Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #18: Andrew Sullivan, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism” (2017)

Like I was sayin’ … just when I was wondering whether to continue this series urging thinking about tribes and tribalism systematically, not just as a synonym, or move on to something else, along comes this incisive sweeping article by Andrew Sullivan, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism” (2017), that illuminates both the bright and dark sides of the tribal form while recognizing its essential nature. One of the best readings yet in this series — at least that’s my view today. Also worthy are review articles it has stirred up, especially Michael Gershon’s (as I’ve posted in the comments section).

I’m too slow right now to provide a substantial write-up, but here’s an excerpt that will, I hope, spur you to read the full article:
“I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.
“I mean two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own. I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.
“The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again. …
“Tribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life.”


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Sullivan's article stirred up lots of commentary.

Here’s Michael Gerson’s up-beat review, “Tribalism triumphs in America”(2017:

Here’s a down-beat review by Isaac Chotiner, “Andrew Sullivan’s simplistic diagnosis— and unrealistic cure—for what ails us” (2017):

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Sept 20.]

Monday, October 30, 2017

Readings in cognitive warfare — #6: Molly McKew on Russian information ops and the Gerasimov doctrine

Molly McKew is a leading analyst of Russian information operations. I’ve posted her writings three times before. Here’s her latest. It illuminates what’s called the Gerasimov Doctrine, which is constructed largely around soft-power measures for dividing and confounding people’s thinking and thus their behavior in a target society — in this case America.

Here’s an excerpt:
“The United States is the latest target. The Russian security state defines America as the primary adversary. The Russians know they can’t compete head-to-head with us—economically, militarily, technologically—so they create new battlefields. They are not aiming to become stronger than us, but to weaken us until we are equivalent.
“Russia might not have hacked American voting machines, but by selectively amplifying targeted disinformation and misinformation on social media—sometimes using materials acquired by hacking—and forging de facto information alliances with certain groups in the United States, it arguably won a significant battle without most Americans realizing it ever took place. The U.S. electoral system is the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, and now—thanks to Russian actions—we’re locked in a national argument over its legitimacy. We’re at war with ourselves, and the enemy never fired a physical shot. “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov writes. (He also writes of using “internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”)
“Not all Russia-watchers agree on the Gerasimov Doctrine’s importance. Some say this is simply a new and well-articulated version of what Russians have always done, or that Putin is inflated as an all-powerful boogeyman, or that competition among the various oligarchic factions within the Kremlin means there is no central strategic purpose to their activities. But there’s no question that Russian intervention is systematic and multi-layered. This structure challenges us, because we don’t necessarily understand how it has been put into practice; like all guerrilla doctrine, it prioritizes conservation of resources and decentralization, which makes it harder to detect and follow. And strategically, its goals aren’t the ones we’re used to talking about. The Kremlin isn’t picking a winner; it’s weakening the enemy and building an environment in which anyone but the Kremlin loses.
“Herein lies the real power of the Gerasimov-style shadow war: It’s hard to muster resistance to an enemy you can’t see, or aren’t even sure is there. But it’s not an all-powerful approach; the shadowy puppeteering at the heart of the Gerasimov Doctrine also makes it inherently fragile. Its tactics begin to fail when light is thrown onto how they work and what they aim to achieve. This requires leadership and clarity about the threat—which we saw briefly in France, when the government rallied to warn voters about Russian info ops in advance of the presidential election. For now, though, America is still in the dark—not even on defense, let alone offense.”

Here’s the full article:


[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Sept 11.]

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Anne-Marie Slaughter:

Frankly, I’ve never cottoned much to her writings. Yes, she has helped spread new ideas about the importance of information-age network designs. But, her writings about networks have always struck me as more derivative than innovative, years behind the cutting-edge.

However, in this interview she makes an attractive point that fits well with TIMN-type thinking — “we have too many tribes and not enough networks”. But much as I cotton to that pithy quote, what she means is not spelled-out anywhere I can find, and not particularly clear to me. And her point that “we need different networks for different purposes” is sound but very old news

Here's the full quote:
“Knowledge@Wharton: Does the building of networks become even more of a challenge right now because of this fracturing in American society among different people with different backgrounds?
“Slaughter: “Yes, I would say we have way too many tribes and not enough networks. In other words, we’ve got plenty of people who are deeply and closely connected to people who think like them. It is well documented that as we are more segregated into red and blue communities and more segregated by class, we are less likely to come into contact with people who think differently than we do. Some of these more old-fashioned civic networks — Little League, the United Way — brought us together in ways that we were connected to others who were different. We need to rebuild a lot of that. It’s harder now.
“”Again, lots of people will say, “I know I need a network.” But my point is, not just a network — we need different networks for different purposes.””


[Brought over from my Facebook page post, September 5.]

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Charles Blow (twice)

“And, when I say army, I’m not speaking solely of armed militia, although there is a staggering number of guns continuously being put into circulation. As the N.R.A.’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote in June: “Each month of Trump’s presidency has seen over two million firearm-related background checks. Only in 2016, when Americans faced losing their Second Amendment rights forever, did the F.B.I. run more checks during a January to April period.” I’m also talking about the unarmed, but unwavering: the army of zombie zealots.

“How do you raise an army?

“You do that by dividing America into tribes and, as “president,” aligning yourself with the most extreme tribe, all the while promoting militarization among people who support you.”


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“This is the man we have: one who doesn’t want to lead a country but wants to rule a tribe.”


[Brought over from my Facebook page post, September 4.]