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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

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There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Red lines and the credibility arms race

    Friday, April 26th, 2013

    [The views and opinions expressed here are solely the responsibility of Lynn C. Rees. They may not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Zenpundit] 

    To deter, Barack Obama has publicly drawn a red line between tolerable and intolerable. We now watch to see and (perhaps) learn if open signaling of red lines has deterrent effect.

    Open red lines intended to stave off the intolerable without ending in blows are as ancient as territorial instinct. Red frequents coloration of animals who’ve evolved warning signals embedded in their anatomy. Lines, though marked more by scent or suggested by signal, are also abundant among Man and nature.

    “Bear”, my brother’s late Shar-Pei, vociferously defended my brother’s chain-linked fence line. All his toing and froing facing down suspicious pedestrians even wore a second line into the front lawn that paralleled the fence. His vigorous bark emerged from wolven ancestors to draw lines red in tooth and claw in wolven mind so it didn’t come to lines red in tooth and claw in wolven reality. 

    But, if bluffs are called and barks prove to have more volume than bite, a red line will prove only as substantial as the bite and fight beyond it. If warning is not credibly conveyed and things fall apart, nothing may remain except bite and fight.

    Bear’s bark proved a poor red line. While it sounded loud and formidable, when you opened the front gate and entered the yard, Bear would casually mosey up, sniff you, and promptly return to the barking line. Shar Peis are renowned for even-tempers. Bred as guard dogs in China, they often had to be brutalized or drugged into fight and bite. Bear was neither brutalized nor drugged so he lacked credible fierceness.

    There is no certain calculus in drawing red lines. My calculus teacher wisely taught that variables have only one invariable certainty: they tend to vary. Man is not only variable, he is contrary. His contrariness not only votes present, it votes with real impact. If it were otherwise, you’d have a sort of Clausewitzian “red line by algebra: tally up one side of a red line in one column and tally the other side in another column. Then, when clearly displayed in public, those on either side would be forced to agree on how substantial the red line was and openly acknowledge its deterrent psychology.

    Politics, the division of power, varies most in the intensity in which its division of power escalates confrontation toward violence. Some political contestants’ escalation is too hot. Others’ escalation is too cold. For others, their escalation will be just right. Some draw red lines and aggressively escalate political intensity based on broken red line theory: one small crack in your red line, like someone publicly urinating on it, means the entire red line will be stripped down to its bare chassis overnight if small infractions aren’t predictably and promptly punished. Others use them to draw folks along, perhaps as bait, perhaps as stalling tactics, while they do something else somewhere else. Some red lines are implicitly understood by all as being for entertainment purposes only.

    Unfortunately, we’re armed with only a few rules of thumb to guide us in drawing and escalating red lining, most centered on creating intrinsic credibility:

    • …every power ought to be commensurate with its object…
    • …the means ought to be proportioned to the end…
    • …there ought to be no limitation of a power destined to effect a purpose, which is itself incapable of limitation…
    • A government ought to contain in itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.
    • As the duties of superintending the national defense and of securing the public peace against foreign or domestic violence involve a provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned, the power of making that provision ought to know no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community.
    • As revenue is the essential engine by which the means of answering the national exigencies must be procured, the power of procuring that article in its full extent must necessarily be comprehended in that of providing for those exigencies.
    Beyond that, it’s a matter of converting intrinsic credibility into fully mobilizable and then field-deployable credibility. Angelo M. Codevilla writes:

    John Quincy Adams, a student as well as a practitioner of statesmanship, believed that governments understand their own and others’ interests quite well. His involvement in diplomacy, which lasted from 1778 to the end of his presidency in 1829, convinced him not that negotiations are superfluous, but rather that they ratify the several parties’ recognition of existing realities regardless of agreements or lack thereof. Diplomacy can make it more comfortable to live with reality by clarifying mutual understanding of it. On the other hand, Adams’ magisterial notes on his 1823 recommendation that America spurn the invitation to join Britain in a declaration disapproving any attempt to recover Spain’s American colonies—that jointness would have added nothing to the reality of parallel British and U.S. opposition to such a venture—underlines the central fact about diplomacy: though it conveys reality, it does not amend it.

    In 1968, Fred Ikle published How Nations Negotiate, which is used by diplomatic academies around the world. Too many graduates, however, forget its central teaching, which is that the diplomat’s first task is to figure out whether agreement is possible on the basis of “the available terms”—in short, whether both sides’ objectives, though different, are compatible. Only if they are can negotiations proceed according to what Ikle calls “rules of accommodation”—making sincere proposals, honoring partial agreements, etc. If the objectives are incompatible, the diplomats may choose to walk away, or to “negotiate for side effects”—to use the negotiations to undermine the other side’s government, sow dissention among its allies, deceive it, pocket partial agreements and renege on commitments, buy time, gather intelligence, etc. Disaster looms when one side follows the rules of accommodation while the other negotiates for side effects. The essence of Ikle’s teaching is that the negotiator’s primordial job is to judge correctly whether the other side is negotiating for “available terms” or is waging war through diplomatic means, and hence to choose whether to negotiate for agreement, walk away, or treat the diplomatic table as a battlefield. That choice is “perpetual,” he writes, because human motives are variable.

    When the president publicly drew his red line:

    Michelle and I have used a strategy when it comes to things like tattoos — what we’ve said to the girls is, ‘If you guys ever decide you’re going to get a tattoo, then Mommy and me will get the same exact tattoo in the same place,'” he said. “And we’ll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo. And our thinking is that it might dissuade them from thinking that somehow that’s a good way to rebel.

    He’s made his “primordial job” as a parent public. Under public scrutiny, he has to “judge correctly” whether Maliah or Sasha are negotiating for “available terms’ or “waging war” through tattooed means. He has to publicly choose whether to negotiate for agreement, walk away, or treat tattoos as a battlefield. As a parent, his choice is “perpetual”.

    His credibility in deterring tattooed rebellion does have some fight and bite behind it. The Christian Science Monitor observes:

    They’re still kind of young. Malia is 14 and Sasha is 11. They’re not marching into any tattoo parlor near Sidwell Friends School in upper northwest DC. First, there aren’t any – they can’t afford the rents there. Second, you’ve got to be 18 to get a tat in the city, we believe. The City Council approved that move recently.

    This move may represent sufficient “provision for casualties and dangers to which no possible limits can be assigned” coupled with “the power of making that provision”. But whether tattoos escalate to where parent-child disagreement knows “no other bounds than the exigencies of the nation and the resources of the community” is the other half of Maliah and Sasha’s measure of President Obama’s credibility amd the deterrent quality of YouTubed shame over their coming teens.

    The CSM doubts it. Conceding the president’s stratagem is “sort of based on assured mutual deterrence. Or preemption – you could call it that, too” and that it’s “interesting, in the sense that it’s a fairly coherent and intellectualized way to approach this common parental problem”, it observes:

    …the real reason the preemption strategy probably appeals to the Obamas right now is that their daughters still listen to them. They can process cause and parental reaction and weigh options. They haven’t entered that period where common sense gets suspended, and they focus mostly on their own needs and wants, because that’s what teenagers do…

    Once they are 18, they will be away from daily parental authority and tattoos might seem like a better idea. At that age, they don’t really think about long-term consequences, so they might get body art just to spite their parents. Or because they forgot their parents’ we-will-do-it-too vow. Or because they don’t care. Or just because… 

    And then what happens? The president of the United States will probably feel obligated to get a tattoo of a butterfly at the base of his neck, because he vowed he would; and if he does not follow through, opponents will doubt his strength of will, or something like that.

    I disagree. Rather than being “obligated”, the president retains his God-given agency. America’s greatest strategic thinker of the last fifty years will give him some advice:

    You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
    Know when to walk away, know when to run.
    You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
    There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done

    His choices as a parent are there “because human motives are variable”. As such, they will tend to vary, moment by moment, place by place, tattoo by tattoo. The president should carefully consider where and when he draws red lines, especially in public and especially when publicity is a key component of his red line’s hypothetical deterrent effect. Better to learn to gauge when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em now before the sarin calls of adolescence come around. Only then maybe there will be time enough for counting when the teenage years are done.

    Query: COIN Manual Conference Feedback

    Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

     

    Was the COIN  Manual conference at Fort Leavenworth last week a success or a failure?

    I have heard backchannel that the focus of the rewrite of FM 3-24 was going to be on “tactics” and but that a “light footprint option” had to be included to appease policy makers. Some good suggestions were made at SWJ by Colonel Robert C. Jones, but not much has been said yet online that I have seen. USACAC bloseriously could use some updating on a more frequent basis.

    I’m curious where they went with this. Opinions and comments solicited.

    Announcement: “Legacies of the Manhattan Project” May 12-13

    Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

    From blogfriend Cheryl Rofer as well as Molly Cernicek and Susan Voss at Nuclear Diner, – an event for those interested in nuclear weapons, science, Cold War diplomatic history, national security, strategic theory and American strategists:

    Nuclear Diner Teams With Santa Fe Institute To Bring You Legacies of the Manhattan Project 

    Next weekend, May 12-13, at the Santa Fe Institute, a hand-picked group of physicists, historians, social scientists, systems theorists, and writers will examine the long-term legacies of the Manhattan Project in a timely discussion of an important event in world history that still influences science and society today. Harold Agnew, who was part of the historic effort to develop the first atomic bomb, will participate in the discussion.

    SFI is collaborating with the Nuclear Diner to bring the discussion to you live on Twitter. You can participate before, during, and after by searching for the hashtag #bomblegacy or following @nucleardiner. Before the event, you can also leave questions at Nuclear Diner and the Facebook event page. If you “like” the Facebook page, you will get updates throughout the week and continuing information after the workshop.

    The group will discuss new information, review original records, and mine the memories of project participants to present a case study in conflict from an important period in scientific history.

    More about the Santa Fe Institute working group, including biographies of the participants and discussion topics, here.

    Many of SFI’s founders were senior fellows at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As the Institute has emerged as a leader in complexity science, particularly in working toward a theory of conflict in human and animal societies, the Manhattan Project has become an important case study for understanding conflict. The project’s history also illustrates the occasional tension between pure theoretical research and applied science.

    Photo: Harold Agnew holding the core of the Nagasaki bomb.

    An excellent opportunity for students, grad students, historians and practitioners in various fields to participate here via twitter.

    Pondering Transition Ops with Quesopaper

    Monday, April 16th, 2012

    One of the nice things about this blog is that periodically, smart folks will send me their unpublished material for feedback and private commentary. This comes in a wide variety of formats – manuscripts, articles, book chapters, powerpoint, sometimes an entire book or novel! It is flattering and almost always informative, so I try to help where I can or at least point the sender in the direction of someone more appropriate.

    Recently, I was given a peek at a very intriguing paper on “Transition Operations” by Dr Rich Ledet, LTC Jeff Stewart and Mr. Pete Turner, who blogs occasionally at quesopaper.  Pete has spent a good chunk of the past ten years in a variety of positions and capacities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he currently is with American troops in a remote rural district and it was he who passed their draft to me. They have taken a fresh look at the subject.

    While I can’t give away their “secret sauce” in detail,  I particularly liked the fact that while the  focus and advice for executing transition operations is aimed at field grade officers and their civilian agency counterparts, their vision is in sync with the ideal of having policy-strategy-operations and tactics as a seamless “whole-of-government” garment. If only we could get our politicians to think in these terms, half the battle would be over.

    Their paper is now headed to a professional journal; when it is published ( as I think it will be), I will definitely be linking to it here and hopefully, that will be soon.

    My reason for my bringing this up – I have the permission of the authors to do so – is that the trio have put their finger on the major doctrinal problem faced by the United States military in Afghanistan – “transition operations” being a politically charged topic, laden as it is with implied foreign policy decision making by heavyweight policy makers, is treated in very scanty fashion by FM 3-24. Compared to other aspects of COIN, very little guidance is given to the the commander of the battalion or brigade in the effort to coordinate “turnover” of responsibilities and missions to their Afghan Army, police and government allies.

    This at a time when the “readiness” of Afghan units and officials to accept these burdens in the midst of a war with the Taliban is questionable, variable, controversial at home and politically extremely sensitive in Afghanistan.

    And at a point where, ten years after September 11, the US State Department is no more able in terms of personnel and vision or sufficiently funded by Congress, to step up their game and take the lead role in Afghanistan from the Pentagon than it was on September 10, 2001.  SECSTATEs Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton deserve great praise for making State do more with less, but State needs wholesale reform to fit the needs of the 21st century and the money and budgetary flexibility to split foreign policy tasks more equitably with the Defense Department.

    State is not going to be playing a major role on the ground in our transition out of Afghanistan, which makes guidance to our majors and colonels – and in turn to their company and platoon leaders stationed there-  all the more important.


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