A HipBone approach to analysis VII: world wide spiders & the web

[ by Charles Cameron ]

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I thought I’d back-track a little, and drag in two blog posts that I made elsewhere back in March of 2008, which may help to explain my basic outlook on the sorts of issues that analysts face.

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I. The version of the idea as poetry:

I am Charles

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My concern is the human mind in service

to an open heart, and my problem

is that the heart picks issues rich in ambiguity

and multiplicity of voices, tensions

and torsions tugging not one way but

in many directions, even dimensions, as does

a spider’s web weighed down with dew –

to clarify which a mind’s abacus is required

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equal in subtlety to subtlety itself, while

in all our thinking and talking, one

effect follows one cause from question

to conclusion down one sentence or white

paper — whereas in counterpoint,

Bach’s fugal voices contain their dissonance.

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II. The same idea presented in prose — as I say, a few years back — with graphical illustration:

Spiders and dewdrops

Spiders and dewdrops do a pretty convincing job of portraying a certain level of complexity in this node-and-edge diagram of the global situation.

spider_web.jpg

When, say, Castro hands over power to his brother, or Musharraf has to give up control of the Pakistani army, it’s like snipping a couple of threads in that spiders web — and the droplets fall this way and that, carom into one another, the fine threads they’re on swing down and around until a new equilibrium is reached…

But try thinking that through in terms of Cuba and Pakistan before breakfast one morning if you’re Secretary of State, with a linear Cold War mind, Russia going through its own changes, and al-Qaida and associates training and recruiting in the background…

Well, those two instances have been and gone, and the new configurations are now the tired old same old configurations we believe we’ve figured out — until another dewdrop slips, and a thread breaks, and all things are once again new…

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Funnily enough, I think this spider’s web of mine ties in with the Hokusai quote I posted in response to Zen‘s quote from Steven Pressfield yesterday, and with a piece I read today about intelligence analysts — Martin Petersen, What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence.

It’s the web of tensions that constitutes the “complexity” that must somehow be grasped by the analyst, the writer, the historian…

And Hokusai, watching across the years how grasses bend in the winds, reach for sunlight, bow under the weight of dew — and spring back when released — may finally have a mind that’s attuned to that kind of complexity — to a degree that linear thinking will never reach…

9 comments on this post.
  1. srv:

    As the deputy executive director at the CIA, I addressed each class of just-promoted CIA Senior Intelligence Service officers, and each time I asked for a show of hands of those who believed they would never see WMD used on US soil in their lifetimes. The question always startled them, and I never saw a single hand raised. 
    – Martin Petersen

    If they believe in that threat, and they don’t believe they can stop it, then WTF are they doing in that job?  The uselessness of this ‘service’ never fails to amaze me.


  2. Bryan Alexander:

    That’s a powerful link, Charles, between your Web and the Hokusai.

  3. Charles Cameron:

    Thanks, Bryan.  You’ve given me courage for a further post in the series…

  4. Joseph Fouche:

    Degree of concern with complexity is inversely proportional to the size of your hammer. To make a gross generality, the weak do what they must (with great concern for complexity) while the strong do what they can (with little concern for complexity). To make a grosser generality, the decadent are transfixed by complexity while the vigorous are oblivious to complexity. The Roman Republic rolled over its neighbors with only brief flickers of concern with complexity while the Byzantines transfigured caution to levels of soul-draining extremes. Simplicity marches with the big battalions.

  5. J. Scott:

    Mandelbrot noted the fractal nature of Hokusai.
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    @JF, I like your gross generalities.

  6. Charles Cameron:

    I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to "in the box/outside the box" as a fractal business recently, with boxes outside boxes outside boxes…
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    So one person’s "outside the box thinking" is another person’s "conventional creativity" to be discarded and transcended, etc.
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    This has implications (some of which, at least, I hope to spell out) for red teaming in the IC, for philanthropic decision-making, for education, for the sciences, for philosophy, for artists…

  7. Charles Cameron:

    M. Fouche:
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    I wield a very small hammer, but I hope to make a few cracks in the plaster…

  8. J. Scott:

    Charles, On this line, I’ve become attached to the notion that the ubiquitous box is a place where people and their thinking is held hostage to expectations (within, and especially without)—so I like the implications you describe.
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    Actually, I’m working on a service line based in part on this proposition. Many thanks!

  9. Joseph Fouche:

    Inspired by the pretentious little twit in The Matrix, I offer this variation: do not try to think outside the box — that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: there is no box. (Of course if that kid every found himself outside the Matrix, he’d quickly find himself hanging from a pole with an industrial strength wedgie. Sic semper nerd!