Sunday, December 31, 2017

Readings in cognitive warfare at the societal level — #8:

I’ve learned, thanks to a negative article in The Nation (see below), that a lawsuit has been underway regarding whether or not individuals (e.g., Roger Stone) affiliated with the Trump campaign colluded with Russians. I’ve long thought that “collusion” was an awfully strong word, and I’ve never thought that “collusion” was the precise problem. There are lots of ways short of deliberate collusion whereby Russians may wield influence and Americans may go along with being influenced (as prior readings in this series attest).

As for that lawsuit, fourteen former high-ranking US intelligence and national-security officials, listed alphabetically from former CIA Director John Brennan to former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, have filed an amicus brief as part of the lawsuit. They wrote it not to take sides but to be sure the court understood “whether and how Russia uses local actors inside a country to facilitate disinformation campaigns.”

Their key point is that Russian foreign policy has for decades deployed “a category of activities known as “active measures”, most of which do not require deliberate collusion by the target. Here’s how the brief describes “active measures”:
“Active measures campaigns encompass a range of activities that include written or spoken disinformation, the spreading of conspiracy theories, efforts to control the media, the use of forgeries, political influence campaigns, the funding of extremist and opposition groups, and cyberattacks. Across history, the Russians have adapted their strategy as technology and circumstances have changed. The geopolitical landscape has shifted over the years, but the overarching objectives largely have been the same — to undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions; sow discord between the United States and its allies; discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin; influence public opinion against U.S. military, economic and political programs; and create distrust or confusion over sources of information.”
The brief further observes that Russian active-measures ops are now managed differently, making them even more effective and difficult to counter than during Soviet times:
“In the last several years in particular, Putin has invested in active measures with considerable success. One change in these activities under Putin — compared to the Soviet precedent—is that although they continue to receive specific direction from state authorities, they are now executed through decentralized networks, creating what one expert has described as a “multidirectional brush-fire-information-warfare campaign.” However, easily the most significant change in these operations in the Putin era has been Russia’s capitalization on the emergence of social media platforms, which has unleashed a new, virulent strain of these influence campaigns.”
The brief then teaches how new social-media technologies and platforms have served as force multipliers for Russian information operations:
“Social media offers the Russian active measure operation a number of amplifying advantages, including misattribution, direct access to an audience, rapid and targeted dissemination, all at a relatively low cost. They can effortlessly assume the appearance of a U.S. speaker, target disinformation to particular audiences, quickly test the effectiveness of the messages, and use social “bots” and other modes of automation to multiply their reach dramatically. These features have helped the Kremlin to seamlessly combine white, gray and black operations as never before — for instance, by hacking information from private accounts and then pushing the information in real and altered form into disinformation campaigns that rapidly spread across the world. This new generation of active measure activities is deliberate, well-funded, and wide ranging, and represents a massive escalation of previous initiatives in scope and effect.”
Finally, the brief focuses on Russian “reliance on intermediaries or ‘cut outs’ inside a country to facilitate active measure campaigns.” According to the authors’ knowledge and experience, these intermediaries may include “political organizers and activists, academics, journalists, web operators, shell companies, nationalists and militant groups, and prominent pro-Russian businessmen.” Some may be involved as an “unwitting accomplice”, others as an “ideological or economic ally”, still others as “the knowing agent”. In sum, the brief warns, “Russia has a practice of using local actors inside a country as a key tool in its “active measures” operations.”

A concluding point is that “The threat posed to our democracy by Russian active measures campaigns is serious, ongoing and will require vigilance on the part of the U.S. government and people.” For this reason, the authors hope their brief helps in “raising awareness across the U.S. legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as the media and civil society, about how Russia engages in sophisticated influence campaigns”.

To read, go here:


I learned of this brief by happening across James Carden’s ominous article “Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent” (2017) in The Nation. The article worries that the brief “raises troubling questions over the right to political speech.” Carden concludes that “the Russia-Trump collusion narrative is fast devolving into an effort to stigmatize and marginalize expressions of dissent, with the overarching aim of short-circuiting and stifling debate over US-Russia policy.” I doubt that — partly because, as I noted above, the “collusion narrative” is not the key worry — but I’m grateful to the article for pointing me to the brief. It didn’t make much news otherwise.

Readings in cognitive warfare at the societal level — #7:

The lead Editorial in the latest issue of the Journal of Information Warfare includes a recognition I'm pleased to see of John Arquilla’s and my old RAND work on information warfare, including our concept of “guarded openness”. It’s still a timely concept, for I’m now concerned that America’s relatively high connectivity and transparency is partly what has made us so vulnerable to the “weaponized narratives” (Allenby & Garreau) and “weaponized social media” (Robb) that are tribalizing us. The grand purpose of strategic information warfare at the societal level is to tribalize (even atomize) a society; and to do so by way of undermining peoples' trust in and ties to their institutional and market systems, as well as emerging network systems, so they have nowhere to go but back to the tribal form — all in accord with TIMN theory. America is being riven by that now, and finding ways back appears to be a far greater challenge than we’ve recognized yet.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Steve Coll

Steve Coll documents that “polarization and tribalization in today’s politics” results from “the country’s disillusionment with institutions” — a proposition in accord with TIMN dynamics.
“Since the nineteen-seventies, Gallup has been polling Americans annually about their confidence in their country’s institutions — the military, the Supreme Court, Congress, the Presidency, organized religion, the health-care establishment, and public schools, among others. Over all, the project describes a collapse in trust over time, even though the surveys started amid the disillusionment of Watergate and the failed war in Vietnam. In 1973, more than four in ten Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. This year, the figure was twelve per cent. Trust in churches and other religious institutions has fallen from sixty-five per cent to forty-one per cent in the same period. Confidence in public schools has dropped from fifty-eight per cent to thirty-six per cent. The loss of faith in the “medical system” has been particularly dramatic — a decline from eighty per cent in 1975 to thirty-seven per cent this year. There are a few exceptions to the broad slide. Confidence in the police has held steady at just above fifty per cent. Confidence in the military has increased, from fifty-eight per cent in the aftermath of the Vietnam War to seventy-two percent this year. Otherwise, it isn’t clear where citizens have redirected their faith, or whether they have at all.
“The polarization and tribalization in today’s politics may exacerbate this loss of confidence or contribute to it, or both. Increasingly, daily life is mediated less by the institutional doors we walk through from day to day and more by the connections and decisions we make online. Last week, Tim Wu, the law professor and author, wrote in the Times that, for example, the boom in bitcoin — a virtual currency whose market price had, he noted, risen from thirty-nine cents apiece to more than eighteen thousand dollars in just eight years — reflects how, “More and more, we are losing faith in humans and depending instead on machines.” The danger, though, extends beyond financial bubbles.
“Even in a stable constitutional republic, a cynical or unmoored citizenry presents an opportunity for demagogues and populists. As much as stagnant wages in former manufacturing regions, glaring economic inequality, or white backlash after the Obama Presidency, the country’s disillusionment with institutions enabled Donald Trump’s election.”

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism —

This article doesn’t bear directly on reversions to tribalism in America — my usual focus — but it’s an excellent article for reminding us about the nature of classic tribes across history and around the world. I’ve not seen a good article like this for years (and it reminds me of articles William McAllister and I each used to write years ago). I can’t clarify yet who wrote this post at — Al Nofi? — so I’m just citing it as the name of the page. (H/t Morgan Norval for directing me to it.)

Here are the first and final paragraphs:
“Most Westerners don't understand how important tribal politics is to the persistent mayhem in so many parts of the world. Not every group of armed men wearing uniforms and carrying modern weapons belong to what is generally considered organized “security forces. No, a large number of these gunmen are irregulars and members of some tribal or clan group, usually described as a “militia” or “self-defense force.” What creates and controls these men, who account for most of the death and destruction attributed to military conflict, answers to tribal or clan leaders not governments recognized by the United Nations. These tribes are not represented at the UN nor do they have ambassadors or embassies. …
“The most persistent “wars” are usually in areas where tribal or clan organizations are dominant. Each new generation brings with it new recruits for tribal militias who are willing to continue battles that have been going on for many generations. These ancient feuds are often ignored or underestimated when peacekeepers or some other pacification force arrives and discovers that there is no quick solution to problems that regenerate with each new generation.”

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — David French (3rd of 3 about Christian evangelical tribalism)

In these two excepts from an interview session with Ross Douthat, David French never refers to tribes or tribalism per se — only to “pure, primitive partisanship — but what he says is still on point, paralleling points made by Jones and Douthat in the two prior posts. So I’m including French.

French: “I’m sorry, but the transformation of the evangelical public from the American segment most willing to hold leaders to a high moral standard to the segment now least likely smacks of pure, primitive partisanship, not high theological principle. Evangelicals aren’t coming around to using Natural Law at all. It’s pure instrumentalism. They’ve made an alliance of convenience. They haven’t made some sort of thoughtful intellectual shift.”

French: “I am very willing to be persuaded that he will ultimately be a better president than Hillary Clinton. I was opposed to both Clinton and Trump in the general election on the grounds that both were unfit — though in different ways. So I’m genuinely happy when Trump accomplishes good things, relieved when he tempers his worst impulses, and more than willing to give him credit when credit is due. For example, the success of the campaign against the Islamic State is an underappreciated part of his presidency.

“However, for the sake of encouraging or even achieving these policy wins, Christians cannot be seen to excuse lies, rationalize incompetence or impose double standards. A person can simultaneously say that Trump has accomplished good things while also seeking to hold him to a proper standard of conduct. My great disappointment during this first year of the Trump presidency is not with evangelicals who have rightly lauded, say, the Neil Gorsuch appointment, but rather with Christians who’ve defended, rationalized and excused conduct they’d never, ever condone in a Democrat. There are not two standards of morality depending on judicial appointments or regulatory reform.”

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Steve Metz on strategic planning

Insightful analysis by Steve Metz of how persistent “incendiary hyperpartisanship” — i.e., malignant tribalism — adversely affects strategic thinking, planning, and communications . Best I’ve seen on this.

“Today most people consume information that reflects their preexisting beliefs rather than the authority of the source and its methods of obtaining, selecting, and vetting information. The result is incendiary hyperpartisanship. Most people only consume the information that reflects their ideological predilections without having to consider or grapple with different perspectives, living in what is often labeled an information bubble. Pundits and people who might be called “infotainers” define and shape the political agenda more than elected officials. The result is an unwillingness to compromise or cooperate across partisan boundaries. As a recent Pew study found, “What is striking is how little common ground there is among partisans today.”

“There is little sign that this hyperpartisanship will subside given that it is structural rather than something the political leaders and opinion shapers can simply choose to resist. For strategic leaders, this means that long-range planning and programming will be extraordinarily difficult since there will be no predictability in defense spending. It also means that protracted operations that cross multiple presidential administrations will be nearly impossible. Every time a different party takes control of The White House, it may feel compelled to reverse the policies of its predecessor. This might force strategic leaders to avoid operations likely to cross multiple administrations, instead recommending suboptimal options that can be undertaken in one presidential term. …

“Information technology is undercutting traditional notions of operational security and force protection as well. Strategic leaders—and commanders at all levels—now must assume that their operations will be broadcast to a global audience in real time. This alters strategy and operational planning. Strategic leaders also have to grapple with the fact that their troops have online personas, which can create vulnerabilities. It is not hard to imagine a future enemy targeting the families of deployed troops. Strategic leaders would then have to decide whether it is reasonable for deployed troops to expect that the families they left behind will be better protected than the rest of the American public.

“The profusion of information and the decline of authority will also make narrative shaping by strategic leaders both more important and more difficult. Narratives will be fluid with public opinion both in the United States and abroad swarming on particular themes or ideas and then moving on to something else. America’s adversaries will build resistance to U.S. policies by dynamic narrative shaping potentially influencing American policymakers. Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. election and ones in other nations is only the first volley in this. At the same time, new technology will make it very hard for the public in the United States and in other countries to distinguish reality from fabrication—many commentators warn that the world has entered the “post-truth” era. This will destroy the traditional American notion of strategic communications, which is based on the belief that there is a ground truth and it ultimately will win out over lies or fabrications. Like past strategic leaders, future ones must be effective communicators, but what this means may be dramatically different.”

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Robert P. Jones (2nd of 3 about Christian evangelical tribalism)

“But the race also cast important light on the state of white evangelical political ethics. It provided further confirmation that white evangelical Protestants have exchanged principles for partisanship, and political ethics for tribal loyalty. …
“First and foremost, evangelical support for Trump and Moore is strong evidence of the power of negative partisanship. There is a growing mountain of evidence in political science that what drives partisanship in the US is not a love for one’s own party, but a hatred of the other party. …

“The pull of partisan tribalism is so strong, in fact, that it often creates two separate realities. …

“Partisan tribalism has now fully turned evangelicals’ political ethics on its head. …

“As recently as 2011, PRRI polling suggested that character still counted among white evangelicals when evaluating candidates. When asked whether a candidate who had committed an immoral act in their private life could nonetheless behave ethically and perform their duties in their public life, only 30 percent of white evangelicals agreed this was possible. But when this question was asked again in 2017, with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, a whopping 72 percent of white evangelicals agreed.”

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Ross Douthat (1st of 3 about Christian evangelical tribalism)

“The question is whether this resilience will survive the age of Trump. Some evangelical voices think not: Whether the subject is the debauched pagan in the White House, the mall-haunted candidacy of Roy Moore or the larger question of how to engage with secular culture, there is talk of an intergenerational crisis within evangelical churches, a widening disillusionment with a Trump-endorsing old guard, a feeling that a crackup must loom ahead. …

“If this is right, then the alienation of younger evangelical writers from Trumpism’s court pastors could indeed be a signifier of a coming evangelical crackup. In this scenario the label itself would become contested, with the kind of winsome and multiethnic evangelicalism envisioned by the anti-Trump Southern Baptist Russell Moore pitted against the nationalist evangelicalism of a Jerry Falwell Jr. or Robert Jeffress, and churches along the fault line internally embattled and dividing.

“But it’s also possible that evangelical intellectuals and writers, and their friends in other Christian traditions, have overestimated how much a serious theology has ever mattered to evangelicalism’s sociological success. It could be that the Trump-era crisis of the evangelical mind is a parochial phenomenon, confined to theologians and academics and pundits and a few outlier congregations — and that it is this group, not the cultural Christians who voted enthusiastically for Trump, who represent the real evangelical penumbra, which could float away and leave evangelicalism less intellectual, more partisan, more racially segregated ... but as a cultural phenomenon, not all that greatly changed.

“If so, then this would imply that white Christian tribalism and a very American sort of heresy, not a commitment to scripture and tradition, has kept evangelical churches thriving all these years. And if the God-and-country, pray-and-grow-rich tendencies sweep aside orthodox resistance, the evangelicalism that emerges might be more coherent and sociologically resilient, in the short run, for being rid of hand-wringers who don’t think Baptist choirs should set “Make America Great Again” to music.

“This is a sobering idea, and one I hope is wrong.

“But it is a paradox of this strange time that serious evangelicals should probably be rooting for a real post-Trump crisis in their churches — because its absence will tell them something depressing about where their movement’s strength lay all along.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Thomas Friedman

I ceased some years ago to have much interest in what Friedman thinks and writes, but in this opinion piece he exhibits a pertinent cognition of the tribalism spreading in America:

“It’s too soon to say for sure, of course, whether this is a national trend, but when the majority in a deep-red state like Alabama — where anti-abortion sentiments run so high, making it nearly impossible for a pro-choice Democrat to be elected — repudiates the effort by Trump and Bannon to turn us from citizens into tribes, there is hope for the country after all. It is a real sign of health. …

“But even with Jones’s victory in Alabama I worry that technology — social networks in particular — and archaic laws that prevent new players from entering politics work against the emergence of such national leaders. I worry that irreversible damage is being done to our norms and institutions by this poisonous cocktail of Trump, Twitter and tribalism. …

“We are going through a similar period of rapid change today. The pace of destructive weather events is quickening; the world is going from interconnected to interdependent; and machines and software are devouring ever more middle- and even high-skill jobs. The country needs a plan for investing in more resilient cities, in lifelong learning systems for every worker and in a safety net of mobile/universal health care. And what do we have instead? A highly tribal Republican tax bill that targets none of those issues.

“But maybe, maybe just maybe, the narrow majority in Alabama has sent both Trump and the country a message. We are fed up with your cynicism, we are fed up with your effort to break us into tribes, we want a president who is a uniter not a divider, because we have big hard work to do as a country right now — and it can only be done together.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Clay Routledge

“The biggest threats to conservatism are psychological, not demographic, trends. As an actual philosophy of life and not just a low-resolution tribal marker, conservatism thrives when people are mentally resilient, self-reliant, and strongly invested in the interpersonal bonds that make small government viable: family, friends, and community. At the national level, all of these psychological characteristics are in decline, and with them, so is principled conservatism.

“Though it may be tempting, it would be a mistake for liberals to see these trends as politically favoring them or helping the nation. A decline of principled conservatism doesn’t mean we will see a rise of liberalism or the diminishing of tribal politics. …

“In many ways, Trumpism reflects the right-wing version of emotional safety and victimhood culture many conservatives criticize. Trump’s self-aggrandizing and fragile ego are emblematic of the self-esteem movement. Considering his age, he was ahead of the curve. Trump also employs safe-space tactics that have become all too common on many college campuses. Instead of promoting freedom, he champions censorship of speech he finds offensive and verbally attacks those who disagree him. Trump isn’t the future of conservatism. He is a prophetic warning of its retreat.

“Conservatives have always been vital to the success of America. And there remain many doing their part to sustain themselves, support their families, and contribute to the prosperity of their communities and country. But the psychological profile that inspires the best of conservatism is in danger. Instead of submitting to fear, anger, and party loyalty for short-term political victories, conservatives should start thinking about future generations. Young Americans are watching.”

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — John Bargh

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Readings about tribes and tribalism — #22: Victor Davis Hanson on “Nation v. Tribe”

Here’s another recent warning about the dire effects that increasing tribalism may have on American society and culture. It’s by the well-known military historian based at the Hoover Institution, Victor Davis Hanson, writing about “Nation v. Tribe” (2017).

• Hanson poses his theme — tribalism is destructive, especially to states — right up front:
“Tribalism is one of history’s great destroyers. Once racial, religious, ethnic, or clan ties trump all considerations of merit and loyalty to the larger commonwealth, then factionalism leads to violence, violence to chaos, and chaos to the end of the state itself."
Knowing this, most states around the world have sought to homogenize the racial and ethnic composition of their populations, so as to limit if not suppress any propensities for tribalism. In particular, says Hanson, “Fear of tribalism and diversity is why much of Asia limits immigration” — as does Mexico. Meanwhile, wherever tribalism has gotten out of hand, “The extreme historic remedy for tribalism is often the brutality of empire” — as in the multiethnic Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Soviet empires.

• Hanson points all this out as instructive background before zeroing in on his key interest, the United States and its exceptional efforts to “cultivate diversity” and “subordinate the tribe to the state”:
“The United States is by and large the exception to the global rule that governments seek to maintain homogeneity, not cultivate diversity, whenever possible.

“Although founded originally by English-speakers largely from the British Isles, America’s unique Constitution was an effort to subordinate the tribe to the state. …

“But, again, the inherent logic of America was to transcend tribalism and focus on merit and citizenship. The result was twofold: the emergence of greater talent unimpeded by racial and religious barriers, and a constant awareness that individual identity should not trump political unity. If it did, such tribalism would lead to violence, insecurity, and general impoverishment.”
• In warning that “individual identity should not trump political unity” if America is to avoid excessive tribalism, Hanson posits four “historical reasons why identity politics has never sustained a state and eventually leads only to its oblivion”:
“1. It is hard to maintain strict racial and religious purity in a nation of competing tribal interests — without resorting to apartheid, violence, or ethnic and racial ideologies subverting civility. …

“2. Identity politics is anti-meritocratic and often illogical: The tribe resents anti-tribal bias, even as bias is what fuels the claims of the tribe itself. …

“3. The logic of identity politics is totalitarian and destroys individualism, past and present. …

“4. Ultimately, tribalism destroys the common law and legal system by selective nullification. If particular tribes feel themselves exempt from federal law, chaos ensues. The most egregious case, of course, was the nullification of federal law by southern white supremacist states that led to the Civil War. A later example was the refusal of southern states in the 1950s and 1960s to follow federal integration laws.”
• Hanson does not specify exactly what is amiss in our culture and society today, nor how to try to remedy it. His write-up is rather oblique. But he sure indicates, notably in his concluding paragraphs, that Americans should be worried and warned that identity politics, nepotism, favoritism, toxic individualism, social prejudice, and other collective biases are making our nation more divided in ways that increase “the dangers of American tribalism”:
“Segregation and apartheid should have warned us where tribalism leads. Political systems strain under the pressures of nepotism and favoritism. But they fail entirely under the far greater strain of tribalism — especially one that replaces toxic individual or familial prejudices with much more insidious, sweeping, and dangerous collective biases. There was a reason why liberal historians such as Samuel P. Huntington (Who Are We?) and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (The Disuniting of America) warned about the dangers of American tribalism in their final years.

“Tribal infighting is usually what erodes otherwise common cultures — from the city-states of ancient Greece to the constantly warring republics of Renaissance Italy to an increasing divided America today.”
In sum, this is an insightful unexpected analysis — and warning — from a military historian who is a political conservative. I hope it helps spread the word into new circles that haven’t yet heard enough about the nature of the tribal form and the dangerous reversions underway all across America.

Meanwhile, the defeat of Roy Moore’s senatorial campaign in Alabama offers new hope for a bit of attenuation in the trends toward tribalism. But the Republican’s new tax-law proposals sure don’t…

To read Hanson's article for yourself, go here:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Readings about tribes and tribalism — #21: Jack Donovan on “The Clan vs. Modern, State-Dependent "Individualism"”

Here’s the most aggressive reading I’ve yet seen about the virtues of resorting to tribalism. Jack Donovan is evidently well-know in alt-right circles for “blogging, writing and speaking about masculinity and tribalism” and for leading in the Pacific Northwest “a chapter of the infamous Wolves of Vinland — an esoteric tribe of Germanic pagans.” Previously known as a leader of a men’s rights movement, he is now also identified with the alt-right movement.

This reading — Jack Donovan, “The Clan vs. Modern, State-Dependent "Individualism"” (2017) — is a reissue of his 2014 review of Mark Weiner’s book The Rule of the Clan (2013) and a spin-off article "The Paradox of Modern Individualism" (2014). But it’s a timely reissue for my series, for both its exemplary aggressiveness and its alt-rightist critique of Weiner’s incisive article (series reading #17, July 25).

Donovan appreciates, albeit with a rather snarky tone at times, Weiner’s recognition that the clan “is a natural, universal form of human organization which exerts a “gravitational pull,” and that it is the object of modern liberal government to resist that pull.” Donovan also shows his own appreciation of traditional tribal/clan values, such as honor, dignity, pride, solidarity, and identity. And he displays a modern sensibility when he remarks on “the existence of gangs and criminal brotherhoods which inevitably form in the smooth, derelict spaces of failed or impotent State influence.” Indeed, says Donovan,
“What Weiner calls “rule of the clan” is similar to the male group mentality I identified in The Way of Men as “the way of the gang.””
“…This is why the primal form of human organization is not the pioneer nuclear family of libertarian individualist fantasy, but the patriarchal clan or tribe or gang of men who unite to provide coordinated protection against danger, and a communal mechanism for righting wrongs or resolving disputes. How “fair” or “just” these tribal systems of resolution and retribution actually are is varied, culturally relative, and subject to taste.”
What Donovan objects to is Weiner’s analysis that the rise of the state and its displacement of clan rule has enabled modern individualism, and protected it. Donovan holds that nowadays governments, along with corporations, mostly operate to limit individualism, and that “liberal, globalist modernity” has deeply damaged people’s lives — criticisms that Donovan associates with the Right but often appear on the Left as well. Accordingly, he says in selected scattered paragraphs,
“ … it’s important to look at how the State makes this swaggering self-conception of the romantic one-against-all rugged individualist possible, and how this modern anti-clannishness actually makes the individual more dependent on the modern State.”
“Weiner’s admission of the benefits of clannishness is significant, because he sums up many far-right and reactionary criticisms of modern liberalism and globalism. The prices of liberal, globalist modernity include rootlessness, detachment, an emptiness and desperation for identity that is easily exploited by commercial interests, a lack of community, and a lack of intra-national loyalty that encourages financial greed and insulates elites from the social responsibilities of nobility and the social penalties for betraying their kin, neighbors and countrymen.”
“And the more the State intervenes to regulate and sanction the activities of individuals who associate voluntarily, the more laughable this whole idea of individual autonomy within the context of the State becomes.”
“Because corporations can exert so much more influence on politics than any voter, the modern liberal state has become a tool of corporate interests, not as Weiner idealizes, a guarantor of individual liberty.”
Donovan provides a fair rendition of the kinds of policies that Weiner claims enable states to do better than clans at improving the lives of individuals — but Donovan doesn’t accept any of it:
“Weiner has concluded that, for the liberal state to thrive and continue to deliver on its promise of individual freedom and autonomy, it must do a better job of doing the things the clan has always done better. He suggests that the state “pursue policies that moderate economic inequality,” “provide space for the flourishing of voluntary civil society organizations that provide opportunities for solidarity,” and “ensure that individuals have fair opportunities to exercise their autonomy within the marketplace,” whatever that means.
“At first glance, his suggestions sound OK, if you’re into that whole “saving the modern liberal state” thing.
“However, after a closer look, they quickly become unworkable. He is also overindulgent of the fictions of the modern State, and he barely mentions the biggest elephants in the room.”
Donovan would like to see economic policies enacted that are far more libertarian, nationalist, protectionist, and even isolationist — in a sense, more clannish. But the prospects are severely limited by the powerful hold that government and corporate actors have on today’s politicians, and by the resistance that voluntary bottom-up civil-society actors may face in trying to form independent organizations. At least that’s what I gather from bits and pieces in his write-up.

In light of all the above, Donovan closes with a rousing endorsement of increased clannishness and tribalism as the “only viable option” for people seeking to better their lives as individuals and as members of communities:
“If the State is over-reaching and becoming the biggest threat to the liberties it supposedly protects, as many men with libertarian tendencies now believe, the solution is not a return to the atomized, go-it-alone individualism that ultimately relies on the liberal State. The only viable option is to increase clannishness or tribalism, which Weiner correctly identified as the natural counter to the modern liberal State.”

To read in full for yourself, go here:

NOTE: Donovan’s promotion of this aggressive Rightist tribalism contrasts to the emergence of the more quietist Left-leaning “NeoTribal” movement discussed with reading #11 in this series. Both represent a deliberate turn to the tribal form, based on quite similar critiques of what’s gone wrong in American society. But, wow, how different are the resulting tribalisms.

NOTE: H/t Mark Weiner for calling Donovan’s post to my attention. See readings #15-17 in this series about Weiner’s writings. Also, h/t to David Betz for alerting me to Donovan’s tribalism months ago.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brief blurts about about tribes and tribalism — Nicholas Kristof

“Roy Moore today is a challenge for those who see themselves as good and decent people of faith: If you find yourself excusing child molestation, then you are driven not by morality or faith, but simply by the emptiest kind of tribalism.”

Brief blurts about about tribes and tribalism — Evan Osnos

“Trump has succeeded in unleashing an old gene in American politics — the crude tribalism that Richard Hofstadter named “the paranoid style” — and, over the summer, it replicated like a runaway mutation. Whenever Americans have confronted the reshuffling of status and influence — the Great Migration, the end of Jim Crow, the end of a white majority — we succumb to the anti-democratic politics of absolutism, of a “conflict between absolute good and absolute evil,” in which, Hofstadter wrote, “the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do.” Trump was born to the part. “I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win,” he wrote, in “The Art of the Deal.””

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Mike Benitez

I might as well start posting brief blurts again. Here's one that reveals a tribe of a different sort:

“Today, the preponderance of official Air Force documentation no longer makes a distinction between attack and fighter aircraft. Somewhere along the way, the two presumably — and mistakenly — became synonymous. Today, in an ironic twist, A-10 squadrons are designated as fighter squadrons and MQ-9 remote piloted aircraft units are now called attack squadrons. Despite this, attack is not a title bestowed, and the name alone is meaningless. To be clear, the sole remaining attack tribe in the U.S. Air Force is the A-10 community.

“Yes, a tribe. And there have been past efforts to relieve this tribe of their mounts and force a new order upon it — one where “shock and awe” supplants supporting “march and fight.” This is generally where the A-10 versus F-35 debate starts, and, unfortunately, frequently ends. But it was never about the horses. No tribe in history was ever famous solely for what they rode into battle: It was their spirit, culture, and how they fought. Put an attack pilot in a Cessna with an M-16 and he will find a way to do his job. This is what makes attack aviation a tribe, not a community. And it is the operators, maintenance, and support airmen that make this a tribe — their horse right now just so happens be an A-10. …

“There is a truism regarding the time and energy the U.S. invests in building our partners’ capacity: You can’t surge trust. The same holds true between U.S. services: As long as our nation commits an 18-year old with a rifle, they must be whole-heartedly supported. Attack aviation is one of the unique phenomena where the needs of the Air Force come second to the needs of the ground force. This is the bond so important that we have entrusted it to a mission-obsessed tribe with a purpose-built steed for generations.

“Embrace the attack renaissance, cherish the Air Force’s attack tribe, and remember its cause — coming to the aid of a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine on the worst day of his life. What if it was you?”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Readings about tribes and tribalism — interim update:

I keep hoping to end this series and move on. But people just keep providing new fodder. So I’ll keep going.

Remember, my purpose is first to try to foster recognition of the systematic nature of the tribal form, and second to advance recognition of its evolutionary significance. From a TIMN standpoint, the tribe is the first and forever form: Societies have to get it more-or-less right in order to lay a foundation for getting the next forms more-or-less right — the institutional, market, and new network forms. Conversely, if developed societies decay and start getting those later forms wrong, then people lose faith in those later forms and revert to the tribal form.

It’s kinda that simple. And it’s happening here in America right now.

According to TIMN, America is in the throes of evolving (or trying to evolve) from a triformist (T+I+M) into a more advanced quadriformist (T+I+M+N) system. The rise of +N — its technologies, its organizational dynamics, its philosophical implications — is still in its early disruptive phases. It lies behind much of the vast loosening and questioning, both functional and dysfunctional, now besetting our aging T+I+M system. The divisive reversions to tribalism we see are one result.

The new tribalisms on both the Right and the Left, and especially on the Trumpian Right, are taking advantage of the new network technologies and organizational forms. But these new tribalisms, especially the ones on the Right, are vying mainly over T+I+M matters, such as identitarianism, government dysfunction, capitalism’s future, etc. And as befits tribalization, this is occurring in mostly divisive destructive ways. I expect this to continue and worsen; America is in big trouble.

In a sense, these new tribalisms are straining our system to come up with something new and next-generation. But because today's tribalists are so stuck in triformist (T+I+M) frameworks, they cannot and will not be able to do much that deliberately contributes to +N. Conservative Republicans, especially the tribalists among them, seem incapable of breaking out of the triformist framework — and if they could detect +N, they’d block it. Many liberal Democrats seem to sense that something new is emerging, but they can’t quite perceive that it might be +N — so they too keep floundering in fractured triformist terms.

Meanwhile, according to TIMN, the development of +N forces should lead to the creation of a new sector, distinct from the existing public (+I) and private (+M) sectors, that will provide new ways of getting things done that our government and market sectors are no longer adequate for. Best I can tell, only some left-leaning proponents of developing a commons sector are on the right track as to +N’s potential (though I think they are not going about it in the best way — a matter for a different post sometime).

An implication of the above is that I wish I could offer readings about what’s happening to/with all four TIMN forms. But as matters stand, limited coverage of the T/tribal form is about all I’m good for these days.

Next up: readings by Jack Donovan, Victor David Hanson, David Brooks, and Robert Wright, with more to follow…

Friday, December 8, 2017

Making the case for STA:C — #4: How to study people’s space-time-action beliefs better than ever (Part 1?)

This 15-slide briefing-style post supersedes the 12-slide version I posted in 2016. This post also assumes a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. If you are unfamiliar but interested, see prior posts in this series.

Because I’ve completed the texts for the first 9 of all 15 slides and it looks like a convenient breaking point, I’m posting them here as though they amounted to Part 1. Also, I’m deleting the slides-only post from Nov 30 — it’s now superfluous. Meanwhile, I shall continue finishing the texts for slides 10-15 (Part 2?), but they won’t be ready to post for a while.

Slide 1: People’s space-time-action perspectives: How they’ve been studied. How they should be studied.

After brief opening points about why people’s space-time-action beliefs are so interesting to study, this post surveys how experts have usually studied them — with detailed depictions of renowned writings by Henri Lefebvre, Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd, and Albert Bandura. The post then proceeds to argue how and why STA:C offers a better way to go, if the framework ever gets fully developed.


Slide 2: Why Study People’s Space, Time, Action Beliefs

Myriad anthropology, psychology, sociology, cognitive science, history, and other studies — in my case, starting with anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s The Silent Language (1959) and The Hidden Dimension (1966) — have shown that people’s space, time, and action beliefs are powerful pervasive shapers of cognition and culture.

Consider, for example, the following observation about time: “[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.” (Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, 1955). That’s a keen observation, not only in general, but also for wondering about current trends here in America, as well as Europe.

And that’s just a single quote from many about the significance of people’s time orientations. In addition, there are numerous equally powerful observations about the import of people’s space and action perspectives, as indicated by post #3 in this series.

What all this means is that the better we can figure out what people’s space, time, and action perceptions are, the better we can figure out why people think and behave as they do, and why societies and cultures evolve as they do. Motivated by this understanding of why to study space-time-action orientations, this post seeks to improve our understanding of how to study them.

Slide 3: How People’s Space, Time, and Action Perspectives Have Been Studied

The idea that people’s space, time, and action orientations — all three together — are key elements of cognition and culture first struck me in 1966. Back then there were lots of writings about each orientation by itself, but never as a triplex. Wherever I looked, space, time, or action perspectives were mostly studied singularly — still the case today. Thus most studies have resembled the diagrams on the left, where each element is analyzed separately, though one or both of the other two were often raised tangentially, marginally.

Most of these single-element studies were about space or time orientations, and were mostly done by psychologists, sociologists, or anthropologists. Studies that focused on people’s action orientations were less common, and were done mostly by historians — especially historians of the idea of “progress” who charted cognitive and cultural shifts ages ago from beliefs that supernatural forces determined one’s fate, to new beliefs that one could make changes and control one’s destiny by means of one’s own efforts.

Meanwhile, a small handful of theorists (e.g., Georges Gurvitch, Edward T. Hall) studied space and time orientations together, as depicted in the upper-right diagram. Yet I’ve never come across methodological or theoretical exhortations that a dual-element approach should be preferred to a single-element.

Since my initial epiphany in 1966, I’ve dithered at focusing on the idea that people’s space-time-action orientations should be studied as a bundled triplex. But what I’ve read over the years indicates, to my surprise, that no one else has yet gone on to do so. So I’ve remained resolute that my initial idea is still fairly original and worth pursuing. Hence, the depiction on the bottom-right shows what STA:C looks like to me. All three cognitive domains — space, time, and action — exist as independent but interactive variables, roughly equal in importance.

Thus I contend that the singular and dual approaches represented by these diagrams, though not entirely wrong, are incomplete, lacking, and thus inherently self-limiting and misleading. The STA:C diagram points to a more accurate productive way to study these three cardinal elements of consciousness, cognition, and culture.

Slide 4: What This Briefing-Style Post Does

In trying to analyze how theorists have studied people’s space, time, and action orientations, I’ve been unable to do original research to verify and advance STA:C. But what I can do, as a partial substitute, is review expert studies on each of the three cognitive elements, in order to see whether they eventually have to attend to all three to some degree. So I chose to read and review three renowned studies: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974), Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s The Paradox of Time (2008), and Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997).

My goal was to ascertain whether, and to what degree, these experts on each STA:C element ultimately attend to all three elements. STA:C says to attend to all three; it also implies that, to be analytically sound, an expert on any one element is bound to bring up the other two, if only tangentially, for there is no way to avoid doing so. But do these scholars do so? To what extent? In what terms?

Along the way, I came up with a comparative diagramming method for depicting what I found in examining each expert’s effort. As will be evident in subsequent slides, I found their efforts be incomplete — further grist for validating STA:C and arguing it can do better.

Slide 5: Using STA:C to Diagnose Expert Studies: How the Diagrams Are Laid Out

As a way to represent an analyst’s view, I’ve settled on drawing diagrams that use a circle to represent each STA:C element — space, time, and action — and then I’ve drawn and arranged these circles so that:
(1) Circle sizes — large to small — represent the relative importance an analyst attributes to a STA:C element.
(2) Circle locations — overlaps, separations — indicate the degree of interaction an analyst notices between STA:C elements.
(3) Circle line densities — from solid and thick, to dotted and thin — indicate my sense of the relative clarity of each element in an analyst’s treatment.

For example, look at the two diagrams on this slide. The one on the left shows what the STA:C framework aspires to look like — all three elements are equally represented and interlaced. In contrast, the diagram on the right displays one of innumerable other outcomes, where the space, time, and action elements may each receive different emphases.

Besides enabling a display of how any one analyst approaches space-time-action analysis, this kind of diagraming also offers a way to compare different analysts’ approaches. To this end, the diagrams in the next slides display what I found in reading Lefebvre on space, Zimbardo & Boyd on time, and Bandura on action. All diagrams are preliminary and impressionistic on my part. Your view may differ — in which case, draw your own version, or suggest I redraw.

Slide 6: Henri Lefebvre’s Approach in The Production of Space (1974)

French philosopher/sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974 [translation, 1991]) remains a favorite landmark text among postmodern, mostly Marxist theorists who are caught up in the “spatial turn” in sociology that began a few decades ago. I like the book too.

Lefebvre proposed that space is a cardinal mental and social concept that merits far more attention from theorists and strategists. Indeed, he says, “the production of space” — all kinds of spaces, by all kinds of actors — has become a paramount activity in advanced societies. Producing spaces is now a defining activity of capitalism, more than producing commodities. Thus he not only advocates space as a grand analytical concept; he forecasts that societies are moving into an era when producing and controlling space will be increasingly viewed as a key strategic purpose.

While he does not offer a typology, he identifies innumerable categories and distinctions about physical, mental, and social spaces. Accordingly, “social space” first took form ages ago as a mostly “natural space”; then as modern forces took hold, it evolved into “absolute space” and “abstract space”. What’s important analytically is to figure out how to “decode” space and identify “spatial codes” that powerful actors use. In particular, he observes, “The ideologically dominant tendency divides space up into parts and parcels” — it works to separate all sorts of spaces from each other (e.g., public and private) and treat each as a “passive receptacle”.

While Lefebvre focuses on space, he devotes great attention to time as well. Indeed, he views time as a co-equal concept in terms of nature, physics, and philosophy. But much as he would like for space and time to operate in “unity” in the social world, he finds that one or the other has tended to prevail in different historical periods. In the current period, he argues, time has been “confined”, even “murdered” by the modern state and capitalism — hence the growing significance of space, especially “abstract space”.

Lefebvre doesn’t write explicitly about the action element, but his treatment of “strategy” is somewhat cognate. In places, his treatment seems to be about people having an independent capacity for agency; but in other places, his treatment seems to treat strategy as a dependent implication of his space-time analysis. His forecast that societies are moving into an era when producing and controlling space is a key strategic purpose presumes, I would say, an action perspective, as does his view that the powers-that-be operate to split spaces up into parts and pieces they can dominate. But he also pushes two strategy points that read like dependent implications about what people should do: reunite disassociated spaces and generate bottom-up pluralism, including to create local self-managed autonomous zones outside the control of the state and its attendant networks

Hence, in my depiction of Lefebvre, the largest circle is about space. Time merits a large circle too. And the space and time circles deserve a strong overlap. But his treatment of action in terms of “strategy” figures less strongly and less clearly — so I’ve rendered it with a small circle, sketchy line density, and little overlap.

Source: my three blog posts reviewing his book, beginning here:

Slide 7: Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s Approach in The Paradox of Time (2008)

This slide depicts what I conclude from reading psychologists Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd’s book The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life (2008) — a significant psychological study in the guise of a self-help therapy book.

Here, the largest circle by far goes to time, for, in their view, “time perspective” is “one of the most powerful influences on human thought, feeling, and action”. At the core of their study is a typology that identifies “six time perspectives: two past, two present, and two future” that are “the six most common time perspectives in the Western world”. These are: past-negative; past-positive, present-fatalistic, present-hedonistic, future, and transcendental-future — lately modified to distinguish between future-positive and future-negative. This typology organizes their analysis about the significance of people’s time perspectives for their individual lives and for societies as a whole.

As for action, Zimbardo & Boyd recognize the importance of “control” and “efficacy”. But their discussion tends to suborn and embed “control” within their treatment of time. Thus, in my depiction, action merits a medium-size circle, with a sketchy line density, that ends up almost entirely engulfed within the time circle.

There is no discussion of space as a distinct perceptual domain — only scattered disparate references to various spatial elements (e.g., a person’s perceptions about self-worth, family, government). Hence, I’ve drawn the space circle quite small, with the sketchiest line density, and placed it almost entirely outside (though maybe it too belongs inside) the time circle.

Their approach and its limitations is most evident when they try to explain why somebody may become a terrorist. The authors emphasize having “a “transcendental-future time perspective” as a condition. And they propose that U.S. policy and strategy should deal with this and other matters by focusing on changing people’s time perspectives. It’s a potentially useful notion; but it makes only limited sense, for they play down crucial space and agency perceptions that are embedded in their write-up (and widely written about by experts elsewhere).

Source: my four posts reviewing their book, beginning here:

Slide 8: Albert Bandura’s Approach in “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006 [1997])

For psychologist Albert Bandura, agency — the ability “to influence intentionally one’s functioning and life circumstances” — is crucial to cognition, because “malleability and agentic capability are the hallmark of human nature.” Developing an “agentic self” is one of life’s most meaningful endeavors, for it means a person “can generate a wider array of options”. Personal efficacy beliefs are thus the “foundation of human agency”.

His article “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency” (2006) analyzes psychological agency and efficacy in ways that match what action means in the STA:C framework. Thus, in my depiction, action receives the largest, boldest circle. Since he and other experts in his field prefer the terms agency and efficacy, maybe I should do so too. But for now I am sticking with action as the A in STA:C. Readers who prefer agency to action should just go ahead and do so.

Bandura does not name time as a factor that affects agency and efficacy. But he does attend to the importance of “forethought” and other aspects of people’s future orientations (e.g., anticipation, expectation, optimism, pessimism). So my depiction renders time as a medium-sized circle that is not clearly defined but has a strong interaction with the action element. To my puzzlement, he regards forethought as “the temporal extension of agency” — suborning time to action, rather than treating time as a separate cognitive domain.

Bandura affords space no explicit theoretical attention. But spatial qualities do appear, at least implicitly, in what he writes about the formation of individual identities and the perception of other actors in one’s environment. Indeed, spatial cognitions lie behind the “three modes of agency” he identifies: personal, proxy, and collective agency. From a STA:C standpoint, these modes are more spatial than agentic in nature, for they presume that one’s environment — or space — contains other actors who can connect to each other. As a result, space receives the smallest, vaguest circle in my depiction.

Finally, like Lefebvre and Zimbardo & Boyd, Bandura draws some implications for policy and strategy. As a result of the information revolution, other technological advances, and economic globalization, he says that agency is being amplified in all sorts of ways around the world, for positive as well as “hazardous” purposes. And he warns that “Through collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into irreversible ecological crises”. Maybe so, but while Bandura emphasizes how people’s agency is being amplified nowadays, many people also sense, to the contrary, that globalization has deprived them of agency — just look at recent shifts in public opinion in the United States and Europe. Also, his reference to a “foreshortened perspective” means he is again obliquely inserting a time element in his theorizing about agency — another reason for preferring STA:C.

Source: my two posts reviewing his paper, beginning here, which explain why I chose to rely on his 2006 article instead of his renowned but very long book Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997):

Slide 9: Comparing Experts’ Views Helps Validate STA:C

Here’s what I find from this small survey of writings by Lefebvre on space, Zimbardo & Boyd on time, and Bandura on action:

• Each expert emphasizes his singular specialty — the space, time, or action/agency element — but each eventually turns to incorporate some aspects of all three elements, more-or-less. Indeed, from a STA:C perspective there is no way to avoid doing so, for these specialists are actually studying a cognitive and cultural bundle that consists of all three orientations — but they are doing so narrowly, and evidently unknowingly, from their singular angles. Indeed, my three reviews here are less about each writing itself than about an overarching purpose that serves STA:C — to show that each expert, despite dwelling on a single element, must eventually say at least a little something about all three.

• Inspection of these writings thus helps confirm that people’s space-time-action orientations tend to function as a requisite bundle — a set of interlaced cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind or culture can do without, and whose details shape the distinctive nature of all minds and cultures. The more we learn about analyzing people’s space-time-action orientations, the more we shall realize that all three are so deeply interlaced in our minds and cultures that they form an essential cognitive “module”.

• If I’m right about that, then the unfolding of that realization should/will matter not only across academic disciplines, but also to real-world strategists of all stripes. But getting there won’t be quick and easy. Specialized academic fields tend to resist change; thus it may take lots of effort to “prove” that space-time-action orientations exist and function as a triplex, and that the three orientations should be studied as such rather than singly. As for national-security and military strategists, their writings show they are more aware than academics that spatial and temporal factors should be analyzed jointly (as I will document later), but I’ve yet to see an integrated triplex analysis by a strategist even though action/agency is their end concern.

• No matter the current resistance to triplex cognition analysis, my comparison of the three expert writings leads me to reiterate anew the maxim I posited way up front: Figure out people’s space-time-action orientations as a trifold bundle, and you will be able to assess how people will think and act better than ever.

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NOTE: I keep referring to space-time-action orientations as a “module”. But I don’t mean this literally. Neuroscientist Patricia Churchland explains better than I can when she proposes that the term “module” be retired from neuroscience:
“The concept of ‘modue’ in neuroscience (meaning sufficient for a function, given gas-in-the-tank background conditions) invariably causes more confusion than clarity. The problem is that any neuronal business of any significant complexity is underpinned by spatially distributed networks, and not just incidentally but essentially — and not just cortically, but between cortical and subcortical networks.” (source)

Nonetheless, until a better term comes along, I’m going to keep referring to a STA:C “module”. But I mean it more metaphorically than literally. There is no specific pop-in / pop-out module for a mind’s (or culture’s) space-time-action cognitions. Something distributed yet interwoven is going on. I wish I knew a better term for it. Maybe “nexus”?