
“But are such assumptions valid? What are the keys to social evolution?” (p.7)


Endnote: First-time readers unfamiliar with TIMN are advised to look at a briefing-style video, two blog posts, my original RAND paper, and a follow-up paper. Here are the URLs:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A depiction of space-time-action analysis (STA) in six slides — plus an addendum of revelatory quotes

The purpose of this post is to offer a depiction of my view of STA. The post also depicts the space, time, and action views I’ve found in writings I’ve reviewed lately — as I presume they may be depicted in a similar way for comparison purposes.

The genesis of my depiction dates from a briefing I started to draft in 2009, but never completed. Hopefully, offering this set of draft slides today can help convey STA at a glance.

This post’s placement here is temporary. After I finish an upcoming series on a writing about action orientations — meaning I’ve finished reviewing a book about each STA orientation — I’ll delete this post and reissue it in a subsequent position, amended to include a new slide about the action-oriented book.

I could have waited until then before publishing this preliminary post. But rather than let it sit idly on my computer for what may be few months, I’d rather put this version out now, out of place, with a hope that it will help as an evolving visual aid for conveying and clarifying STA.

Speaking of readers, my ongoing series of posts about STA appears to be of little interest so far. Posts about TIMN remain of greater interest, and I intend to return to writing about TIMN, for there is still a lot to be said. But for now, onward with STA — so that at least its rudiments are laid out better here.

* * * * *

This post presumes a passing familiarity with the STA framework. Otherwise, read here first.

What I do here is let circles correspond to the three cognitive domains: space, time, action. Sizes indicate relative emphasis. Locations — e.g., separations, overlaps — indicate relative interactions, or their absence.

All diagrams are preliminary and impressionistic on my part. Your view may differ — in which case, feel free to redraw, or suggest that I redraw.

Slide 1: Many (most?) discussions I’ve seen over the years about space, time, and action factors are reflected in the diagram on the left, where space and time factors are discussed for their effects on activities, or action, which is broadly defined to cover all sorts of thinking and doing. But, though not entirely wrong, that approach ultimately misleads, for it makes action too much of a dependent variable.

The depiction on the right shows what STA looks like to me. Notice that all three circles — space, time, and action — are treated as independent but interactive variables, roughly equal in size and location, with complex overlaps. It’s basically a Venn diagram. It makes “thinking and doing” — not vague “action” — the dependent variable. And as I’ve argued in various writings, it’s a more accurate way to depict and assess cognition. This kind of diagram also offers a basis for comparisons, as in the next few slides.

Slide 2: While Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space ([1974] 1991) focuses on space, he devotes major attention to time as well. He does not write about action, but his treatment of “strategy” is somewhat cognate. (source: three blog posts, beginning here)

Hence, the largest circle is about space. Time merits a rather large circle too. And the space and time circles deserve a strong overlap. Lefebvre’s treatment of action/strategy figures less by comparison — so I’ve rendered it with the smallest circle and least overlap.

Slide 3: This slide depicts what I conclude from my reading of Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (2008). The largest circle by far must go to time. (source: three blog posts, plus a fourth in progress, starting here)

As for action, they emphasize the importance of “control” and “efficacy” as cognates. So it merits a medium-size circle. But their discussion tends to embed and suborn control within their treatment of time. Thus, in my assessment, the action circle ends up almost entirely engulfed within the time circle.

I spotted no discussion of space as a distinct cognitive domain, only scattered disparate references to various spatial elements (e.g., perceptions about self-worth, family, or government). Hence, I’ve drawn the space circle quite small and placed it almost entirely outside (though maybe it too belongs inside).

Slide 4: This slide is here as a temporary place marker until I have the material to fill it out. I’m pretty sure the book I will use is Alberto Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997), since it appears to discuss psychological efficacy in a manner that matches what I think action means in the STA framework.

Other choices might be grand theories of social action — e.g., by sociologists Talcott Parsons, Anthony Giddens, or Manuel Castells. They refer heavily to space and time factors. But they also use broader definitions of action than I think is best for developing STA at this point.

Another option might be a history of the Western concept of “progress” and its associations with space, time, and action innovations. Or a writing, perhaps by an anthropologist, about differences between Western and Asian ways of thought. But right now, I’d rather work with a writing of a more theoretical and psychological bent, like Bandura’s book.

Slide 5: This slide recapitulates my sense of what STA mindframe analysis looks like, ideally. All three of STA’s cognitive domains are identified. And they’re weighted equally, as are their overlaps. What is presumably a cognitive/cultural “sweet spot” lies at the core in the middle.

Of course, this depiction leaves open questions about the content of each domain, as well as about indicators and measures for each, and for their overlaps and interactions. Identifying those remains a challenge.

Moreover, this depiction is about what a comprehensive STA analysis should look like, ideally inquiring into all areas. The depiction may also represent what an actual mind (or culture) should look like, at its best: developed, balanced, and attentive in all three cognitive domains.

Yet, in reality, many minds and cultures do not conform to this idealized depiction — e.g., they may be more emphatic in one area, less so in another. If so, then the diagram would have to be redrawn to display that particular mind or culture. Which would then offer a basis for making comparisons, as I’ve tentatively done with the books reviewed above. And offering a method for depicting an ideal and making comparisons seems worthwhile to me, as a way to advance STA.

Slide 6: I’ve already written a variety of posts (starting here and here) claiming that all minds and cultures rest on space-time-action principles — indeed, that space-time-action orientations lie at the core of cognition and culture. Theorizing about this is the main purpose of STA.

STA also offers a way to understand evolutionary progress and regress, be that in the form of personal or social evolution. All such evolution depends on STA conditions. Jean Piaget’s writings about the cognitive growth of children speaks to this, and so do Zimbardo & Boyd’s writings about cognitive therapy for adolescents and adults. As for social evolution à la TIMN, I’ve previously indicated that the each TIMN form depends on different STA orientations (e.g., see sidebar and table titled “TIMN vis à vis STA” here). More could be done with this.

Furthermore, STA may provide a fresh way to think about strategy and tactics. Strategy is traditionally treated, particularly in the military world, as the art of relating ends, ways, and means — and sometimes, mostly in the business world, as the art of positioning. STA implies that strategy is the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages, in light of one’s ends, ways, and means. To design a strategy, STA implies making a comprehensive examination of space, time, and action factors as a set. Don’t just focus on time and space — as some strategic analysis seems to do — assuming that should determine action.

I remain convinced that STA could help with analyzing terrorist and other radical mindsets. Many terrorism analysts emphasize grand concepts — e.g., humiliation, alienation — but they could do better by digging into terrorists’ space, time, and action orientations. However, when analysts do so, most emphasize STA’s time and/or action orientations — yet it’s terrorists’ space orientations that may be more crucial. STA urges a comprehensive approach. (I’ve already written various posts about this, and I’ll elaborate further in my next post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-perspective theory.)

Finally, whenever I occasionally read about the prospects for cognition and consciousness in artificial intelligence (AI), I wonder how much that will may depend on the development of devices to generate space, time, and action senses. For example, isn’t the Google self-driving car a set of technologies — sensors, modules, algorithms — for just that? I’ve never seen AI discussed in anything like STA terms; but I’ve long mused that doing so could prove useful.

I hope this sketchy outline helps. Onward.

* * * * *

Addendum: Scholarly quotes about the importance of people’s STA orientations

While I was refining the foregoing slides and text, I noticed various scholarly quotes I’d kept for old drafts about STA. These quotes might clutter the trim briefing-style post above. But they speak pointedly to the ideas behind STA. And they may help convey and clarify STA for some readers. So I’m providing a selection here, eleven in number. I’ve used a few in prior posts, but they’re worth repeating.

On space: These two quotes — the first from Michel Foucault, the next from Manuel Castells — speak to the importance of space orientations.
• “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. … when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (From Michel Foucault, “Of Other Space,” in Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 24)
• “I shall then synthesize the observed tendencies under a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places.” (From Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, p. 378)

On time: Here are three quotes about the significance of time orientations — one each from Karl Mannheim, Florence Kluckhon, and Fred Polak. The statements by Kluckhon and Polak represent the kind of background that I’d wish Zimbardo & Boyd’s book had included.
• “[T]he innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearning, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past.” (From Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936, p. 209)
• “Obviously all societies at all times must cope with all three time problems; all must have their conceptions of the Past, the Present, and the Future. Where societies differ is in the rank-order emphasis they give to each, and a very great deal can be told about the particular society being studied, much about the direction of change within it can be predicted, if one knows what that rank order is. Spengler, greatly impressed by the significance of the time orientation, made this statement in his Decline of the West: ‘It is by the meaning that it intuitively attaches to time that one culture is differentiated from another.’” (From Florence Kluckhohn, “Some Reflections on the nature of cultural integration and change,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 224)
• “[Man's] image of the future is his propelling power. … [T]he rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” (From Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19)

On action: That man has power to affect things, that progress is feasible, that social action can work — that human agency and efficacy matter — is a separate belief, not derived from space-time beliefs. This point shines in the following two quotes — one from Leonard Doob, the other from Alberto Bandura:
• “Basic to all such thinking …. must also be the belief that men themselves — not their ancestors, not fate, not nature, not other men — are able to control their own destinies. … for men everywhere are not likely to seek change unless they believe that change is possible.” (From Leonard Doob, Becoming More Civilized, 1960, p. ??)
• “This change in human self-conception and the view of life from supernatural control to personal control ushered in a major shift in causal thinking, and the new enlightenment rapidly expanded the exercise of human power over more and more domains.” (From Alberto Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997, p. 1)

On space and time together: Of the three STA orientations, space and time are the two that usually get combined and discussed together. The following quotes — one from Lewis Mumford, the next from Daniel Boorstin — illustrate this:
• “[N]o two cultures live conceptually in the same kind of time and space. … [E]ach culture believes that every other kind of space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives.” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1932, p. 18)
• “[T]he compass provided a worldwide absolute for space comparable to that which the mechanical clock and the uniform hour provided for time. … When you moved any great distance from your home out into the uncharted great oceans, you could not know precisely where you were unless you had a way of finding precisely when you were.” (From Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983, pp. 219-220)

On space, time, and action as a set: Finally, as intimations of STA, here are revelatory quotes — one from Sheldon Wolin, the next from Bruno Latour — that urge treating space-time-action as a triad.
• “Every political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about “time,” “space,” “reality,” or “energy.” Although most of these are the traditional categories of metaphysicians, the political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. … Rather, the political theorist has used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about power. The complex of these categories we can call a political metaphysic.” (From Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, 1960, pp. 15-16)
• “Fourth, to talk like the semioticians, there is always simultaneously at work in each account, a shift in space, a shift in time, and a shift in actor or actant, the last of these always forgotten in philosophical or psychological discussions. … We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or, more elegantly of timing, spacing, acting.” (From Bruno Latour, “Trains of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and The Fifth Dimension,” in Common Knowledge, Winter 1997, pp. 178–9)

Bruno Latour!? I normally find his writing incomprehensible. Evidently I must reconsider.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Zimbardo & Boyd’s typology and questionnaire for assessing time perspectives — an STA-based critique (3rd of 4 posts)

This third post about Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s book The Time Paradox (2008) examines their methodology — their typology and questionnaire — for assessing time perspectives. As in other posts in this series, my purpose is to show that STA would be a better way to go, for theorists and strategists.

My dissection gets quite detailed in spots, especially in going through the dozens of questions they use to figure out how to categorize people’s time perspectives — so detailed that this post and its tediously unremitting refrain may interest few readers right now. Nonetheless, for me as well as for readers who may develop an interest in STA, rummaging through the details is worth doing, in order to continue showing that Zimbardo & Boyd’s approach conflates space, time, and action under the sole rubric of time perspectives.

* * * * *

Before I turn to critiquing Zimbardo & Boyd’s approach from an STA standpoint, I want to commend their book on other grounds.

I’d wish that all experts about space, time, and/or action orientations would provide typologies and questionnaires for analyzing people’s perspectives. But very few even provide a typology. And fewer still provide indicators, based on questionnaires or other methodologies, for sorting and ranking people’s space, time, or action orientations.

Of the few typologies I’ve seen over the years, most focused on time orientations. Perhaps that’s because our conventions for analyzing time are more settled than for space or action. Time orientations have been relatively easy to categorize in terms of conventions about past, present, and future (not to mention elaborations about cyclical vs. linear, secular progressive vs. millenarian). In contrast, there are also plenty of conventions about space (e.g., near/far, big/small, etc.), but they don’t seem nearly as amenable to being assembled into a general typology about people’s mindsets, though a few scholars have tried (e.g., Edward T. Hall). Likewise for action: its analysts also have sound conventions to work with (e.g., about efficacy and agency, including fatalism vs. instrumentalism), but they too seem difficult to disassemble and assemble into typologies. I rarely see a formal typology for categorizing people according to their action orientations (and right now I can’t recall a single one).

While typologies have been rare, questionnaires and other methodological tools for figuring out where people fit in a typology have been even rarer. Such tools crop up in efforts to assess specific psychiatric and neurological disorders, but not for analyzing the mindsets of general populations and their cultures. Of course, space-, time-, and action-related questions and scales crop up constantly in opinion polls about one issue or another, but that’s a different matter.

The fact that Zimbardo & Boyd provide both a typology and an inventory-questionnaire is thus strikingly unusual and to their credit. For good reason, as noted in Part 1, fellow psychologists Anna Sircova et al. concluded that “we can now strongly recommend these ZTPI versions as the “gold standard” for further research on time perspective, as well as its utility in cross-cultural comparisons” (2014: 9). That’s quite an achievement; I’ve not seen a comparable accolade for a space- or action-oriented methodology.

Against that background, I turn now to offering an STA-oriented assessment.

Zimbardo & Boyd’s typology: discussion + critique with STA in mind

As noted in Posts 1 and 2, Zimbardo and Boyd identify “six time perspectives: two past, two present, and two future” (52). These are said to be “the six most common time perspectives in the Western world” (62), found among individuals and cultures at large. The perspectives in their typology are called the:
• Past-negative
• Past-positive
• Present-fatalistic
• Present-hedonistic
• Future
• Transcendental-future
This typology derives from decades of field work. Their initial work emphasized the first five. The sixth — transcendental-future — was added later, partly to reflect the kinds of perspective they were encountering among religious people, including some terrorists.

While Zimbardo & Boyd regard these six as the most common (at least in the Western world), they also mention, rather apart, a seventh distinctive perspective called the “holistic present” (53). It reflects living one's life in the present moment while including past and future in an expanded state of consciousness about the present. It’s essentially the time perspective at the core of Zen Buddhism. Zimbardo & Boyd value it highly, but note that it is rarely found among people at large and requires lots of training to learn. So it’s not in their basic typology.

These six perspectives are said to be methodologically unrelated. In the authors’ methodology, a person’s score on one dimension is unrelated to his/her score on others (52). Thus different people may exhibit different blends of the six —i.e., rank high on one but low on another:
“When we describe the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of a specific time perspective, we are referring to a person who is high on that particular time perspective and relatively low on all others. In the real world, people can be high on multiple time perspectives, all of which interact.” (68)
Much of the book then offers separate chapters to discuss each of the six perspectives in turn — their good and bad correlates, and associations with psychological and cultural conditions. And that’s where it initially becomes evident that, while their typology focuses on time, space and action orientations are embedded throughout:
◊ For example, the chapter on past perspective says that “those who reported most involvement with their families were most likely to be highly past-positive” (97). Quite so. But from an STA standpoint, “involvement with families” is not about time — it’s a spatial matter that affects time (and action) perspectives.
◊ Next, the chapter on present perspectives says that “The development of a future orientation requires stability and consistency in the present, or people cannot make reasonable estimates of the future consequences of their actions” (100). But that stability may be more because of space or action than time conditions. Moreover, this chapter focuses partly on present-fatalists who are likely to believe nothing they do can make a difference to the future, that their place in life is set — e.g., as in believing that “My life path is controlled by forces I cannot influence” (107). Some people’s present-oriented fatalism may stem from religious beliefs about predestination or God’s will, while others’ fatalism may follow from a sense of subordination to people of power and privilege (108). Whatever, fatalism is not simply a time perspective; it is as much a space- and action- as a time-based belief — that’s what I think STA means.
◊ The chapter on future perspectives says that their development requires “a sense of personal efficacy”, including so that one can “influence the future by working hard in the present” (137). Quite so — but again, efficacy and working-hard are action orientations. This chapter also identifies ten conditions that make people more future-oriented — e.g., “Becoming educated” (140). But they are not all time-based conditions. Three seem more about space or action than time. For example, “Living in a stable family, society, nation” is a spatial condition, while “Using technology regularly” is an action condition.
And this conflation of space, time, and action under their time rubric continues when the book turns to broader analytic and therapeutic matters regarding their typology. In the chapter about “life choices” and “balancing the present and future,” Zimbardo & Boyd observe (219) that “Most people move through life among a group of people from whom they derive support, self-definition, and a sense of stability and continuity” — a kind of “convoy”. And they say that “Ideally, over time, we maintain those convoys that are most satisfying and discard or relegate to the periphery of our circle many, perhaps most, of our acquaintances.” These too are surely sound points, but I hasten to add that they are more space- than time-oriented. Their “convoy” is essentially a spatial construction that benefits peoples’ time and action orientations.

Still later, the book provides lists of steps people can take to increase their future orientation, improve their present orientation, and become more past-positive despite bad experiences (305-310). I’m not going to go through those lists here, but I would note that many steps look to be as much about one’s space or action orientation as one’s time orientation. Besides, Post 2 in this series already discussed the importance the authors give to achieving a balanced time perspective. It’s done by taking steps to exercise “control” — as these lists exemplify — and control is an action orientation, not a time perspective.

A critique of their typology + a contrast to a different typology

My critical refrain harps on Zimbardo & Boyd’s conflation of space, time, and action. I do so partly to show that no major writing by any author on any one of the three can avoid dealing with all three. And partly to urge, therefore, that STA (or something like it) will eventually be realized as the way to go, theoretically and strategically.

However, STA does not designate what a typology should look like. And I don’t see that STA could do so, at least not at this point. Even so, I do have some remarks about Zimbardo & Boyd’s typology, rather irrespective of STA. So I’ll offer them here as a bit of a digression.

Zimbardo & Boyd’s typology of six perspectives has evidently proven very serviceable for their and their colleagues’ purposes, for it is grounded on fieldwork using a tested methodology: i.e., their questionnaires (as discussed in detail below). But it seems to me, their typology has serious limitations, if not problems:
➤ Shouldn’t the typology recognize a “deep past” perspective, as a functional equivalent of their transcendental future category? The deep past is about culture and history; it’s about people who take the long-ago heavily into account, as many tribal and tribalized people do. Zimbardo & Boyd’s layout (and perhaps their questionnaire) seems lacking in this regard, for it emphasizes people’s personal pasts, and does so mostly for those parts of the world where the deep past may not figure strongly.
➤ Why no “instrumental present” perspective? The authors claim only that “People can be oriented to the present in three ways: as present hedonists, present fatalists, and present holists” (105). But that seems awfully limited. People who are not fatalists are not necessarily hedonists or holists. Most, I’d suppose, have instrumental views about the present. Of course, Zimbardo & Boyd implicitly recognize this via their emphasis on the importance of efficacy and control. And they might say that people who rank low on present fatalism correspond implicitly to present instrumentalists. They even state that “As we look further into the future, we are forced to do more in the present” (45). But still, why not make it an explicit entry in their typology (even though it’d spell another conflation of time and action, for instrumentalism is as much an action orientation as fatalism)?
➤ I remain puzzled at seeing just a singular future, followed by a singular transcendental future. Their typology offers a positive and negative variant about the past, somewhat positive and negative variants about the present (using narrower notions), but nothing so varied about the future. What’s paramount in Zimbardo & Boyd’s methodology is that people have a future perspective. I’d agree. But it makes a significant difference, does it not — as significant as for people’s past and present perspectives — whether the future is viewed with gloom or hope, as an instrumental or fatalistic future, as a linear or extraordinary non-linear future? (Indeed, might not some people be instrumental about the present but fatalistic about the future?)
➤ Finally, at first glance their typology, though presented as a list, looks like it implies a rectangular 3 x 2 matrix, with past, present, and future on one side, and a positive vs. negative axis along the framing side. In a TED talk (2009), Zimbardo affirms as much when he says that there are two ways — and he only says “two ways” — to be oriented to the past, the present, and the future, with people empasizing either a future or a future-transcendental perspective. But of course, a rectangular matrix isn’t really the case, especially given how the authors treat each future in singular terms. Thus I end up seeing the typology looking more like a pyramid — with a broad spectrum of positive vs. negative pasts at the base, a narrower spectrum of possible presents spanning the middle of the pyramid, and then a peak composed of two stacked categories about the future. Something seems off here. I can’t quite figure out what, but it adds to my sense that this typology, as it stands, will turn out to be too limited for broader theorizing and strategizing. It seems more suited to therapy than to theory.
[UPDATE: December 3, 2014 — I am informed (h/t Anna Sircova) that Swedish researchers have already urged that the future time perspective be modified to recognize positive and negative variants:
“The future is nevertheless not only a temporal space for goal-setting and positive expectations, it may also be associated with fear, uncertainty and anxiety, which may ultimately have detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. Here we present the outline for the Swedish ZTPI (S-ZTPI) which extends the original ZTPI by separating the Future dimension into two sub-factors: The Future Positive scale and the Future Negative scale. We argue that separating the future into two separate dimensions thus comprehending both a positive and a negative valence of the future, adds important information regarding association between future time perspective and subjective well-being.” (source: Maria Grazia Carelli, Britt Wiberg,Elisabeth Åström, “Broadening the TP Profile: Future Negative Time Perspective,” in Maciej Stolarski, Nicolas Fieulaine, Wessel van Beek (Eds.), Time Perspective Theory; Review, Research and Application (2015, Ch. 5, pp. 87-97).
Such a modification would help attend to my concerns.]
➤ A final aside: Their typology does not include some of the more exotic and interesting possible perspectives that may arise — such as “explosive time” (see below). Nor does their typology engage a possibility that Zimbardo & Boyd mention in their 1999 paper — “temporal disintegration” — whereby distressed people feel that “the present is isolated from the past and future” (1999: 1285). It isn’t necessary for a typology to cover all such possibilities, so long as they can figure in the discussion, and do not undermine the typology in any major way. On these grounds, Zimbardo & Boyd’s typology is fairly safe, but their discussion still seems to be missing lots of variations.
Despite my criticisms, I’m not prepared to propose an alternative typology. I’m also far from prepared to post a survey of others analysts’ typologies. But I do have one handy that has long impressed and puzzled me. It’s by French sociologist Georges Gurvitch, a colleague of Henri Lefebvre, who wrote a lot about both space and time orientations. Perhaps digressing to recall his typology can provide a stimulating counterpoint here.

Gurvitch argued that every social class, group, and sector within a society tends “to operate in a time proper to itself” — so much so that he would characterize social classes more by their subjective time orientations than by their objective economic conditions. I don’t know whether Gurvitch’s work is familiar to Zimbardo or Boyd. Yet they too associate class with time, saying that “Social class is both a contributor to and a consequence of time perspective.” Accordingly, less educated people are more likely to live in the present; future orientation is a prerequisite for membership in the middle class; and rich or upper-class people “can afford to take any time perspective they want.” (101)

Interesting as that is — and it is worthy of further consideration — all I really want to fit into my post here is Gurvitch’s elaborate typology. It’s not exactly a formal typology, but it’s close enough to provide a curious contrast to Zimbardo & Boyd’s. What Gurvitch (1963, 1964) does is distinguish eight kinds of social time, associating them with different historical eras as well as different modes of political control and social structure. In brief, these eight are:
• Enduring Time: time of slowed down long duration,
• Deceptive Time,
• Erratic Time: time of irregular pulsation between the appearance and disappearance of rhythms,
• Cyclical Time,
• Retarded Time,
• Alternating Time: time alternating between delay and advance,
• Time in advance of itself or time pushing forward,
• Explosive Time.
Whereas Zimbardo & Boyd focus mainly on individual perspectives, Gurvitch is concerned with large social formations. Whereas Zimbardo & Boyd work to separate past, present, and future perspectives, Gurvitch emphasizes different ways in which they may be all mixed together in people’s minds. And whereas Zimbardo & Boyd distinguish between the ordinary future and the transcendental future, Gurvitch identifies various future perspectives in colorful terms that, at least in my view, seem more appropriate for characterizing some of the more radical and even millenarian views people hold today. The two I’d point out by Gurvitch (1963: 178) are:
“7. … what I shall call time in advance of itself. … The future becomes present. Such is the time of collective effervescence, of aspiration toward ideals and values, of collective acts of decision and innovation.
“8. Finally, as the eighth and last kind I shall point out explosive time, which dissolves the present as well as the past in the creation of the future immediately transcended. … Such a time is that of collective acts of creation which always play some role in social life but which arise from beneath the surface and become open and dominant during revolutions. … When it is real, explosive time places the global and partial social structures before complicated dilemmas, for it carries the maximum risk and demands the maximum effort to overcome it.”
[From Georges Gurvitch, “Social Structure and the Multiplicity of Times,” in Edward A. Tiryakian, ed., Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change: Essays in Honor of Pitirim A Sorokin, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, pp. 171-184. Also, Georges Gurvitch, The Spectrum of Social Time, Dordrecht, Holland: R. Reidel Publishing Co., 1964, pp. 31-33.]
I’m not proposing that Gurvitch’s typology is better than Zimbardo & Boyd’s — theirs is much better suited to their purposes. But Gurvitch’s provides a useful contrast. It is so different, I’m supposing, that it helps in trying to show that theorists are still a long way from figuring out how best to typologize time perspectives (not to mention space and action too).

But that’s enough of a digression. Back to The Time Paradox in terms of my primary refrain.

Zimbardo & Boyd’s assessment tools: the ZTPI and TFTPI

Zimbardo & Boyd developed their “yardstick” questionnaires — the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), and the Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI) —in the 1990s (51). Both inventories appeared in their 1999 paper, and are also in this 2008 book, as well as posted at its website (here and here). Over the years, the questionnaires have been administered to more than 10,000 people.

An STA-based look at the ZTPI:  The ZTPI consists of fifty-six field-tested questions. People are asked to rate each question — in a five-wide range, from very untrue through very true — and the ratings are tallied to determine how that person’s time perspectives are distributed across the six typology categories (53-55). A rather nifty design.

Most ZTPI questions are entirely about time. For example, “4. I often think of what I should have done differently in my life.” Or, “46. I find myself getting swept up in the excitement of the moment.”

But from an STA viewpoint, many ZTPI questions seem more about space and action than time. By my count, four questions are mainly about spatial orientations, thirteen about action orientations. This means that about a third of the ZTPI questions are about space and action more than time. It may also mean that the ZTPI is part way to becoming an STA-oriented questionnaire — but it would still need a lot of work and revision to serve as such.

The four ZTPI questions that I would rank as being more about space than time — because they’re about subjects, objects, and their relationships — are:
“1. I believe that getting together with one's friends to party is one of life's important pleasures.”
“5. My decisions are mostly influenced by people and things around me.”
“49. I like family rituals and traditions that are regularly repeated.”
“55. I like my close relationships to be passionate.”
The thirteen ZTPI questions I would code as being more about action than time — because they are directed at attitudes regarding efficacy, agency, control, or means — are as follows:
“3. Fate determines much in my life.”
“6. I believe that a person's day should be planned ahead each morning.”
“8. I do things impulsively.”
“10. When I want to achieve something, I set goals and consider specific means for reaching those goals.”
“14. Since whatever will be will be, it doesn't really matter what I do.”
“24. I take each day as it is rather than try to plan it out.”
“13. Before making a decision, I weigh the costs against the benefits.”
“31. Taking risks keeps my life from becoming boring.”
“37. You can't really plan for the future because things change so much.”
“38. My life path is controlled by forces I cannot influence.”
“44. I often follow my heart more than my head.”
“51. I keep working at difficult, uninteresting tasks if they will help me get ahead.”
“53. Often luck pays off better than hard work.”
An STA-based look at the TFTPI: Zimbardo & Boyd’s TFTPI consists of a separate list of ten question (60). They are used to assess a person’s attitudes about a transcendental-future.

But again I’d say that STA implies a rethinking. Three of the TFTPI’s ten questions seem more about space than time, and one seems more about action. For example, “2. My body is just a temporary home for the real me” is basically spatial. And “8. I will be held accountable for my actions on earth when I die” seems mainly an action orientation.

Wrapping up this post: reiterating my pro-STA refrain

In sum, Zimbardo & Boyd’s methodology — their typology and the two questionnaires for inventorying people’s attitudes — is not strictly about time perspectives. Space and action orientations are embedded throughout.

That said, I’m tiring of this tedious post, and I may never know for sure whether digging into so many details is worth the effort. But hopefully it has served my pro-STA purpose: to show — as I already wrote  up front in Part 1 — that a major writing about space, time, or action perspectives, besides dwelling on its avowed focus (in this case, time), turns to say something about all three STA orientations. Indeed, there is no way for major writings to avoid doing so. Thus they help verify that space, time, and action orientations operate together as a bundle — a set of interrelated cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without.

In other words, from an STA stance, these theorists are not just writing about their specialty — be that space, time, or action. Rather, they are studying a systematic mental and cultural complex comprised of all three orientations — but they’re doing it narrowly and unknowingly from their specialized angle.

The more we learn about analyzing people’s space, time, and action orientations, the more we shall realize that they are so thoroughly interlaced, even fused, in our minds and cultures that they form an essential cognitive module. That’s the big picture. And if I’m right about that, its unfolding will matter not only across academic disciplines but also to real-world strategists of all stripes.

I look forward to a time when other theorists and analysts will think likewise. Meanwhile, onward to the fourth and final post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s book — a post about terrorist mindsets.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-perspective themes about balance and control versus STA’s design preferences (2nd of 4 posts)

This post continues a string of efforts to assess selected readings about space, time, and/or action perspectives. In this instance, it’s my second post about Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s book The Time Paradox (2008).

Among other matters, this post concerns Zimbardo & Boyd’s emphasis on learning to control one’s time perspectives. Such control may well be advisable, but they view it as an attribute of one’s time perspective. Thus they conflate time and action orientations, and subsume action under their dominant interest, time. However, from the standpoint of STA, “control” is an action orientation, not a time orientation. STA argues for treating time and action (and space) orientations separately, for theoretic and strategic purposes — the better to recognize their independence and their interaction in shaping cognition, consciousness, and culture.

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As noted in the Part-1 post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s book The Time Paradox, their typology identifies six key time perspectives:
• Past-negative
• Past-positive
• Present-fatalistic
• Present-hedonistic
• Future
• Transcendental-future
Apropos this typology, the book lays out, chapter by chapter, what past-, present-, future-, and transcendentally-oriented people are like, and what benefits and costs, strengths and weaknesses, good and bad effects may accompany each of these perspectives.

The authors make lots of interesting points about each of the six — for my interests, especially about the significance of future orientations. For example, they observe that future-oriented people tend to be more successful, whereas present-oriented people tend to be more helpful toward others (19) — an observation I’ve not seen before. Furthermore, they note, “The success of Western civilization in the past centuries can be traced to the prevalence of the future orientation of many populations” (137) — a point often made by many scholars.

I may include more about their perspective-by-perspective discussion in the next posts (and I may finally take issue with their typology as well). But here I want to focus only on two over-arching analytic and therapeutic themes that suffuse their book. The first is about the importance of developing a balanced time perspective. The second is about making an effort to control one’s time perspective.

Importance of having a balanced time-perspective profile

Zimbardo & Boyd show that each of the six perspectives may have benefits, some much more than others. They also show that the costs associated with any one perspective may rise sharply if it is held in excess, and/or if it is out of balance with others of the six. Many of the book’s examples involve disturbed persons (e.g., addicts). But it also offers valuable more-general observations too. Here’s one that caught my eye: In discussing the faults of some executives who’d been running risky mortgage businesses not long ago, the authors find that “lack of balance between present and future orientations in both business and government is a well-worn path to disaster.” (268) This is all in keeping with the theme, mentioned in Part 1, that “Viewing the world through one time perspective may result in success, while another may lead to failure.” (14).

As a result, Zimbardo & Boyd urge their readers to develop an “optimally balanced time perspective”:
“The ideal we want you to develop is a balanced time perspective in place of a narrowly focused single time zone. A balanced time perspective will allow you to flexibly shift from past to present to future in response to the demands of the situation facing you so that you can make optimal decisions.” (26)
“[D]eveloping a balanced time perspective will change your life for the better. Moderate levels of future and present hedonism blended with a solid dose of past positive is the ideal we propose. Flexibly shifting among time perspectives in response to the demands of situations you find yourself in allows you to get the most from your time.” (319)
To be more precise, “the optimal time perspective profile” they recommend would be (and I quote):
• High in past-positive time perspective
• Moderately high in future time perspective
• Moderately high in present-hedonistic time perspective
• Low in past-negative time perspective
• Low in present-fatalistic time perspective (297)
This is the blend that serves best to give people a sense of having “roots”, “wings”, and “energy” (297). In the authors’ view, nothing good comes out of having much in the way of past-negative and present-fatalistic time perspectives (298). Meanwhile, a person’s future time perspective, which is so crucial to the optimal profile, should contain a hopefulness that is “tempered with realism not conflated with fantasy” (152).

This all seems to make considerable sense. And I’d imagine that STA, if ever fully theorized, could result in identifying optimal space and action perspectives too — something no space or action theorists have done, to my knowledge.

Nonetheless, from an STA standpoint, Zimbardo & Boyd’s argument is problematic. For their approach urges people to control their time perspective, and treats such control (or its lack) as an aspect of one’s time perspective. But is “control” more a time or an action orientation? I’d say the latter. The assumption that people can change their time orientation is an action orientation, not a time orientation.

Importance of learning to control one’s time perspective

For both theoretic and therapeutic reasons, The Time Paradox urges people to learn to control their time perspectives and the attitudes behind them. Zimbardo & Boyd want their work to help orient (or re-orient) people so that they avoid succumbing to negative past experiences and presentist fatalism, and build positive future outlooks.
“If our project succeeds, you will learn how to transform negative experiences into positive ones and how to capitalize on the positives in the present and the future.” (6)
As the authors repeatedly note, time orientations are learned — thus they can be controlled. They want people to “have some control over the frames of reference in which we view time”; and to “develop mental flexibility and agility in choosing the time perspective that is most advantageous” (15). They emphasize this evermore strongly as the book proceeds:
“We don't mean for you to be Pollyanna–ish in your optimism, but when you have control over your present, you can control your past and your future. In fact, you can reinterpret and rewrite your personal past, which can give you a greater sense of control over the future. In fact, all of psychotherapy can be seen as an attempt to work through the present to gain control over the past and thereby the future.” (20)
“You can change and modify your time perspective to become more balanced and free yourself from learned biases that prevent you from realizing your fullest potential.” (102)
“Related to our conception of a balanced time perspective is the idea that time competence is a necessary component of a self-actualizing personality.” (311)
“The single most important thing that you can do to enhance the quality of your life is to trade in an old, biased time perspective for a new, optimally balanced one.” (311)
Zimbardo & Boyd associate control capabilities mainly with the future time perspective. Thus, when they show that “Many factors are involved in the creation and maintenance of a given time perspective” (143), they point to “impulse control” as one of the “behavioral characteristics” that favors the inculcation of a future time orientation (144). Indeed, they generally associate having a sense of personal agency/ efficacy/ control with positive future orientations:
“But that can-do sense does not develop fully if one is present-oriented. Without it, people doubt that they can change anything for the better. They become resigned to what is what is and do not strive to create a better what could be.” (103)
In discussing how people can convert negative perceptions of the past into more neutral if not positive views, they recognize that change is never easy, but insist the gains can be worth the pains. For some troubled or despair-riven people, even achieving small changes may matter hugely for helping to preserve one’s sense of freedom, responsibility, and dignity:
“The message here is that small changes in the environment can affect mental states, which in turn affect physical states. It is vital to sustain a sense of personal agency in which you make meaningful choices about all aspects of your life.” (241)
Throughout the book, they counsel moderation, avoiding being extreme, as one tries to reshape his or her time perspectives.

Wrap-up comment + a closing aside (shades of Albert Bandura?)

My critical refrain remains intact: The Time Paradox makes lots of good points about people’s time perspectives. Nonetheless, in my STA view, an analyst could substitute space or action for much of what they say about time, and the book’s points would still make good sense.

Furthermore, if Zimbardo & Boyd’s book had said more about efficacy concepts and clarified their relation to time perspectives, I’d be happier, but probably still not satisfied. For, as I keep saying, STA means treating time and action orientations separately, though interactively.

Zimbardo & Boyd are so intent on fitting control (efficacy, agency) perspectives under (or into) time perspectives that I wonder about their disposition toward the earlier work of an emeritus luminary colleague of theirs in Stanford’s psychology department, Albert Bandura, who was renowned for his writings about “self-efficacy” (book) and “social cognitive theory” (book). I can’t be sure, but it’s as though Zimbardo & Boyd have tried to absorb his work into (or under) their own. I even spotted one place where Bandura refers to control paradoxes, rather like the way Zimbardo & Boyd refer to time paradoxes.

I’ve turned to learn a little about Bandura only very recently, prompted in part by a citation in Zimbardo & Boyd’s 1999 article. They don’t cite him in the 2008 book (at least not where I can find), but his work appears to be pioneering for understanding the centrality of individual and collective efficacy concepts for how people think and act and how societies perform. In a way, efficacy is for him what space is for Lefebvre and time for Zimbardo & Boyd. Bandura may even make a good choice for my next series of posts about STA’s action orientation. His topic — people’s beliefs about efficacy/ agency/ influence/ control/ ability to be effective and achieve goals — is pretty much the same as STA’s action orientation.


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[As a further aside, I’d note that Stanford’s psychology department appears to be the top place for studying social cognition nowadays. For in addition to Zimbardo, Boyd, and Bandura, I’ve learned that yet another social psychologist there, Carol Dweck, is renowned for research, teaching, and writing in this area, notably by way of her popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006). The “mindset” word in her title piqued my hopeful attention, because STA is directed at mindset/ mindframe/ mindfield analysis (e.g., as discussed here). But her work appears to be mainly about a specific concern: fixed versus adaptive styles of intelligence. I don’t see that this has much to do with space, time, or action orientations per se, though it may have implications worth pursuing later along the way to theorizing STA.]

[UPDATE — November 15, 2014: Introductory paragraphs added, partly to highlight up front a key finding for the benefit of some readers who may be interested in STA.]