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Recommended Reading and Viewing, First of 2014

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

Top Billing! Tom NicholsThe Death of Expertise 

….More seriously, I wonder if we are witnessing the “death of expertise:” a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between students and teachers, knowers and wonderers, or even between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields.

Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live. A fair number of Americans now seem to reject the notion that one person is more likely to be right about something, due to education, experience, or other attributes of achievement, than any other.

Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.

I meant to comment on Tom’s post at the time which created a large stir, as I agree with some parts wholeheartedly while perhaps being more cognizant where and when expertise – a marvelously effective tool of western civilization also known as “specialization” - has its limits.  There are also different kinds of expertise which we should think of as cognitive tools or lenses that can provide better answers if used synergistically  than you can sometimes get from one form of expertise alone.

There are also problems that because they may be fundamentally new or previously unrecognized – as happens when hard science fields push against current limits of knowledge in physics, chemistry or biology  - or massively interrelated and complex “intractable” or “wicked problems” of social systems, that we lack any expertise that fits the problem well in terms of arriving at accurate analysis or economical solutions. This goes even more to the latent but difficult to perceive opportunities that seem obvious only in hindsight after someone has made a breakthrough and exploited it effectively. These kinds of pathbreaking solutions tend to be profound in their impact, to paraphrase Freeman Dyson, because they are often remarkably simple.

The Bridge  (Brett Friedman) Strategy as Narrative 

Strategy is a form of communication; a message that you have the intentions and capabilities to impose your will, and the enemy cannot impose theirs. Aswar can be likened to two combatants trying to impose their will on the other, they must communicate their will and their intention not to abide by the will of the opponent. Since war is a human endeavor, this communication occurs in the same manner as other forms of communications. For example, the Six Phases of Joint Operations, found in JP 5-0 Planning, mirror the plot structure of theatrical drama as identified by Gustav Freytag. JP 5-0 lays out five phases for joint operations: Shaping, Deter, Seize Initiative, Dominate, Stabilize, and Enable Civil Authority. “Deter” is a throwaway; if it works, then no conflict occurs. It rightfully belongs as a subset of shaping, in my opinion, so I omit it below. The five remaining phases match up with Freytag’s plot structure: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Humans have been communicating using this structure for centuries and it’s no accident that a cohesive strategy would match it. 

War on the Rocks (Thomas Lynch) -Confronting Reality: The Saudi-Pakistani Nuclear Nexus 

….Western nonproliferation pundits have generally dismissed the possibility of such nuclear proliferation collaboration, viewing the risks to Riyadh and Islamabad to be too high and the whispering campaign to be a Saudi effort to put pressure on the United States to be more firm with Iran.  Analysts of the Saudi monarchy also have argued that its conservative nature wouldmitigate against it going to Pakistan for a nuclear weapons “chit.”

But a more careful assessment of trans-regional history and Saudi-Pakistani interrelations over time makes analysts like me – who both have lived in Middle Eastern countries and who analyze Pakistan and Saudi Arabia security matters from a South Asian security perspective – far less certain that the Saudis are bluffing.  Saudi Arabia’s unique relationship with Pakistan during the period of Islamabad’s civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons development programs makes this an especially important connection in the event of an ever-widening chain of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East and South Asia. Although officially denied by Riyadh and Islamabad, many South Asia experts, includingBruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution, believe that a secret and long-standing agreement exists that Pakistan would provide the Kingdom with nuclear technology and weapons should the Saudis feel threatened by a third party nuclear program.  Furthermore, Pakistan has a recent history of responding positively to Saudi security requests, most notably in the spring of 2011 Saudi royals feared spill-over of a Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain and requested Islamabad ready an expeditionary military force to deploy upon request.  Pakistan did so without hesitation. 

Seydlitz89 -A Clausewitzian View of the Current Conscription Debate in the US – Part I

Conscription is defined as “compulsory enlistment of citizens or residents of a political body for national service”. It dates back to the Babylonian Empire but the modern variant traces back to revolutionary France of the 1790s, and thus has a significant political element regardless of the political system employing it. Most modern wars have required some sort of conscription by one side or both in order to procure the necessary manpower to wage the war in question.In this essay I would like to first present the state of conscription in Europe prior 1793, followed by French mobilization to form the Grand Armee. Clausewitz’s view on conscription as well as Prussian reforms will follow. Finally I will present some recent examples in the current debate in the US regarding the reimplementation of conscription. I think this will show that Clausewitz’s views are pertinent to the discussion and even explain the motives/thinking of some of the current proponents. This is due to the fact in my view that regarding conscription we are dealing with basic political questions, that in the US context are long overdue in airing.

Dart Throwing Chimp -Relative Risks of State-Led Mass Killing Onset in 2014: Results from a Wiki Survey and Why More Mass Killings in 2013, and What It Portends for This Year 

To fully understand why a spate of mass killings is happening now, I think it helps to recognize that this cluster is occurring alongside—or, in some cases, in concert with—aspate of state collapses and during a period of unusually high social unrest. Systemic thinking leads me to believe that these processes are interrelated in explicable ways.

Just as there are boom and bust cycles within economies, there seem to be cycles of political (dis)order in the global political economy, too. Economic crunches help spur popular unrest. Economic crunches are often regional or global in nature, and unrest can inspire imitation. These reverberating challenges can shove open doors to institutional change, but they also tend to inspire harsh responses from incumbents intent on preserving the status quo ante. The ensuing clashes present exactly the conditions that are ripest for mass killing. Foreign governments react to these clashes in various ways, sometimes to try to quell the conflict and sometimes to back a favored side. These reactions often beget further reactions, however, and efforts to manufacture a resolution can end up catalyzing wider disorder instead. 

Cyclical behavior in social macrosystems is a favorite theme of pop science thinker Howard Bloom 

Kings of War (Jill Sargent Russell) -The Art of Victory 

Delphi Brief - DOD Releases Roadmap for Hunter and Killer Robots: Looks 25 Years Ahead in Unmanned Vehicle Vision 

SWJ Blog -Warfare Is Changing In 3 Ways 

Feral Jundi -Podcasts: Boyd Briefing On Organic Design For Command And Control 

LESC Blog -Don’t Fear Failure; Instead Make Failure Your Classroom 

AFJ  (BJ Armstrong)-Unmanned naval warfare: Retrospect & prospect 

The Bridge (Jeremy Renken) -Renken on Strategy as Fiction 

Global Guerrillas-Another Massive Cyber-attack on US Citizens and Nobody Cares 

tdaxp – Value Added Testing 

Steven Pressfield Online “He’s a Winner!” 

Michigan War Studies ReviewShanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze and Eisenhower in War and Peace 

Scientific American -The Most Fascinating Human Evolution Discoveries of 2013 

The National InterestAsia’s Worst Nightmare: A China-Japan War 

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:

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3 Responses to “Recommended Reading and Viewing, First of 2014”

  1. prbeckman Says:

    Tom Nichols:
    “Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live. A fair number of Americans now seem to reject the notion that one person is more likely to be right about something, due to education, experience, or other attributes of achievement, than any other.
    “Indeed, to a certain segment of the American public, the idea that one person knows more than another person is an appalling thought, and perhaps even a not-too-subtle attempt to put down one’s fellow citizen. It’s certainly thought to be rude: to judge from social media and op-eds, the claim of expertise — and especially any claim that expertise should guide the outcome of a disagreement — is now considered by many people to be worse than a direct personal insult.”
    —–
    Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, “Philosophical Method of the Americans”:
    “I discover that in most of the operations of the mind each American appeals only to the individual effort of his own understanding.”

     
    “As to the influence which the intellect of one man may have on that of another, it must necessarily be very limited in a country where the citizens, placed on an equal footing, are all closely seen by one another; and where, as no signs of incontestable greatness or superiority are perceived in any one of them, they are constantly brought back to their own reason as the most obvious and proximate source of truth. It is not only confidence in this or that man which is destroyed, but the disposition to trust the authority of any man whatsoever. Everyone shuts himself up tightly within himself and insists upon judging the world from there.”

  2. Grurray Says:

    “Imagine taking that attitude with your mechanic. (I would say “imagine taking that attitude with your doctor,” except people really do take that attitude with their doctors now.) Imagine you hear a rumble in your car, you go to the garage, and the mechanic says: “I think it’s the transmission.”
    .
    Bad analogy – transmission fluid changes are the biggest upcharge scams mechanics use to rip off customers.
    Better to find a way to work with all those unwashed, ignorant masses.
    Like Charles’ recent post on Levy walks: experts are great on the discipline and investigation part but the kings of the hills and lords of the valleys aren’t coming up with the creative leaps 

     

  3. seydlitz89 Says:

    Thanks zen-
    .
    Part II’s up . . .
    .
    http://milpubblog.blogspot.pt/2014/01/a-clausewitzian-view-of-current_6.html
     

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