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Does Culture Trump Strategy?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

The always interesting John Hagel tweeted a link recently to an old post at  Mill’s-Scofield Innovanomics, a blog run by a business strategist and consultant with a science background, Deb Mills-Scofield.

Summer’s Trump Cards 

….Culture Trumps Strategy: The best made plans are worthless if they’re not aligned with the culture. Sometimes the strategy can help transform the culture (for good or bad), but if the culture doesn’t support it, it won’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I think CEOs need to be CCS’s – Chief Culture Stewards.

Challenge:  Start to check the health of your culture – really, be brutally honest -before the end of August.

This was interesting to me.

Obviously, Mills-Scofield was concerned here with “business strategy” and organizational theory and not strategy in the classical sense of war and statecraft. As Dr. Chet Richards has pointed out, unlike a military leader in war, businessmen are not trying to destroy their customers, their employees or even their competition, but while not the same kind of “strategy”, the underlying cognitive action, the “strategic thinking”,  is similar. Perhaps the same.

So, shifting the question back to the original context of war and statecraft, does culture trump strategy?

On twitter, I had a brief twitter discussion on this with Marc Danziger who was sympathetic to the proposition of cultural supremacy. I am not so sure, though I think the relationship between culture and strategy is an iterative one, the degree to which culture matters in strategy is highly contextual and is determined by how broadly you define cultural values as being directly operative in driving the scenario. Some disjointed comments:

  • Your own cultural-societal worldview shapes politics, policy and politik. So indirectly, culture will be a determining factor in conceiving “Ends” worth spilling blood and dying for – particularly in wars of choice. When war, especially existential conflict is forced upon a state by an enemy attack, some of the initiative and room for constructing artful or limited “Ends” has been lost and becomes secondary to survival. Even Stalin’s normally overweening and murderous ideological preferences mattered somewhat less in Soviet policy and strategy the day after Operation Barbarossa began than the day before.
  • If the Ends in view imply forcing a political settlement upon the enemy – “compelling him to do our will” – than the enemy’s culture matters a great deal. All the moreso, if the war entails COIN, military governance of an enemy population and reconstructing an enemy state to our liking. The enemy culture is part of the operational environment because our use of military force (destruction) is going hand in glove with substantial political activity (construction) – mere physical control of the population is not enough, though it is a precondition for success. MacArthur’s role as SCAP in post-war Japan demonstrated an exceptionally shrewd blend of coercion and concession to traditional Japanese cultural touchstones.
  • If our Ends are much more limited – degrading enemy operational capacity and/or simple, spasmodic, punitive expeditions to impose costs on an enemy state or entity in retaliation for aggression; or, if we intend to stand off-shore and strike with air and naval superiority – than the enemy culture matters far less. Force is being used to “bargain” at a very primitive level that does not require much cultural nuance to understand and the message of “we will hit back” . Likewise, if the war is an unlimited one of extermination and Carthaginian peace, enemy culture matters far less than your military capacity to execute your strategy.
  • Your cultural worldview shapes your grand strategy or statecraft because great and lesser powers are not coldly playing chess for material interests alone when they engage in geopolitical conflict and warfare but are establishing, evolving and protecting a national identity on the world stage. What Thucydides called “Honor”, the British “Paramountcy”, Richard Nixon “Credibility” and Joseph Nye “Soft Power” may all have been intangible expressions, difficult to quantify, but are very much part of the strategic calculus of war and peace.
  • Finally, it is important to note that strategic employment of brute force has a large role in setting the parameters of where and when cultural nuance and interpretation matter and exercise political leverage during war. Extreme violence disrupts and warps the cultural norms of belligerents, usually for the worse. It was the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon that awoke the romantic pan-German nationalism of the 19th century that eventually united Germany and transformed it into the terror of the world in the 20th. The First World War ushered in a century of ideological monstrosities and revolutionary state terrorism on an epochal scale of murder unequaled even by the butchery of the Romans or Mongols. War is often the Abyss that looks into you.

Thoughts?

Cross-grain thinking, 1: Mozart and how music reaches us

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — tracking a single pattern back and forth across the Cartesian divide between “inner” (subjective) and “outer” (objective) realities, and why ]
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From God’s lips, figuratively speaking — via Mozart‘s mind and hand onto paper and out to musicians’ eyes and into their minds, then back out through their lips and hands and instruments and air — to your ears, and beyond? One pattern across a variety media.

We study Mozart’s biography. We study the “chunking” techniques a pianist typically uses to become proficient. My friend Wm. Benzon writes about how the brain’s oscillatory circuits can be internally synchronized through sonic activity and much more. We study how musical tastes correlate with education, or wealth, or class. What we don’t study nearly so intently, it seems to me, is the entire sequence by which a musical pattern makes its way from a composer’s initial thought to a listener’s delighted experience.

And what makes me want to talk about that is my sense that it requires thinking across the grain — across disciplines, across silos, across assumptions and languages and expectations.

It helps that I love Mozart. And I’m interested in the way patterns work. And perhaps most significantly, I believe that analytic mapping that doesn’t concern itself with both “inward” subjective experience, thought and emotions as well as “outer” realities, people, processes, and so forth will have us firing on only 50% of our cylinders at best. As I said in an earlier post on Anders Breivik:

A lot of our maps and models move between one quantity and another, and a lot of our thinking, correspondingly, has to do with materiel rather than morale — but nowhere is there a map or model of how quantity and quality affect each other, or how morale “force multiplies” materiel — even though “real life” moves seamlessly between (subjective, qualitative) mind and (objective, quantifiable) brain.

We have no map to walk us through the hard problem in consciousness — except our own insight.

And x-rays do not an insight make.

Let’s simply call this an early attempt to think about a stretch of the border between subjective and objective worlds, taking Mozart — a reasonably innocuous subject compared with Breivik — to start with.

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There’s a phrase of music in Mozart’s head: it is a pattern – we shall see it later as a pattern in ink on paper, a pattern in keys depressed on a keyboard, on strings struck and vibrating, as a pattern in acoustic waves in air and a pattern of impacts on the ear drum, then of electrochemical activity in the brain, of “Mozart” in the mind – and perhaps in a tapping of the feet on the floor, and from thence, onwards…

Perhaps Mozart got it, this pattern, consciously or unconsciously, from the starling he wrote a poem to, and gave a burial to when it died [1, 2] … No doubt something of that pattern would have been in the starling’s brain as its throat muscles moved, and in the air that moved and he sang…

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Something goes on with this pattern “inside” Mozart, and he composes, which is itself a hugely complex business involving various parts of his brain — and mind? Just brain, or brain and mind, or mind-brain? That’s the “hard question in consciousness” right there, and it applies as much to the starling, and the eventual listener, as it does to Mozart…

That “something” going on inside him has been variously described, in any case, and the historian William Stafford has written an enlightening piece comparing the myth of Mozart’s genius (Mozart himself used the term a couple of times in the classic sense of an intuitive guide, much as Socrates too would use the term) with the practicalities of musical skill and concentration.

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Thus there is undoubtedly a romantic “Mozart the genius” slant to the account given by Mozart’s earliest biographer who, working with Mozart’s widow, described his process of composition in these terms:

Mozart wrote everything with a facility and rapidity, which perhaps at first sight could appear as carelessness or haste; and while writing he never came to the klavier. His imagination presented the whole work, when it came to him, clearly and vividly.

This idea is even more vividly expressed in the letter, purported to be Mozart’s own words but now widely considered a later effort by the publicist Friedrich Rochlitz and “attributed” to Mozart himself in the spirit of the times:

When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer — say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, etc.

All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once (gleich alles zusammen). What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream. Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best. What has been thus produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for.

When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my memory, if I may use that phrase, what has been previously collected into it in the way I have mentioned. For this reason the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished; and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination…

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In start contrast to this romantic picture, Stafford himself writes in his paper Mozart and Genius, and more briefly in his essay in the Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia:

We must suspect a large element of myth-making in all of this, a construction of Mozart and his life in accordance with preconceived ideas.

and:

The real Mozart expressed pride in his craft, in the compositional skills he had learned from other musicians and taken to a high level. Much recent scholarship has emphasized the relationship of his creativity to his social milieu. In place of an unreflective genius who composed in a dream, it has given us, as in Konrad Kuster’s recent biography, a musician of the highest technical competence for whom composition presented a series of intellectual and aesthetic challenges that could only be surmounted with considerable effort.

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I suspect that Stafford, too, is giving us his “construction of Mozart and his life in accordance with preconceived ideas”.

To my mind, it’s just that our own contemporary preconceptions have shifted the emphasis from the “inspiration” to the “perspiration” factor in understanding great works and the exceptional minds and mind-sets that produce them. In my view, both accounts have something to offer us – that what we retrospectively term “genius” happens when a prepared mind (meaning Stafford’s “compositional skills” and so forth) lets go of its controlling urgency, and a deeper, richer mind emerges — an emergence which takes places classically in reverie (Gaston Bachelard) or after some similar disengagement of the active will, from whence we get the phrase “let me sleep on it” in response to the posing of a tricky problem or dilemma

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But the pattern.

No doubt there are a thousand ways in which Mozart differs from Beethoven, Beethoven from El Greco, El Greco from Einstein, Wittengenstein from Heraclitus, and Heraclitus from the Heraclitus who stepped into “the same river” a while ago…

What seems to be more stable is the pattern that Mozart wove, as it traveled from the throat of his starling through the intricacies of his own knowledge and practices, his friendships and tastes, his needs and longings and out onto paper, to a pianist or orchestra, and through instruments and voices into concert halls and magnetic wave forms and curious spirals engraved on discs, into sub-woofers and tweeters and full-range drivers..

And into our minds and hearts, our memories – our quiet hummings to ourselves on long autumn drives between motels.

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I think we should track that pattern, know as much as we can of that pattern, write the biography of the way in which some piece of music weaves between inspiration and thought, composer and instrument, mind and matter, performer and audience, studio and home digital music center…

Then, perhaps, we could begin to map other patterns – in some ways simpler and more urgent ones.

Coming up shortly: Cross-grain thinking, 2: AQ’s #3 spot and mapping the jihadist mind. One thing you can be sure of: it will be different.

An army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron – uh-oh, it’s Mahdi time again.. giving a little wide-angle context, then passing along a hadith of possible current interest — also an aside about an end-times Shiite trinity ]
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a ShiaChat map of one end times scenario: the Sufyani will attack Iran, black banners come from Khorasan

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We live, as everyone pretty much agrees, in some place called “here” (although that shifts) at a particular moment called “now” (although that shifts too) in a medium often called “spacetime” in honor of Albert Einstein.

The Game-changing Coming Ones of many religions and sects – and even their secular variants, the Game-changing Coming Ideologies and Leaders) – are situated in another area of the same “spacetime” continuum for their respective believers: next up after “wars and rumors of wars” or “come the revolution” or “when the Mayan Calendar runs out” or “next year in Jerusalem”…
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When:

My old friend Stephen O’Leary suggests there’s a shifting “window of opportunity” for people who preach “soon comings” – if you warn people that the world will end in a couple of thousand years, or with the heat death of the sun, or even that sea levels are liable to rise precipitously over the next few decades unless remedial action is taken, the view is long-range enough to seriously diminish your impact. Conversely, if you announce the end of the world will occur three minutes from now, nobody has time to get scared or prepared – or to propagate your message.

So “soon coming expectations” generally predict the coming is a little ways around the corner, close enough to matter but no close enough to sell all that you possess and climb Mt Ararat this week.
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Where:

The “where” is interesting, though. We have news cameras focused 24/7 on the Mount of Olives to catch the Second Coming of Christ, although most observant Jews won’t be expecting that Christianity will be finally vindicated as the true inheritor of Judaism’s mantle there any time soon, and many Muslims expect he’ll descend at one of the minarets of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

And the Mahdi? Two popular points of anticipated arrival are beside the Kaaba in Mecca, or out of the well behind the Jamkaran mosque, not too many miles from Qom.

But Islamic apocalyptic geography doesn’t end with either place – it extends, minimally, from Khorasan (Iran or Afghanistan) to Jerusalem, with a possible side-expedition to India (the Ghazwa-eh-Hind) and with possible tributaries from Africa and who knows where else… and in at least some Shia strands of apocalyptic thinking, the city of Kufa in Iraq will be the Mahdi’s seat of government.
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And now, the hadith:

All this is simply to provide some context for a specific hadith that my friend Aaron Zelin pointed to me today, as recorded yesterday on the Kavkaz Center webpage:

Hadith about Syria, Iraq and Yemen

Publication time:
30 October 2012, 14:58

Sham – the territory of Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon

Abdullah ibn Hawalah [Allah's blessings be on him] narrated from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) that he said:

"Matters will run their course until you become three armies: an army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq".

Ibn Hawalah said:

"Choose for me, O Messenger of Allah! in case I live to see that day".

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

"You should go to Sham, for it is the best of Allah's lands, and the best of His slaves will be drawn there!

And if you refuse, then you should go to the Yemen and drink from its wells. For Allah has guaranteed me that He will look after Sham and its people!"

(Imam Ahmad 4/110, Abu Dawud 2483. Authenticated by Imam Abu Hatim, Imam ad-Diya al-Maqdisi, Sheikh al-Albani and Sheikh Shu'aib Al-Arnaut).

Department of Monitoring
Kavkaz Center

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Further reading:

For more on this, see especially J-P Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam, noting in particular his account of “the revelation of Abu Musab al-Suri” (pp. 186-193), including specifically his discussion of “Sham” in a paragraph on p. 189.

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And an intriguing aside:

And since were talking Yemen and the greater Sham here, it may be worth noting as an aside, the presence in Islamic apocalyptic traditions of a figure known as the Yemeni — sometimes identified in Iranian Shia apocalyptic as Hezbollah’s Hasan Nasrallah. Filiu writes (p.156) of:

Shaykh Nazrallah’s transformation into the apocalyptic figure of the Yemeni, completing a very political trinity in which Ayatollah Khamenei served as the standard bearer of the Mahdi and Ahmadinejad as the commander of his armies.

Filiu’s book was published in France in 2008, but the same trinity can also be found in the fairly recent video The Coming is Upon Us attributed by Reza Kahlili to circles around Ahmadinejad. I’ve taken this account of the video and the trinity as it reports it from the Counter Jihad Report, because their version succinctly draws together the strands that most concern me here:

A little-noticed documentary titled “The Coming is Upon Us” was produced by Ahmadinejad’s office last year and it lays out the regime’s beliefs and planned path forward, much like Mein Kampf did. And it debunks the notion that the U.S.S.R. and the Iranian regime are equivalent. The film makes the case that the regime’s leaders are the incarnations of specific End Times figures foretold in Islamic eschatology.

Iran is the “nation from the East” that paves the way for the Mahdi’s appearance. Supreme Leader Khamenei is Seyed Khorasani, “the preparer” who comes from Khorasan Province with a black flag and a distinct feature in his right hand. Khamenei’s right hand is paralyzed from an assassination attempt. Khorasani’s commander-in-chief is Shoeib-Ebne Saleh, who the film says is President Ahmadinejad. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is the incarnation of Yamani, a commander with a Yemeni ancestry who leads the Mahdi’s army into Mecca.

These three “preparers” wage war against the Antichrist and “the Imposters”-the U.S., Israel and the West’s Arab allies. The film also mentions that a figure named Sofiani will side with Islam’s enemies. Former Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer Reza Kahlili, who leaked the film, told me that the full-length version identifies him as Jordanian King Abdullah II.

The film lists various End Times prophecies that have been fulfilled to argue that the Mahdi’s appearance is near. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran; the invasion of Iraq from the south and subsequent sectarian violence and death of Saddam Hussein; the Houthi rebellion in Yemen; the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the increasing amount of open homosexuality, cross-dressing, adultery and women taking off the hijab are correlated to specific Islamic prophecies.

As to the video’s authenticity and provenance, I can only express my ignorance and keen interest — but whatever the case, it seems likely that the split between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, together with the latter’s “soon going” from office, renders that particular strain of prophecy moot.

Particular prophetic timelines may fail, and indeed do so repeatedly — the apparatus of apocalyptic hope simply incorporates new figures and events into its calculations, and moves its sense of urgency a little further up along the timeline…


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