Tuesday, December 15, 2015

ISIS and its affiliates as a global tribe waging segmental warfare — plus an implication for information strategy

Here, for your consideration, are a “précis” and an “excerpt” about ISIS. Later, I’ll explain how and why I’m posting it as another step in my enduring effort to urge analysts and strategists to recognize the importance of the tribal (T) form, even if they don’t fully accept TIMN.

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ISIS and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. They are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare.

My purpose in this chapter is to describe the dynamics of classic tribes – what motivates them, how they organize, how they fight – and show that ISIS fits the tribal paradigm quite well. I argue that the war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than about religion. The tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other modern paradigms to help formulate the best policies, strategies, and analytical methods for countering it.

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In short, analysts and strategists have adopted a basic set of organizational views to work with. But they still face a lack of knowledge about ISIS and its affiliates, particularly as to how they may combine and shift among network, franchise, hierarchical, and possibly other design elements. Thus, it is advisable not to get fixed on any one view, but instead to work with "multiple models" whose content and probability may continue to vary. It is also advisable to keep looking for additional views that are not yet fully articulated.

Here is a viewpoint worth adding to the mix: ISIS and its far–flung affiliates are organized and behaving much like a classic tribe, one that wages segmental warfare. This view overlaps with the network view, but has its own implications. It shows that ISIS’s vaunted, violent fundamentalism is more a tribal than a religious phenomenon. It also shows that continuing to view ISIS mainly as a cutting–edge, post–modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: ISIS is using the information age to revitalize and project ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale.

When a tribe does go to war, it tries to do so as a whole, but it fights as segments.

Classic tribal warfare emphasizes raids, ambushes and skirmishes — attacks followed by withdrawals, without holding ground. Pitched battles are not the norm, for tribes lack the organizational and logistical capacities for campaigns and sieges. Sometimes the aims are limited, but tribal warfare often turns into total warfare, aimed at massacring an entire people, mercilessly. Killing women and children, taking women captive, torturing and mutilating downed males, scalping and beheading are common practices. So is treachery, as in mounting surprise attacks at dawn, or inviting people to a feast then slaughtering them on the spot. Tribal fighters do not hold prisoners. Enemies who are not massacred are put to flight, and their lands and homes seized. Bargaining in good faith to end a conflict becomes nigh impossible, for the attackers have denied legitimacy to those whom they are attacking. In ancient times, this brutal way of war did not ease until the rise of chiefdoms and states, when leaders began preferring to subjugate rather than annihilate people. In today’s world, examples are still easy to find — the Hutu massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda come readily to mind, as do episodes in the Balkans.

Tribes that go to war normally do so in the name of their god(s). Indeed, many (though not all) religions, from ancient totemism onwards, have their deepest roots in tribal societies. The major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each arose from a tense tribal time in the Middle East. And each, in its oldest texts, contains passages that, true to traditional tribal ethics, advocate reciprocal altruism toward kin, yet allow for terrible retribution against outside tribes deemed guilty of insult or injury. Today, centuries later, tribal and religious concepts remain fused in much of the world, notably Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

The more a religion commends the kinship of all peoples, the more it may lead to ecumenical caring across boundaries (as Islam often does). But the more a religion’s adherents delineate sharply between "us" and "them," demonize the latter, view their every kin (man, woman, child, combatant or non–combatant) as innately guilty, revel in codes of revenge for touted wrongs, and seek territorial or spiritual conquests, all the while claiming to act on behalf of a deity, then the more their religious orientation is utterly tribal, prone to violence of the darkest kind. This is as evident in the medieval Christian Crusades as in today’s Islamic jihads, to mention only two examples.

All religious hatred — whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu — is sure to speak the language of tribe and clan. And that language is sure to be loaded with sensitivities about respect, honor, pride, and dignity, along with allocutions to the sacred, purifying nature of violence. This is a normal ethic of tribes and clans, no matter the religion.

This is not the dominant way to view ISIS and its affiliates. Analysts have preferred to keep looking for central decision-making nodes and specialized structures — even committees — for matters like targeting, recruitment, financing, logistics, and communications, as though they might reveal a corporate pyramid. Or they have treated the creation of affiliates as though they were franchises that took the initiative to become affiliates or were concocted at ISIS’s behest. Or analysts have emphasized the sprawling network designs that ISIS and its affiliates increasingly exhibit. Or they have applied social movement theory. All these analytical approaches make sense and should continue. But they end up making ISIS look like a work of dauntless, modern, forward–looking genius, when it isn’t. Its design looks backward more than it looks forward; it reiterates as much as it innovates — and that’s because of its enduring tribalness.

The tribal paradigm — and a case that ISIS is like a global tribe waging segmental warfare — shows up across five analytic dimensions: narrative content, social appeal, leadership style, organizational design, doctrine and strategy, and the use of information technology. Below is a look at each.

Narrative content: Many themes in ISIS’s and other jihadist statements fit the tribal paradigm. The world is divided between good–hearted believers — the worldwide umma (kindred community) of Muslim brothers and sisters — and evil non–believers (infidels, apostates, heretics). Arab lands and peoples have suffered far too much injury, insult, and humiliation — their honor has been trampled, their families disrespected — by arrogant, self–aggrandizing intruders (America, Israel). Muslims have a sacred duty to defend themselves: to fight back, wreak vengeance, seek retribution, and oust the foreign invaders. They must be made to pay; no mercy should be shown — no matter if civilians die, even women and children. They deserve every punishment, every catastrophe, every tit–for–tat that can be heaped upon them. Defensive warfare is a necessary duty to restore honor and pride. This story–line is made to sound Islamic, and it has Islamic aspects that are not necessarily tribal — for example, requiring that an enemy be warned. But overall, it is tribal to the core. Indeed, similar story–lines have cropped up among virulently tribal Jewish, Christian, and other religious extremists as well, all across history.

Social appeal: Among Muslims, the jihad narrative is not alien, academic, or bizarre. It requires little indoctrination, for it arouses both the heart and mind. Recruits willingly come from militants who fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, or the Balkans; immigrants in Europe and refugees in Jordan and Palestine who are leading alienated, unsettled lives; youths leading comfortable but constricted lives in Saudi Arabia; and Sunnis whose lives have been shattered by the warring in Iraq. What drives them, according to many analyses, are shared sensibilities about loss, alienation, humiliation, powerlessness, and disaster. Such analyses may also note, more in passing than in depth, that joining ISIS or an affiliate provides a family–like fellowship. However, this should not be given short shrift; participation may appeal largely because it binds members in such a fellowship — in mosques, training camps, militant cells, etc. And it may do so not simply because many members share the social–psychological sensibilities noted above, but because they come from cultures that are deeply, longingly tribal and clannish. For the lost and the adrift, joining ISIS recreates the tribal milieu. This may even apply to the attraction of nomadic loners from faraway cultures who convert to Islam while seeking a more meaningful identity and sense of belonging for themselves.

Leadership style: [Left blank for a reason explained later — but partly because I do not know enough about Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.]

Organizational design: ISIS and its affiliates are organized as a (multi–hub? core/periphery?) network of dispersed nodes, cells, and units, all campaigning in a similar direction without a precise central command. This looks like an information–age network, but it is equally a tribal–age network. It is bound together by kinship ties of blood and especially brotherhood. What look like nodes and cells from a modern perspective correspond to segments from a tribal perspective. Some segments come from true tribes and families; others are patched together in terms of "fictive kinship" by jihadist clerics, recruiters, and trainers. Yet all who join get to feel like they belong to segments of an extended family/tribe that reaches around the world.

Doctrine and strategy: ISIS and its affiliates fight in the field much like tribes and clans: as decentralized, dispersed, semi–autonomous segments that engage in hit–and–run (and hit–and–die) tactics. These segments vary in size and make–up. Some are small, and fit the notion of terrorist cells. Others (as in Iraq) are larger, more like platoons with commanders. Some may resemble close–knit, exclusive brotherhoods; others may keep shifting in membership. Meanwhile, they fight like modern terrorists and insurgents, but do so in the tradition of tribal warriors, relying on stealth, surprise, treachery, and savagery, while avoiding pitched battles. And they are comfortable with temporary marriages of convenience. Thus, while ISIS’s underlying doctrine and strategy have been acquiring the sophistication of modern notions of asymmetrical warfare (e.g., for netwar and swarming), its tribalness endures within that modern frame.

Technology usage: ISIS and its affiliates have an extensive, growing presence on the Internet. Their statements, speeches, and videos are posted on myriad Web sites around the world that advocate, sympathize with, and report on jihad. As many analysts have noted, the new information media are enabling terrorists and insurgents to augment their own communication and coordination, as well as reach outside audiences. The online media also suit the oral traditions that tribal peoples prefer. What merits pointing out here is that the jihadis are using the Internet and the Web to inspire the creation of a virtual global tribe of Islamic radicals — an online umma with kinship segments around the world. This can help a member keep in touch with a segment, or re–attach to a new segment in another part of the world as he or she moves around. Thus the information revolution, not to mention broader aspects of globalization, can facilitate a resurgence of intractable tribalism around the world. ISIS and its ilk are a leading example of this.

In other words, ISIS is like a global tribe, waging a modernized kind of segmental (or segmented) warfare; we are fighting against virulent tribalism as much as Islamic fundamentalism. Salafi and Wahhabi teachings urging jihad against infidels, fatwas issued by Islamic sheiks to justify murdering even non–combatants, and stony ultimatums from Sunni insurgents who behead captives are all manifestations of extreme tribalism, more than of Islam. In Islam, jihad is a religious duty. But the interpretation of jihad that Al Qaeda practices is rooted less in religion than in the (narcissistic?) appeal of virulent tribalism in some highly disturbed contexts.

In short, ISIS and its affiliates have formed a hybrid of the tribal and network designs: a tribalized network or networked tribe, so to speak, with bits of hierarchy and market–like dynamics too. The tribal paradigm has a striking advantage over the network, hierarchy, and other organizational paradigms. The latter point to organizational design first, and then to leadership, doctrine, and strategy matters. But they have nothing clearly embedded in them about religion. As voiced in terrorism discussions, they are secular paradigms; religion is grafted on, as a separate matter. In contrast, the tribal paradigm is inherently fraught with dynamics that turn into religious matters, such as altruism toward kin, delineations between "us" and "them," and codes of revenge. And that is another valuable reason to include it.

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Does the above make sense? Pretty much, I’d say — though it underplays mentioning the creation of a caliphate by ISIS. But there’s a reason for that.

Everything I just stated about ISIS is excerpted verbatim from a paper I wrote ten years ago about Al Qaeda: “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare?” (2005 — see source note at end). All I did was substitute “ISIS” for “Al Qaeda” in the title and the text (plus omit a few place names, and make a few little punctuation changes).

To keep it short for blogging purposes, I omitted mostly the two long sections about the dynamics of classic tribes — but they’re still there in the original if you want to peruse. I also left blank the leadership-style bullet above, because the 2005 paper focused on Bin Laden, and it didn’t work to simply substitute al-Baghdadi’s name — but even so, the point stands that leadership style appropriate to a tribe is different from what is appropriate to a hierarchical institution.

Why do this post this way? Because I keep trying to raise attention to the tribal form and its implications for analysis and strategy. And this seemed a handy, relatively easy way to do so.

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A key difference between Al Qaeda and ISIS is that the latter has created an Islamic caliphate — an organizational design that is more advanced than a tribe, for it is a state-like institution. If I were to rewrite the 2005 paper today, focusing it on ISIS, I’d have to say more about this caliphate from a TIMN perspective. Nonetheless, while the 2005 paper was about Al Qaeda, it closed with a warning, drawn from TIMN, about the possible eventual formation of a caliphate with proto-fascist tendencies stemming from its tribalized nature — thereby anticipating something like ISIS:
The tribal paradigm may be useful for rethinking not only how to counter Al Qaeda, but also what may lie ahead if Al Qaeda or an affiliate ever succeeds in seizing power and installing an Islamic caliphate somewhere. Then, neither the tribal nor network paradigms would continue to be so central. Hierarchy would move to the fore, as a caliphate is imposed. Over the ages, people have come up with four major forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks. How people use and combine these forms, both their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they have. Were an Al Qaeda–inspired caliphate to take root, we can be pretty sure that it would combine hyper–hierarchy and hyper–tribalism, while leaving marginal, subordinate spaces for economic markets and little if any space for autonomous civil–society networks. When this has occurred in the past, the result is normally fascism.
Isn’t that what’s happening now? If so, we better learn more about the dynamics of tribalism and fascism, and not focus so much on Islamism. For that reason, the 2005 paper also closed with the following advice, which still holds today in 2015:
The United States is not at war with Islam. Our fight is with terrorists and insurgents who are operating in the manner of networked tribes and clans. U.S. military forces are learning this the hard way — on the ground. But policymakers and strategists in Washington still lag in catching on. …
U.S. counterinsurgency and counterterrorism methods — for interrogations, intelligence assessments, information operations, strategic communications, and public diplomacy, indeed for the whole "war of ideas" — would benefit from our upgrading our understanding of tribal and clan dynamics. ... [W]e must learn to separate better our strategies toward Islam from our strategies toward tribalized extremists who ultimately cannot endure such a separation. Whose story wins may well depend largely on just that.

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In this spirit, a Postscript I added in 2006 about information strategy seems worth repeating today — again if ISIS were substituted for references to Al Qaeda:
What troubles the world today is far more a turmoil of tribalisms than a clash of civilizations. …
In short, Islam, a civilizing force, has fallen under the spell of Islamists who are a tribalizing force. In the war of ideas, as well as in the battles on the ground, whose story wins may depend largely on addressing this brand of tribalization.
Shifting to a turmoil-of-tribalisms perspective would have to be carefully thought out. The point is not to condemn all tribal ways. Many people around the world appreciate (indeed prefer) this communal way of life and will defend it from insult. Moreover, even the most modern societies retain tribal tendencies at their core – as expressed, for example, in nationalism, cultural pride, and all sorts of civic groups and fan clubs that express social identities. That must be upheld; it is not always uncivilized to be tribal. Instead, the point is to strike at the awful effects that extreme tribalization can have – to oppose not the ISIS and its affiliates terrorist’s or insurgent’s religion but rather the reduction of that religion to raw tribalist tenets.
This approach could help rally moderates to resist clannish, sectarian extremists. Western leaders have put Muslim leaders everywhere under pressure to denounce terrorism as barbaric and uncivilized. But this approach to the “war of ideas,” along with counterpressures from sectarian Islamists, has put moderate Muslims on the defensive, often inhibiting them from speaking out. An approach that focuses instead on questioning extreme tribalism, particularly the tribalization of religion, may be more effective in freeing up dialogue and inviting a search for common ecumenical ground.
This is a domain – and a task – for information strategy. It involves knowing the enemy, shaping public consciousness, and crafting persuasive messages for friend and foe alike. It involves getting the content of those messages right and finding the best conduits for them. It is about winning the battle of the story. And it involves doing all this in such a way that soft power works as well as hard power, and information-age noopolitik outperforms traditional realpolitik. (2007, pp. 50-51)

For a somewhat different view I offered about ISIS — and about the difficulty analysts and strategists may face in trying to heed the above in a media environment heavily influenced by the “religion industry”, I’d refer you to my February 2015 post on preternatural tribalism (here).


Sources: “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare?”, First Monday, vol. 10, no. 3, March 7, 2005, unpaginated (download here). Republished with slight editing and a 2006 postscript as “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare”, in John Arquilla and Douglas Borer, eds., Information Strategy and Warfare: A Guide to Theory and Practice, Routledge, 2007, chap. 2, pp. 34-55 (download here).

UPDATE — December 17, 2015: I just listened to a panel discussion about Islam and Countering Radical Ideology, aired by C-SPAN on Dec 11, 2015. At about the 1:10:30 mark, Irshad Manji proposed, with some back-up analysis, that “At the end of the day we have to separate culture from religion.” In her opening talk, she argued that the Arab world should focus on cultural reform, more than religious reform. This seems close to what I argue above.

UPDATE — December 23, 2015: Nibras Kazimi, posting about “Where is the ‘Strategic Depth’ of the ‘Islamic State’?” at his blog Talisman Gate, Again, observes that
“The jihadists fight as if they were pirates, with the desert being their sea. … Nowadays, they field various types of forces, but their elite and most successful ones, not to mention their best-equipped ones, are small, disparate mobile desert units that converge on a target when needed (for example, the inghimasiyeen forces). They treat the cities and towns they have captured as ports of call, for booty and resupply. When challenged by superior forces attempting to retake these ports, the jihadists dissolve away into the desert, leaving small and determined bands of fighters to deflect and bleed-out the invading force. Their best fighters are not garrisoned in those cities; they live in the skiffs that carry them around the desert, such as the ubiquitous Toyota pick-up trucks they favor. There may be several mother ships in the desert that steam towards a target around which the skiffs gather. They exercise strict force conservation, especially after the military debacle at Kobani. They have to do this either because the numbers of fighting men they have are too few (far less than intelligence estimates) or because they are holding them in reserve for big strategic pushes when the time is right. The instinctual individualism of piracy is mitigated by having a cohesive ideology. One may understand the perplexing nature of the Paris targets as that of a jihadist skiff sailing further afield.” (source)
This helps substantiate what I posit above. I'm also pleased that he cited Arquilla’s and my study Swarming and the Future of Conflict. (h/t John Michael Greer for highlighting Kazimi’s post.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Brief blog update

Well, that didn't work — i.e., those last two posts, the Part I post about whither TIMN, and the Part I post about ideological boundary perceptions à la STA:C. They were supposed to enable me to generate new momentum. Instead, they left me feeling required to do their Parts II and III before moving on to other topics. Which left me stalled when I couldn’t readily complete them.

So, I’ve drastically trimmed August’s whither-TIMN post. If interested, see the explanation I added at the end as an update there.

I’m leaving September’s STA:C boundary post alone for now, but I may well rewrite and move it later, if/when I complete Parts II and III. Meanwhile, a recent derivative comment for a Zenpundit post (here) offers a few new points, and generated interesting follow-up remarks. Here’s the text:
Regarding gun matters: My theoretical interests in people’s space-time-action orientations has led me to observe that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting them — characterizes conservative more than liberal / progressive mentalities.
For example, it is far more likely a sign of conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Conservatives often seem more intent on marking differences between sexes, races, religions, and nations, etc. And these sensitivities often extend to sectorial differences: e.g., boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal, right and wrong — and even between life and death (not to mention between liberal and conservative).
It’s easy to find instances: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” about Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating walls to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote. Conservative “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though a dichotomous separation exists (it doesn’t). Plus, conservatives who constantly carp about government exceeding its boundaries.
This cogni-cultural sensitivity to boundaries appears to reinforce (or at least be associated with) some key conservative philosophical values and political strategies. It may help explain why conservatives value order and tradition so highly, compared to liberals who value progress and innovation more highly (particularly if it’s a disruptive innovation that crosses and redefines prior boundaries). A predilection for boundaries also seems to undergird the high value that conservatives place on individualism, and perhaps related to that, their tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and to be less in favor of social diversity and multiculturalism — again, compared to the predilections of liberals / progressives (though I can think of important exceptions, especially among libertarians).
Yet, there are a few issue areas — e.g., gun ownership, free trade, campaign financing — where my observation may seem at odds with the fact that, in those areas, conservatives today pursue more unbounded policies than do liberals. These may look like exceptions or contradictions that weaken my observation. But there is another possibility: that Republican policies in those area are not truly conservative — they’re liberal, even libertine.
Republicans seem to lack a sense of boundaries particularly regarding gun ownership — the fewer the boundaries in this area, the better. So, I suggest, that means their views and policies in this area are not truly conservative. Indeed, on this issue, their disposition is more than liberal; it is libertine. True conservatives always have a sense of boundaries.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

“Boundaries” (Part 1): a spatial predilection that distinguishes conservative from progressive mentalities?

This post observes that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting them — characterizes conservative more than liberal / progressive mentalities. If valid, this point helps further develop the STA:C framework about people’s space-time-action orientations. It also provides a prelude to a series of post (three or four) about the roles that “boundaries” play in other kinds of political mindsets, as well as in some social-science theories.

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I’ve long wondered what makes conservative and liberal / progressive mentalities so different. Many others have wondered the same. Some have focused on value dispositions — notably, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) — while other studies have analyzed psychological underpinnings (I’ve misplaced my sources). Meanwhile, I have wondered whether STA:C could offer insights.

Space, time, and action orientations thread throughout both conservative and progressive mentalities, and characterizations are easy to find. For example, it is often observed that conservatives are oriented mainly to the past and it's traditions, liberals and progressives to the future and it's possibilities — a difference in time perspectives. It’s also said that liberals / progressives tend to be more action-oriented, for they’re optimistic about people’s capacities to make and accept social changes; whereas conservatives, being more pessimistic, cautious, and dubious about human nature, tend to be less change-oriented, less activist — making for differences in STA:C’s action orientation.

But contrasts between conservative and progressive space orientations are less definite. Sure, conservatives generally object to big government — but rarely to big business. In contrast, progressives tend to distrust big business — but often want a big government that serves “little people”. Thus, size matters in both mentalities, as do other spatial sensitivities. But not in ways that contrast so sharply and consistently as their time and action orientations are said to differ.

Or so it seemed to me, until I dwelled on a common conservative plaint about “government exceeding its boundaries” in all sorts of policy areas.

Boundaries! Now there’s a criterion I’d not explicitly considered (nor seen considered) in discussions about political mindsets. Indeed, it’s barely implied in an old post where I noted some preliminary criteria for analyzing people’s spatial perspectives:
“My reading of the literature indicates that the basics include, or should include, as a minimum, an identification of the following:
  • The actors, objects, and structures — their identity, distribution, scope, and strength — defining the space.
  • Connections and pathways that link them.
  • Layout in terms of centers, distances, and horizons.
  • Divisions, or partitions, into realms, domains, and layers.
  • Organization of the above into whole systems.” (source)
Boundaries are slightly implied in that bullet about “Divisions …” — but I now propose that boundaries are very significant as a mindset attribute.

* * * * *

Boundaries is the key term for this post. Yet lots of terms that are conceptually related to boundaries — e.g., bounds, borders, divides, separations, walls, fences, limits, lines, frontiers, barriers, bulwarks — also figure. For conservatives keep referring to their sensitivities in terms of all these cognates, more than I see liberals and/or progressives doing.

This also means keeping an eye out for sensitivities, be they metaphorical or factual, to the likes of gateways and doorways, ceilings and floors, insides and outsides, scopes and jurisdictions, inclusions and exclusions, crossroads, horizons, even bubbles, black holes, and loopholes — whatever implies a boundary. It also means noticing references to the likes of guarding, protecting, preserving, tightening, or securing a boundary — or to loosening, blurring, fuzzy-ing up, or dissolving a “fine line between” — or to thoughts and actions that mean crossing, stepping over, reaching over, transgressing, tearing down, moving, ignoring, or operating outside a boundary line or the like.

A few additional points: Boundaries and boundary conditions look so significant that I found it helpful when a visitor (h/t Ann Pendleton-Jullian) remarked that many worldviews amount to “a distributed system of boundaries” — and if a problem arises, sometimes the way to change it is by “changing the boundary conditions”. Those are interesting notions. Furthermore, I’d add apropos STA:C, while many boundaries that people draw are spatial (my emphasis in this post), some may be temporal (e.g., between the idyllic and the recent past) and still others action-related (e.g., between legal and illegal actions). Finally, remember that my proposition is, for now, a matter of degree. It does not mean that liberals / progressives are insensitive when it comes to boundaries — just that they seem to be disposed differently toward them, and this difference seems significant.

* * * * *

What observations lead to postulating that conservatives are more sensitive about boundaries than are liberals or progressives?

To begin with, historically, it is far more likely a sign of conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Indeed, conservatives often seem more intent on marking differences between sexes, races, religions, and nations, etc. And these sensitivities extend to sectorial differences as well: e.g., boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal, right and wrong — and even between life and death (not to mention between liberal and conservative).

It’s easy to find instances in recent news: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating a wall to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote (not to mention a classic stereotype: who can join a country club). Self-styled conservative “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though a sharp dichotomous separation exists (it doesn’t). Plus, as I noted up front, conservatives who constantly carp about government exceeding its boundaries. And I’m sure there’s much more, as I hope to show in a Part-2 post.

More to the point, this cogni-cultural sensitivity to boundaries appears to reinforce (or at least be associated with) some key conservative philosophical values and political strategies. It may help explain why conservatives value order and tradition so highly, compared to liberals who value progress and innovation more highly (particularly when it’s a disruptive innovation that crosses and redefines prior boundaries). A predilection for boundaries also seems to undergird the high value that conservatives place on individualism, and perhaps related to that, their tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and to be less in favor of social diversity and multiculturalism — again, compared to the predilections of liberals / progressives (though I can think of important exceptions, especially among libertarians).

And here are some other implications I wonder about: Over the past year or two, I’ve seen conservatives question the worthiness of altruism, doubt that “we are all connected”, oppose engaging in middle-of-the-road compromises, and trust living in a media bubble (Fox News?). Could it be that today’s sharp sensitivities about boundaries help incline conservatives in these philosophical and tactical directions? I now think that’s a pertinent question for STA:C.

* * * * *

Confirming my observation — that conservatives are more sensitive about boundaries than are liberals / progressives — would require more research than I can undertake. But I am going to proceed as though it is valid in a few follow-up posts. They will offer anecdotal evidence and illustrations. The purpose of today’s preliminary post is just to field the basic observation.

I will also try to clarify a few issue areas — e.g., gun ownership, free trade, campaign financing — where my observation may seem at odds with the fact that, in those areas, conservatives today pursue more unbounded policies than do liberals. These may look like exceptions or contradictions that weaken my observation. But there is another possibility: that Republican policies in those area are not truly conservative — they’re liberal, even libertine.

Caveats: I’m trying to field an analytical observation for STA:C’s sake. I’m not opposed to the idea of boundaries per se. And I’m not trying to pick on conservatism (though maybe some of its tribalized practitioners). In general, people of all kinds need and benefit from having some sense of boundaries. It’s an essential spatial cognition. I doubt there is an ideal sense; but the sense people display looks like a revealing criterion.

Also, my interest in boundaries derives from the fact that TIMN — my other concern besides STA:C — requires recognizing that boundaries and limits are involved in each TIMN form. To my knowledge, TIMN is not inherently a Right- or Left-leaning framework. It is adaptable to both conservative and progressive interpretations. How that is accomplished may depend on the kinds of boundary conditions that are applied. Hence my interest not only in illuminating the importance of boundary conditions, but also in assuring that they are left open to a range of possibilities, not just a supposedly-optimal single point.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Whither TIMN: an update in bits and pieces (Revised)

Despite another prolonged abeyance, not to mention the digression about cars, this blog is still functional, still poised to provide new materials for developing TIMN and STA:C as theoretical frameworks that have practical implications. Even though my productivity keeps faltering, my responsibility remains to keep presenting materials here, on grounds that TIMN and/or STA:C (or something like them, even if by someone else) will ultimately prove a valuable way to go.

This post provides an update about what is currently on my mind for new posts about TIMN. I’ll try to do likewise for STA:C in a subsequent post.

A few months ago, visitors graciously stopped by my home to chat about TIMN. So I drafted a one-page outline summarizing what I’ve had in mind. Our conversations gave little heed to the outline, but with some annotations it can serve here to update interested readers, as follows. It lists topics for posts I hope to do in the months ahead.

Notes For An Update About TIMN (April 2015)

Proximate concerns (likely blog-post topics)

• Understanding reversions to preternatural tribalism
— usage / meaning of term: synonymic vs. systematic; comparative + evolutionary form
— ISIS as more about tribalism than religion; more about “reactionizing” than radicalizing
— American conservatives gone tribal

• Explaining corruption: when forms not shielded, T & M forces penetrate +I (Mexico, Russia); U.S. gov. protected by Madisonian checks and balances, but not immune; studies by others

• Exporting U.S.-style democracy and market systems problematic: we foster agents, but not systems (Cuba next?); how learn to constrain T, get +M right; Carnegie studies pertinent

• Awaiting +N: Right ignores, Left errs (but commons idea good) — long slow unfolding

Broader challenges for building TIMN (slow-going but still on-track)

• Getting TIMN forms right / wrong
— Arab world full of chronic problems
— defining limits of forms, plus boundaries and balances between forms
— military-business hybrids distort: Egypt, Iran (gov.-bus. hybrids distort too: U.S., Japan)

• Rethinking complexity, collapse, and progress
— convention that social evolution goes from simple to complex
— Tainter’s view about collapse of complexity (complicatedness) vs. TIMN

• Designing grand strategy with social evolution in mind (and TIMN)

• Comparing TIMN to other frameworks / models: Fukuyama; P2P; Darwinists at SEF blog

Prospects for big-picture endeavors (too much for me at this point)

• Book not likely — blogging to remain my key outlet for TIMN (not to mention STA-C)

• Focus should be on building model and applying it, visually as well as quantitatively
— specifying indicators (of each form, their interactions, bright and dark influences)
— identifying outputs and uses (TIMN statuses? rankings? potentials? problems? fixes?)
— wishing for RISE (RAND Index of Social Evolution)

UPDATE — December 15, 2015: In case any readers notice, what’s above is a trimmed version of the post I originally put here in August. What I thought I was going to do back then hasn’t worked out — i.e., issuing this post in sequential parts, with each part providing a paragraph or two about each item in the outline above. Thus, in August, this was a longish Part I post, creating a requirement for me to do longish Parts II and III posts. But the way life has unfolded, that has not worked out. So I have trimmed this effort back to this single post, leaving just the bare outline and cutting out the several pages of elaboration that were once here. I intend to still use them, but now for stand-alone single short posts, as life allows.

Addendum (December 2015)

While most items in the above outline are likely to result in their own posts, I don’t foresee doing a post just about the second to last item: the unlikeliness of a book about TIMN. So I might as well leave my basic thoughts about that item here:

Blogging will remain my key outlet for TIMN. I will not be able to write a book. But my sense of what a TIMN book’s table of contents would look like remains the same as I noted in a comment years ago (here):
Chapter 1. How Societies Progress: The Basic Story
Chapter 2. Rethinking Social Evolution
Chapter 3. Evolution of Tribes and Clans
Chapter 4. Modern Manifestations of the Tribal Form
Chapter 5. Evolution of the Hierarchical Institutional Form
Chapter 6. Evolution of the Market Form
Chapter 7. Evolution of the Information-Age Network Form
Chapter 8. Assembling the TIMN Framework: From Monoform to Quadriform Societies
Chapter 9. Structure and Dynamics of TIMN Evolution
Chapter 10. Future Implications
Much of Chapters 1-4 already exist in draft form in my RAND paper about tribes as the first and forever form. Ingredients for Chapter 7 on the +N form exist in scattered pieces, mostly in my writings with John Arquilla. Meanwhile, I'm using this blog to field materials that pertain to prospective Chapters 8-10. That means Chapter 5 on the +I form, and 6 on the +M form, are far from getting done. I'd want them to be comparable to what I wrote about tribes, and that would require much more new reading and writing than I can imagine undertaking as I slow down. At least I'm fielding some of the ideas here at the blog.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hopes for the new Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution

An interesting development for those of us interested in social evolution: A new Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution has recently been founded. It’s housed at The Evolution Institute, partly as a spin-off of its Social Evolution Forum, and in association with Cliodynamica: A Blog about the Evolution of Civilizations.

Members have been asked to submit proposals for “grand challenges”: “We are looking for the problems worth solving, those of broad scientific and social interest that can drive cutting-edge research and practice within the field of cultural evolutionary studies for future decades.” The four I decided to try proposing are as follows.

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Challenge: To clarify how to improve American grand strategy by improving our understanding of social / cultural evolution.

Background: Grand strategies often rest on judgments about social evolution — who is gaining strength, progressing faster, posing new challenges, etc. Thus, what a strategist thinks (or dismisses) about social evolution can make a decisive difference. Yet, grand strategy and social evolution are rarely paired for discussion. Indeed, strategists often think grandly about strategy, but so selectively and piecemeal about political, economic, military, and other aspects of progress (and regress), at home and abroad, that they don’t regard themselves as thinking about social evolution. Even so, many ideas have connected grand strategy with social evolution via one aspect or another: e.g., containment theory in the 1950s, modernization theory in the 1960s, and democratic enlargement in the 1990s. Also, in the 1990s two ideas that touched on social evolution — the “end of history” and the “clash of civilizations” — influenced strategists. In the 2000s, however, strategic thinking about the “war on terrorism” became presumptuous about imposing a democratic evolution in tribalized strife-torn societies, as in Iraq. Sounder ideas about social / cultural evolution would be handy to have, in order to inform the making of American grand strategy.

- - -

Challenge: To clarify that cognitive / cultural evolution reflects the nature of people's space, time, and action orientations — and to do so in ways useful for scientific and strategic analysis.

Background: Strip away people’s top values and norms and what’s eventually left as the bare essentials of cognition and culture are people’s orientations toward space, time and action (or agency). There are plenty of studies about these orientations separately — how each has evolved in individuals’ lives and in entire cultures, and with what effects and implications regarding various social problems (e.g., delinquency, education, etc.). What I propose is that space-time-action orientations have co-evolved and should be treated as an integrated interactive bundle — a triplex of great significance for cultural evolution at the societal level, and for mindset analysis at the individual level (e.g., for better understanding why some people become violent extremists, and others do not).

- - -

Challenge: To improve recognition and understanding of the tribal form, including how to identify its myriad expressions and measure their significance, throughout cultural evolution (past, present, and future).

Background: Tribes are a cardinal form of social organization that lies behind social / cultural evolution — in my view, the first cardinal form, but also a forever form, since advanced societies still need to generate positive tribe-like bases of various kinds. But tribalism often has dark sides as well. The latter show up particularly in reversions to extreme tribalism that turns violent, brutish, demonic. Understanding the tribal form and its myriad expressions (bright and dark, from preternatural to postmodern, etc.) is a grand challenge that figures in many key policy concerns, in both domestic and foreign policy areas.

- - -

Challenge: To assess whether and how continued social / cultural evolution may result in the emergence of a new sector of society, alongside the established public and private sectors, and what may be the implications for governance and policy.

Background: Analysts have long noticed that the rise of information-age network forms may result in a new sector alongside the established public and private sectors. Most analysts think it will consist largely of non-profit NGOs from civil society (e.g., environmental, rights, etc. NGOs). For Drucker (1993), it will be an autonomous “social sector”; for Salamon (1994), Rifkin (1995), and Florini (2000) a “third sector”; for Drayton (Bornstein, 2004), a “citizen sector”; for Hawken (2007), a global humanitarian movement that has no name yet; for Light (2008), a “social benefit sector”; for Bollier (2008), a “commons sector”; for Mintzberg (2014), a “plural sector”; for Praetorius (2015), a “care sector”. Other terms include “public-interest sector” and “civic sector” (also, “nonprofit sector” and “voluntary sector”). Keane (2008) says “monitory democracy” is the key implication. My evolutionary hypothesis is this: Aging contentions that “government” or “the market” is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” is the optimal solution.

- - -

This new society appears to have a decidedly Darwinian orientation. Its activities will surely be interesting, but whether they will help further the development and dissemination of TIMN and/or STA:C remains to be seen, though both have Darwinian qualities.

UPDATE — December 17, 2015: Findings from a survey of member’s views about “the grand challenges for cultural evolution” were issued in a report in November by the new SSCE’s leaders (download available here and here). While I’m not sure what to make of the analysis it provides, it shows that the SSCE is gaining traction.

UPDATE — January 17, 2016: For background about the creation off the new society, see Peter Turchin’s write-up here.

UPDATE — April 22, 2016: Also see Joe Brewer's write-up for the SSCE about "Birthing the Field of Cultural Evolution" (here).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A momentary digression about roadcars (plus a tangent about racecars)

This blog is about the development of TIMN and STA:C — it is not meant for other purposes or interests I have. And I’ll return to posting new materials about TIMN and STA:C soon.

But since this blog is the only publishing outlet I have handy nowadays, I occasionally feel like taking liberties, if I find that something I draft has a loose association to TIMN or STA:C — for example, my posts about baseball in 2009, or about racecar draft lines in 2013. Lately, I’ve finished a draft that I outlined over a decade ago about skillful car driving — a topic loosely relatable to STA:C. So I’m posting it here, just to place it somewhere and hope a few people appreciate and benefit.

* * * * *

The Five S's of Skillful Driving: Swift, Smooth, Spacious, Safe, and Strategic

I used to enjoy driving my late car — a 1998 Acura 3.2TL — so much that I began wondering whether driving could be reduced to a set of key principles. Thus, years ago, I came up with the following five S's for skillful driving: swift, smooth, spacious, safe, and strategic.

This set of principles made good sense for me. It organized lots of do’s and don’ts in a systematic way. Most important, these five S’s accommodated my penchant for driving fast while wanting to stay within limits. Indeed, what's laid out here was designed to help me continue driving fast sensibly. If I'd been a slow driver, I doubt I’d ever have thought the matter through.

You may find these five S's useful too. I hope so. They're excellent for monitoring yourself on the road. They can also help with teaching a learner to drive, or trying to correct a seasoned driver who habitually displays faulty ways behind the wheel.

Here are the five principles in the order I like — all beginning with the letter “S” for mnemonic appeal:
1. Drive at speeds you like: I’ve long liked swift. But as I aged, sedate became suitable too. The important point is to pick a speed that feels comfortable and appropriate — a speed that keeps you attentive to the car’s feel on the road, and that doesn't jeopardize any of the other S's.

2. Drive smoothly: Move at a steady pace, with little steering-wheel movement. Don't get on and off the gas much. Brake smoothly. Know when to brake and how to get back on the gas when turning corners and rounding curves — an artful skill. Don't swerve in and out of traffic or change lanes much. Also, rarely indulge in hard acceleration from a dead stop. From a smoothness standpoint, grunting full-throttle from 0 to 60 mph is less desirable (and harder on a car's drivetrain and tires) than, say, racing from 60 to 100 mph for a few joyful seconds. (And if you are going to do either one, it's good to know your car's full-throttle shift points, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road to check the speedometer. I knew that my car shifted from 3rd into 4th gear at exactly 100 mph — time to ease off.)

3. Drive spaciously: Spatial awareness is crucial to skillful driving. Keep a good distance from cars in front, behind, and to the sides. Don’t drive in somebody else’s blind-spot, or let anyone remain in your own. Don't parallel cars in adjacent lanes for long. And when slowing to stop, be able to see the bottom of the tires of a car in front — an old rule that arose when cars had stick shifts and clutch pedals, and thus might stall or slide back, such that you might need room to turn out and go around without backing up. It's still a good rule for today's world. Also try to apply it in traffic jams where cars are nearly bumper-to-bumper (but beware of anxious intruders from side lanes). And move away from a car traveling behind if you can't see the bottom of its front tires. Of course, know that the faster you are travelling, the more braking distance you should have to cars in front and behind.

Spatial awareness is about more than nearby gaps. It’s also about assaying what’s farther ahead — so try not to travel behind view-blocking vehicles (e.g., SUVs, trucks). And it’s about preserving maneuvering space — so try to drive in a middle lane, where there are options for switching to the right and the left in case a risk suddenly looms.

4. Drive safely: Safe driving is crucial; it has to be on any list of key principles. In part this means abiding by a long list of standard safe-driving practices — e.g., keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel. But it also means learning from experience to habituate yourself to practices that help avoid sudden risky surprises. For example, I learned from several close calls to count to three before getting going again when I’m stopped at an intersection and the light changes from red to green — lest someone be running the light to the side.

5. Drive strategically: After identifying those first four principles, I felt something was still missing, maybe quite a few somethings. For example, I learned from several near misses to slow down sharply if my lane is devoid of traffic, but a lane on either side is jamming up, for this could mean that something unexpected was about to occur ahead that may cross into my lane. Does that tactical point belong under the spacious or the safe principle? Maybe, but not in a way that would stick in my mind. Also, where do I fit the attention I’d devote at times to picking the best lane? That didn’t fit fully under any of the first four S’s, though I placed an aspect under the spacious rule above.
So I came up with strategic as my fifth “S” — partly as a sensible principle by itself, but also as a somewhat catch-all principle for leftover do’s and don’ts that didn’t fit exactly under the first four. Thinking strategically means having situational awareness, thinking in positional terms, for strategy is the art of positioning. I’ve never been sure what all do’s and don’ts I’d list under this principle, and your list may be different (a commenter on my first draft listed his techniques for avoiding the Highway Patrol). But no matter the list, what’s crucial as one drives along is to ask, Am I driving in a way that makes strategic and tactical sense?
So those are the key principles I’d recommend. I could add more specific do's and don’ts for each one. I could also note that some do’s and don’ts may pertain to two or more of the S’s. But that would distract from my main point: These five S’s provide an overall set of principles, a big-picture perspective, perhaps a philosophy, doctrine, or grand strategy, for skillful driving. If there’s a better set, I’ll have to rethink. But I’ve not seen one yet.

Some overlaps exist among the five — for example, between spacious and safe. Or maybe one or another — say, strategic — could be expanded to engulf others. But revising the set so as to lessen the overlaps, or shortening it to just three or four, has always seemed inadvisable to me. Some overlap is acceptable, even useful, for these principles are interrelated. The five I’ve identified also seem fairly comprehensive; something significant would have to be left out, or downplayed, if the list were made shorter. Together, the five amount to a pretty good quick-and-easy system of checks and balances for self-monitoring while motoring along.

The five principles don't have to be in the above order. It's the order that works best for me. However, you may prefer a different order, especially if you are not so speed-oriented as I used to be. Whatever the order, it’s seeing the links among the five and keeping them in balance that matters. This can be particularly advantageous for teaching others how to drive.

For example, if a teenage learner is driving too fast, a teacher’s usual reaction is to tell the kid to slow down for safety and legal reasons. Which often doesn't register well with teenagers, or leave much of an imprint for when the kids are on their own. But with this framework, the key point is not that the kid is driving too fast per se, but rather that he or she is not living up to one or more of the other key principles of skillful driving: say, smooth and spacious. Of course, the kid may well be just plain prone to driving too fast — but the five S’s are worth a try.

To end on a theoretical note, skillful driving is thus an exercise in space-time-action awareness and adjustment (apropos STA:C). It's a way to go OODA–Looping down the road, monitoring oneself and one's environment. As motorcycling blog-friend Sam Liles observed, after reading my first draft in light of his own knowledge about decision analysis, “The article may be about driving, but it is about way more than that.”


I thank a few thoughtful drivers I know — Sean Coffey, Helen Donovan, Donald Kieselhorst, Samuel Liles, Richard Yoder — for reading and commenting on my first draft. This second draft incorporates various do’s, don’ts, and other notions they raised.

* * * * *

A tangent about the mesmerizing sonics of Ferrari Formula One V-12 racecars

While the above discussion about skillful driving is somewhat reflective of this blogs STA:C theme, here's something else about cars that barely pertains to my blog, but that I'm moved to add anyway: selected sights and sounds of Ferrari Formula One racecars, especially the ones with Ferrari’s epic V-12 engines. If pushed about its pertinence, however, I would hasten to claim a link to this blog’s TIMN theme — for the fanatical Ferrari fans called tifosi are the most enthusiastically tribal of all racecar fans.

Here’s a slick commercial that Shell Oil produced using Ferraris from the years when Shell sponsored Ferrari:
The cars and drivers in this commercial are said to be, in order of appearance,: a 1950s-era Ferrari 500 (2 ltr., 4 cyl.), driven by Alberto Ascari; a Ferrari 312 (3 ltr., V-12), from 1966-1970, driven by Chris Amon; a 1972 Ferrari 312 B2 (3 ltr. V-12), driven by Jacky Ickx; a late 1990s Ferrari F310 B (3 ltr., V-10), driven in the commercial by Eddie Irvine, but in its time raced by Michael Schumacher and known as the “Schubaka car”; and lastly a 2007 Ferrari F2007 (2.4 ltr., V-8), driven by Kimi Raikkonen.

The gripping sonics of the Ferrari 312 B2 at the 0:50 seconds mark in that video is why, if fans were allowed to choose, Formula One would still be racing 3.0 liter V-12s.

There are also great-sounding Ferraris from other years when the Scuderia was sponsored by the oil company AGIP instead of Shell. The following two amateur videos convey the sonics of what I and many others regard as the greatest-sounding Ferrari of all time, a 3.5 liter V-12: the 1994 Ferrari 412 T1 (however, to my inexpert confusion, some videos claim it’s the 1995 Ferrari 412 T2 model).
Ah, for mesmerized me, that’s the sound of angels raising hell. But I digress …

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 orgtheory.net 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.

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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.

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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.

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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)
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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 …