Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Whether all those STA “gleanings” posts are worth the effort: a hunch and a wish — plus a plan for STA-C

Are all those “gleanings” worth the effort? I doubt it every time I collect, assemble, and post them. They take work; they delay trying to offer “big think” about STA; and they don’t get read or remarked on much. Nonetheless, a hunch and wish keep me at it.

The hunch is that I will ultimately be glad I did these gleanings posts. But it’s an inchoate hunch — I’m not sure how it will be validated. The gleanings perk my interest, help me stay focused on STA, and indicate angles for thinking about STA that the books I review don’t cover. But my hunch is about more than those immediacies — it’s that the gleanings will act as attractors and/or inspirations for getting a few more readers to think in STA terms and see that STA has merit. We’ll see.

As for the wish, it is that a professor somewhere who teaches about space, time, and/or action perspectives would see enough merit in collecting, posting, and discussing gleanings like these that he/she would direct his students to do so as a regular instructive exercise (and circulate it online). Right now, this feels like a distant, even vain wish, for my few meager attempts to call my book-review series, or STA more generally, to the attention of established writers on social space and time analysis have mostly been ignored. But, I’d speculate, if a systematic way could be formulated for collecting, culling, and categorizing such gleanings over time, the trends might reveal something interesting about society and culture, our own and others’.

* * * * *

Here’s an oddity about all those gleanings: I began collecting them when I began reading and writing to do the three book reviews about space, time, and action orientations, i.e., around February 2014. Which means the four “gleanings” posts on space associated with Lefebvre’s book were from a period of just three months, until late May 2014. Whereas the three recent “gleanings” posts that go with Zimbardo & Boyd’s book were compiled over 11-12 months. And I can already see that the gleanings related to action and Bandura’s book will again be a bit smaller, even though spread over still more months.

That’s a curious outcome — lots of gleanings about space, less about time, and still less about action/agency, whereas the collection period increases. Is it because the materials I browse tend to be that way? Or because I tend to respond that way? Or because a deep pattern is at work — be it about the nature of space, time, and agency metaphors, or about the concerns of our times, or about something else that eludes me? I don’t know, but it’s a curious outcome that seems worth a mention.

* * * * *

My plan for STA is to stay ploddingly on course: Next are the post(s) on a book about action orientations, plus associated gleanings. I’m still flipping around in Bandura’s writings — they seem quite tedious to me, and I’m wishing I had a better choice, but I’ll probably stick with them. After that, I intend to update, revise, and post anew the quasi-briefing slides I did a few months back for visually depicting STA and comparing different analysts’ approaches. Then, maybe a post about an analysis that deliberately emphasizes both space and time, not just one or the other — e.g., a paper on “Space-Time Orientations and Contemporary Political-Military Thought” (see below). And then … well, I’m not sure, but somehow I have to start putting together something of broader theoretical significance, something that can be applied.

Meanwhile, I’m changing the acronym STA to STA-C. The first has never looked good to me, and doesn’t roll off my tongue easily, making it awkward if I am conversing, or if I were to speak a briefing. By changing STA to STA-C, I keep the STA part together as a triad, add a C that stands meaningfully for cognition (or culture, consciousness, or complex), and make the acronym easy to pronounce, as “stay see” or “Stacy”. So “STA-C” it is for now — standing for “space-time-action cognition”, as well as indicating that a framework acronymed STA-C is under development.

* * * * *

A heads-up note: There was a mention above about a paper on space+time analysis. What I have in mind is Kevin Cunningham and Robert R. Tomes’ paper, “Space-Time Orientations and Contemporary Political-Military Thought,” Armed Forces & Society, 2004, vol. 31, no. 1. pp. 119–140. The abstract reads:
“Conflicting time and space perceptions, seated in the cultural centers of societies and rooted in social rituals and patterns of life, are important aspects of strategic interaction. In some societies, these spatiotemporal perceptions play a major role in defining social order; in others, they provide undercurrents of dissention and social cleavages. This article explores how shifting aspects of spatial determinants influence policy behavior, particularly the influence of temporal intensification — the acceleration of social and political life. We argue that cultural aspects of space and time are dangerously underrepresented in military science and in studies of the cultural determinants of security policy. Especially in modern strategic planning, the expectation that military organizations can simultaneously compress time and control space influences the cultural as well as practical sides of the policy decision of when and how to use military force. After reviewing the rise of Western time orientations and current US military theory, the article explores aspects of military doctrines that unconsciously assign high priority to time dominance.” (source)
That looks pertinent — and rather unique since I’ve not come across nothing else like it — for making points about STA-C and strategy. Especially since I’ve already begun to claim that,
“Furthermore, STA may provide a fresh way to think about strategy and tactics. Strategy is traditionally treated, particularly in the military world, as the art of relating ends, ways, and means — and sometimes, mostly in the business world, as the art of positioning. STA implies that strategy is the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages, in light of one’s ends, ways, and means. To design a strategy, STA implies making a comprehensive examination of space, time, and action factors as a set. Don’t just focus on time and space — as some strategic analysis seems to do — assuming that should determine action.” (source)

UPDATE — May 27, 2015: I see I still have much to learn about the historical precursors of ideas I like to tout. For I just learned (re-learned?) that Napoleon once stated that “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.”

Where I learned this is from a new blog post by Robert Tomes, interestingly the co-author of the 2004 paper noted above. Tomes pivots off this quote to blog about Trading Space and Time in the Cold War Offset Strategy in order to discuss implications for developing a next-generation offset strategy. As in the 2004 paper, time and space figure centrally in his analysis:
“The third offset strategy, from one perspective, is about the art of making use of time (responding quickly and decisively to a surprise attack or regional aggression) and space (operating in forward areas facing adversaries with relatively more capable long-range strike systems).” (source)
I shall hope STA:C can come to his attention someday. Onward.

Final gleanings from browsing with Zimbardo & Boyd’s The Time Paradox in mind: Wishard, Ramos, Taylor, Becker, Gutfeld, Foster

For background on how and why these gleanings are here, see the first in this three-post series (here).

As for this third post, it consists mostly of leftovers — gleanings that I didn’t fit into one batch or another in the preceding posts. It was tempting to just discard these leftovers. But each strikes me as interesting — not only for their own content, but also because they help show that analyzing time perspectives involves more than Zimbardo & Boyd’s kind of typologizing. Besides, I did discard a leftover from last year’s gleanings about space, and then months later I had a need for it and couldn’t find it. So now I’ve resolved to err on the side of inclusion.

Again, I’ve assembled these gleanings into quasi-thematic batches. In order of appearance, and with minimal discussion and a semblance of order, the quotes in this third post are from: William Wishard, Jose Ramos, Mark Taylor, Gary Becker, Greg Gutfeld, and David Foster.

* * * * *

Two gleanings focused on concerns about the effects of globalization on people’s sense of time’s past and future.

William V. Wishard on ”engage globalization without losing our traditions”: In a New York Times letter to the editor, Wishard worried that American-style globalization means that many people around the world will be “losing our traditions … our links with the past”.
“While we Americans believe that what works for America will work for all nations, we sometimes forget that cultural differences represent profound psychological differences. The critical question for all nations is, “How can we engage globalization without losing our traditions?” For traditions are our links with the past. How do our traditions become integrated into some new worldview?” (source)

Jose Ramos on globalization vs. “the possibility of many futures”: Ramos, a researcher with the Australia Foresight Institute, worries that neo-liberal globalization acts like a “cultural bomb” that makes people “see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement”. He sides with attempting to “articulate the possibility of many futures”.
“The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement. …
“In this vein, Sardar writes that the ‘future has been colonised’, the image of the future as corporate globalisation and neo-liberalism has become so pervasive that, throughout the world, no other future is possible (Sardar, 1999b, p. 9). In challenging a monolithic development vision, he argues we must reject the teleological projections of Western development, and proponents and pioneers of development alternatives must articulate the possibility of many futures, and many experiments with development.” (source)

* * * * *

For me, the time orientations of economists tend to be too ordinary or uninteresting. But I ran across two quotes about economics that I liked — the first one perhaps because it is not by an economist.

Mark Taylor on “two economies … at two different speeds”: Religion professor Taylor disparages what “the cult of speed” is doing to our economy and society. He observes, as have others, that there are now two economies functioning at different speeds — and his analysis is about space as well as time.
“In the past 50 years, two economies that operate at two different speeds have emerged. In one, wealth is created by selling labor or stuff; in the other, by trading signs that are signs of other signs. The virtual assets scale at a speed much greater than the real assets. …
“There are only three ways markets can expand to keep the economy growing: spatially — build new factories and open new stores in new places; differentially — create an endless variety of new products for consumers to buy; and temporally — accelerate the product cycle. When spatial expansion and differential production reach their limits, the most efficient and effective strategy for promoting growth is to increase the speed of product churn. …
“The obsession with speed now borders on the absurd.” (source)

Gary Becker on “the most fundamental constraint” making “Utopia impossible”: Thanks to a post by Brayden King at the blog, I learned about Becker’s Nobel speech and, according to Brayden, its “insight about the impossibility of Utopian dreams” and “how precious and valuable our time is”. Here's Becker:
“Different constraints are decisive for different situations, but the most fundamental constraint is limited time. Economic and medical progress have greatly increased length of life, but not the physical flow of time itself, which always restricts everyone to twenty-four hours per day. So while goods and services have expended enormously in rich countries, the total time available to consume has not. Thus, wants remain unsatisfied in rich countries as well as in poor ones. For while the growing abundance of goods may reduce the value of additional goods, time becomes more valuable as goods become more abundant. Utility maximization is of no relevance in a Utopia where everyone’s needs are fully satisfied, but the constant flow of time makes such a Utopia impossible.” (source)

* * * * *

There’s no end to tribalized conservatives debating if not demonizing the time orientations of liberals / progressives — and surely vice-versa as well, but I only browsed across the former in this period. Usually the debate clusters around broad questions like the one KT McFarland posed at a conservative gathering to discuss James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: “How many of you think that America's best days are behind us?” But less grand, more curious, yet equally rhetorical temporal perspectives arise as well, as in the two quotes below.

Greg Gutfeld on when “the temporary … is always permanent: In his role on Fox News Network’s show The Five, Gutfeld maintained that preferential policies favored by liberals (as I spun momentarily past, I assumed he meant affirmative-action and entitlement policies) never come to an end — they may seem temporary at first, but end up becoming permanent.
“But will there ever be a time where these policies of preference are no longer necessary? The hard-core proponents say no, which to me is a corrupt argument because it means the solution is not ever going to solve the problem. And that's the issue I have with the left is that the temporary, whether it's a program or anything, is always permanent.” (source: The Five, 04/22/14 — my transcription, which differs a bit from the transcript posted online)
A valid point, in some respects. But isn’t he being tribal about it? Many policies favored by Republicans, notably on behalf of business, have a similar temporal design.

David Foster on “temporal bigotry”: Chicago Boyz blogger Foster caught my eye with his novel notion of “temporal bigotry” — and his association of it with “progressives” who “put down previous generations” and neglect “what we can learn from their experiences.”
“Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.” (source)
However, the implication that only progressives engage in temporal bigotry was belied by the right-wing hyperbole I saw in reaction to President Obama’s address to the National Prayer Breakfast meeting on February 5, when he brought up the Crusades amid his points about ISIS.  I spotted a lot of conservatives roundly — to my knowledge, inaccurately — chastising him for doing so, on grounds that the Crusades happened centuries ago and thus had no relevance to discussing ISIS.  Yet, when it suits them, conservatives have condemned Islamic terrorism many times for being too medieval, too out of the Middle Ages.

* * * * *

And that finishes off the gleanings I collected about time orientations in this period.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More gleanings from browsing with Zimbardo & Boyd’s The Time Paradox in mind: Alemi, Smith, Bauman, Standing, Grurray, Ronfeldt, Sterling, Wanenchak, Landes, Greer, Mattson

For background on how and why these gleanings are here, see the first post in this series (here).

In order of appearance, with minimal discussion and a semblance of order, the quotes in this second post are from: Nader Alemi, Justin E. H. Smith, Zygmunt Bauman, Guy Standing, Grurray, David Ronfeldt, Bruce Sterling, Sarah Wanenchak, Richard Landes, John Michael Greer, and Ingrid Mattson.

* * * * *

Several gleanings reflected extreme uncertainty about the future, the present, and even the past. To accompany them, I’ve resurrected a deleted piece from an old post where I once discussed a case of growing uncertainty about the past.

Nader Alemi on “uncertainty” and “lack of control”: Alemi, an Afghan psychiatrist who counseled Taliban fighters about mental stress, found that many were afflicted by a total uncertainty about the present and future they faced. A depressing “lack of control” (an STA-type action orientation) also figured in his findings.
“The reason they gave me for the turmoil in their minds was the uncertainty in their lives. They had no control over what was happening to them. Everything was in the hands of their commanders. They got depressed because they never knew what would happen from one minute to the next.” (source)

Justin E. H. Smith on “the instability of the present and the uncertainty of the future”: Smith, a philosopher visiting in France to study immigration, remarks about French people blaming the influx of immigrants for “the instability of the present and the uncertainty of the future”:
“And while it is disheartening, what I hear in the streets is really only an echo of the rhetoric of politicians and purported intellectuals, who have found it convenient to blame the most powerless members of French society for the instability of the present and the uncertainty of the future.” (source)

Zygmunt Bauman on “change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty”: Thanks to Daniel Little’s Understanding Society blog, I learned that Bauman’s post-modernist perspective, which is mostly cited for his “liquid modernity” concept, involves a future orientation of an endless quality — endless both because it is forever, but because it is devoid of real ends/aims. It’s totally uncertain.
“Forms of modern life may differ in quite a few respects — but what unites them all is precisely their fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change. To ‘be modern’ means to modernize – compulsively, obsessively; not so much just ‘to be’, let alone to keep its identity intact, but forever ‘becoming’, avoiding completion, staying underdefined. Each new structure which replaces the previous one as soon as it is declared old-fashioned and past its use-by date is only another momentary settlement — acknowledged as temporary and ‘until further notice’. Being always, at any stage and at all times, ‘post-something’ is also an undetachable feature of modernity. As time flows on, ‘modernity’ changes its forms in the manner of the legendary Proteus … What was some time ago dubbed (erroneously) 'post-modernity' and what I've chosen to call, more to the point, 'liquid modernity', is the growing conviction that change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty. A hundred years ago 'to be modern' meant to chase 'the final state of perfection' — now it means an infinity of improvement, with no 'final state' in sight and none desired.” (source)

Guy Standing on “precariatisation” and “loss of control over time”: Marxists who used to raise concerns about the proletariat and their fixed stable lives are turning now to worry about the “precariat” — a “class-in-the-making” of laborers who lead unanchored precarious lives. British university professor Standing bemoans their time orientations:
“… The key point is that the precariat is subjected to what I call precariatisation – habituation to expecting a life of unstable labour and unstable living. … Precariatisation is about loss of control over time and the development and use of one’s capabilities. …
“… the precariat is still a class-in-the-making because it is internally divided into three groups, which for brevity might be called Atavists, Nostalgics and Progressives. …
“The third and potentially most progressive group [Progressives] consists largely of educated people who feel denied a future, a sense that they can build their lives and careers, after being promised their qualifications would lead to that. They experience a sense of relative deprivation or status frustration. This is becoming a source of immense stress.” (source)

Grurray on “the past must also be uncertain”: In a comment for a post that no longer appears at the Zenpundit blog (due to a hacking attack, I presume), blogger Grurray noted the following, citing Kurt Gödel:
“However, according to Godel, then the connection must be incomplete. If the past is prologue to the future, and the future is uncertain, then the past must also be uncertain.” (source — now missing)
I can’t tell whether this comment is Grurray’s interpretation of Gödel, or something Gödel actually stated. Whatever, it bears well on the topic at hand.

David Ronfeldt on “can the past become as uncertain as the future?”: There is a common assumption that the past is fixed, because it has already happened, and the future is open. In America, the future seems wide open, because we are a land and people of many possibilities. What to think, then, when revisions make the past seem as uncertain as the future, and the fight for the future and its possibilities becomes a fight over the past. In April 2009, I included some paragraphs about this in a post, but then deleted them because they seemed off-topic. Here, however, they’re on topic, so I’m resurrecting them as a gleaning.
“Ordinarily, the past is said to be fixed — because it has already happened. In contrast, the future is wide-open — it’s uncertain and unpredictable.
“Often, the contrast is not that sharp: The past may be subjected to differing interpretations and revisions, depending on new information and on the ideological or other standpoint of whoever is doing the remembering. At the same time, the future may be made to look less uncertain, more predictable — by doing trend analysis, having a good model, or just being close-minded. But even then, the past remains more certain than the future.
“What’s got me wondering is a rarity: moments when the past suddenly looks as uncertain as the future — when one suddenly turns as unsure about what has happened as about what’s going to happen. And not as a result of a bit of revisionism or confusion. But because of some sudden trauma or radical rethinking. I gather this is not so rare in personal lives. But I’m referring to moments when this kind of abnormal time disorientation spreads like a virus across a society.
“A [then] current example is the upending of FDR’s reputation for having healed, even saved, our country from the ravages of the Great Depression. This upending has been going on for months now, prompted in part by a book by Amity Shlaes, and spread in part by Rush Limbaugh, not to mention others. A [then] recent New York Times write-up of a [2009] conference on the matter summarizes its effect thusly:
“In this interpretation Roosevelt is a well-meaning but misguided dupe who not only prolonged the Depression but also exacerbated it. For many people, it’s like hearing that Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and not the wolf is the rapacious killer.” (source)
“That’s the handiest example for me to bring up, but there are surely others. Perhaps more than I realize. Perhaps enough to add to worrisome notions about the rise and decline of civilizations. What I have in mind is a sage old observation by Fred Polak in his The Image of the Future (1973 [1955?], p. 19):
“[Man’s] image of the future is his propelling power . . . . the rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures.”
“Perhaps something similar applies to images of the past. For one thing, it can expose your OODA loops in the war of ideas.” (source: deletion from old 2009 post)
By now, this particular controversy has dissipaated, perhaps partly because Ken Burns’ 2014 PBS series on the Roosevelt family offered a corrective. But other instances are afoot. And as for that quote from Polak, here’s a fuller version:
“[Man's] image of the future is his propelling power. … [T]he rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” (From Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19, ital. in orig.)
Radical upendings of people’s images of the past may similarly accompany a culture’s loss of vitality.

* * * * *

Two gleanings highlighted a time perspective I’d not known about: “atemporality” — a dark contrast to Zimbardo & Boyd’s “holistic present”. Atemporality is different from uncertainty, but it strikes me as a hip way to deal with the extreme uncertainty noted in other gleanings.

Bruce Sterling on “atemporality” and “becoming ‘multi-temporal’”: Science fiction author Sterling indicates that our era is about being multi-temporal, even more than being multi-cultural. Accordingly, we should adopt atemporal stances when we think about past, present, and future matters.
“So, what is ‘atemporality’? I think it’s best defined as ‘a problem in the philosophy of history’. And I hate to resort to philosophy, because I am a novelist. But I don’t think we have any way out here. It is about the nature of historical knowledge. What we can know about the past, and about the present, and about the future. How do we represent and explain history to ourselves? What are its structures and its circumstances? What are the dynamics of history and futurity? What has happened before? What is happening now? What is really likely to happen next? …
“Refuse the awe of the future. Refuse reverence to the past. If they are really the same thing, you need to approach them from the same perspective. …
“Becoming ‘multi-temporal’, rather than multi-cultural: it used to be a very big problem for historians that they supposedly could not divide themselves from the outlooks and interests of their own age. I think we are approaching a situation where the outlooks and interests of our own age make very little sense. They just don’t bind us to anything in particular. We don’t have a coherent outlook or interest that can enslave us. This means we are closer to a potentially objective history than anybody has ever been.” (source)

Sarah Wanenchak on abandoned ruins as archetypes of atemporality: Cyborgologist Wanenchak calls atemporal cognition a time perspective in which “we remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past” — all simultaneously. A sense of atemporality arises, in her view, especially when one stands before an abandoned ruin, contemplating all that was, is, and might have been.
“A quick refresher: atemporality most simply refers to the idea that our experience of time is not necessarily as linear as we like to present it; that we don’t just move in a straight line from A to B in time but that we often experience aspects of the past, the present, and the future simultaneously, simply by virtue of our nature as remembering, imagining creatures — as I wrote in my last piece on this topic, we remember the future, imagine the present, and experience the past. Moreover, this phenomenon is intensified by technology and especially by technologies of documentation and sharing. Abandoned physical space, because of the way it encourages us to imagine our own ruined futures at the same time as we imagine an unruined past, is uniquely atemporal.” (source)
* * * * *

A few quotes I browsed across in this period addressed the nature of apocalyptic millenarian mentalities. For more on this, watch for Charles Cameron’s posts at the Zenpundit blog.

Richard Landes on “cognitive war”: Landes, an expert on millenarianism, has repeatedly warned about “cognitive war” at his blog Augean Stables. In this instance, he warns about apocalyptic millennialists who imagine a transformed future (a time orientation) and believe they can be the agents for making it happen (an action orientation).
“Muslim apocalyptic movements like al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other jihadi groups are winning an information war that the West barely recognizes exists. …
“Millennialists, from stone-age cargo cults to the Pharaoh Akhenaten’s monotheistic revolution in Egypt around 1350 BCE to modern secular movements including the French Revolution, Marxism, Communism, and Nazism, all imagine that in the future the world will transform from a society in which evil, corruption, and oppression flourish and the good suffer into a world without suffering and pain. The term “apocalyptic” refers to the experiences and behavior of those who believe that this millennial transformation is imminent. …
“Of the most dangerous such movements to jell are those I call “active cataclysmic” ones that believe that only vast destruction can pave the way to the new world, and that they are the agents of that violence. Such movements have killed tens of millions of people (often their own people) before their raging fires burned out.” (source)

John Michael Greer on “the shape of time” and “the difference between Joachimist and Augustinian visions”: Greer’s blog The Archdruid Report tracks what he views as the decline and eventual collapse of America — and he frequently provides thoughts about time. The following quotes discuss the “cognitive framing” he calls “the shape of time”, as he lays out the decline of “the vision of perpetual progress” and the rise of apocalyptic perspectives. He discusses how and why people may adapt by opting for Joachimist or Augustinian beliefs (i.e., the millenarianism of Joachim de Fiore, versus the spiritualized rationalism associated with St. Augustine), depending on whether life seems to be trending upward or downward.
“It’s no accident that when movements for social change fail — whether the failure is simply a matter of banishment to the fringes, as happened to the New Age, or whether the movement is courted, seduced, betrayed and abandoned like the hapless heroine of a Victorian penny-dreadful novel, as happened to the fundamentalists and the environmentalists — apocalyptic beliefs become increasingly central to their rhetoric. …
“If you and your civilization are staring the Dark Ages in the face, a way of thinking about time that treats ordinary history as an evil irrelevance and focuses all hope on a shining vision of a world after history ends is not merely comforting, it’s adaptive. It inspired monks and nuns across Dark Age Europe to preserve the cultural and scientific heritage of the ancient world, and helped many ordinary people find a reason to keep going even in the harshest times.” (source)
“The cognitive framing that I called the shape of time in last week’s post is a case in point. Most people, most of the time, don’t notice that all their thinking about past, present and future is shaped by some set of unnoticed assumptions about time and history.…
“The shape of time that governs nearly all contemporary thinking in the industrial world, the vision of perpetual progress, was adaptive back when ever more abundant energy supplies were being extracted out of mines and wells and poured into the project of limitless industrial expansion. The end of the age of cheap abundant energy, though, makes that shape of time hopelessly maladaptive, and a galaxy of assumptions and ideas founded on faith in progress are thus well past their pull date.
“Since most people in the modern industrial world aren’t even aware of the role that faith in progress plays in their thinking, their chances of adapting to the end of progress are not good — and certain habits of thought the civil religion of progress has inherited from older theist religions make the necessary adaptations even harder than they have to be.” (source)
“As real as the political subtext was, it’s a mistake to see the myth of progress purely as a matter of propaganda. During the heyday of industrialism, that myth was devoutly believed by a great many people, …
“The problem that we face now is precisely that those hopes and dreams and visions have passed their pull date.” (source)
“Put two compelling visions of the shape of time in a culture, and you can count on any number of fusions and confusions between them. …
“For the great difference between the Augustinian and Joachimist visions is precisely the kind of historical events to which they tend to be adaptive. Augustine’s vision was crafted in a civilization in decline, and it turned out to be extremely well suited to that context: from within Augustine’s shape of time, the messy disintegration of the Roman world was just another meaningless blip on the screen of secular history, of no real importance to those who knew that the history that mattered was the struggle between Christ and Satan for each human soul. That way of thinking about time made it possible for believers to keep going through times of unrelenting bleakness and horror.
“Joachim of Flores, by contrast, lived during the zenith of the Middle Ages, before the onset of the 14th-century subsistence crisis that reached its culmination with the arrival of the Black Death. His was an age that could look back on several centuries of successful expansion, and thought it could expect more of the same in the years immediately ahead. His way of thinking about time was thus as well suited to ages of relative improvement as Augustine’s was to ages of relative decline.” (source)
Those gleanings relate to STA. Much of what Greer writes relates to TIMN as well. If I ever get around to posting a TIMN analysis of collapsitarian and dystopian thinking, I expect to revisit Greer’s writings. Offhand, I think the +N component of TIMN provides a new path and thus a way out. If so, America’s decline and collapse are far from inevitable.

Ingrid Mattson on planting a seedling at “the end of time”: Most scenarios I see about the end-times lead to massive violence. In contrast, Mattson, a Professor of Islamic Studies at Hartford seminary, speaking on a PBS-broadcast program titled Three Faiths, One God: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, says that no matter how bad things look (time-wise), “the job of human beings is to build for the future” (a time+action orientation). Thus, a productive way to respond “when the hour comes” for the apocalypse at “The end of time” is to plant a tree:
“One really interesting parallel between Judaism and Islam is that there is a statement in both traditions that when the hour comes, when the horn is blown by the angel to announce the apocalypse, to announce the end of the world, that if you have a seedling in your hand, if you have a plant in your hand, that you should plant it. Now what that says to us, the message is that no matter how dire things look, no matter how hopeless things look, the job of human beings is to build for the future. The end of time is in God’s hands. It's not in any human’s hands.” (source)

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More to follow …

Gleanings from browsing with Zimbardo & Boyd’s The Time Paradox in mind: Neumann, Scales, Simons, Atran, Vlahos, Robb, Fabius Maximus, Gaddis, Neustadt & May, Davis, Shirky, Boyd

While doing the four posts on Zimbardo & Boyd’s book The Time Paradox (beginning here), I spotted related observations elsewhere. This post provides a selection.

These gleanings are the result of serendipity; I just happened to notice them while browsing. They are not the result of a comprehensive or systematic effort to go through my vast holdings on the topic.

The purpose of posting these gleanings is to show that time orientations constantly crop up in myriad areas. In my STA view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them, along with their connections to space and action orientations.

Some gleanings substantiate Zimbardo & Boyd’s emphasis on past, present, and future perspectives. But other gleanings indicate that analyzing time perspectives involves a lot more than their kind of typologizing.

As with the earlier posts about space orientations, I’ve assembled the gleanings into quasi-thematic batches, and will spread them across several posts. I could have arranged them differently, of course.

In order of appearance, and with minimal discussion, the quotes in this first post are from: Peter Neumann, Robert Scales, Anna Simons, Scott Atran, Michael Vlahos, John Robb, Fabius Maximus, John Gaddis, Richard Neustadt & Ernest May, Jenny Davis, Clay Shirky, and John Boyd.

* * * * *

This batch consists of quotes about motivations that affect terrorism and counterterrorism.

Peter Neumann on being part of history: Here, Neumann, a leading analyst of terrorist mindsets, emphasizes the strong pull of joining a growing movement in order to feel part of a grand project to transform history:
“Some of the rhetoric that comes out of ISIS about the caliphate, it basically tells young western recruits you can be part of an enormous historical project and people in a thousand years will be talking about those brave young westerners who came over and rebuilt the caliphate with us.” (source)
That’s an excellent time-oriented point. It adds to others Neumann has made that are more spatial — e.g., as I recall, about how recruitment resolves needs for identity, belonging, and connection.

Robert Scales on hope as terrorism’s center of gravity: It’s unusual to see a future time orientation — hope — identified as a Clausewitzian center of gravity. But Gen. Scales does so here:
“Our political masters need to distinguish between ideology and the enemy’s true vulnerable center of gravity: hope. The differences are subtle. Hope is the belief that ideology will prevail. Hope drives motivation or, in the psychologist’s jargon, a “response initiation.” To the extent that hope is present, a terrorist will translate belief into action. As hope is removed, even the most ideologically attuned enemy will become passive. As Clausewitz advises: Strike the center of gravity and the enemy loses the will to act.
“The history of war suggests hope is a fuel that induces young, post-adolescent men to turn ideology into action. And hope rises with the perception of military success.” (source)
A commenter at the blog observed sensibly that “revenge” was a more significant center of gravity than “hope” for many terrorists — meaning their past orientation mattered more than a future orientation. Perhaps the two combine in a hope for revenge.

Anna Simons on “hope as a moral hazard”: Military anthropologist Simons goes in a different direction with hope’s implications. Whereas Scales wants to mow down our enemy’s hopes, Simons advises against ballooning up our ally’s hopes:
“Two weeks ago, I heard myself say “hope is a moral hazard” in response to someone else invoking the truism that “hope is not a strategy.” …
“On further reflection, I would now say that, like so many things, hope is probably best thought of as a double-edged sword. Our offering others hope can work for people. But it can also cut against them. And too often these days the latter ends up being the case. …
“Because it is as dangerous as it is paralyzing to think that help is coming, people who don’t like their government, their fellow citizens, or their plight would be well advised to recognize that they have only themselves to depend on. It turns out rebels who commit to re-making their world on their own also generally do better in the mid-run.” (source)
Her plea is about motivating self-reliance more than hope per se. She shows how building up a false time orientation — unwarranted hope — may undo a desirable action orientation — relying on one’s own motivations and devices.

Scott Atran on terrorists’ motivations and mentalities: Some years ago, cognitive anthropologist Atran included the following reiteration of relative-deprivation theory in a paper about terrorism as a strategic threat:
“Poverty and lack of education per se are not root causes of terrorism. Rising aspirations followed by dwindling expectations — especially regarding civil liberties — are critical.” (source)
This kind of view was widespread decades ago. But it turns out that many terrorists are motivated far less by a sense of relative deprivation than by a sense of absolute disaster (as discussed here).

Recent summaries of Atran’s work by Sara Reardon that I happened across (here and here) indicate that he now lays out a range of space, time, and action orientations. Accordingly, “The best predictors turn out to be things like who your friends are and whether you belong to some action group.” And that “extremism arises, in part, when membership in a group reinforces deeply held ideals, and an individual’s identity merges with the group’s”. Moreover, his recent articles in the journal Cliodynamics (here and here) observe the significance of “sacred values” and an “identity fusion” that generates “a collective sense of invincibility and special destiny”, along with a belief in “control over their future”.

Atran's interesting array of findings moves closer to showing that what’s going on in terrorist (not to mention other kinds of) mindsets can be analyzed as a bundle of space, time, and action orientations — and that analysts, who normally specialize on only one of the three cognitive orientations, would be well advised to develop a comprehensive space-time-action approach to theory and analysis. Yet, I’m inclined to agree with comments by John Horgan that Reardon mentions: “We’re only beginning to figure out what the right questions are” and “Psychology’s potential for the study of terrorism has yet to be realized.”

* * * * *

This batch assembles quotes about how time perspectives enter into strategy and planning, often not to positive effects.

Michael Vlahos on “fighting the war we wanted”: Strategist Vlahos offers his take on an oft-made point — Americans tend to keep preparing for “the war we wanted” in ways that interfere with “winning the war we had”:
“This is not a problem of simply seeing war wrongly, but rather that in seeing it wrongly, there are almost immediate negative effects — on our warfighting, our strategy, and our society. We have lost wars because fighting the war we wanted was more important to us than winning the war we had — as in Vietnam, as in Iraq.” (source)

John Robb on “the attack that will happen”: Warning about new kinds of attacks, war futurist Robb makes a similar point — instead of seeing “where warfare is going”, we keep preparing for “where it has been”:
“Warfare is in transition. New tech and new threats are emerging every day. In many cases, simply doing the right thing (in this case, protecting US households from phone scams/spam), can blunt the effectiveness of the attack. In others, it takes an understanding of where modern warfare is going (not where it has been) in order to anticipate these threats and tweak the system in ways that blunts their potential for damage.
“Unfortunately, I don't see this happening. The governmental and economic system we have isn't that good at doing the right thing. Worse, the security system we pay so much for, is only good at stopping the repetition of the types of attack that have already happened, not the attack that will happen. Why? Our national security system is simply unwilling to study warfare seriously.” (source)

Fabius Maximus on “forecasting that the past will repeat”: Blogger FM often monitors how experts misanalyse trends and make biased forecasts about the future by presuming that “the past will repeat”. He advises that “All this will only grow more intense as we accelerate toward the future”, and that we watch “the strangeness” unfold with a “sense of wonder.”
“The vast majority of research, geopolitical or economic — especially for a general audience — consists of forecasting that the past will repeat. That’s the easy message; that’s what people worry about and hence what sells.” (source)
“Experts benchmark their insights to the past. Periods of rapid change — social, economic, technological (they run together) — upset the assumptions that experts rely upon (often unquestioned assumption, or even unaware assumptions). Frequent failed predictions are markers, telling us that we’ve entered a transitional era with a new world ahead.
“Unfortunately, experts’ failures inevitably diminish our confidence in them, while rapid change means we need them more than ever. No matter how bad, their analysis provides better guidance than the equally confident and often more aggressive ignorant people that replace them on the public stage (cue the anti-vaxxers, stage left).
“All this will only grow more intense as we accelerate towards the future, like a starship diving towards a black hole. They, like us, can only guess at what lies ahead. Meanwhile, enjoy the strangeness. Don’t let your desire for comfort and reassurance override your sense of wonder.” (source)

John Gaddis on the importance of a “longer time horizon”: In a speech about grand strategy, Gaddis remarks that recent theories predicting the future spread of democracy would not have been so wrong if analysts had looked back using a “longer time horizon”:
“I’ve suggested that a good deal of brushing aside took place in the case of NATO expansion, and there was certainly a theory that inspired it: it was that the advance of democracy, across all cultures and in the face of all difficulties, was irreversible; and that because democracies don’t fight one another, an acceleration of this advance would enhance the cause of peace.
“This theory originated in the academy, but because it emerged as the Cold War was ending, it gained greater traction within the policy community than would normally have been the case. It provided an explanation for what had happened that gratified both liberals and neo-conservatives, hence the support it received in the otherwise quite different administrations of Clinton and Bush. It provided assurance, on the basis of the recent past, of what the future was going to bring. It made NATO expansion look easy.
“A longer time horizon, however, might have provided a larger perspective.” (source)

Actually, there is no end to quotes in this vein. A good reminder (for me, anyway) was David Reynold’s article “The return of big history: the long past is the antidote to short-termism,” New Statesman, 29 January 2015, reviewing Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s new book The History Manifesto. Reynold’s article turns out to be as much about Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s classic book Thinking in Time, notably their point that “the future has nowhere to come from but the past”, yet “what matters for the future in the present is departures from the past”. (source)

* * * * *

Several gleanings were mainly about how the future figures into strategy and tactics.

Jenny Davis on the “war for possible futures”: Cyborgologist Davis points out how the new media, by enabling sousveillance to counter surveillance, is also thereby enabling social movements to better conduct the “war for possible futures”:
“The mobile phone camera has become an embedded tool of protest. It has given rise to the citizen journalist and is a key mechanism by which surveillance is countered with sousveillance. …
“The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that continue to follow, set the stage for drastically different futures. The way we tell this story will guide which future is most plausible, most logical, and most likely. …
“The war for possible futures, fought in images, has far reaching consequences; for some, those consequences are literally life and death. The stakes are highest for those with bodies of color.” (source)

Clay Shirky on “time itself as a strategic weapon”: Information-age thinker Shirky observes here that, after considering how short-term and long-term factors interacted in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, activists “need to start thinking of time itself as a strategic weapon.”
“I think we cannot forget the lessons of complex movements like the Arab Spring and like Occupy Wall Street, which is that the various time signatures work better together," Shirky said. "Shorter-term is good for surprises but it is lousy for continuity and capacity-building. Long-term is great for continuity but lousy for surprises. ... We need to start thinking of time itself as a strategic weapon.” (source)

John Boyd on getting inside an adversary’s OODA Loop: Military thinker Boyd did view time as a tactical if not strategic weapon, particularly in his concept of the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop, as shown in quotes from recent books by Daniel Ford and Frans Osinga that Clay Spinuzzi included in his reviews:
“And it occurred to me … that if I have an adversary out there, that what I want to do is fold my adversary back inside himself, where he can't really consult the external environment he has to deal with. … Then I can drive him into confusion and disorder and bring about paralysis. … If I can operate at a tempo or rhythm faster than he can operate at — well, he can't keep up with me, and in effect then I fold him back inside himself. And if I do that — ball game! You saw it in Desert Storm, you see it in basketball games, football games, and a whole bunch of other stuff.” (source)
“Colonel Boyd observed that in any conflict all combatants go through repeated cycles of an observation – orientation – decision –action (OODA) loop […]The potentially victorious combatant is the one with the OODA loop which is consistently quicker than his opponent (including the time required to transition from one cycle to another). As this opponent repeatedly cycles faster than his opponent, the opponent finds he is losing control of the situation […] his countermeasures are overcome by the rapidly unfolding events and become ineffective in coping with each other. He finds himself increasingly unable to react. Suddenly, he realizes there is nothing else he can do to control the situation or turn it to his advantage. At this point he has lost. In essence his command circuits have been overloaded, thereby making his decisions too slow for the developing situation […] all that remain are uncoordinated smaller units incapable of coordinated action. The enemy’s defeat in detail is the eventual outcome.” (source)
Boyd’s work is mainly about combatants and competitors. Spinuzzi notes that coordinating OODA Loops can be important for allies and partners too.

* * * * *

More later …

Friday, February 6, 2015

The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration

For years I’ve tried to make the point that jihadi terrorism reflects extreme tribalism, even more than it expresses religious extremism. The point extends from TIMN.

My major effort to call attention to this point was in my paper on In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First And Forever Form (2007), including via prior op-eds reprinted in its Appendix. Later I tried anew by supporting Steven Pressfield’s efforts at his blog to promote Major Jim Gant’s ideas in his paper One Tribe at a Time: A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan (2009). I also brought the point up occasionally in posts here at my blog.

All to such little effect that several years have passed since I last tried to make the point again. Mostly, I’ve just stewed in discouragement.

Lately, however, happenstance at two blogs I follow provided occasions to offer interim reiterations. This post logs my comments from those occasions.

* * * * *

The first occasion was a post by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation on “Why Islamists Beat Liberals in the Middle East” at the War on the Rocks blog, August 27, 2014. It observed that Islamism is “an attractive ideology that will almost inevitably supersede the appeal of its secular, liberal rivals.” Moreover, it claimed that “What the Middle East needs right now is a secular force that dreams a secular dream.” This analysis appeared to make sense, but like so many such analyses, it was mostly about Islamism as an expression of religious extremism — the kind of analysis that I now find dulling and discouraging.

So I left a somewhat contrary comment, as follows:
“I constantly read that countering Islamism is the key/top problem. But there are reasons to think otherwise; so let me suggest a different angle, based on a view about social evolution.

“Extreme Islamism has much in common with extreme tribalism. In many regards, religious extremism is an overlay atop a deeper dynamic: extreme tribalism. This has been the case for all sorts of religious extremisms across the ages. Thus, countering tribalism — tribalized mindsets — may be more key than countering Islamism.

“Tribes are the first form of organization behind our centuries of social evolution. Hierarchical institutions, modern markets, and new information-age networks arose later. Each form (and its philosophical implications) has both bright and dark sides; societies can get them wrong as well as right, in ways that affect their usage of the other forms.

“When matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using these forms progressively (T+I+M+N). When matters do not go well — in particular, if leaders make a mess of the institutional and market forms, or if individuals cannot find places for themselves in the institutional, market, or emerging network realms — then people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the tribal form, often in dark ways.

“No society can do well without the tribal form. It is initially expressed best in families, clans, and real tribes; later in community spirit, civic clubs, and patriotic nationalism; as well as via positive group identities about religion, ideology, ethnicity, and even commercial brands. So, tribes and tribalism per se are not a bad thing — not at all, some is good and necessary.

“But dark sides often show up too, as in urban youth gangs, criminal gangs, sectarian militias, partisan cliques, millenarian movements, charismatic cults, etc. And when people turn darkly tribal, they exhibit similar patterns of thought and action, no matter their religious or other identity: They boldly tout their unique identity. They exalt “us” and demonize “them. They express sensitive narratives about respect, honor, pride, and dignity for themselves — plus revenge and retribution for transgressors.

“Dark-side extremists often coat all this with religious references. But it is their tribal mindset, not their religiosity, that is the driving force. They have selectively reduced their religious pretensions to tribalist tenets. Thus, the “war of ideas” and “countering violent extremism” should be rethought, making extreme tribalism rather than Islamism the key challenge. Or so I’d wish to suggest.” (source)

* * * * *

More recently, a post by Stanton Coerr titled “Guest Post: U.S. Marines, the Forever Tribe by Stan Coerr” at the Zenpundit blog, January 30, 2015, prompted me to comment as follows, expecting it to be just a one-off side-comment:
“As one who wrote years ago about “tribes — the first and forever form”, I am heartened to read this. The Marines are a shining modern example, blending institutional and tribal principles in positive balanced ways.

“Elsewhere, however, I was disheartened to see New York City police unionists opt to engage in public displays of a negative tribalism, showing institutional and tribal impulses spiraling out of balance. Not to mention other city police.

“One of our country’s key challenges at home and abroad, including for grand strategy, is dealing with the continued rise and spread of so many dark varieties of preternatural tribalism.” (source)
But afterwards, blogger-in-chief Mark Zafranski inquired how I’d characterize ISIS from a TIMN perspective. So I fashioned a long reply:
“Much as I appreciate seeing so many efforts to analyze ISIS (and earlier, Al Qaeda) as a network and/or a hierarchy of some new kind, I continue to believe (as I did with Al Qaeda) that the tribal form is relentlessly at work as well, if not more so. Thus, I’d propose (as I tried with Al Qaeda) that ISIS and affiliates are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare. ISIS and ilk seem classically tribal in terms of what drives them, how they organize, how they fight. Viewing ISIS mainly as a cutting-edge, post-modern network phenomenon of the information age, while not inaccurate, misses a crucial point: Al Qaeda and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. The war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than religion. As I’ve said before, the tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other prevailing paradigms to help figure out the best policies and strategies for countering these violent actors, organizationally and ideologically.  (reference:

“But this is a trying and troublesome point to make effectively, because network and religion paradigms have powerful holds around analysis, strategy, and the media. Heads may nod when I bring up the tribal form and its implications for analysis and strategy, but not many analysts are suited to working on it (anthropology has basically ostracized the concept, and anthropologists would rather argue about it than help out). Moreover, bringing up the tribal paradigm means recognizing the significance of all sorts of negative modern expressions that may make some people averse and uncomfortable (e.g., Fox News broadcasts more tribalists intent on tribalizing than any other network, in my view).

“In contrast, a vast apparatus, indeed a veritable industry, has grown around discussing jihadi extremism and counter-extremism from the standpoint of religion. The religious aspects are undeniably important, but after watching the back and forth among various religious scholars and pundits over many years, I still think that what’s going on is more about tribalism than religion, and that dwelling on religion is not the best way to counter the jihadi movement. Maybe a way to bridge from religion to tribalism in order to root out extremism is to ask: Are you fostering Islam, or are you fostering tribalism? And what do you think your answer means?

“Since this movement has arisen in a part of the world that, in my view, can’t seem to get any of the TIMN forms right in order to construct modern societies — it’s fraught with failed tribes as well as failed states, etc. — I expect that, if ISIS takes hold over territory and consolidates a caliphate-type state, the outcome will be a vicious fascism. Moreover, its options for future expansion may include something new: a global “panarchy” (see Wikipedia article on its original meaning, which is different from recent modern network usage) consisting of semi-autonomous zones and nested enclaves that abide more-or-less the surrounding state/country, but obey the caliphate — an Ummah-state quite distinct from a nation-state. But maybe I’m being too speculative? (But maybe it’s been tried before — e.g., by the Papacy?).

“Elsewhere here at your blog, I applaud Charles’ post about “unholy war”. He too is trying to come up with a way to get beyond the hold of established religious terminology. I have a similar problem with terminology about the tribal form. Since “extreme tribalism” hasn’t quite worked for me, I’m currently trying out “preternatural tribalism” as a focus. Who knows?” (source)
Today I’d say some of those sentences are overstated. The Middle East isn’t exactly a region that doesn’t “get any of the TIMN forms right”. And my speculations that ISIS may be trying to create a “panarchy” and an “Ummah-state” don’t have much substance behind them. But, overall, the above will do for now as a tentative interim reiteration.

* * * * *

Coda: All religions are tribal to varying degrees — or can be made so. Yet all religions are meant to enable people to transcend their tribalism. This seems especially the case with the three great religions that arose in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Across the ages, each has had its own bouts with extreme tribalism, then finally returned to seeking transcendence. Today, it is painful to watch savagery spread in the name of religion, largely as a result of so many people yearning to be tribal and to behave tribally toward others.

I keep hearing it said that people are being radicalized by Islamist extremists — indeed, I just heard it again minutes ago on a cable news program. And I say no, that’s not quite right; for above all they are being tribalized. And it makes a difference — ideologically, strategically, and tactically — whether what’s going on is more about radicalization or tribalization.

Just take a look at the major recruitment appeals — they’re about achieving identity, belonging, connection, pride, honor, respect, and dignity, not to mention appeals about Us-vs.-Them and revenge, as well as about being part of a grand movement. Those are all traditional tribal appeals, not radical ideas.

[UPDATE — February 20, 2015: According to a recent post at Brookings, J. M. Berger has come around to inquiring “Why religion is not the most useful way to understand ISIS”. He finds that ISIS has much in common with a broad range of “identity-based extremists who claim to be its exclusive guardians”. Accordingly, he says,
“To understand and counter ISIS’s threat and appeal, frame it properly. Identity-based extremism and millenarian apocalyptic cults provide a far more useful framework for understanding ISIS than Islam does.” (source)
This gets close to my argument above, for the identity-based extremist groups he discusses are generally very tribal, whatever their religion.

I’m also reminded that Akbar Ahmed’s The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam (2013) overlaps well with my argument — though his focus is mainly on tribes in the Middle East, not extreme tribalism as a mindset.]

Monday, January 5, 2015

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIMN’s advantages for grand strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIMN as a way to assess a society for strategic purposes

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

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

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

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

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

TIMN and U.S. options for grand strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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