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Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
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Credit: Amir Schiby

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Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

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Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

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The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

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Three DoubleQuotes via Paradoxes of War MOOC

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's actionable intel, and then there's the chewable kind -- guess where my own interest is focused ]
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There’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of actionable intelligence, and in the software and trainings that serve it, Palantir being among the most notable. And there’s a cognitive style that’s embedded in the concept of “inactionable” intelligence, and in any software and trainings that serve it, the HipBone/Sembl/DoubleQuotes combo fitting into the way of things under that “uncomfortable” rubric.

So let’s give those cognitive modes other names, and call them, for simplicity: act-on mode and chew-on mode. Some people need to act on the intelligence they receive, some need to chew on it.

The three DoubleQuotes that follow are the byproduct of today’s discussions on Princeton’s Paradoxes of War MOOC, and to mmy mind they’re worth chewing on.

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Brilliant! These two quotes are juxtaposed as epigraphs to James Der Derian‘s paper, War as Game. Given my interest in both war and games, that was a natural DoubleQuote to borrow..

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The thing about Thomas Friedman‘s quote — which became a semi-tongue-in-cheek theory after he wove it into his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, under the name “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” — is that it traces back so directly to Immanuel Kant, thus demonstrating the theorem, applicable to both waterways and spiritual utterances, that matters whose beginnings are pure tend to accrue contaminants as they move away from source — an effect for whose religious variant Max Weber coined the phrase, “the routinization of charisma”.

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Lastly, here’s one for the Zenmaster, knowing his appreciation both for ancient history as it relates to military matters, and for the art and science of education:

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Sources:

  • Der Derian, Epigraphs from War as Game

  • Friedman, Big Mac
  • Kant, Perpetual Peace

  • Mead, Military Recruiters
  • Deligiannis, The Spartan ‘Agoge’
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    BOOK REVIEW: Adaptive Leadership Handbook by Leland & Vandergriff

    Monday, June 16th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Adaptive Leadership Handbook: :Law Enforcement & Security by Fred Leland & Don Vandergriff 

    The Adaptive Leadership Handbook is an unusual book. It is a work about thinking for men and women of action. It is an argument about learning for people whose professional life is governed by their training. Finally, it is a call for dynamic reflection for those accustomed to following proper procedure.  The authors have written a guide to reinventing an organization’s institutional epistemology, the “cognitive culture” in which high stakes decisions are made, how challenges are met and the standards by which outcomes are judged.  They are well qualified to make their case:

    Fred Leland, a police lieutenant, former sheriff’s deputy and Marine “….is the Founder and Principal Trainer of LESC: Law Enforcement & Security Consulting and a certified instructor. He specializes in homeland security exercise and evaluation programs (HSEEP), red teaming, ongoing deadly action (active shootings), handling dynamic and violent encounters, recognizing the signs and signals of danger(body language), police operational art, use of force, and decision making under pressure. He develops leaders with the adaptive leadership methodology. His focus is translating theory to practice and facilitating training workshops to law enforcement, military, public and private, campus and university security professionals, in an effort to continually improve officer safety and effectiveness.”

    Don Vandergriff is a retired Army major, military consultant, a nationally regarded trainer on leadership development and adaptive decision game methodology, well-regarded author on military affairs whose works include Raising the Bar (required reading at West Point), The Path to Victory and Manning the Future Legions of the United States. For much of the past year Don has been working in Afghanistan, teaching some of what the book is preaching.

    I have also had the pleasure of seeing both authors presenting and conducting exercises at Boyd & Beyond conferences and can recommend them strongly. On to the review….

    First of all, who is the intended audience for Adaptive Leadership Handbook? Who would benefit from reading it?

    1. Any law enforcement personnel at any level – Federal, State, county or municipal. The book has been written with the perspective and problems of their field in mind.

    2.  Security professionals, private or public, who provide supplementary or complementary services to law enforcement, public safety, government agencies, corporations or individuals

    3.  First responders other than law enforcement

    4.  Military personnel who will be engaged in humanitarian relief deployments or constabulary duties among foreign civilian populations in conflict zones or National Guardsmen who might be assigned to disaster relief or civil disorder operations at home.

    5.  Academics and journalists who study law enforcement and security issues or MOOTW, FID and COIN

    6.  Anyone struggling to reconcile ongoing development of a genuinely professional culture within a bureaucratic-political context

    As a reviewer, I fall primarily into categories 6 and 5, so in terms of details, as an outsider, reading the book for me was also a window into the world of professional policing and procedure, especially in terms of making good tactical decisions in real life situations. While for a police officer the authors are discussing familiar scenarios that go to the heart of the law enforcement profession’s work on the street, for me these were illuminating vignettes.  Police facing uncooperative or indecisive or mentally ill suspects, active shooter scenarios, the traffic stop gone bad, possible suicidal individuals and intoxicated parties to a domestic dispute are among the examples used to illustrate how officers can adapt tactically or suffer the consequences if they fail to do so. Each scenario is analyzed with a view not just to alternative tactics but alternative ways to think differently to respond more effectively.

    Drawing on  thinkers as diverse as Gary Klein, John Boyd, Clausewitz, John Poole, Sid Heal , Hans  von Seeckt, Paul Van Riper, Sun Tzu and Heraclitus, the thrust of Adaptive Leadership Handbook is the authors attempt to bring police officers beyond the culture of ingrained procedure and rote training methods who react to situations into oriented, intuitive decision-makers and learning, thinking, reflective professionals. A shift of tactical mentality from “Go get him” to “Set him up to get him with an adaptive response”  A variety of methods are advocated to be used regularly in order to cultivate adaptive leaders – After Action Reviews (AAR), Tactical Decision Games (TDG),  Decision Making Critique (DMC) free play exercises, fingerspitzengefuhl, reading body language and pattern recognition. Some examples:

    …..A flood of questions will come to mind in the heat of a violent encounter. My point is, the questions will be there but the answers will come in a form of judgment – implicit and intuitive decisions based on your experience and training.

    Attention to detail is not the sole answer in the non-linear world of violence. Instead, it’s paying attention to detail that has meaning in the heat of the moment. [p.143]

    and

    ….Can those of us involved in extreme situations where life and death are at stake actually make decisions without thinking, without analyzing options, intuitively?

    The answer is clearly yes.

    Dr. Gary Klein in his research of cognitive development talks about making decisions under pressure in what he describes as “Recognition-Primed Decision Making”. What Klein found working with the united States marine Corps, Emergency workers and Businesses across the country was, “It was not that commanders were refusing to compare options. I had become so fixated on what they were not doing that I had missed the real finding: that the commanders could come up with a good course of action from the start. That is what the stories were telling us. Even when faced with a complex situation, the commanders could see it as familiar and know how to react. [....] the commanders secret was that their experience let them see a situation, even a non-routine one, as an example of a prototype, so they knew the typical course of action right away. Their experience let them identify a reasonable reaction as the first one they considered, so they did not bother thinking of others. They were not being perverse. They were being skillful.” [p. 89]

    and

    With an adversary who says NO and takes action to thwart our efforts we will always have to be prepared to use our awareness, insight imagination and initiative applying the science and art of tactics, operationally, while striving ouselves to overcome the effects of friction, while interacting with an adversary. We must attempt at the same time to raise our adversary’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight. This interplay is necessary in an effort to shape and reshape the climate of a situation and win without fighting if possible.

    Leland and Vandergriff are aiming at reshaping police organizations cognitive culture to permit decentralized decision-making as close to the problem on the street as possible, with officers confident and capable of taking the initiative and exercising good judgment in the context of circumstances. This entails a reframing of procedures from rules to tools, from being directions to being a map or template for independent decision making. A shift on the spectrum from training toward learning to make each officer more effective and more adaptive.

    Strongly recommended.

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    Lyle on the Cognitive Domain: Personal Theories of Power Series at The Bridge

    Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    Lt Col Dave “Sugar” Lyle, USAF dives deep here into the shifting modes of cognition by which we  interpret our world, adapt and (hopefully) thrive:

    The Cognitive Domain: A Personal Theory of Power 

    ….Imagine all of those competing mental submodels as if they were Lotto balls, tumbling around in the hopper of our brains, competing to be selected as the winning ball at the top of conscious attention. Now imagine that all of those balls are connected to the other balls in various ways by small, invisible strings, with different degrees of connection and strength. If you could grab specific balls and strings, in specific sequences, you’d have a better chance of influencing which balls make it to the top of the hopper to be selected. You may not know exactly which one will be the winner, but your odds of predicting it are much better if you know something about how those balls are connected together, and how they interact. It works the same way with interconnected memories, ideas, and feelings: “cognitive priming” activates specific mental heuristics at specific times, for better or for worse. The knowledge of identity stories?—?and the history of how they came to be?—?is crucial to building your own mental model of other people’s mental models. It’s this “Theory of Mind” we use every day to negotiate and modify the heuristic driven social landscape, as we seek to shape it in ways that favor us.

    Except it’s not always that easy. Sometimes the stories don’t match up. Sometimes we disagree about who is in our group, who gets to have what, who gets to tell others what to do, and what should happen if we disagree on these things. We try to define the boundaries with artifacts that evoke the stories. We write laws and codes. We wear uniforms, and issue IDS and badges. We buy power ties, $50,000 wristwatches, and $500,000 cars to cement our place in the social strata. Then we use these stories and artifacts to reinforce our place and our “rights” within the social system. We plead. We cajole. We flatter. We threaten. And finally, we fight.

    ….But killing really isn’t the point when it comes to power. While it’s true that killing someone else is a way to exercise power, and a way to prevent someone else from exerting power over you, power is much more about influencing their mental models of the people who you don’t kill, in order to drive the continuing social interaction in directions that you favor. As Thomas Shelling once said, it’s usually much more useful to have the ability to kill someone than it is to actually do it. And as he also said, it’s the loser who determines when the fighting stops, not the winner….

    Read the rest here.

    I like what the good colonel has done here for two reasons. First, he’s correct that it is very difficult to get off of our mental “autopilot” and exert greater control over our own reasoning and decisions and awareness of our mental models, schemas, assumptions and cultural baggage helps make us less of a slave of neurobiology and some scribbling philosopher from centuries past. Secondly, he reminds us that much about power is really counterintuitive.

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    Of a flag and the blood of martyrs

    Saturday, May 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- how, where and why the name, the map, and the flag merge into reality -- Gregory Bateson to the rescue ]
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    I am indebted for this screengrab to Phillip Smyth, whose recent Singing Hizballah’s Tune in Manama: Why Are Bahrain’s Militants Using the Music of Iran’s Proxies? post in his Hizballah Cavalcade at Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology included the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq martyr video for those killed fighting in Syria, with its allusion to the martyrdom of Hussein at Karbala — deep breath — from which this grab is taken.

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    Let me back up: what I want to discuss here is the significance of flags, with the blooded Shahada flag providing an instance.

    We have two brain hemispheres: one of them, according to Gregory Bateson, knows the difference between a sign and what it points to, one doesn’t — and we live in a world that’s made up of these two perceptions, one layered over the other, the other shining through on occasion.

    Here’s Bateson — if you don’t know him, one of the presiding geniuses of the twentieth century thought:

    The distinction between the name and the thing named or the map and the territory is perhaps really made only by the dominant hemisphere of the brain. The symbolic and affective hemisphere, normally on the right-hand side, is probably unable to distinguish name from thing named. It is certainly not concerned with this sort of distinction. It therefore happens that certain nonrational types of behavior are necessarily present in human life. We do, in fact, have two hemispheres; and we cannot get away from that fact. Each hemisphere does, in fact, operate somewhat differently from the other, and we cannot get away from the tangles that that difference proposes.

    For example, with the dominant hemisphere, we can regard such a thing as a flag as a sort of name of the country or organization that it represents. But the right hemisphere does not draw this distinction and regards the flag as sacramentally identical with what it represents. So “Old Glory” is the United States. If somebody steps on it, the response may be rage. And this rage will not be diminished by an explanation of map-territory relations. (After all, the man who tramples the flag is equally identifying it with that for which it stands.) There is always and necessarily be a large number of situations in which the response is not guided by the logical distinction between the name and the thing named.

    I’d like to reemphasize a couple of phrases:

  • certain nonrational types of behavior are necessarily present in human life
  • the right hemisphere … regards the flag as sacramentally identical with what it represents
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    That quote comes from a while back, of course, and we have a great deal more detailed knowledge now than we did when Bateson first wrote it — but I checked with a neuropsychologist colleague, and he gave me the okay to quote it as an admittedly broad strokes version of a more complex truth, and thus subject to various qualifications.

    And while it may seem like a strange suggestion to some who might otherwise think of the flag as “just a flag, a piece of colored fabric” — it makes perfect sense of the diplomatic protocol surrounding the Saudi flag which I noted in a previous post:

    The script in the centre of the flag is the Islamic creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah”. The flag is therefore considered sacred and special protocol rules apply: the flag does not dip in salute, nor is it ever flown at half-mast. Note that the creed always reads properly from right to left, with the sword hilt to the right, so the reverse of the flag is not a mirror image of the obverse. When making the flag, the creed must be reproduced precisely, including the accent marks. The use of the flag on any commercial item (especially clothing) is not recommended as it might be considered inappropriate, or even insulting.

    The Saudi flag is the scripture is the Word of God, in the same (lower case “s” sacramental) way in which the consecrated bread is the body of Christ is the Real Presence in the Catholic eucharist, and in each case, to desecrate the symbol is to desecrate that to which (from the point of one hemisphere) it refers and which (from the perspective of the other) it makes present.

    Thus Bateson might say, with Saint Augustine and the Catechism, that in each of these cases, the outward and visible sign embodies an inward and spiritual reality.

    And which in turn may explain why Bateson, setting an exam for the young psychiatrists he was training in a mental hospital in Palo Alto, asked them as his first question for brief descriptions of “sacrament” and “entropy” — figuring them to be two of the “core notions of 2,500 years of thought about religion and science”.

    To some readers, all this will be so obvious as to need no explanation, to others it may still seem utterly opaque. My hope is to give you a sense that beneath the rational surface of our lives, there lurks another mode of thinking — and that one of its aspects is to treat “signs” as though they *are* whatever they represent.

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    Relevant quotes from Gregory Bateson:

    Once I drew up a sort of catechism and offered it to the class as a sampling of the questions which I hoped they would be able to discuss after completing the course. The questions ranged from “What is a sacrament?” to “What is entropy?” and “What is play?”

    As a didactic maneuver, my cathechism was a failure: it silenced the class…

    – Gregory Bateson, Steps to an ecology of mind

    Even grown-up persons with children of their own cannot give a reasonable account of concepts such as entropy, sacrament, syntax, number, quantity, pattern, linear relation, name, class, relevance, energy, redundancy, force, probability, parts, whole, information, tautology, homology, mass (either Newtonian or Christian), explanation, description, rule of dimensions, logical type, metaphor, topology, and so on. What are butterflies? What are starfish? What are beauty and ugliness?

    — Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity

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