Sunday, January 28, 2018

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism in America — Steven Pinker via Thomas Edsall

Thomas Edsall’s article on “Is President Trump a Stealth Postmodernist or Just a Liar?”(Jan 2018) observes that “If postmodernism does not account for Trump’s bludgeoning of the truth, what does? A field that provides insight into the Trump phenomenon is evolutionary theory.”

Edsall then quotes from Steven Pinker:
"Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard and author of the forthcoming book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” emailed me his thoughts:
“The answer lies in raw tribalism: when someone is perceived as a champion of one’s coalition, all is forgiven. The same is true for opinions: a particular issue can become a sacred value, shibboleth, or affirmation of allegiance to one’s team, and its content no longer matters. This is part of a growing realization in political psychology that tribalism has been underestimated in our understanding of politics, and ideological coherence and political and scientific literacy overestimated.”
“Once tribalism becomes embedded in the political system, Pinker wrote,
“the full ingenuity of human cognition is recruited to valorize the champion and shore up the sacred beliefs. You can always dismiss criticism as being motivated by the bias of one’s enemies. Our cognitive and linguistic faculties are endlessly creative — that’s what makes our species so smart — and that creativity can be always deployed to reframe issues in congenial or invidious terms.”
Edsall then goes on to say:
“If tribalism has begun to supplant traditional partisanship, their argument suggests, lying in politics will metastasize as traditional constraints continue to fall by the wayside."

Friday, January 26, 2018

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #26: Lawrence Rosen’s “A Liberal Defense of Tribalism” (Jan 2018)

Here’s an unusual article that disparages the ruckus about reversions to tribalism in America. Princeton anthropology professor Lawrence Rosen’s “A Liberal Defense of Tribalism: There’s nothing wrong with political tribes that can’t be fixed by what’s right with them” (Jan 2018) argues that too many commentators — he cites Thomas Friedman, Steven Pinker, E.O. Wilson, and Barack Obama — “misunderstand the nature of tribes.” Rosen’s point is that “rather than simply being the cause of our political problems, tribalism can also contribute to the solution.”

Good point to make in a major journal. But I am ambivalent about his analysis. On the one hand, I wish I could publish an article like this, for its key point is one I keep trying to make: the tribal form has both bright and dark sides — tribalism can bind as well as splinter, it can be centripetal as well as centrifugal. On the other hand, the more I look at Rosen’s argument, the more I think it is inaccurate and unbalanced. I’ll clarify this in my bulleted closing remarks.

When I started this series of readings, tribalism and other T-words were mostly used as mere synonyms for polarization, divisiveness, etc. By now, the usage of T-words has become much more systematic. Various writers I’ve included in this series — notably David Brooks, Jonathan Haidt, and Andrew Sullivan, not to mention others — clearly realize that, despite the concern about Americans reverting to the tribal form, it is a distinct form of organization that has both bright and dark sides, and that its bright sides (family, community, etc.) are essential for the proper functioning of society. That’s a fundament of TIMN theory — I’ve said so repeatedly, even as I (and they) have worried and warned about malign reversions to the tribal form.

Rosen knows that the tribal form has a mixed nature — it’s the basis of his argument — but he’s intent on registering just his disapproval of the negative analyses of political tribalism in America. He makes that clear up front:
“American politics, we are told incessantly, has become “tribal.” It is not meant as a compliment. References to tribalism are intended to capture how Western, and especially American, political life has regressed in recent years into a more primitive state, one characterized by polarization, insularity, vengefulness, and lack of compromise. …
“As popular rhetoric, the tribalism metaphor, given its sheer pervasiveness, must be judged a success. But as an attempt to illuminate our present moment, it represents the worst kind of failure. It draws its force from a legitimate scientific insight that it distorts beyond recognition.”
He briefly agrees that American politics has “become more tribal”, as political groups are “increasingly based on single aspects of common identity with unambiguous boundaries.” He also acknowledges “the partisan tribes of our present politics” and their “pugnaciousness.” Yet he objects that too many commentators view tribes “as primitive, violent, and insular”, as atavistic, primordial, and pre-modern (his words, not mine), and thus as regressive — “a reversion to some natural and ancestral mode of thinking”.

According to Rosen, recent “armchair anthropological analysis”, instead of treating the tribal form scientifically, has turned tribalism into a metaphor, a caricature fraught with pejorative fatalistic implications. And this, he says, is making our politics exceedingly “exclusionary” and “more adversarial than necessary”. It is motivating people to create “hardened barriers” and “seal themselves off from one another.” In other words,
“ … Use of the word “tribe” in reference to political groups may seem an innocuous surrogate for truculence and exclusivity. But it is ultimately distorting. When we call our politics “tribal,” we project a sense of confinement and premonitory violence and indulge an image of humankind as instinctively hostile to outsiders.”
Scattered throughout his article, Rosen identifies what is often positive about the behavior of “actual tribes”. Drawing on instances from American and Middle East history, he shows that traditional tribes can be adaptable, not so rigid as commentators presume. Many tribes have “porous boundaries” and “frequently adopt outsiders”; some even intermarry. They value “reciprocity” and “mutual obligation”, including toward outsiders. They are not authoritarian; they prefer to disperse power, at times by appointing “multiple chiefs” for different tasks and by convening “tribal councils”. Indeed, many tribes have developed methods we’d be wise to emulate for “easing our ever-increasing social tensions”. These methods include avoiding “claims of moral superiority”, “reaching across boundary lines,” “fashioning crosscutting ties that mollify entrenched positions”, and creating “interlocking associations”. All this, says Rosen, can “serve as a bulwark against the factionalism of family, clan, and other subdivisions.”

As practical implications of his view, Rosen specifies a few “tribal-inspired political and social reforms Americans should consider.” State governments should “consider an increase in the number of seats in their legislatures.” They should “alleviate the incentives to pursue gerrymandering”. They should “consider increasing the proportion of votes needed to pass certain kinds of laws”.

For his closing exhortation, Rosen reiterates that
“Now would be a good time to embrace such a vision and to abandon our image of tribal politics as something we would choose to eradicate if we weren’t condemned to it by fate. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with tribalism that can’t be fixed by what is right with it.”
Again, I say, many good points. Rosen’s article is a stimulating addition to the mix — a partial corrective to unbalanced claims of excessive tribalism. But from my TIMN perspective, Rosen has written up an overreaction that is itself unbalanced, even misleading.

• It’s a fact that American politics has turned more tribal, malignantly so. He acknowledges this, but only fleetingly, presumably so he can focus on his main theme: how commentators have misunderstood tribalism, viewing it only darkly. Well, not so fast.

• As I’ve observed before, Americans don’t cotton to the T-words (tribe, tribal, tribalism). As American politics became more partisan, divisive, and polarized, starting a decade or two ago, the T-words were used mostly as synonyms for those other words. Yet, in the past few years more commentators have begun using the T-words in a systematic way, recognizing the distinctive nature of the tribal form. This constitutes an advance in public policy dialogue.

• Yes, many commentators have dwelled only on the dark sides, and yes the T-words are often deployed pejoratively. Yet our most analytical commentators do not fit Rosen’s harsh portrayal. The few mentioned up front — Brooks, Haidt, Sullivan — have indeed criticized the increasing tribalization of America and its malign effects. Yet they have also noted lots of ways in which the tribal form has beneficial bright sides. They are having difficulty identifying how to diminish the dark sides and reinvigorate the bright sides, but they’re not unaware.

• Rosen decries commentary about American politics reverting to tribalism, making the tribal form look bad. But from an evolutionary perspective, a reversion is in fact occurring — in TIMN terms, it’s from politicians who long believed in the institutional form and behaved in civil pro-institutional ways, to politicians who increasingly forsake institutional ways and prefer to act in tribalized ways. Thus it isn’t just commentators who’ve opted for tribal explanations; it’s our politicians as well, starting years before the commentators. Rosen’s focus on commentators neglects this.

• I’d add that what’s making tribalism so problematic isn’t only the reversion noted above, but also a displacement —a second reversion? — that’s gone largely unnoted. It’s a decades-long displacement of the bright sides of the tribal form by its dark sides. All the remedies Rosen calls for are from the bright sides of the tribal form; he’s right about trying to emulate them. What should be noticed, and he doesn’t, is that all the ones he mentions — e.g., avoiding claims of moral superiority, reaching across boundary lines, fashioning crosscutting ties that mollify entrenched positions, and creating interlocking associations — were traditional normal practices in American politics last century, back when the tribal form was working reasonably well and properly undergirding our institutions. Rosen advocates this replacement without recognizing, much less explaining, this earlier displacement and the slow decay in American society at TIMN’s tribal level that help explain it (see writings by Robert Putnam and Charles Murray). That’s another reason why I think his article is somewhat straw-man and circular.

To read for yourself, go here:

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Readings on cognitive warfare at the societal level — #10: Clint Watts, “So What Did We Learn? Looking Back on Four Years of Russia’s Cyber-Enabled “Active Measures”” (Jan 2018)

I have a big backlog of readings to eventually write about on this topic, but I’m hastening to jump the line with this expert new article by Clint Watts, “So What Did We Learn? Looking Back on Four Years of Russia’s Cyber-Enabled “Active Measures”” (Jan 2018), since it is one of the few based on recent empirical research.

Watts has been monitoring Russian “active measures” online for years. Here he identifies “four phases to their operations.” Over time, the four “layer one on top of each other” and blend together “as the Kremlin’s military, diplomacy, intelligence, and information arms pursue complementary tasks mutually supporting each other.”

In “Phase 0: Capability Development (Jan 2014 – Fall 2014)”, Russians began experimenting with cyber weapons and techniques in Syria, Iraq, and the Ukraine.

In “Phase 1: Infiltrate Audiences (Fall 2014 – Summer 2015)”, recognizing their successes in Phase 0, they began using troll armies to campaign in America for the “amplification of social issues of race, immigration, and anti-government conspiracies.”

In “Phase 2: Influence Audiences (Fall 2015 – Election Day 2016)”, they added hacking for the purpose of “seeking compromising information that could be used not strictly for its intelligence value but also as nuclear fuel for information warfare.” They also deployed a set of political narratives to undermine support for Clinton, enhance support for Trump, and drive wedges between pro-Hillary and pro-Bernie supporters. In addition, the Russians deployed another set of narratives that “shifted from strictly political narratives attacking or promoting candidates to attacking the integrity of elections and democracy itself.” Thus, according to Watt’s analysis, the Kremlin “sought not to win the election, but undermine American faith in institutions and processes”.

In “Phase 3: Leak Kompromat and Power Narratives (Fall 2015 – Election Day 2016)”, Russian operations focused on driving divisive narratives into the U.S, using outfits like Wikileaks and DC Leaks, along with Sputnik News and Russia Today channels. As a result,
“Stolen information provided the nuclear fuel for the Kremlin’s information warfare arming click-bait websites, conspiracy theorists, political opportunists, and mainstream media discussions with corrosive, divisive narratives or timely distractions from more relevant political discussions. … Putin’s plan did not seek to change the vote, but to undermine it, and strike a lasting blow against democracy post-election regardless of the victor.”
Watts reports that U.S. intelligence and other agencies were very slow to catch on to all this. Partly because of an excess of hubris, in that they didn’t think Russia would attack our system this way. Partly because of a lack of imagination, in that they hadn’t grasped how influential hacked information and other cyber measures could be. And partly because our system is so disorganized — no one has a clear mandate to lead on cyber matters, and there is no unified plan. Watt’s says that what’s really required is a “task force approach”. But here we are, years after the Kremlin began its information attack, and still we have no strategy. “It is impossible to know who in the U.S. government is in charge of counter influence, when no one is certain what the plan is.”

Watts goes on to identify some telling signs that Russians are plotting an information attack, but I’m going to jump over those to end by quoting his concluding paragraphs:
“I estimate the decision point, from a strategic perspective, for Putin’s plan to mess with the 2016 presidential election came in the summer of 2015. Russia’s hacking decision demonstrated execution of a planned campaign, the pursuit of defined goals, and the level of Kremlin commitment to achieving its foreign policy goals vis-à-vis other actions. For instance, Russian hackers aggressively targeted the United States, France, and Germany suggesting their commitment to breaking up the European Union and weakening NATO by employing the same technique in sequence. In the future when Russia’s hackers launch a widespread campaign, analysts should ask not just what information the hackers were seeking to acquire but why the information of targets might be of use for influence. Secondly, hacking for influence must be done well in advance to allow sufficient time for triage, release, and subsequent influence of a targeted population. Looking back, hacking to influence on behalf of a candidate likely requires a year’s lead time; hacking to advance a general conspiracy, possibly only two to three months.
“The Kremlin’s playbook is in the wild, and authoritarians around the world have begun adopting their techniques in pursuit of domestic and foreign audience manipulation. The world, and particularly the West, must move past the presidential election of 2016, learn from its mistakes, and begin anticipating where the Kremlin will move next. No one has successfully countered Russia’s approach yet, and Putin has no reason to stop. In the absence of resistance, Russia will exploit success, not demonstrate self-restraint.”
I think this is quite worrisome. It leads me to reiterate that my two series of readings — the one on tribes and tribalism, and this one on cognitive warfare — are linked by a point straight from TIMN theory: The grand purpose of cognitive 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.

To read Watt’s article and see his striking graphic, go here:

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #25: Jonathan Haidt, “The Age of Outrage” (Dec 2017)

In an earlier article in this series (#8), Jonathan Haidt and co-author Pico Iyer proposed that Americans ease their divisive turn to tribalism by focusing on improving interpersonal relations. Writing alone in this article — “The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities” (Dec 2017) — Haidt focuses more on how students and kids are being affected by current trends. He’s particularly critical of what the Left has done to tribalize our campuses, notably by purveying “intersectionality”. He seeks to counter tribalism by having his Heterodox Academy work for “viewpoint diversity” on America’s campuses.

Haidt shows up front that he understands the tribal form, our naturally tribal natures, and the concerns of our Founding Fathers to safeguard democracy from tribalized factionalism, not only by institutionalizing a division of powers along with a set of checks and balances, but also by seeking to educate new generations of American citizens to uphold our fledgling system:
“When we look back at the ways our ancestors lived, there’s no getting around it: we are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent intergroup conflict over territory. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs, and tattoos. Tribalism is in our hearts and minds. We’ll never stamp it out entirely, but we can minimize its effects because we are a behaviorally flexible species. …
“Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: as tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. …
“So what did the Founders do? They built in safeguards against runaway factionalism, such as the division of powers among the three branches, and an elaborate series of checks and balances. But they also knew that they had to train future generations of clock mechanics. They were creating a new kind of republic, which would demand far more maturity from its citizens than was needed in nations ruled by a king or other Leviathan.”
Haidt’s long account of why Americans have lately come to “hate and fear each other so much more than we used to” revolves around an insightful “unifying idea” borrowed from physics: “keep your eye on the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces.” He doesn’t say so explicitly, but that’s an excellent notion for distinguishing between bright sides of the tribal form that pull people together — e.g., family, community, civic clubs, patriotism — and dark sides that push people apart, such as factionalism, sectarianism, xenophobia.

Haidt then identifies a series of five current trends that “can be seen as increasing centrifugal forces or weakening centripetal forces.” One of these is diversity — it is so strong a centrifugal force that “those who want more diversity should be even more attentive to strengthening centripetal forces.” Two other tribalizing trends, he warns, are “the Republicans in Washington, and the Left on campus. Both have strengthened the centrifugal forces that are now tearing us apart.”

As for our university campuses, Haidt deplores the rise of “the new identity politics of the Left” as a centrifugal “bad kind” of identity politics, in contrast to the centripetal “good kind” once represented by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Particularly worrisome is the spread throughout academia of the concept of “intersectionality”. Initially a reasonable idea about how race, ethnicity, gender, age, and other identities may intersect in ways that compound prejudice and discrimination, it soon got turned into a concept about systemic oppression and how to fight back:
“And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. …
“This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout- downs, intimidation, and even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country.”
Haidt’s ultimate concern is education. In addition to being a university professor, he is the founder (co-founder?) of the Heterodox Academy (, an ingenious bold non-partisan effort to improve “viewpoint diversity” in academia. Through it, Haidt and other members are working to help besieged professors “stand up” against illiberal activism. They are seeking solutions by “putting out ideas and tools that help people stand up for viewpoint diversity and open inquiry” — a laudable endeavor.

In closing, Haidt leaps pragmatically from alarm to hope, appealing to us to “come together, admit that we messed up, and change what we are doing to kids, and to college students”:
“So please do not despair. Be alarmed — the situation is truly alarming. But most Americans are decent, thoughtful people who don’t want to give up on their country or its universities. There are many things we can do to reduce tribalism, strengthen our kids, and repair our universities. We — the baby boomers and gen-Xers who fill this room — we have made a mess of the clock. Left and Right, Republicans and Democrats. But we can make up for it if we can come together, admit that we messed up, and change what we are doing to kids, and to college students. We just might be able to raise a generation of kids who can care for the clock after all.”
My conclusion: Haidt makes valuable points throughout. I especially like his distinguishing between centrifugal and centripetal forces — I’d not thought of that as a way to characterize the differences between what I’ve called the “dark sides” and “bright sides” of the tribal form. Moreover, I welcome his effort this time to go beyond rather abstractly advocating improving interpersonal relations, to point toward pragmatically improving campus environments in ways that should reduce tribalism.

To read Haidt’s article in full, go here:

Friday, January 19, 2018

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #24: Robert Wright, “How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America” (2017)

Most readings in this series are diagnostic but not clearly prescriptive — they don’t say what we should do to overcome our reversions to tribalism, what the solutions might be. Here come three prescriptive posts in a row — this one by Robert Wright, then by Jonathan Haidt, and a third by Jonathan Rosen.

The last posts that were as prescriptive were by Jonathan Haidt & Ravi Iyer (#8), Deepak Chopra (#9), and Jalaja Bonheim (#10). Haidt & Iyer proposed that we focus on improving interpersonal relations (but not society's structures and processes). Likewise Chopra, but by way of Buddhist concepts. Bonheim said we should overcome “tribal conditioning” through the creation of a new collective global consciousness that will unite humanity in positive ways.

What they all have in common is that they seek solutions that, in my view, seem quite soft and slow, very hard to accomplish in a timely manner. They’re about changing how people think and how they treat each other — interpersonal perceptions and interpersonal relations. All very civic — about committing ourselves to civilized manners and mutual communication and understanding.

Yes, that may indeed be helpful, well worth advocating. But from a TIMN perspective, it barely addresses the systemic fundamentals. People are reverting to the tribal form because they’ve lost trust in and ties to the institutional and market forms and their leaders, which are now in dire need of deep reform and partial replacement. How do we do that? What exactly should we do? Not to mention the challenge of trying to do so while we have a proto-tribalist as president, and the worst batches of politicians I’ve ever seen in Congress. The challenge is far bigger and broader than changing minds and manners from the bottom up, though that would help.

- - - - - - -

First up in this set of three is one of my long-time favorite theorists, Robert Wright, and his unusual article on “How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America” (2017). I have my doubts, but he makes a marvelously articulate insightful case for for countering tribalism by turning to Buddhist-style meditative thinking (which is always personally worthwhile anyway). Here is an excerpt:
“There’s a reason some people laugh when I say that mindfulness meditation can save the United States — that it can dampen the political polarization now dividing the country; that it can defuse the hatreds that have propelled the word “tribal” into our political vocabulary …
“Actually, there are two reasons people laugh. One is that they can’t imagine a huge number of Americans — especially those in the Trump tribe — actually sitting down and meditating. …
“The other reason people laugh at this salvation scenario is that they think the point of meditation is to cultivate love or compassion or some other warm and fuzzy feeling that might heal the nation. But in fact, mindfulness meditation isn’t fundamentally about love or compassion. Other kinds of Buddhist meditation — such as “metta” meditation — take on that challenge more directly.
“More broadly, mindfulness meditation isn’t warm and fuzzy. In a certain sense it’s cool and clinical. It involves, among other things, examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.
“Obviously, America could stand for people to be a little less susceptible to getting carried away by their feelings. But the contribution mindfulness can make to bridging the great tribal divide is more powerful than that simple formulation suggests. To appreciate this potential, you have to understand how subtle the psychology of tribalism is.
“Tribal psychology involves, at one level, some obvious ingredients: rage, vengeance, loathing—the kinds of raw emotions you might imagine when you imagine tribes literally at war. But the psychology of tribalism also involves — in fact, I’d say, it mainly involves — cognitive biases that warp our perception of the world.”
Wright then provides a long discussion about cognitive biases, notably confirmation bias and attribution error, before reiterating that if more people can turn to Buddhist-style mindfulness meditation, then our impulses for “ever-intensifying tribal warfare could start to recede.”
“So with attribution error, as with confirmation bias, anything that helps you reflect on your feelings before letting them take root, before giving them your obedience, could help. And mindfulness meditation does that. It can make you less reactive, more reflective, less buffeted by unexamined emotion, more equanimous. It can make you at least a bit less inclined to embrace and hang on to that “enemy” vibe when it surfaces.
“I hope all of this explains why I think that, if most Americans meditated, the prospect of ever-intensifying tribal warfare could start to recede.”

To see what I skipped over and read in full, go here:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Making the case for STA:C in 15 slides: How and why people’s space-time-action cognitions should be studied as a triplex — Addendum

Again, this 15-slide briefing-style post supersedes an earlier incomplete version I posted in 2017 (here). Because this newly expanded revised updated is rather long for a blog post and way too long for a simultaneous Facebook page post, I’m issuing it in three separate sections: Part I, Part II, plus this Addendum.

This Addendum is larger than the 2016 version, for I’ve added quotes from Henri Lefebvre, Georges Gurvitch, Edward T. Hall, Napoleon Bonaparte, Steven Pinker, Karl Friston, Emile Durkheim, and Rob Shields.

As I’ve said before, this new post assumes a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. If you are unfamiliar but interested, see prior posts throughout this blog, starting with a background story (here) and a preliminary overview (here).


Selected quotes about the significance of people’s space-time-action orientations for society and culture

Over my years of wondering about STA:C, I’ve collected various scholarly quotes that speak to the elements and ideas behind STA:C. I’m posting my latest selections here, for they may help convey and clarify STA:C for some readers. Besides, I like reading them again.

These quotes are mostly pitched at big-think sociological, epistemological, and historical levels. The individual psychological level is equally important, and I hope to provide additional quotes about it as well someday.

ON SPACE: These three quotes — from Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and Manuel Castells — speak to the importance of space constructs from sociological standpoints; they help show why postmodern neo-Marxist sociology engaged in the so-called “turn to space”:
• “[E]very society — and hence every mode of production with its subvariants (i.e. all those societies which exemplify the general concept) — produces a space, it's own space. … “The ‘object’ of interest must be expected to shift from things in space to the actual production of space.” (Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 1974, pp. 31, 37)
• “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. … when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (Michel Foucault, “Of Other Space,” in Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 24)
• “I shall then synthesize the observed tendencies under a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places.” (Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, p. 378)
ON TIME: Here are four quotes about the sociological significance of time orientations — one each from Karl Mannheim, Florence Kluckhon, Fred Polak, and Georges Gurvitch:
• “[T]he innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearning, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past.” (Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936, p. 209)
• “Obviously all societies at all times must cope with all three time problems; all must have their conceptions of the Past, the Present, and the Future. Where societies differ is in the rank-order emphasis they give to each, and a very great deal can be told about the particular society being studied, much about the direction of change within it can be predicted, if one knows what that rank order is. Spengler, greatly impressed by the significance of the time orientation, made this statement in his Decline of the West: ‘It is by the meaning that it intuitively attaches to time that one culture is differentiated from another.’” (Florence Kluckhohn, “Some Reflections on the nature of cultural integration and change,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 224)
• “[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.” (Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19)
• “Finally, as the eighth and last kind [in his typology] I shall point out explosive time, which dissolves the present as well as the past in the creation of the future immediately transcended. … Such a time is that of collective acts of creation which always play some role in social life but which arise from beneath the surface and become open and dominant during revolutions. … When it is real, explosive time places the global and partial social structures before complicated dilemmas, for it carries the maximum risk and demands the maximum effort to overcome it.” (Georges Gurvitch, “Social Structure and the Multiplicity of Times,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 178)
• “While we look to the future, our view of it is limited. The future to us is the foreseeable future, not the future of the South Asian that may involve centuries. Indeed, our perspective is so short as to inhibit the operation of a good many practical projects, such as sixty- and one-hundred-year conservation works requiring public support and public funds. Anyone who has worked in industry or in government of the United States has heard the following: "Gentlemen, this is for the long term! Five or ten years." (Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, 1959, p. 30)
ON ACTION: That people have power to affect things, that progress is feasible, that social action can work — that human agency and efficacy matter — is a separate belief, dependent on but not derived from space-time beliefs. This point shines in the following two quotes — one from Leonard Doob, the other from Alberto Bandura:
• “Basic to all such thinking …. must also be the belief that men themselves — not their ancestors, not fate, not nature, not other men — are able to control their own destinies. … for men everywhere are not likely to seek change unless they believe that change is possible.” (Leonard Doob, Becoming More Civilized, 1960, p. ?)
• “This change in human self-conception and the view of life from supernatural control to personal control ushered in a major shift in causal thinking, and the new enlightenment rapidly expanded the exercise of human power over more and more domains.” (Alberto Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997, p. 1)
ON SPACE AND TIME TOGETHER: Of the three STA:C orientations, space and time are the two that usually get discussed together. The following quotes — from Napoleon Bonaparte, Lewis Mumford, and Daniel Boorstin — exemplify this:
• “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.” (Napoleon Bonaparte, source/date missing)
• “[N]o two cultures live conceptually in the same kind of time and space. … [E]ach culture believes that every other kind of space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives.” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1932, p. 18)
• “[T]he compass provided a worldwide absolute for space comparable to that which the mechanical clock and the uniform hour provided for time. … When you moved any great distance from your home out into the uncharted great oceans, you could not know precisely where you were unless you had a way of finding precisely when you were.” (Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983, pp. 219-220)
ON SPACE AND ACTION TOGETHER: Here’s a rare instance where space and action are seen as our prime cognitions, at least metaphorically:
• “Location in space is one of the two fundamental metaphors in language, used for thousands of meanings. The other is force, agency, and causation.” (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, 1997, p. 354, citing other scientists)
ON TIME AND ACTION TOGETHER: I’ve finally found an instance where time and action cognitions are identified together as the bases of consciousness, albeit in an article by a neuroscientist that I barely understand:
• “What distinguishes conscious and non-conscious creatures is the way they make inferences about action and time”. … “Consciousness, I’d contend, is nothing grander than inference about my future.” (Karl Friston, “Consciousness is not a thing, but a process of inference,” Aeon, 2017;
ON SPACE, TIME, AND ACTION TOGETHER: Finally, as intimations of STA:C, here are several revelatory quotes —from Emile Durkheim, Sheldon Wolin, Bruno Latour, and Rob Shields — that partially imply treating space-time-action as a triplex.
• “If men … did not have the same conception of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together.” (Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915, p. 17)
• “Every political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about “time,” “space,” “reality,” or “energy.” Although most of these are the traditional categories of metaphysicians, the political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. … Rather, the political theorist has used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about power. The complex of these categories we can call a political metaphysic.” (Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, 1960, pp. 15-16)
• “Fourth, to talk like the semioticians, there is always simultaneously at work in each account, a shift in space, a shift in time, and a shift in actor or actant, the last of these always forgotten in philosophical or psychological discussions. … We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or, more elegantly of timing, spacing, acting.” (Bruno Latour, “Trains of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and The Fifth Dimension,” in Common Knowledge, Winter 1997, pp. 178–9)
• “Yet conceptions such as space and time are intrinsic to the intellectual ordering of our lives and our everyday notions of causality and with it, agency.” (Rob Shields, “Genealogies of social space,” in lo Squaderno, no. 39, March 2016, p. 9.)
That’s all for now.

Making the case for STA:C in 15 slides: How and why people’s space-time-action cognitions should be studied as a triplex — Part II

Again, this 15-slide briefing-style post an earlier incomplete version I posted in 2017 (here). Because this newly expanded revised updated post is rather long for a blog post and way too long for a simultaneous Facebook page post, I’m issuing it in three separate sections: Part I, this Part II, plus an Addendum.

This new post assumes a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. If you are unfamiliar but interested, see prior posts throughout this blog, starting with a background story (here) and a preliminary overview (here).


Slide 10: Idealized Depiction of STA:C Framework

The depiction recapitulates what a mind (or culture) should look like, at its comprehensive best: developed, balanced, knowledgeable, and attentive in all three cognitive domains. All three — space, time, action — are recognized and weighted equally, as are their overlaps (i.e., fusions, interactions). What may be a cognitive “sweet spot” lies at the core. I’ve added a feedback arrow to indicate that reciprocal adjustments and adaptations (OODA Loops?) are bound to occur as actors apply their cognitions to real-world thinking and doing.

Of course, many minds and cultures may not conform to this idealized depiction. They may be more emphatic and elaborate about one element, less so about another. If so, the diagram can be altered to depict that particular mind or culture. I should also note that the diagram implies that there is content, yet here it is devoid of specific content — e.g., about whether a time sense is more future- or past-oriented. That would have to be identified, and a display methodology determined (“word clouds”?), for the particular person or culture being studied. I doubt there is an ideal content for each cognitive domain; instead, what may be “ideal” is that it vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture (in accordance with Darwinian principles?). For example, as noted in other blog posts here, there is a large literature about differences between Western and Asian cultures and related modes of perception, and much of it comes down to differences in space, time, and action perspectives. Which I’d say further confirms that STA:C offers a sound way to make comparisons.

Note: Diagraming with 2-D circles must suffice for now. 3-D shapes, if I knew how to draw them, could convey better that the three STA:C elements may fit and function together much like a molecular bundle.

Slide 11: Space, Time, & Action As Our Cardinal Cognitions

As a result of the above, space, time, and action (or agency) may be deemed people’s cardinal or prime social cognitions, the fundaments of consciousness itself. They emerge and develop during infancy and are sine qua non for the rest of people’s lives, as a triad or triplex. The same goes for cultures. Every culture around the world develops its own distinctive nature in large part because of the dispositions it instills in people about social space, time, and action.

These three social cognitions form, function, and should be studied as a triplex — not singly. Consider frequent claims that space and time orientations are important as a pair — that’s common in the social sciences. Yet, without the addition of the action orientations to the cognitive bundle, subjects would simply sit there, inert, and their space-time orientations would mean nothing for cause or consequence. It may be a leap, from showing that experts studying any one of the three cognitive-cultural elements will inevitably recognize all three, to showing that the three combined are our primary or cardinal cognitions and should be viewed and studied as a triplex. But I am suggesting that it can and will be shown eventually — even if I am not the one to do it.

Whenever I question whether space, time, and action are sufficient to comprise our cardinal cognitions, I keep looking for what else may be cardinal — what I may be missing. So far, I don’t see what else. For example, some studies treat “the self” as a key cognition. But then the discussion is about the self as an entity that senses differentiations from and connections to others — which is a spatial orientation. Or that the self is expressed through expectations and aspirations — a time orientation. Or that the sense of self evolves as one learns to use tools and see cause-effect relations — an action or agency orientation. In other words, the ensuing discussion is about the self as a set of space-time-action orientations. I take this to mean that “the self” (not to mention perception of “the other”) is not a separate cognition that lies outside STA:C — it fits fine under or into STA:C’s triad. (Of course, there are cognitions that don’t obviously fit STA:C — e.g., the cognition of “beauty”. But I don’t see that as a problem that invalidates STA:C.)

While lots of literatures exist about the importance of each of the three cognitive domains, I can’t find any literature claiming the triplex is as cardinal as I am hypothesizing. Thus I cannot do much more than offer the hypothesis. But I’d further insist on it by noting parallels from physics and philosophy: Space, time, and action may be the cardinal cognitions, much as red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors; and space, time, and energy/mass (or something akin) are the fundaments of physics. Isaac Newton posited that physics rested on observations about space, time, and momentum. Immanuel Kant posited that the mind rests on conceptions of space, time, and causality. Sheldon Wolin argued that political metaphysics rest on ideas about space, time, and energy (the last in the form of power). STA:C amounts to an extension of all this.

Slide 12: What STA:C Can Be Good At: Improving Theory & Practice

As a triplex framework, STA:C is potentially better for everything the experts say their single- and dual-element frameworks are good for. Indeed, STA:C is a more inclusive, comprehensive, and accurate way to approach the fundaments of cognition and culture.

This and the next slide list some topics where I’d propose applying STA:C. Each topic is broad and could take up an entire blog post, but I offer only brief sketchy remarks here. This is just a partial list, for most of these topics reflect my limited personal interests in national-security matters. Of all the slides in this post, these may be the two most in need of future revisions, including to better reflect non-security matters.

• Analyzing cognition and culture — all mentalities and all cultures rest on space-time-action presumptions, principles: I’ve made this point so many times throughout this post that I shall refrain from elaborating again here. But it deserves to lead this list.

• Analyzing evolutionary progress & regress — both personal and social evolution depend on all three STA:C elements, not just one: STA:C offers a better way to understand evolutionary progress and regress, be that in the form of personal or social evolution. Jean Piaget’s space- and time-focused writings about the cognitive growth of children speaks to this at the personal level. So do Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-centric writings about cognitive therapy for adolescents and adults. As for social evolution, I’m a proponent of TIMN, and I’ve previously noted that each TIMN form (Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks) is associated with different STA:C orientations. More could be done with this. (For clarification, see sidebar and table titled “TIMN vis à vis STA” here.)

• Tracking & anticipating cultural shifts — from reversions to tribalism, to prospects for a better future for America; a new look at “human terrain” analysis abroad: What I mostly have in mind is rethinking opinion polls and attitude surveys. They are regularly used to track American’s views about consumer confidence, or government performance, or social policy, etc. The ones I’ve seen often contain questions, scales, and other measures that try to get at people’s space-time-action perceptions — but not deliberately and systematically, in ways that cover all three cognitions. I’d suggest that STA:C may provide a sound theoretical basis for designing polls and surveys that are supposed to reflect people’s key cognitions. A concern I’d raise is understanding and tracking the reversions to tribalism spreading all across America, as people lose confidence in our leaders and institutions and become polarized. Much of this is reflected in shifts in people’s space-time-action perceptions — a reason to propose new kinds of surveys so they covered all of STA:C’s principles, the better to track tribalization trends.

Meanwhile, as a TIMN quadriformist, I keep looking for positive signs that a new +N/network sector is emerging — maybe a “commons sector” that will function very differently from our established public and private sectors. If/as it takes shape, it will mean a profound systemic transformation for our society. While I usually discuss this prospect in TIMN’s organizational terms, STA:C’s cognitive elements are at stake too. For it will mean recognizing and approving an entirely new “space” where the “future” is reimagined and “agency” operates differently. Which makes me wonder, speculatively, whether STA:C (not to mention TIMN) could be used to track, anticipate, and even shape such a transformative future prospect.

Finally, the Pentagon’s ill-fated Human Terrain System (HTS) is also relevant to mention here. Its teams were supposed to improve cultural awareness and cultural intelligence for U.S forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it floundered from lack of competence and acceptance, among other reasons. I initially thought HTS was a good idea, when Montgomery McFate proposed it. But it soon became clear that, in practice, HTS and its trainers were unable to provide clear conceptual directions. I think something like STA:C (combined with TIMN) could have provided a coherent incisive framework for proceeding.

Slide 13: What STA:C Can Be Good At, cont.

Again, STA:C is good for everything that the single- and dual-element frameworks are said to be good for. This second slide continues in the fashion of the first, specifying particular topics where STA:C could improve upon existing single- and dual-element approaches to analyzing people’s cognitions and the implications for behavior.

• Analyzing & explaining extremist mindsets — terrorist, millenarian, other radical mentalities; CVE analysis: Many terrorism analyses, some related to CVE (countering violent extremism) efforts, emphasize psychological conditions — e.g., humiliation, alienation, etc. They could do better by digging into terrorists’ space, time, and action orientations. When they come close to doing so, most analysts have emphasized aspects of terrorists’ time and/or action orientations. Yet, their space orientations (e.g., sense of isolation from and/or connectedness to other) may be more determinative. STA:C urges a comprehensive approach. I’ve already written various posts about this, including here and in my post about Zimbardo & Boyd’s time-perspective theory.)

• Thinking about strategy & tactics — positioning for spatial, temporal, agentic advantages: STA:C may provide a fresh way to think about strategy. Strategy is traditionally treated as the art of relating ends, ways, and means, and sometimes as the art of positioning. STA:C implies that strategy is the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and agentic (actional) advantages. To think about strategy, STA:C says to assess space, time, and action factors as a set. Don’t focus just on time and space factors, treating action mostly as a dependent variable, as some strategy writers tend to do, however insightful their work (e.g., Cunningham & Tomes, 2004).

• Waging cognitive warfare: Adopting a STA:C view of strategy may help particularly with the newest form of warfare we face: cognitive warfare — strategic information warfare waged to affect people’s hearts and minds, by means of information operations that deploy “militarized narratives” and “toxic memes” to polarize, tribalize, and atomize a society. As recent events involving Russian “active measures” reveal, we must learn to counter and conduct cognitive warfare more competently. STA:C (not to mention TIMN) identifies where some of the keys lie — they’re in people’s space-time-action cognitions that incline them to extreme tribalism.

• Constructing cognitive architectures for AIs: Finally, whenever I occasionally read about the prospects for cognition and consciousness in artificial intelligences (AIs), I wonder how much that will may depend on the development of technologies to generate space, time, and action senses. After all, isn’t the Google self-driving car a set of technologies — sensors, modules, algorithms — for just that? I’ve never seen AI discussed in STA:C-like terms; but I’ve long mused that doing so could prove conceptually and technically useful.

Slide 14: Thinking Back — Looking Ahead

• The idea that space-time-action orientations form and function together, and that a framework / theory could be constructed around the idea, occurred to me during a nap in 1966 or 1967, almost as an epiphany, back when I was in graduate school. So, STA:C has been obvious to me since then — over fifty years ago. Meanwhile, perhaps fortuitously for me, no on else has come up and run with the idea. I still have a chance to originate it. Yet, why hasn’t it been obvious to others? I remain baffled.

• A good explanation may be the nature of academia — the ways it fosters specialization, compartmentalization, and credentialism, along with conceptual and departmental rivalries. The study of social space seems centered around postmodern, often neo-Marxist sociologists who are politicized. The study of time perspectives seems mostly in the hands of psychologists, as does the study of agency — but separate from each other. Plus, there are cognitive scientists (e.g., George Lakoff, Steven Pinker) whose writings delve into space and time perspectives, but again on their own. I’ve noticed conferences being held about space, or time, or agency orientations — but never about any two together, though an isolated presentation or paper occasionally addresses space and time perspectives together. In other words, cross-field communication seems absent; the specialists seem siloed; and academia seems rife with obstacles to what I am proposing. Over the decades, I’ve made a dozen or so email efforts to contact selected academic experts about STA:C, usually to point out a blog post, but always to no real avail, no expressions of interest. They may have good reasons for being unresponsive, and I stand ready to be corrected if my impressions above are poorly informed — yet I can’t help but wonder whether the “Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men” may apply here.

• (Re)naming STA:C might help: I use that acronym (and earlier ones) as short-hand, so I don’t have to write out every time that I mean “my prospective framework about people’s space-time-action orientations and their significance for consciousness, cognition, and culture”. But acronyms are surely not the best way to go. A short name could help. The term “social cognitive theory” (or “social cognition theory”) seems apt — but it’s already taken, for it’s the name used by Bandura and his colleagues for his/their agency-centered theory. Maybe try “mindframe analysis” or “cognitive-cultural theory”, or, better yet, “triplex cognition theory”. Maybe a reader can come up with something better. A good name could help with garnering an identity and acceptance for STA:C.

• I keep saying that space-time-action cognitions form and function as an embedded triplex in people’s minds, and should be studied as such. Yet I have no proof; and I’m not in a position to prove that this space-time-action triplex truly exists in people’s minds. There is plenty of scholarly proof about each single element. But proving that all three form and function as a bundle, much like a module, seems like a grand challenge — one that will have to be taken up by aspiring theorists other than myself.

• My closing exhortation, then, is that if any readers are in the process of studying any one of the three cognitions, you/they should change direction and turn to analyzing all three, as a bundle. Try it out. See what happens. Go transcend the conventional practice of focusing on just one of the three.

Slide 15: Wrap-Up Advice for Fully Developing STA:C

At this lateness in my life, I’ll keep working on writing up bits and pieces about STA:C. But I won’t be able to fully develop STA:C, least of all write the book-length treatment it deserves. Nonetheless, I still say STA:C is full of promise, and others would be well-advised to pick it up and work it out.

Here’s some advice I have for you who may do so:

• Make an evermore convincing case for treating space, time, and action (agency) cognitions as a triplex bundle: I just discussed this above, but it deserves a further mention in this advice column.

• Identify propositions for each that may generalize across all three: For example, minds that are orderly, and intent on being orderly, in one dimension may also tend to be orderly in the other two. If so, they may focus on restoring such order if a cognitive disturbance occurs. Thus, a mind that prefers to focus far more on the future than on the past or present, or far more on the self than on the world at large, may prove difficult to shift away from that focus. However, if orientations along one dimension do shift sharply, this may induce a shift in one or both of the other two dimensions. I’ve wondered about this before (here). Furthermore, as I tried to propose here, basic distinctions about conservative and progressive mentalities may reduce to differences in their respective space, time, and action orientations, particularly their sensitivities about boundaries and horizons. My point is, look for propositions that include consideration of all three elements, not just one or two. Thus, to give another example, if a single-element specialist claims that a contraction or deformation in that element may make a person’s life much more difficult to cope with — or vice-versa that extreme life difficulties can lead to a contraction or deformation in a person’s agency (or spatial, or temporal) orientations — then go ask whether this is true for all three cognitive domains and what the interactions are. Put limits on single-element thinking and analysis.

• Specify typologies for each of the three — and relate them to each other: Easier said than done, but I’d sure urge working on it. I’ve seen plenty of typologies about time, fewer about space or action/agency orientations, and no effort to relate them to each other and propose a composite typology, not even by theorists who write about space and then about time (e.g., Gurvitch). Time orientations seem easiest to typologize for research purposes since they can be easily separated into past, present, and future orientations (e.g., à la Zimbardo & Boyd). But that barely captures the richness and variety of people’s actual time orientations, as seen in more convoluted typologies (e.g., Gurvitch). Meanwhile, I’ve yet to see a typology of space or agency orientations that looks pertinent for triplex cognition theory. My own view of space orientations is that identification of the following should be included: the actors, objects, and structures defining the space — their identity, distribution, scope, relative size and strength; connections and pathways that link them; layout in terms of centers, distances, boundaries, horizons; divisions or partitions into realms, domains, layers; as well as organization of all the above into whole systems (as I noted here). But how to turn that into a manageable typology, one that can be criss-crossed with parallel time and agency typologies, is beyond me at the moment. I just sense it’s a potentially valuable agenda item for triplex cognition analysis.

• Design methodologies — e.g., questionnaires, indicators, scales, etc. — for measuring and mapping people’s views across all three cognitive domains: Separate methodologies have long existed for each of the three, and many incidentally include questions, indicators, or scales that actually measure one of the other two elements, not the one purportedly being studied. Combing through these while seeking to combine them may be useful. But my sense is that new methodologies may need to be developed, especially if they are to get at interactions and fusions among the three cognitions.

• Seek recognition and feedback from experts on each of the three cognitions. So far, I’ve not been able to succeed at that. Meanwhile, present write-ups to spread the word — persuade new scholars to join in developing and applying triplex cognition theory.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Making the case for STA:C in 15 slides: How and why people’s space-time-action cognitions should be studied as a triplex — Part I

This 15-slide briefing-style post supersedes an earlier incomplete version I posted in 2017 (here). Because this newly expanded revised updated post is rather long for a blog post and way too long for a simultaneous Facebook page post, I’m issuing it in three separate sections: Part I, Part II, plus an Addendum.

This new post assumes a passing familiarity with the STA:C framework. If you are unfamiliar but interested, see prior posts throughout this blog, starting with a background story (here) and a preliminary overview (here).


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 know, Part I surveys how experts have usually studied them. I provide detailed depictions of renowned writings by Henri Lefebvre, Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd, and Albert Bandura. Part II then proceeds to argue how and why STA:C offers a better way to go, once the framework is fully developed.


Slide 2: Why Study People’s Space, Time, and 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. For further quotes see the Addendum that accompanies this post.

What all this means is that the better we can ascertain people’s space-time-action perceptions, 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 or 1967. Back then, lots of studies dwelled on 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 treated separately, though one or both of the other two might be raised tangentially, marginally.

Most of these single-element studies were about space or time orientations, and were mostly done by psychologists, sociologists, or anthropologists. Handy examples include Nigel Thrift’s “Space” (2006) and Margaret Wertheim’s The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (1999), along with Jean Piaget’s The Child’s Conception of Time (1969 [1946]) and John Hassard’s edited collection on The Sociology of Time (1990). Studies that focused on people’s action (agency, efficacy) orientations were less common, and were mostly by psychologists — e.g., Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997). Or they appeared in histories about the idea of “progress” that studied shifts ages ago from ancient beliefs that supernatural forces determined one’s fate, to modern beliefs that a person could make changes and control one’s destiny by means of one’s own efforts.

Dual-element studies, as depicted in the upper-right diagram, are infrequent by comparison. A handful or so of theorists (e.g., Jean Piaget, Georges Gurvitch, Edward T. Hall, David Harvey) have studied both space and time orientations, though not always integratedly. Very unusual, thus not depicted here, are instances where space and action (as in Steven Pinker, 1997) or time and action (à la Karl Friston, 2017) are deemed the key dual cognitions. Meanwhile, I’ve rarely seen methodological or theoretical exhortations that a dual- should be preferred to a single-element approach.

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 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 ultimately turn to attend to all three to some degree. So I chose to 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 one STA:C element inevitably include some attention to all three. 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 marginally, 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 each expert’s effort. As will be evident in subsequent slides, I found their efforts be incomplete — grist for validating STA:C and arguing it can do better.

Slide 5: How the STA:C Diagnostic 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:
  • Circle sizes — large to small — represent the relative importance attributed to a STA:C element.
  • Circle locations — overlaps, separations — indicate the degree of interaction an analyst notices among the three STA:C elements.
  • 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 possible outcomes where the space, time, and action elements may each receive different emphases. (Actually, it’s the diagram from the next slide depicting Lefebvre’s analysis.)

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 — they 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 conclude from this small survey of writings by Lefebvre on space, Zimbardo & Boyd on time, and Bandura on action:

• Each expert emphasizes his singular specialty — space, time, or action/agency — 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. 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 bundle — a requisite 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 should be studied as such rather than singly. As for national-security and military strategists, some 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 ‘module’ 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”?


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Readings in cognitive warfare at the societal level — #9: Roger McNamee, “How to Fix Facebook — Before It Fixes Us” (2018)

In this instructive article, former Facebook insider Roger McNamee reveals how he first noticed something was amiss on Facebook, figured out Russians were behind it, tried reporting it to Facebook executives, didn’t get taken seriously, and formed his own group for coming up with warnings and remedies.

Here are a few highlights:
“Our final hypothesis was that 2016 was just the beginning. Without immediate and aggressive action from Washington, bad actors of all kinds would be able to use Facebook and other platforms to manipulate the American electorate in future elections.

“These were just hypotheses, but the people we met in Washington heard us out. Thanks to the hard work of journalists and investigators, virtually all of these hypotheses would be confirmed over the ensuing six weeks. Almost every day brought new revelations of how Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other platforms had been manipulated by the Russians.

“We now know, for instance, that the Russians indeed exploited topics like Black Lives Matter and white nativism to promote fear and distrust, and that this had the benefit of laying the groundwork for the most divisive presidential candidate in history, Donald Trump. The Russians appear to have invested heavily in weakening the candidacy of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary by promoting emotionally charged content to supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, as well as to likely Clinton supporters who might be discouraged from voting. Once the nominations were set, the Russians continued to undermine Clinton with social media targeted at likely Demo- cratic voters. We also have evidence now that Russia used its social media tactics to manipulate the Brexit vote. A team of researchers reported in November, for instance, that more than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted pro-Leave messages in the run-up to the referendum. …

“We still don’t know the exact degree of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. But the debate over collusion, while important, risks missing what should be an obvious point: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms were manipulated by the Russians to shift outcomes in Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, and unless major changes are made, they will be manipulated again. Next time, there is no telling who the manipulators will be.”
He didn’t have success raising these concerns with Facebook or Google executives, who replied with stock notions about self-regulation:
“Facebook and Google responded by reiterating their opposition to government regulation, insisting that it would kill innovation and hurt the country’s global competitiveness, and that self-regulation would produce better results.

“But we’ve seen where self-regulation leads, and it isn’t pretty. Unfortunately, there is no regulatory silver bullet. The scope of the problem requires a multi-pronged approach.”
Disappointed but resolute, he and his colleagues, notably Tristan Harris, an expert on cults, have designed an approach around two points. The first is that “we must address the resistance to facts created by filter bubbles.” The second is that “the chief executive officers of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others — not just their lawyers — must testify before congressional committees in open session.”

This is accompanied by proposals for eight regulatory remedies. These include: banning digital bots that impersonate people; prohibiting the companies from buying new acquisitions until they’ve addressed the preceding damage; making the platforms far more transparent; limiting the commercial exploitation of consumer data; and enabling users to own their data. He and his colleagues are now trying to get Congress to attend to these matters.

In conclusion, McNamee writes,
“Increasing awareness of the threat posed by platform monopolies creates an opportunity to re- frame the discussion about concentration of market power. Limiting the power of Facebook and Google not only won’t harm America, it will almost certainly unleash levels of creativity and innovation that have not been seen in the technology industry since the early days of, well, Facebook and Google.”
Lots of good points, I’d say. Worth more attention than I can give this reading these days. To read for yourself, go here: