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.

* * * * *

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.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reading with STA in mind: Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (1st of 4 posts)

As I’ve said before, the framework I’d like to see developed about people's space-time-action orientations (STA) continues to have potential. But while I’ve written various posts about STA (beginning here and here), it’s potential remains underdeveloped, for I’ve lagged in laying it out.

Hence these three series of posts built around selected literature reviews. The first series, in April and May, reviewed a classic book about social space: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space. This second series focuses on a recent book about time perspectives: Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox. A third series will concern a writing about people’s action (efficacy, agency, instrumental willpower) orientations.

These posts are less about the books themselves than about a purpose that serves STA: to show that each writing, besides dwelling on its avowed focus (be that space, time, or action), turns to say something about all three STA orientations. Indeed, there is no way for major writings to avoid doing so. Thus they confirm 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.

As for Zimbardo & Boyd’s book, this Part-1 post provides an overview of its significance and begins to identify key themes. Part 2 continues the discussion of key themes, focusing on their recommendations for people to develop balanced time perspectives by learning to control their time perspectives. I’ll argue, on behalf of STA, that “control” is an action orientation, not a time orientation.

Part 3 will focus on the methodological core of their work: their typology of time perspectives, and their evaluative questionnaire. I’ll show that their typology is insufficient, and that their questionnaire (or inventory) is as much about space and action as it is about time. Part 4 will focus on their observations about the time perspectives of terrorists; and I’ll propose that STA is better suited to that challenge. Throughout, I deploy a critical refrain that soon becomes evident below. (To ease reading, I reference page numbers in parentheses without putting “p.” or “pp.” in front.)

I want to note up front here, before I turn relentlessly critical on STA’s behalf, that The Time Paradox is very interesting and well-worth reading on its own merits.

* * * * *

The book’s significance and influence

Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life (2008) is a significant interesting psychological study in the guise of a self-help therapy book. Both authors are social psychologists at Stanford University — Zimbardo being famous (and infamous) for the Stanford Prison Study — who have become foundational leaders in their field. Their stature stems originally from their 1999 article: “Putting Time in Perspective: A Valid, Reliable Individual-Difference Metric,” The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It presented their early findings about what types of time-perspectives people have, and how to diagnose them with tools the authors devised: the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), and the Transcendental-Future Time Perspective Inventory (TFTPI). This 2008 book summarizes and advances their findings from decades of research.

The theoretical and methodological core of their work is a typology that identifies “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”, found among individuals as well as cultures at large (62). The time perspectives in their typology are called:
• Past-negative
• Past-positive
• Present-fatalistic
• Present-hedonistic
• Future
• Transcendental-future
My next posts will have more to say about this typology and the associated inventories. For now, I just want to emphasize that their 1999 paper and this 2008 book have inspired a lot of follow-up work by other social psychologists who study time perspectives. For example, one multi-authored paper — Anna Sircova et al., “A Global Look at Time: A 24-Country Study of the Equivalence of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory,” SAGE Open (2014) — finds:
“Therefore, 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.” (9)
More to the point, colleagues of Zimbardo & Boyd established the International Research Network on Time Perspective in 2007, for such purposes as holding international conferences, promoting collaborative projects, and providing advice to researchers. It now has over 200 members around the world. Plus, it is behind a forthcoming multi-authored book titled Time Perspective Theory; Review, Research and Application: Essays in Honor of Philip G. Zimbardo (2015).

That amounts to a lot of recently institutionalized influence. Far more than I knew about when I chose to read their book. Which leads me to figure that my STA-oriented criticisms, which grew as I read the book, will not be welcome (if noticed at all). No matter, I’m here to lay groundwork for advancing STA over the long term.

How the authors became interested in time perspectives

The authors recount how childhood experiences help explain their interest in time. Zimbardo’s formative experience involved being quarantined in a hospital for five months, because he was ill with whooping cough (71-73). For a while he was even confined under an oxygen tent. Meanwhile, he’d form friendships with other ill kids there, only to see many quickly vanish due to death. Boyd’s childhood tale was about living first in an uninhabited forested area in South Lake Tahoe, then moving to Los Angeles — thereby going from “remoteness and isolation” to “hustle and bustle”, so disconcertingly that he’d sometimes spend kindergarten recess perched up a tree in the schoolyard, peering around alone (24-25). Boyd also notes that, when he was a teenager, his parents’ divorce further jarred his future expectations.

The authors interpret their experiences in terms of time: How they turned to think about their own past, present, and future perspectives. How they learned not to dwell on one perspective at the expense of another. How they worked at “reframing” the negative aspects of their past experiences, so as to reinforce positive hopes for the future. Thus, they observe, people can learn to control the effects of past experiences on their present and future time perspectives.

But from an STA stance, their formative experiences do not look to be primarily about time. They’re about space more than time, for both accounts revolve around spatial compressions and expansions, as well as inter-personal connections and disconnections. Of course, these spatial experiences affected their time orientations; but those effects are derivative, and do not mean that making everything fit under time is the optimal way to go. Furthermore, their point about learning to “control” their time perspectives reflects STA’s action element — it’s a point about personal agency and efficacy, more than time.

In other words, beginning with their analyses of their childhood experiences, much of what the authors claim to be about time is more about space or action, or a blend. This will become my constant critical pro-STA refrain throughout the posts comprising this review.

The book’s view of time’s significance — the paradox theme

The book’s theme is said to be a set of paradoxes, which the authors summarize at the book’s website as follows:
“The Time Paradox is not a single paradox but a series of paradoxes that shape our lives and our destinies. For example:
“Paradox 1: Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.
“Paradox 2: Each specific attitude toward time — or time perspective — is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.
“Paradox 3: Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.” (source — slightly reformatted)
Technically, I don’t see that these really are paradoxes; the third surely isn’t. I’m also not sure they are accurate. Most analysts recognize that time matters greatly, and that people can get disoriented by dwelling excessively on the past or the future. Even so, the notion of paradox provides an enticing theme, and the authors do not rely on it too much.

Besides, paradoxes or not, the authors really do want readers to become more aware of time’s significance, to achieve balanced time perspectives, and to realize time’s importance for entire cultures and societies as well as individuals. Thus, the book implicitly transforms these three paradoxes into maxims.

But I hasten to add my refrain from an STA perspective: Space or action could be substituted for time in these paradoxes/maxims, and they’d still be valid. Moreover, they’d also be true — in my view, truer — if they were about “space-time-action” rather than “time” alone. To see what I mean and judge for yourself, just try substituting STA for time in each of the paradoxes above (though Paradox 2 might need a little re-wording).

Time’s significance for people, culture, and society — toward a new science of time

Above all, Zimbardo & Boyd aim to lay out a “new science and psychology of time.” They want to show how time works, why time matters, and how individuals can improve their lives by changing their time perspectives (6, 18). Indeed, their book “is about living life fully” (21). Yet, while psychology is their focus, the book also says a little — not enough for my interests, but at least a little — about history, culture, philosophy, and grand theory.

As for how and why time matters so much, Zimbardo & Boyd “have consistently found that time perspective plays a fundamental role in the way people live” (18). Indeed, Zimbardo is “more convinced than ever that time perspective is one of the most powerful influences on human thought, feeling, and action — and the least recognized or appreciated” (24). Thus one’s time perspective is a key determinant of how well one does in life; for “Viewing the world through one time perspective may result in success, while another may lead to failure” (14). And it’s not simply an individual matter — society may deem one perspective to be right, but not another (14).

As they point out, people are not born with a particular time perspective — they learn it. For “our time perspectives are not determined by nature or by some cosmic clock setter, but are learned ways of relating to our physical, biological, social, and cultural environments” (119). At first, babies are present-oriented; then, people learn to develop into past-, present-, and/or future-oriented adults, depending on conditions (139). And adults can learn to modify their time perspectives:
“We believe that your individual attitude toward time is largely learned, and that you generally relate to time in an unconscious, subjective manner — and that, as you become more conscious of your attitude on time, you can change your perspective for the better.” (18)
Against this background, the book provides a sketchy retrospective on the evolution of time perspectives — past, present, future, and transcendental-future — showing that how people come to have particular time perspectives has varied across history, as have what kinds of perspectives are best suited to particular societal conditions. While there may be better books about such matters, Zimbardo & Boyd do make good points when they broaden their analysis beyond the individual level to address “the shared culture of time in which we live” (7). They note that time perspectives can shape national cultures and destinies as well as individual psychologies (133), to such a degree that “communal time perspectives have determined the fate of nations” (318). They also note that “questions about time are in fact questions about the meaning of life” (11), for “Time lies at the heart of what it is to be human” (315) — another of the book’s passing waves at culture and philosophy. (Their 1999 article noted that time orientations form part of people’s “cognitive scaffolding” — a concept I wish they’d elaborated in this book, but perhaps it’s too academic a concept for a popularized text.)

Such points resonate with STA. Yet, I feel I should object that their approach to analyzing the modern era seems exceedingly utilitarian and economistic. According to their historical sketch, the “transition from event time to clock time profoundly changed society, especially economic relations” (38), making time evermore like a currency or a commodity. Those are valid points — indeed, Henri Lefebvre makes similar points in criticizing the commodification of space and time under capitalism (here). But Zimbardo & Boyd then go all-out in urging people to adopt a decidedly utilitarian view about the significance and use of time in the modern era.

They repeatedly treat time as a scarce commodity: “our most valuable possession” (8), “the medium in which we live our lives” (12), and “the currency – the very foundation — of social life” (38). They affirm that “Another economic principle relevant to our discussion of a new science of time is the concept of opportunity costs” (11). And they urge readers to learn to “invest” time wisely, and to “choose to construe the world in the way that is most productive, given our needs and resources” (13).

I can’t tell whether this is how the authors truly think, or whether it’s a tone they deem appropriate for a popular mass-market self-help book in today’s environment. Whatever the reason, their ensuing analysis, chapter by chapter, is largely about costs and benefits that attend each of the six time perspectives in their typology.

I’m not implying they made a mistake, for I know full well, particularly from watching lots of briefings over several decades, that costs-and-benefits are the way many people like to see analyses laid out nowadays. But, for some reason or feeling I can’t quite clarify, I doubt this is the optimal way to continue analyzing the significance of time perspectives. Cost-benefit commodification may tell us more about the way people perceive the significance of time in our modern era than about time itself and how its significance should be viewed in the future.

As a proponent of STA, I’d have a similar response to seeing people urged uncritically to treat their space or action perspectives as commodities. Even so, who knows: if I ever get around to laying out a typology of STA perspectives, I too may end up discussing them in cost-benefit terms — but without commodifying them.

Meanwhile, there’s a deeper STA objection I have to their treatment of time perspectives as commodities that can be used and changed as people see fit. Doing so conflates time with action perspectives. STA implies identifying and analyzing them separately, not muddling them together. And thus we return again to my critical refrain — with more to follow.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Space-time-action orientations of leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex

Something in the news reminded me of the ancient dynamics of hubris and Nemesis. Which reminded me that I used to write about those dynamics and their fusion in a rare pathology called the hubris-nemesis complex. Which reminded me that I wrote a few pages once about the space-time-action orientations of leaders who have hubris-nemesis mentalities. Which meant I should go find those pages and add them to the accumulation here, for the sake of advancing STA analysis.

The pages are from a think-piece I wrote a couple decades ago — Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis (RAND, 1994). Though I sometimes muse that it may be one of my better ideas, I've raised it only once before at this blog, in a 2010 post about millenarian mindsets (here).

So a little background about Greek mythology and modern resonances may be in order first, before getting to the pages about STA.

Dynamics of hubris and Nemesis — their fusion in a hubris-nemesis complex

Hubris is the pretension to be godlike — the capital sin of pride. It is most evident in a vain self-exalting leader who arrogates all power and glory to himself, believing he has the ability and the right to get away with whatever he wants, even if it means violating accepted norms of conduct. While self-adoring Narcissus was not such a leader, his story provides the classic mythical example — and the basis for the modern psychoanalytic concept of narcissism as a kind of hubris.

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of divine vengeance and retribution. If the gods became angry that some mortal was exceeding his fate, she could intervene in human affairs to restore equilibrium. She could be devastating against hubris — including that of Narcissus, whom you may recall she turned into a flower.

These ancient terms seldom surface these days, but the classic dynamic — hubris attracting Nemesis, in a kind of cosmic tit-for-tat — remains contemporary. Thus the parallel proverb, “Pride comes before the fall,” has been applied to leaders like Richard Nixon, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, and Saddam Hussein — to name a few historical examples. As examples of nemesis, I’d mention Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Malcolm X, and Osama bin Laden.

That’s the classic dynamic. But what I noticed while learning about this is that some leaders embody and enact both parts. These leaders not only have hubris, but also want to play the role of Nemesis against some other actor that they accuse of being the one guilty of hubris. In other words, they have a hubris-nemesis complex.

In this pathology, the two forces, which normally contradict one another, become unified in a rare, invigorating, all-consuming, charismatic fusion that generates enormous energy and ambition. To be as powerful as such a leader’s hubris requires, he must act like a god among his people; he must possess total power at home and project himself around the globe. To play Nemesis, he must defy and assail an outside power, typically the United States. Thus, the two forces justify and feed on each other.

The list of leaders that, I’d say, exemplify this rare complex includes Adolph Hitler and Fidel Castro. A broader discussion might include a few Western government or corporate leaders who, besides having arrogant vainglorious appetites for power, have shown themselves to be set on relentless vengeance against some great force that they think is too powerful. Here at home, hubris and nemesis behaviors show up constantly on partisan radio and TV talk-shows, particularly those with hard-right conservative hosts, some of whom seem to have low-grade hubris-nemesis complexes of their own. The marvelous literary archetypes for the complex are Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

STA orientations of hubris-nemesis leaders

As for the space-time-action orientations of hubris-nemesis leaders, here is the excerpt from Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis (1994, pp. 33-36):

Mindfield Analysis and the Hubris-Nemesis Complex

In a leader with a hubris-nemesis complex, the space-time-action layer is bound to assume an unusual configuration, regardless of the ideological or other value orientations that he may hold. The following description is adapted from a study on Castro (Gonzalez and Ronfeldt, 1986), and will not apply to all hubris-nemesis leaders. But it helps illustrate the many patterns of thought and action that fit under mindframe analysis.

Space Orientation. Leaders with a hubris-nemesis complex see themselves as larger than life, as embodying the revolution, the state, the nation, or other force they represent, as being awesome enough to act on a world stage, as able to extend and imprint their identity far beyond their physical presence, and as deserving to treat other people and objects as extensions of themselves. Having a strong ego, a hubris-nemesis leader sees himself (narcissistically?) as the most important object in his political horizons — and his horizons are global.

Believing he deserves recognition as a world-class actor, he uses events to project himself onto the world stage, seeking the limelight and commanding attention. He may even wonder whether his country is a good enough stage to deserve his leadership. At the same time, he may lead a visibly unpretentious, nonindulgent personal lifestyle, perhaps avoiding the materialism he may associate with the hubristic decadence of the chosen enemy.

He craves independence, and an independent identity, for himself and his nation. He may try to be everywhere at once, getting into every domain, including indulging in the personal micromanagement of minor issues. He seeks to cross boundaries and break barriers and is intolerant of any built around him.

The objects that matter most are those that affect his power and his struggle against the chosen enemy. He is constantly attentive to external centers, hierarchies, and balances of power. He interprets successes and failures, opportunities and constraints, in terms of large spatial reference factors (e.g., the “system”). He wants to move large pieces (e.g., “the people”) on a large stage.

Time Orientation. Many hubris-nemesis leaders have long historical time horizons and a strong sense of the past and the future. But they may also long to create brief, explosive, epitomizing moments (as in crises) when they can try to transform the meaning of past, present, and future and break through to a new kind of time. Indeed, they may believe that the flow of history will create opportunities for them to do this. For them, time is a weapon — to be used patiently, as well as explosively.

In having a cosmic sense of destiny, a sense of being born for some divine mission, a hubris-nemesis leader may believe he is in tune with invincible forces of history, and that he receives his inspiration and knowledge from a special, high plane of philosophy and understanding. In wanting to create a break with his nation’s past, he propounds an alluring, heroic vision of future salvation. In so doing, he glorifies his past exploits in mythic terms of struggle, sacrifice, and suffering, linking himself to past generations and heroes who shared his dreams.

He believes he has a personal, fated mission to accomplish earthshaking, revolutionary, even apocalyptic changes that assure his place in history. He gets people to believe he is destined for greatness. The long-term vision of the future may seem constructive and benevolent, but it depends on wreaking a great deal of vengeance and destruction in order to create a dramatic breakthrough to a new kind of time. This time sense may be expressed (especially in his youth) in terms of making an abrupt leap to create a new kind of future time. Or (especially later in his life) it may make him concede a need for long-term struggle in which the new future emerges incrementally from the present. Meanwhile, on a daily basis, a hubris-nemesis leader may regularly keep people waiting around the office or at gatherings until long after the scheduled time for his appearance.

Action Orientation. The hubris-nemesis complex is action-oriented; it engages a powerful need to take measures to dominate and change things, and not just talk about them. Many hubris-nemesis leaders have an extreme confidence in their ability to shape events and change the world through their personal actions. They have an inflated will to power, a sense of omnipotence and invulnerability, that encourages risk-taking. They see themselves as embodying the standards of archetypal, action-oriented heroes who can change destiny.

This is reflected in an enormous, relentless appetite for personal power, and in an exalted sense of man’s (especially his own) ability to master fate. A hubris- nemesis leader would rather rewrite the rules of the game than follow existing rules that are not to his advantage. He must lead in order to prevail; he cannot follow or take other people’s decisions for granted. He thrives on the politics of personal deeds that, in his view, set examples for others. He may want to strengthen the institutions around him, but at the same time he may act as though institutions per se are unsuited to leading the way he wants to go. He may regard institutions as being more constraint- than opportunity-oriented, and therefore as inherently lacking the energy and vision he embodies and can impart.

In actions toward the chosen enemy, he thrives on defiance and confrontation — but he is strategic and not suicidal about this. And he regards compromise and accommodation as signs of weakness — though he is not above tactical retreats and concessions. He may exaggerate any sign of threat from the chosen enemy, and prefers military and paramilitary instruments to political and diplomatic ones. The use of force and violence, when he deems it necessary, will be seen as clean and pure.

Various Combinations Possible. It may be possible to distinguish different types of hubris-nemesis leaders according to whether they are primarily space-, time-, or action-oriented. For example, a leader with a millenialist time orientation and a “megalomacho” desire to project himself into global spaces may be more likely to pose an inhumane nuclear threat than, say, a leader whose action-orientation is framed by a belief that he can achieve his goals by means of a long strategic struggle that includes confrontation but ends in negotiations.

Hubris-nemesis leaders with a strongly millenialist frame of mind may be particularly dangerous. The possession and potential use of weapons of “holy terror” may be attractive to a millenialist, since having and considering using such weapons may enable him to believe he can magnify his power and presence on the world stage and break through to a new time (cf. Rapoport, 1988). Millenarian myths may give him and his followers a sense of invulnerability, which may encourage dangerous, risky behavior (Edelman, 1971: 125).

I’d write that a bit differently today. But that’s not an important point. The key point is that this kind of analytical layout helps verify that STA — or mindframe analysis, as I was also calling it then — has something to offer. An integrative approach to analyzing space-time-action orientations as a bundle or module can tell us much more, and be more accurate, than just following an approach that emphasizes only one or two of the three orientations.

Coda: an antithesis that also helps verify STA

While hubris-nemesis leaders embody extremely expansive space-time-action dispositions, war prisoners kept in severe isolation suffer the worst compressions and deprivations across all three dimensions. At present, former Taliban captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl looks like a significant case of this. Decompression and recovery is bound to entail his entire space-time-action module.

As another example, consider the case of genteel British Ambassador Geoffrey Jackson. He was held in a small cell underground, with no sense of night or day, by Uruguay’s Tupamaros for eight months in 1971. He remarked afterwards that he was fortunate his guards let him have a deck of cards to play solitaire. The main function of the game, he wrote later (as I recall), was not diversion, but to confirm that the laws of probability really did still exist — an STA action orientation.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Levin, Khatib & Lust, Weizman, Fields, Berger, Cameron, Turchin, Goffman, Collins, Fortune Society

This is the fourth and final batch of gleanings I collected by happenstance while reading and writing for the three posts about Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose of presenting these snippets is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, maybe just as a metaphor, but often as an analytical concept. From an STA perspective, we should become more sensitive to noticing them, plus their relations to time and action orientations. That’s the idea I’m trying to advance, for the sake of STA.

The snippets in this batch, in order of presentation, are from Yuval Levin, Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, Eyal Weizman, Jack Fields, J.M. Berger, Charles Cameron, Peter Turchin, Erving Goffman, Randall Collins, and the Fortune Society. Some are from blogs or other sites I often browse; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them serendipitously, the case with all four batches.

This fourth batch consists mainly of snippets leftover after doing the first three posts in this series, each of which were pulled together around just one or two themes. As a result, this post is thematically jumpier than the prior three, and revolves around multiple themes: e.g., that politics (and military tactics) can create new spaces; that issues can end up in “boxes” that eventually don’t work well; that some spaces become religious or sacred; and that people try to manage impressions through front stage and backstage performances — rampage killers being an example.

* * * * *

Levin on conservatives trying to “create the space in which society can flourish”: Most of the gleanings in these posts are from people who appear to be leftists and centrists. Conservatives do express many major concerns in spatial terms, especially about government being “too big” and “exceeding its boundaries” (conservatives often seem concerned about “boundaries” in many areas of life). But it’s rare to find a conservative referring to “space” per se.

However, it happened several times during a panel where young conservatives discussed the “Future of Conservatism” at the Manhattan Institute, New York City, on March 11 (aired April 19 on C-SPAN). Particularly pertinent for this post is a long statement by conservative writer Yuval Levin, speaking about differences between the Right and the Left in American politics.

According to Levin, the Left prefers centralized, tightly managed orderliness, while the Right prefers decentralization. Thus, says Levin, “The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish.” Here’s the full statement:
“There is a real logic to the Left’s and the Right’s ways of thinking about the role of government in our kind of economy. And there's a real difference between them. Where the Left does tend to think in terms of managing large institutions, of seeing society as a set of systems that are disordered and that require better organization. ... The Right’s view tends to be that the role of government is not to manage society but to create the space in which society can flourish. And what that means — for society to flourish — is actually very chaotic. It looks like chaos. ... That's how innovation happens, but it's also how problem-solving happens, how people confront specific material problems in a local way, one on one, through markets, through local governments, through institutions that bubble up solutions in trial and error ways and pilot programs, not a centralized here's-the-technical answer. I think we're getting back to a place where the difference between those two things is becoming very apparent. ...
“That's why I think conservatives could be better positioned than they now seem to be to address the public’s worries in ways that make sense to voters, because people have a sense that we are living in a society that is decentralized, that offers them a huge number of options, a huge range of options. And younger people in particular like that, and expect that, and want that. You see it in the healthcare debate. The sheer consolidation of large systems that's involved in the Left’s way of thinking is not appealing to a lot of people.
“Now the Right, I think, has not offered a coherent alternative. Conservatives don't really go around saying, well, we have a view of what government does that involves creating a space and allowing people to function in that space, subsidizing their entry if they don't have market power, allowing competition to happen. That's what conservatism is in practice. But rhetorically what conservatism is just isn't that.” (source; my transcription)
That’s not very Lefebvrian — but it’s enough so to warrant including here. Besides, it helps show that, in my view of STA, being Lefebvrian means being attentive to spatial orientations in a grand sense, whether one identifies with Center, Right, or Left — being Lefebvrian doesn’t have to mean just being Leftist.

Khatib & Lust on “help preserve spaces for activism”: In another usage, a new CEIP Policy Brief by Lina Khatib & Ellen Lust, The Transformation of Arab Activism: New Contexts, Domestic Institutions, and Regional Rivalries (May 2014) argues for “preserving space for activists wherever they exist” in Arab societies (p. 1). Their understanding of past episodes of pro-democracy activism against authoritarian regimes shows the importance of social media for creating such space:
“[E]ven in the harshest authoritarian periods, activists carve out, sometimes unexpectedly, socio-political space to make demands. The nature of such public space is largely defined by pre-revolutionary structure. Certainly, social media was a public space that was largely left untouched by the authoritarian regimes. As a result, it emerged as a focal point for mobilization, aimed at garnering support from abroad (particularly in Egypt and Syria), communication within (Yemen), or both.” (pp. 2-3)
Thus they arrive at their primary recommendation for U.S. policy:
“1. Despite greater polarization and hostility towards reform among the region’s most influential actors, the U.S. must help preserve spaces for activism wherever they exist.” (p. 5)
There’s nothing particularly new here, but it helps further illustrate the extent to which spatial thinking has become an accepted part of skillful analytical discourse in policy circles. It, along with the preceding snippet from Levin, and the following one from Weizman, all speak to the significance of efforts to create space (or, in Lefebvrian words, produce space).

Weizman on the IDF’s “walking through walls”: As an old post by Charles Cameron reminded his readers at the Zenpundit blog, “our normal understanding of space” gets turned inside-out when considering Eyal Weizman’s write-up about an IDF operation in a Palestinian city, where the Israeli soldiers steadily blasted their way through walls, floors, and ceilings, not abiding by conventional notions of inside and outside, boundaries and thruways. Says Weizman, “Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space” — a rather Lefebvrian notion — in a strategy (or is it a tactic?) of “walking through walls”:
“The maneuver conducted by units of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, as inverse geometry, the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of microtactical actions. During the battle, soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long “overground-tunnels” carved through a dense and contiguous urban fabric. Although several thousand soldiers and several hundred Palestinian guerrilla fighters were maneuvering simultaneously in the city, they were so “saturated” within its fabric that very few would have been visible from an aerial perspective at any given moment. Furthermore, soldiers used none of the streets, roads, alleys, or courtyards that constitute the syntax of the city, and none of the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but rather moved horizontally through party walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. This form of movement, described by the military as “infestation”, sought to redefine inside as outside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares. Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space. The three-dimensional progression through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban balk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. The IDF’s strategy of “walking through walls” involved a conception of the city as not just the site, but the very medium of warfare — a flexible, almost liquid medium that is forever contingent and in flux.” (source)
This approach to battle, where “movement becomes constitutive off space”, has a postmodern feel to it, as Weizman’s full paper shows (here). It means that the “spatial turn” has extended far beyond philosophy and sociology into military operations. (However, I gather that doubts can be raised about aspects of what the paper relates.)

* * * * *

Fields on “you basically had boxes” for telecomm businesses: Many policy issues get categorized in “boxes” — a spatial orientation — that work well for some time. Then matters evolve and become so complex that a new “out of the box” approach may be required. Here’s an illustration from a discussion about the 1996 telecommunications act, as aired on a C-SPAN2 program: Jack Fields — back then he was a Representative (R-Tex) and Chair of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance — observed that,
“Telecommunications policy had not been reformed since 1934. So there was really a compelling need in 1995 to begin a process of massive telecommunications reform. And at that time you basically had boxes. You had a box for broadcasters, a box for telephone companies, a box for long distance, you know, cable, satellite. And our view was we had to come in and try to eliminate the lines of demarcation and promote competition, believing that with competition there would be innovation, there would be more investment, more consumer choice, more innovation. And, you know, fortunately, I think the result has proven us correct. That that's exactly what's happened.” (source)
How issues are put in boxes does have lots of effects. And as Fields notes, these effects are not only jurisdictional, but may also affect the incentives for competition and innovation.

Berger on the “terrorism box”: Can a “box” become too big to fail — or succeed? A blog post by terrorism expert J.M. Berger recounts a discussion with other experts where a spatial question was posed:
“Do we need a box called terrorism?” (source)
The former FBI agent who raises it argues “against having a special category of government response for terrorism” and prefers “treating terrorism as a violent crime problem”. Berger’s write-up summarizes some basic pros and cons. In favor, for example, is that an emphasis on law enforcement may help limit terrorism’s mystique and rank “small-scale terrorism more appropriately”. But on the negative side, such an approach may underplay how dangerous terrorism can be when it seeks to “upend” a system.

Thus, Berger concludes, “we need a category for terrorism”:
“That doesn't mean we should prioritize terrorism over all other crimes and social issues, far from it. But as we have different categories for assault versus attempted murder, and insubordination versus treason, we need a category for terrorism.”
This argument has been around, in one form or another, for decades. What caught my eye here was its association with “boxes” as used by government policymakers, administrators, bureaucrats, and analysts. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in order to organize all sorts of boxes comprehensively, perhaps more in quantity and rapidity than any other department has had to face. Shades of Pundita’s “law” as noted in the first batch of gleanings? Whether the answer is yes or no, the question that Berger and his colleauges raised still illuminates yet another way in which spatial orientations figure in our thought processes.

* * * * *

Cameron on war, peace, and religion: Some matters are too big to keep in bureaucratic boxes — they spread across all sorts of boundaries, threading through all sorts of issues areas. Religion is generally such a matter, and it arouses its own spatial meanings. Lefebvre thought so; and so did Mircea Eliade in his classic The Sacred and the Profane (1961). Apropos this, Charles Cameron, an expert on millenarian and apocalyptic trends who blogs at Zenpundit, recently fielded some expansive illuminating points about what lies ahead:
“War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.” (source)
“If religion continues to be a major element in terrorism and perhaps other forms of conflict in what remains of this century, we would do well to learn the importance of listening to and addressing the worldview of our interlocutors.” (source; ital. in orig.)
Cameron’s presentation of these propositions is not explicitly spatial, but its implications are, for it means that boxes are being burst and boundaries crossed. He is correct in calling for better attention to understanding other people’s “worldview” — that’s partly what STA can be for.

Turchin on the “sacred value” of core territories: Distinguishing between sacred and secular spaces has become a tradition. And sometimes it’s not about religion, as shown here where social-evolution theorist Peter Turchin, drawing on work by Scott Atran, links “sacred value” to geopolitical behavior in a commentary at his blog Social Evolution Forum:
“States that treat their core territories as sacred and are willing to escalate conflict to defend them, persist in the international arena, while states that treat their core territory in a rational manner are gradually eliminated. As a result, we have what might be called a coevolution of geopolitics and sacred value. Geopolitical assets become sacred values.” (source)
Territoriality is a natural motivation behind human and geopolitical behavior. Turchin fields his (and Atran’s) elaboration mainly to help with understanding the “sacred” importance of Crimea to Russians. But as he notes, it has broad application across many nations. Why some spaces /places are treated as sacred is a good question, and it’s led to a series of follow-up posts at his blog. (What I might add, with TIMN in mind, is that what is deemed sacred may well vary depending on whether people in a society are operating mainly around the tribal, institutional, market, or network form. My preliminary guesstimate is that the more tribal matters get, the more prone people are to be motivated by what’s deemed sacred. Market- and network-oriented people may be less prone to such a tendency.)

* * * * *

Goffman on front stage and backstage performances: A while ago, sociologist Brayden King, blogging at, posted a reminder about the work of Erving Goffman, the social psychologist famed for The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959). Goffman’s theory of impression management — he called it dramaturgy — included a distinction between front stage and backstage that is essentially spatial:
“He laid the foundation for a theory of impression management in that book, claiming that every individual is an actor on a stage performing for an audience. The front stage is where the performance takes place, using various impression management tools to articulate particular images to the audience, and the backstage, he argues, is where the protected self resides. Goffman believed that individuals build a strong barrier between the front and backstage, partly because the individual is vulnerable in the backstage but also in order to preserve the authenticity of the front stage performance.” (source)
While Goffman’s theory is not explicitly Lefebvrian, his frontstage-backstage distinction is significant for understanding people’s spatial orientations. It sure bears on the next two gleanings below.

Collins on “secret life” backstage behind rampage killings: Lefebvre occasionally refers to hidden, concealed, and secret spaces — enough to lead me to perk up at an idea raised by sociologist Randall Collins: beware the ”secret life” inside rampage killers. According to one of his blog posts on this,
“[T]the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre.” (source)
A fuller quote from a follow-up post adds the following elaboration, based on an earlier post about rampage killers hiding their “secret life” plans and fantasies “backstage”:
“In a previous post [Clues to Mass Rampage Killers: Deep Backstage, Hidden Arsenal, Clandestine Excitement; posted Sept. 1, 2012], I argued that the most distinctive clue that someone is planning a rampage killing is that they lead a secret life of amassing weapons and scripting the massacre. The point is not that they acquire a lot of guns; many people do that. But mass killers keep them secret; their life becomes obsessed with plans and fantasies of the attack, and energized with the excitement of being able to dupe other people about their secret life. Foremost among those who are duped is their family.” (source)
Collins focuses on the massacre at Sandy Hook. Today, he can add the massacre at Isla Vista.

Fortune Society on how guns feel: STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how people see themselves, as subjects and/or objects, in relation to other subjects/objects in the space that concerns them. This means taking into account their sense of identity, including how big or small, connected or disconnected, etc., they feel. Thus STA’s spatial dimension is partly about how powerful and/or powerless people feel, though that starts to verge into STA’s action element.

As I dug around in a very old draft for an imagined chapter about spatial orientations, I came across a set of snippets that not only speak to that point, but also to Collin’s point above. The snippets are from a survey and report by New York’s Fortune Society, as written up by Jimmy McGinley, in “Made in the U.S.A.; Works Every Time,” New York Times, January 15, 1976, p. 33. The article is about the views of former convicts who used guns in their street crimes, and I’ve extracted remarks that best reflect STA’s spatial dimension:
“There’s a lot to it, when you carry a gun. It made me feel as if I were in command of any situation. It gave me a sense of power, not power but a sense of power. It made me feel that I was larger than I was. I felt like God and that I could determine life and death.”
“There’s a lot of power in a gun. If you feel like you’re nothing, a gun can make you feel like a king.”
“With a gun, I felt like a big shot. I felt superior.”
I’d saved them to go in a draft section about macho-megalomanic terrorists as consummate spatialists who want to project their egos/identities explosively into surrounding spaces, even onto a world stage. I’ve posted about this before (here), but without including these snippets. Now I think they are appropriate to include in this post, especially in light of Collin’s points and confirmatory events in Isla Vista.

* * * * *

That concludes this series. A look at Google stats for this blog indicates little interest in these posts about Lefebvre and social space. But I’m glad I’ve added them to the accumulation here about STA. And I expect to become gladder as I add prospective posts about time and action orientations. So I shall persist. Up next will be a series organized around a book about time orientations.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Further gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Gottesdiener, Bollier, Chapin, Scharmer, Rey, Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Friedman, Sterling, Schneier

Here’s a third batch of gleanings that I collected by happenstance while doing the three posts about Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, usually just as a metaphor but often as an analytical concept. In my STA-biased view, we’d all be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them, along with their relations to time and action orientations. I’m not trying to make a complex point — just trying to raise awareness of a fundament, for the sake of advancing with STA.

The materials in this batch, in order of appearance, are from Laura Gottesdiener, David Bollier, Ross Chapin, Otto Scharmer, PJ Rey, Sarah Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Thomas Friedman, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Schneier. A few of them I regularly follow at their blogs; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them by links at blogs I do follow, the case for all four batches. I batched these gleanings together for this post, because they raise themes about the rise of the commons and/or the impact of cyberspace.

* * * * *

Gottesdiener on community mattering as much as individualism: As further evidence of the importance of “the American story” that Zalman highlighted (in the first batch), notice a fine remark made by author activist Laura Gottesdiener during a talk about her book A Dream Foreclosed (2013):
“I'll never forget something that my Mom told me … “People who feel powerless gravitate to powerful stories because their own stories are so disempowering.” … So our challenge is to make a story that is more powerful than the current narrative. And just to remember what the current narrative is, it's a belief in competition between individuals as the driving force in history. And I'm certainly not saying that individualism is a bad thing. What I am saying is that if there is no shared community tying these individuals together, we could become no more than distrustful walking manikins who are still wearing our price tags to intimidate the others.” (source)
Her remark is not explicitly Lefebvrian, and it’s mainly about STA’s action element: “people who feel powerless” and need “a story that is more powerful than the current narrative.” Yet, there is a strong spatial content in the contrast she posits between competitive “individualism” as “the current narrative” and “shared community” as the desired narrative. Individualism and community pose different ways of organizing and valuing social space. For that reason, this quote is good as any I’ve seen lately for illustrating that ideological narratives reflect (and depend on) the spatial orientations that are embedded in them — a point Lefebvre made long ago, as noted in Part 1.

Bollier on the commons as not fitting standard “dualities”: Commons-advocate David Bollier also makes a somewhat Lefebvrian point, when he observes that the concept of the commons “scrambles” and “blends” many of the ingrained “dualities” that have come to rule public policy discourse:
“[T]he commons scrambles many of the familiar categories of modern political thought and worldviews. The dualities of public/private, collective/individual and objective/subjective simply do not apply in the commons because the commons blends these concepts into a different kind of social organism. For example, by requiring commoners to interact directly with the more-than-human world, commoning helps us see that we are intimately connected with “nature”; it is not an inert resource and “other.” The point of moving beyond homo economicus is to get beyond its empirically inaccurate, reductionist and politically regressive categories.” (source)
He does not refer explicitly to space here, but I know from other readings that he and his fellow visionaries do indeed regard the commons (and peer-to-peer relations) as an emerging social space of its own, one that will increasingly reshape other social spaces. And the points he makes about “dualities” are thoroughly reminiscent of Lefebvre (as laid out in Part 2 of this series). Bollier criticizes the “collective/individual” duality that bothers Gottesdiener as well.

Chapin on the importance of “pocket neighborhoods”: Answering interview questions, architect activist Ross Chapin advocates that people form into “pocket neighborhoods” and “claim the space around us” as a commons in order to feel at home without fear:
“Can you explain how the commons influences your design for pocket neighborhoods?
“In pocket neighborhoods, a small cluster of households is situated around a shared commons. This small-scale setting is what makes them work. The commons is a “pocket” set apart from cars and traffic, and because of this, it is safe and sociable. …
What do you see as the biggest obstacle to creating a commons-based society right now?
“Simply stated, it’s fear. Until we truly have a sense of “being home” and of “belonging” to a place and a community, there will be an underlying sense of fear. In response, we strike out to claim the space around us, including all the useful resources within reach. This of course, is the existential quandary of our time.” (source)
That’s a thoroughly spatial view. Architects normally think and talk in spatial terms anyway. But tying “pocket neighborhoods” to “the commons” is an apropos touch for this post. His points about easing fear and enhancing belonging also relate to other gleanings in this series, notably Brin’s (in the second batch).

Scharmer on “Capitalism 4.0” and the commons: Speculation abounds these days about prospective new kinds of capitalism — whether called 3.0, 4.0, or something else. Here, MIT-based innovator Otto Scharmer outlines an evolutionary progression from capitalism 1.0 to capitalism 4.0. Apropos this post, he not only brings in “cultivating our commons” but also touches on Lefebvrian notions about overcoming “false dichotomies of the past”, creating new spaces (“sectors”), and expanding actors’ spatial horizons from narrow “ego-system (2.0)” to expansive “eco-system awareness (4.0)”:
“So my first takeaway is this: Traditional right-left polarization keeps the political discourse locked into false dichotomies of the past. …
“So here is another view that frames our current situation in the context of four logics and paradigms of economic thought. They all respond to the basic coordination problem of our modern economies, but in a different way.
1.0: Organizing around centralized power: state and central planning → giving rise to socialist and mercantilist economies (single sector)
2.0: Organizing around decentralized power: markets and competition → giving rise to entrepreneurs and the private sector (two sectors: public, private)
3.0: Organizing around special interest groups: negotiation and dialogue → giving rise to the NGO sector (three sectors, conflicting: public, private, civic)
4.0: Organizing around shared awareness and cultivating our commons → giving rise to co-creative relationships among the three sectors (government, business, civil society) in order to innovate at the scale of the whole system.
“These four logics mirror four different stages of economic development. Each earlier stage is included in the later ones. As economies move from 1.0 to 2.0, 3.0, and now possibly to 4.0, the consciousness of the human economic actors also evolves from traditional (1.0), to ego-system awareness (2.0), to stakeholder awareness (3.0), and to an eco-system awareness (4.0) that we see beginning today.
“The problem of our current economic debate is that we are trying to solve 21st -century problems with 19th- and 20th- century economic thought. That is: our discourse is stuck between "more markets and free enterprise" (2.0) and "more regulation and government" (3.0). In reality, neither of these approaches will suffice.” (source)
Besides being apropos STA, that also sounds a lot like TIMN (as well as P2P theory) — from his initial evolutionary lay-out, to his final advice that problem-solving move beyond old government–vs.–market discourse.

* * * * *

Rey on “information as occupying space”: The growth of cyberspace keeps raising issues about relations between the virtual and the physical. Here, Cyborgology blogger PJ Rey observes that cyberspace is something of a myth, a fantasy — yet the ways that we “imagine information as occupying space” are proving “cognitively necessary.”
“We begin to imagine information as occupying space and then imagine this space as something that can be traversed and experienced, an alternate geography that provides a new path to reach the other person on the line. And though we know we are indulging in a fantasy, we can’t help but take it seriously. Sterling captures this when he writes: “Although it is not exactly ‘real,’ ‘cyberspace’ is a genuine place … This ‘place’ is not ‘real,’ but it is serious, it is earnest.”
The fantasy of cyberspace is “serious” because it is cognitively necessary. It relieves us of the burden of having to parse the seemingly infinite complexity of the systems that make such communication possible.” (source)
Wanenchak on “our space”: Another Cyborgology blogger Sarah Wanenchak writes about “the complex interplay between physical and digital” regarding an on-line harassment incident during a real-world conference. The incident was treated as “an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” — which were really a single space — from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed.” The incident affected how participants “perceive the spaces they were in.” It prompts her to insist that “This is our space – our space” — in terms of responsibility, obligation, and community.
“It’s also worth noting that, adding to the complex interplay between physical and digital that was a fundamental part of the incident in question, the removal (“blocking”, even) of the person from the physical space was recorded and shared and discussed via social media. People saw it, and they talked about what they saw and how it made them feel and how it made them perceive the spaces they were in. The significance of that can be interpreted as an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” – which were really a single space – from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed. The sheer complexity of all of this makes it even more important – and potentially more challenging – to consider our actions and their meanings carefully, on all levels. …
“This is our space – our space. Not in the sense of ownership but in the sense of responsibility and obligation. And it’s also our space in the sense of community, something that extends beyond any core group and into the hands of everyone who participates. Something that we all help to create. I think we’re still in the process of figuring out exactly what all of that entails.” (source)
New Left Project on “the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network”: A feed from the P2P Foundation blog led me to this and the next gleaning at sites that are not on my normal browsing list but prove relevant for this post. This article about the Occupy movement points out “its spatialities” — its reliance on occupying real places, e.g., city parks and squares, plus its networked structure, so “horizontal” that it “lacks a centre”, and so skilled at modern communications that is has been able “to globalise and overcome spatial barriers”. The key point is that “These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other” and thereby enable “multiple simultaneous occupations”.
“For many activists and academics interested in the autonomous movements of recent years, their proliferation has largely been down to their operations within a networked structure. The network is horizontal, embodying the key anti-hierarchical tendency of autonomy. Moreover, it lacks a centre and is thus resistant to external agents who seek to co-opt and dismantle it. Finally, its use of modern communication technologies has allowed it to globalise and overcome spatial barriers.
“However an occupation cannot exist solely on the basis of this deterritorialised network, as some prominent voices have suggested (Hardt and Negri, 2004). Many of the activists are mobilised on the back of place-based struggles, e.g. at the work place, in which they develop strong-tie relations and build the confidence and skills necessary to participate. Moreover, the act of occupying relies on a strong embeddedness in a particular territory, in which activists are forced to put down some roots, if only temporarily. Indeed many occupations can soon become a struggle over the territorial politics of place.
“These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other. Most occupations tend to rely on online networking to gain broad support and publicise their message. Moreover the space of the occupation can act as a useful meeting point for diverse networks to encounter each other and discuss strategy. The call to “occupy everything”, is rather a strategy of multiple simultaneous occupations, embedded in particular territories, but brought together through a wider network.” (source)
That call for “multiple simultaneous occupations” verges on a call for a swarming strategy.

Pink Noise Rev on “opening new spaces for confrontation”: This collective statement from Pink Noise Rev, which is associated with the “15-M” movement in Spain, reads on the cutting-edge of pro-democracy protest strategizing attuned to the network age. The main (but not only) reference to space is the phrase about “opening new spaces for confrontation”:
“The fact is that since the birth of 15M, we’ve spent more than two years experimenting with radically new modes of mass organization. Crowds capable of synchronizing en masse, to attack or to defend themselves at specific moments and with blinding speed; initiatives that detach from the movement at strategic junctures to then develop on their own, opening new spaces for confrontation; mechanisms capable of mobilising huge sectors of the population when they’re most needed … new forms of mobilisation that have come to stay. We’re rehearsing the mass social self-organisation methods of the future, and we’ve managed to create a scenario for hegemony and social conflict the likes of which we’d never have imagined. An understanding of the organisational models that have led us here is paramount for forging ahead.” (source)
Like the prior gleaning, this too verges on being a statement in favor of swarming, but without using that term.

Friedman on networked “Square People”: In a pair of op-eds, Thomas Friedman fielded a term — “Square People” — to name the new generation of information-age pro-democracy activists who keep mobilizing in city squares and parks around the world. His term harks back to terms that activists have used before, e.g. “Global Square” and “Global Street”, to name the virtual and physical terrain they’re fighting on, and for. What’s pertinent here is that it’s such a spatial term, in tune with the “spatial turn” in postmodern philosophy, sociology, and networked social activism.
“[A] new global political force is aborning, bigger and more important than Davos Men. I call them The Square People.
“They are mostly young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution (depending on their existing government), connected to one another either by massing in squares or through virtual squares or both, and united less by a common program and more by a shared direction they want their societies to go. We’ve seen them now in the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.” (source)
“Indeed, “The Square” — as the place for these newly networked political forces to gather, collaborate and pressure for change — is truly disrupting both traditional politics and geopolitics. But the big thing to watch going forward is which Square People can go from disruption to construction — can take the energy and inchoate aspirations of their Square followers and turn them into parties, elections and better governance. …
“This failure to translate their aspirations into parties that could contest elections and then govern is the Achilles’ heel of The Square People — from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street. …
“Without Square People, no change is possible in these countries, but without civil society institutions and inclusive politics, no change is sustainable.” (source)
From a TIMN standpoint, Friedman’s Square People are tantamount to +N People. It’s not at all clear that they are bound to fail if their efforts don’t convert into “parties that could contest elections and then govern”. But that’s a topic for TIMN; I better stick to STA here.

* * * * *

Sterling on “the Stacks”: Silos and stove-pipes are common metaphors for characterizing self-contained vertical hierarchies that have difficulty networking — as Pundita indicated in the first set of gleanings. Here, futurist Bruce Sterling adds the “Stack” as a metaphor to depict corporate social media based on the Internet:
"[There's] a new phenomena that I like to call the Stacks [vertically integrated social media]. And we've got five of them -- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They're not hostile to the internet -- they're just [looking after] their own situation. And they all think they'll be the one Stack... and render the others irrelevant. And they'll all be rendered irrelevant. That's the future of the Stacks.” (source)
That metaphor may not catch on for long, but it provides further evidence of the significance of spatial thinking — with Friedman’s “Square People” and Sterling’s “Stacks” as a contrast.

Schneier on “feudalism” in cyberspace: Computer security technologist Bruce Schneier has warned for years that government and corporate actors are behaving in cyberspace in ways that add up to a new kind of feudalism. In this instance, he does so by depicting an “epic battle for power in cyberspace.” On one side are government and corporate powers; and “On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals.” He doesn’t use explicitly spatial terminology, but his key point — “I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal"” — is spatially evocative, both as “metaphor” and “model”, and seems potentially inherently Lefebvrian.
“We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two sides fare in the long term, and the fate of the rest of us who don't fall into either group, is an open question -- and one vitally important to the future of the Internet. …
“I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal." Users pledge their allegiance to more powerful companies who, in turn, promise to protect them from both sysadmin duties and security threats. It's a metaphor that's rich in history and in fiction, and a model that's increasingly permeating computing today.
“Medieval feudalism was a hierarchical political system, with obligations in both directions. Lords offered protection, and vassals offered service. The lord-peasant relationship was similar, with a much greater power differential. It was a response to a dangerous world.” (source)
Schneier’s warnings about the advent of postmodern feudalism fit with gleanings in the first batch about the “deep state” and just above about “Stacks” as information-age fiefdoms. His warnings also raise the prospect of conflicts between the Stacks and Square People — or, to put it in TIMN terms, between +I and +N forces. It’s becoming the spatial drama of our time.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

More gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Ricks, Porter, Orwell, McCluhan, Graham, Brin

[UPDATE — May 22, 2014: Edited to make the title more specific and soften some text.]

Here’s a second batch of gleanings garnered by happenstance while doing the three prior posts on Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space.

Again, my purpose is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some less so — crop up all the time, in myriad areas. In my STA-biased view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them and their relations to/with time and action orientations. I’m not trying to make a complex point here; I’m just trying to raise awareness of a fundament.

The materials I highlight in this batch, in order of appearance, are from Thomas Ricks, Patrick Porter, George Orwell, Marshall McCluhan, Stephen Graham, and David Brin. I’ve clustered them together mainly because they happen to raise related themes about national security strategy.

* * * * *

Ricks on strategy and the blurring of boundaries: Spatial matters always crop up in discussions about strategy — e.g., who’s big/small, who’s near/far, who is/isn’t connected. Strategy is viewed traditionally as the art of relating ends, ways, and means. I’d add that strategy may also be viewed in STA terms: as the art of relating space, time, and action factors — thus analysts and strategists should keep an eye out for how space, time, and action factors figure together in strategic formulations.

While drafting my series about Lefebvre post, I came across an announcement of a new project on The Future of War. It appeared at a blog I admire, observing at unusual length that:
“Taken together, recent changes both in the technological drivers of warfare and the enemies we face have erased the boundaries between what we have traditionally regarded as "war" and "peace," military and civilian, foreign and domestic, and national and international.” (source)
That trends have blurred all sorts of boundaries (a somewhat-Lefebvrian point) is important to include in such a study. But why make this such an emphatic opening point about the entire future of war? It's a mostly mundane point by now. And not so much because Lefebvre raised it forty years ago, but more because Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye did so as well back then.

Their seminal writings — notably Transnational Relations and World Politics (1972), and Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (1977) — illuminated many spatial (and temporal) reconfigurations that were starting to take hold in the 1970s. Accordingly, the old state-centric balance-of-power paradigm was giving way to the rise of “complex global interdependence”: i.e., the global diffusion of power, the erosion of both national sovereignty and international hierarchy, the growth of transnational economics and communications, the internationalization of domestic policy, the blurring and the fusion of domestic and foreign policy, the rise of multilateral diplomacy, and the need to broaden security concepts beyond their military dimensions. All points still worth making today, to a degree.

It is striking that the early 1970s produced such seminal writings about the changing nature of social space (and time) by such far-apart theorists — Lefebvre on the one hand, Keohane and Nye on the other. But it is also dulling that the same observations are constantly repeated and reiterated today. Sure, such ideas and observations, keenly sensed early on, do take decades to unfold, and need to be taken into account. But I fret at seeing them made into a litany; for it may be another sign that American capacity for strategic thinking is getting a little too patterned, even stuck.

Porter on “strategic space” and “the global village myth”: The importance of spatial perceptions for strategy shines more brightly in a blog post by Patrick Porter, advocating that “It’s Time to Abandon the Global Village Myth”:
“The world is increasingly dangerous, we are told, because technology has made it smaller. In this “global village,” the costs of transport and communications have fallen to the point where predators have easy access to our vulnerable points. …
“But the world is not small. Technology may accelerate movement and compress physical space. But it does not necessarily shrink strategic space, the ability to project power affordably across the earth.”
He thus raises concerns that the global-village optic and attendant fears are having adverse, misleading effects on our sense and practice of strategy:
“In the name of taming the dangerous “Global Village,” governments resort to anticipatory war, extraordinary rendition, torture, continual drone strikes and mass surveillance. Instead of containing threats in pursuit of affordable security, the US-led coalition sought to eradicate them in pursuit of absolute security. It set out to destroy rogue regimes, fix broken states, to wipe out terrorism itself. …
“… Fear of the “small world” has driven the United States and other countries to the dangerous attempt not to contain threats, but rather to eradicate them.
“At home, the same fear has thrown off the delicate balance between the principles of security and liberty, damaging habeas corpus and spawning state surveillance that our forbears would find absurd. Crusading for democracy abroad has endangered it at home.”
Indeed, using terrorism as an example, Porter argues that “A closer look shows that the belief in a small world misconceives the security environment.” And his concerns are broader than terrorism, as in a point about “strategic space” that he deems particularly applicable “along Asia’s maritime peripheries”:
“Strategic space is not a politically uncontested thoroughfare of climate and terrain simply to be moved through. (That is not even true of tourism!) Space is a medium into which other humans intrude, through which (and for which) violent political struggle takes place. Amidst the white noise of globalisation rhetoric, this distinction has been lost.”
Thus he concludes with advice to abandon the myth of the global village:
“At the core of the “small world” argument is this myth, that technology mechanically transforms the world independent of human politics and the struggle for power.
“Projecting power affordably over space is now more difficult, not less. This constrains the superpower and its adversaries. It makes us all less powerful, but more secure, than we think. It’s time to abandon the Global Village Myth.”
Porter’s idea of “strategic space” is quite different from Lefebvre’s. Yet they both observe that the world is becoming both larger and smaller, at the same time and in different ways. Porter, somewhat à la Lefebvre, also notices the returning importance of “the wall” in physical as well as digital domains.

Orwell on distance and nationalism: Porter noted that the “global village” concept has a deep history. (A quick Google search reveals statements back into the 1850s about how the world is becoming smaller as a result of one technology advance or another in transportation and/or communications.)

In particular, Porter cites dramatic remarks by George Orwell that were new to me. So I dug up the full quote from Orwell’s Tribune column, “As I please”, May 12 1944:
“Reading recently a batch of rather shallowly optimistic ‘progressive’ books, I was struck by the automatic way in which people go on repeating certain phrases which were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are ‘the abolition of distance’ and ‘the disappearance of frontiers’. I do not know how often I have met with the statements that ‘the aeroplane and the radio have abolished distance’ and ‘all parts of the world are now interdependent’.
“Actually, the effect of modern inventions has been to increase nationalism, to make travel enormously more difficult, to cut down the means of communication between one country and another, and to make the various parts of the world less, not more dependent on one another for food and manufactured goods. This is not the result of the war. The same tendencies had been at work ever since 1918, though they were intensified after the World Depression.” (source)
Orwell does not explicitly refer to the “the global village” here, and some points are debatable. Yet he does indeed raise STAish questions about shifts in spatial and temporal orientations — ones that are still being raised by commentators today. Besides, I like his TIMNish reference to increased nationalism, for it’s a variant of tribalism.

McCluhan on allatonceness, the global village, and tribalism: More to the point, for me, Porter’s reference to the “global village” immediately recalls famous remarks by Marshall McCluhan (1967):
“Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. …
“Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. ‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village … a simultaneous happening. We are back in acoustic space. We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorce us.” (pp. 16 and 63)
McLuhan popularized the concept global village more than anyone else. And from an STA standpoint, it’s interesting how loaded that quote is with space and time orientations — some of them debatable, but still offering parallels to Lefebvre’s thinking. Notice that McLuhan too expects a revival of tribalism — a further overlap with TIMN.

Graham on space, time, globalization, and tribalization: Browsing around, I also came across a keen paper by Stephen Graham on ”The end of geography or the explosion of place? Conceptualizing space, place and information technology” (1998). Graham writes, citing Gregory Staple’s TeleGeography (1993), that:
“The complex articulations between the local and global dynamics of both material places and electronic spaces have recently been explored by Staple (1993). He believes that the Internet and other communications technologies, far from simply collapsing spatial barriers, actually have a dialectic effect, helping to compress time and space barriers while, concurrently, supporting a localizing, fragmenting logic of `tribalization'. Far from unifying all within a single cyberspace, the Internet, he argues, may actually enhance the commitment of different social and cultural interest groups to particular material places and electronic spaces, thus constituting a `geographical explosion of place' (Staple, 1993: 52). This `new tribalism', exemplified by the use of the Internet to support complex diasporas across the globe, and to draw together multiple, fragmentary special interest groups on a planetary basis, `folds' localities, cities and regions into `the new electronic terrain' (Staple, 1993: 52).” (pp. 174-175)
There it is again, in Graham, as in Orwell and Mcluhan, not to mention in Porter as well: that keen point that the compression of time and space orientations may have contradictory effects. In particular, it may foster tribalism as well as globalism. I’m not sure how Lefebvrian a point that is, but The Production of Space is keen on how global and local forces are interlaced in dialectical ways.

* * * * *

Brin on spatial (and temporal) horizons affecting fear levels: According to Porter, our sense of a smaller world — a global village — makes us more fearful about terrorism and other threats that once seemed far away. Futurist David Brin offered parallel observations at his engaging blog a while back. His emphasis was on the spatial and temporal “horizons” we have and how that affects our level of fear:
“When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent. The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger. …
“My contention is simple, that there exists an inverse correlation between ambient fear levels and the distance -- in terms of space, time and kinship -- of the "horizons” maintained by average members of a given culture.” (source)
Whether or not his points are particularly Lefebvrian, they, like others here, help show that spatial horizons make a difference and crop up in myriad subtle ways. Besides, from a TIMN perspective, I appreciate that Brin too relates his spatial points to feelings about tribal kinship.