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Metacognition and War

A nice piece by Diana Wueger at Gunpowder & Lead:

Thinking About Thinking About War 

….Reading the heated op-eds about the necessity of war with Iran and/or Syria, it strikes me that they’re nothing new. The strange overconfidence on display in the 1910s – that war would be quick, easy, and end favorably – was echoed in the run up to Iraq and is being rehashed today. This reminded me of theRubicon Theory of War, a barely-noted article from last summer’s issue of International Security that offers valuable food for thought, particularly for those charged with thinking or writing about war. The authors address the overconfidence conundrum, namely, that people who should know better than to think war will be quick and easy often act like this is their first rodeo. The authors conclude:

When people believe they have crossed a psychological Rubicon and perceive war to be imminent, they switch from what psychologists call a “deliberative” to an “implemental” mind-set, triggering a number of psychological biases, most notably overconfidence. These biases can cause an increase in aggressive or risky military planning. Furthermore, if actors believe that war is imminent when it is not in fact certain to occur, the switch to implemental mind-sets can be a causal factor in the outbreak of war, by raising the perceived probability of military victory and encouraging hawkish and provocative policies.

Their research suggests humans are only rational actors until we make a decision – cross the Rubicon – at which point our mental apparatus will go through whatever logical leaps necessary to avoid questioning that decision. The authors frame this idea in terms of mind-sets – deliberative vs. implemental – to account for the full range of attendant biases, which they’ve laid out in a helpful table….

7 Responses to “Metacognition and War”

  1. Critt Jarvis Says:

    As the escalation of violence in war has no rational stopping point, beware stopping points in the discourse of war. Public and private transcript, probably a good idea to filter forward to your networks this post and The Rubicon of War.

  2. Duncna Kinder Says:

    This suggests a breakdown in the OODA loop.   Essentially, after having decided to act, one’s ability further to observe and to orient becomes impaired.
    In many traditional societies, this problem was addressed by a priesthood, which was removed from implementing war.  This priesthood maintained the capacity to continue with the “OO” part of the loops after the warrior caste had proceeded with the “DA.”

  3. Lynn Wheeler Says:

    A variation is MICC state-of-mind for “perpetual war” & “continuous conflict” as motivation for maintaining the flow of funds: The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Very interesting perspective, Duncan — thus Brahmins contemplate, Kshatriyas act…
    I’d been thinking about the whole notion of contemplation and action w.r.t the OODA loop myself recently, but dividing the functions as specialties throws a whole new light on the matter…

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Zen:
    I’ve been very impressed with that piece by Diana Wuenger too, and quoted it in my comment to Dave S a day or three back. 
    I’m wondering how closely “deliberative” and “implemental” mindsets map to Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow

  6. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Interesting, this is. To me, it’s less an issue of the societal OODA loop, and more of a generational issue.
    My military career began almost a decade ago. The professionals who have experienced the 10 years of wars probably cannot be described as warmongering folks. We approach these tasks now with a great sense of war-weariness. Do I want to fight? Yes. But do I have grave concerns about the future of our country, and the mire we’re in? Yes, even more so. I have grave misgivings about the strategic leadership caste, especially.
    At the same time, our foreign policy-defense apparatus is still being commanded by baby-boomer types, the most irresponsible generation in American history. These boomers, in large part, have not felt the grievous loss of war, nor have they felt any of the economic costs. War, for them, is their bidding, but is somebody else’s task. When did the Baby Boomers cross the Rubicon? Many, many, many years ago. Probably about 1990 or so, just following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
    (I also think it interesting that whatever Pyhrric victory is scraped from Iraq is not the result of any Baby Boomer type (save for perhaps Robert Gates), but rather it’s the result of Gen-X folks working the problems and forcing the issues up the chain of command, rather than Baby Boomers working down the chain.)
    And no, I think it not hyperbole to describe the Baby Boomers and the most irresponsible generation in American history.

  7. zen Says:

    Lynn – thx – I will pick up Spinney for the next Rec Reading post
    Nate – I am in total agreement. Also find it terribly depressing. The latests Stratfor docs at Wikileaks are going to show a financial system deeply enmeshed in global criminality and corruption that are going to strike close to the beltway

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