While doing the four posts on Zimbardo & Boyd’s book The Time Paradox (beginning here), I spotted related observations elsewhere. This post provides a selection.
These gleanings are the result of serendipity; I just happened to notice them while browsing. They are not the result of a comprehensive or systematic effort to go through my vast holdings on the topic.
The purpose of posting these gleanings is to show that time orientations constantly crop up in myriad areas. In my STA view, we’d be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them, along with their connections to space and action orientations.
Some gleanings substantiate Zimbardo & Boyd’s emphasis on past, present, and future perspectives. But other gleanings indicate that analyzing time perspectives involves a lot more than their kind of typologizing.
As with the earlier posts about space orientations, I’ve assembled the gleanings into quasi-thematic batches, and will spread them across several posts. I could have arranged them differently, of course.
In order of appearance, and with minimal discussion, the quotes in this first post are from: Peter Neumann, Robert Scales, Anna Simons, Scott Atran, Michael Vlahos, John Robb, Fabius Maximus, John Gaddis, Richard Neustadt & Ernest May, Jenny Davis, Clay Shirky, and John Boyd.
* * * * *
This batch consists of quotes about motivations that affect terrorism and counterterrorism.
Peter Neumann on being part of history: Here, Neumann, a leading analyst of terrorist mindsets, emphasizes the strong pull of joining a growing movement in order to feel part of a grand project to transform history:
“Some of the rhetoric that comes out of ISIS about the caliphate, it basically tells young western recruits you can be part of an enormous historical project and people in a thousand years will be talking about those brave young westerners who came over and rebuilt the caliphate with us.” (source)That’s an excellent time-oriented point. It adds to others Neumann has made that are more spatial — e.g., as I recall, about how recruitment resolves needs for identity, belonging, and connection.
Robert Scales on hope as terrorism’s center of gravity: It’s unusual to see a future time orientation — hope — identified as a Clausewitzian center of gravity. But Gen. Scales does so here:
“Our political masters need to distinguish between ideology and the enemy’s true vulnerable center of gravity: hope. The differences are subtle. Hope is the belief that ideology will prevail. Hope drives motivation or, in the psychologist’s jargon, a “response initiation.” To the extent that hope is present, a terrorist will translate belief into action. As hope is removed, even the most ideologically attuned enemy will become passive. As Clausewitz advises: Strike the center of gravity and the enemy loses the will to act.
“The history of war suggests hope is a fuel that induces young, post-adolescent men to turn ideology into action. And hope rises with the perception of military success.” (source)A commenter at the blog observed sensibly that “revenge” was a more significant center of gravity than “hope” for many terrorists — meaning their past orientation mattered more than a future orientation. Perhaps the two combine in a hope for revenge.
Anna Simons on “hope as a moral hazard”: Military anthropologist Simons goes in a different direction with hope’s implications. Whereas Scales wants to mow down our enemy’s hopes, Simons advises against ballooning up our ally’s hopes:
“Two weeks ago, I heard myself say “hope is a moral hazard” in response to someone else invoking the truism that “hope is not a strategy.” …
“On further reflection, I would now say that, like so many things, hope is probably best thought of as a double-edged sword. Our offering others hope can work for people. But it can also cut against them. And too often these days the latter ends up being the case. …
“Because it is as dangerous as it is paralyzing to think that help is coming, people who don’t like their government, their fellow citizens, or their plight would be well advised to recognize that they have only themselves to depend on. It turns out rebels who commit to re-making their world on their own also generally do better in the mid-run.” (source)Her plea is about motivating self-reliance more than hope per se. She shows how building up a false time orientation — unwarranted hope — may undo a desirable action orientation — relying on one’s own motivations and devices.
Scott Atran on terrorists’ motivations and mentalities: Some years ago, cognitive anthropologist Atran included the following reiteration of relative-deprivation theory in a paper about terrorism as a strategic threat:
“Poverty and lack of education per se are not root causes of terrorism. Rising aspirations followed by dwindling expectations — especially regarding civil liberties — are critical.” (source)This kind of view was widespread decades ago. But it turns out that many terrorists are motivated far less by a sense of relative deprivation than by a sense of absolute disaster (as discussed here).
Recent summaries of Atran’s work by Sara Reardon that I happened across (here and here) indicate that he now lays out a range of space, time, and action orientations. Accordingly, “The best predictors turn out to be things like who your friends are and whether you belong to some action group.” And that “extremism arises, in part, when membership in a group reinforces deeply held ideals, and an individual’s identity merges with the group’s”. Moreover, his recent articles in the journal Cliodynamics (here and here) observe the significance of “sacred values” and an “identity fusion” that generates “a collective sense of invincibility and special destiny”, along with a belief in “control over their future”.
Atran's interesting array of findings moves closer to showing that what’s going on in terrorist (not to mention other kinds of) mindsets can be analyzed as a bundle of space, time, and action orientations — and that analysts, who normally specialize on only one of the three cognitive orientations, would be well advised to develop a comprehensive space-time-action approach to theory and analysis. Yet, I’m inclined to agree with comments by John Horgan that Reardon mentions: “We’re only beginning to figure out what the right questions are” and “Psychology’s potential for the study of terrorism has yet to be realized.”
* * * * *
This batch assembles quotes about how time perspectives enter into strategy and planning, often not to positive effects.
Michael Vlahos on “fighting the war we wanted”: Strategist Vlahos offers his take on an oft-made point — Americans tend to keep preparing for “the war we wanted” in ways that interfere with “winning the war we had”:
“This is not a problem of simply seeing war wrongly, but rather that in seeing it wrongly, there are almost immediate negative effects — on our warfighting, our strategy, and our society. We have lost wars because fighting the war we wanted was more important to us than winning the war we had — as in Vietnam, as in Iraq.” (source)
John Robb on “the attack that will happen”: Warning about new kinds of attacks, war futurist Robb makes a similar point — instead of seeing “where warfare is going”, we keep preparing for “where it has been”:
“Warfare is in transition. New tech and new threats are emerging every day. In many cases, simply doing the right thing (in this case, protecting US households from phone scams/spam), can blunt the effectiveness of the attack. In others, it takes an understanding of where modern warfare is going (not where it has been) in order to anticipate these threats and tweak the system in ways that blunts their potential for damage.
“Unfortunately, I don't see this happening. The governmental and economic system we have isn't that good at doing the right thing. Worse, the security system we pay so much for, is only good at stopping the repetition of the types of attack that have already happened, not the attack that will happen. Why? Our national security system is simply unwilling to study warfare seriously.” (source)
Fabius Maximus on “forecasting that the past will repeat”: Blogger FM often monitors how experts misanalyse trends and make biased forecasts about the future by presuming that “the past will repeat”. He advises that “All this will only grow more intense as we accelerate toward the future”, and that we watch “the strangeness” unfold with a “sense of wonder.”
“The vast majority of research, geopolitical or economic — especially for a general audience — consists of forecasting that the past will repeat. That’s the easy message; that’s what people worry about and hence what sells.” (source)
“Experts benchmark their insights to the past. Periods of rapid change — social, economic, technological (they run together) — upset the assumptions that experts rely upon (often unquestioned assumption, or even unaware assumptions). Frequent failed predictions are markers, telling us that we’ve entered a transitional era with a new world ahead.
“Unfortunately, experts’ failures inevitably diminish our confidence in them, while rapid change means we need them more than ever. No matter how bad, their analysis provides better guidance than the equally confident and often more aggressive ignorant people that replace them on the public stage (cue the anti-vaxxers, stage left).
“All this will only grow more intense as we accelerate towards the future, like a starship diving towards a black hole. They, like us, can only guess at what lies ahead. Meanwhile, enjoy the strangeness. Don’t let your desire for comfort and reassurance override your sense of wonder.” (source)
John Gaddis on the importance of a “longer time horizon”: In a speech about grand strategy, Gaddis remarks that recent theories predicting the future spread of democracy would not have been so wrong if analysts had looked back using a “longer time horizon”:
“I’ve suggested that a good deal of brushing aside took place in the case of NATO expansion, and there was certainly a theory that inspired it: it was that the advance of democracy, across all cultures and in the face of all difficulties, was irreversible; and that because democracies don’t fight one another, an acceleration of this advance would enhance the cause of peace.
“This theory originated in the academy, but because it emerged as the Cold War was ending, it gained greater traction within the policy community than would normally have been the case. It provided an explanation for what had happened that gratified both liberals and neo-conservatives, hence the support it received in the otherwise quite different administrations of Clinton and Bush. It provided assurance, on the basis of the recent past, of what the future was going to bring. It made NATO expansion look easy.
“A longer time horizon, however, might have provided a larger perspective.” (source)
Actually, there is no end to quotes in this vein. A good reminder (for me, anyway) was David Reynold’s article “The return of big history: the long past is the antidote to short-termism,” New Statesman, 29 January 2015, reviewing Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s new book The History Manifesto. Reynold’s article turns out to be as much about Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s classic book Thinking in Time, notably their point that “the future has nowhere to come from but the past”, yet “what matters for the future in the present is departures from the past”. (source)
* * * * *
Several gleanings were mainly about how the future figures into strategy and tactics.
Jenny Davis on the “war for possible futures”: Cyborgologist Davis points out how the new media, by enabling sousveillance to counter surveillance, is also thereby enabling social movements to better conduct the “war for possible futures”:
“The mobile phone camera has become an embedded tool of protest. It has given rise to the citizen journalist and is a key mechanism by which surveillance is countered with sousveillance. …
“The failure to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown and the protests that continue to follow, set the stage for drastically different futures. The way we tell this story will guide which future is most plausible, most logical, and most likely. …
“The war for possible futures, fought in images, has far reaching consequences; for some, those consequences are literally life and death. The stakes are highest for those with bodies of color.” (source)
Clay Shirky on “time itself as a strategic weapon”: Information-age thinker Shirky observes here that, after considering how short-term and long-term factors interacted in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, activists “need to start thinking of time itself as a strategic weapon.”
“I think we cannot forget the lessons of complex movements like the Arab Spring and like Occupy Wall Street, which is that the various time signatures work better together," Shirky said. "Shorter-term is good for surprises but it is lousy for continuity and capacity-building. Long-term is great for continuity but lousy for surprises. ... We need to start thinking of time itself as a strategic weapon.” (source)
John Boyd on getting inside an adversary’s OODA Loop: Military thinker Boyd did view time as a tactical if not strategic weapon, particularly in his concept of the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop, as shown in quotes from recent books by Daniel Ford and Frans Osinga that Clay Spinuzzi included in his reviews:
“And it occurred to me … that if I have an adversary out there, that what I want to do is fold my adversary back inside himself, where he can't really consult the external environment he has to deal with. … Then I can drive him into confusion and disorder and bring about paralysis. … If I can operate at a tempo or rhythm faster than he can operate at — well, he can't keep up with me, and in effect then I fold him back inside himself. And if I do that — ball game! You saw it in Desert Storm, you see it in basketball games, football games, and a whole bunch of other stuff.” (source)
“Colonel Boyd observed that in any conflict all combatants go through repeated cycles of an observation – orientation – decision –action (OODA) loop […]The potentially victorious combatant is the one with the OODA loop which is consistently quicker than his opponent (including the time required to transition from one cycle to another). As this opponent repeatedly cycles faster than his opponent, the opponent finds he is losing control of the situation […] his countermeasures are overcome by the rapidly unfolding events and become ineffective in coping with each other. He finds himself increasingly unable to react. Suddenly, he realizes there is nothing else he can do to control the situation or turn it to his advantage. At this point he has lost. In essence his command circuits have been overloaded, thereby making his decisions too slow for the developing situation […] all that remain are uncoordinated smaller units incapable of coordinated action. The enemy’s defeat in detail is the eventual outcome.” (source)Boyd’s work is mainly about combatants and competitors. Spinuzzi notes that coordinating OODA Loops can be important for allies and partners too.
* * * * *
More later …