Thus in practical activities the American love for novelty and their lack of circumspection has led to great achievements which are too well known to call for enumeration. In contrast, dire results have ensued from the operation of the same bias in domains where there are no immanent mechanisms for eliminating error: where correctness and falsehood are normally a matter of degree, and truth can be only partially gleaned by a laborious crawl over dangerous ground between attractively camouflaged traps, and where every step calls for a suspicious examination and often a suspended judgment; and to top it all, where excessive incredulity can be just as misleading as gullibility.
No wonder then that in the social sciences the Americans have tended to throw themselves with a tremendous energy into one silly craze after another, hailing every pretentious gimmick as an epoch-making ‘break-through’ and then employing their power and wealth to foist their manias upon the rest of the world.
Even the new mood of dillusion with the status quo constitutes no exception to this rule, as it amounts to a swing from a gullible admiration to an equally uncritical denigration.
On the other hand, the advertisers have amply demonstrated that you can influence people’s attitudes much more effectively by playing on vague associations of images than by sober logical arguments. The futility of the latter as a method of swaying the masses had already been recognized by Aristotle in his Rhetoric.
I remember in high school, if you wanted to weasel out of a question in a social science class, you just had to say “I think it has a lot to do with society, you know what I mean?”
One can hardly remain in the company of a psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, politologist or educationalist for more than a few minutes without hearing many times the word ‘socialization’. Now, this relatively recent fashion does not result from the emergence of a new idea which ‘socialization’ connotes, because (apart from mental defectives and children everybody knows that an individual’s character is formed by the environment in which he lives, and which gives him his language, skills, tastes and morals. The word ‘education’ used to be employed in such a wide sense; and when Durkheim (to quote one of the innumerable available examples) wrote about ‘éducation morale’ he did not confine himself to formal lessons in schools.
Military training manuals have always been full of counsels on how to maintain morale and to inculcate the soldierly virtues.
Nor could the psychologists and sociologists be credited with having discovered the less conspicuous and formal determinants of character such as the influence of companions (now scientifically renamed ‘peers’), because this has always been common knowledge among teachers and mothers concerned about the company their children keep.
Illiterate peasants have many apt proverbs to illustrate this piece of folk wisdom. Nor has this process only recently become a subject for learned disquisitions, as Plato has a great deal to say about it.
This is a beautifully constructed argument on ideology.
Among the many words which have suffered this fate, ‘ideology’ has received more than its share of propagandist twisting, whether of a deliberate or a semi-conscious kind. Having been coined with pejorative intent at the beginning of the last century, it has continued to carry imputations of at least partial falsehood. Abstracting from ulterior motives, it is not too difficult to arrive at an ethically neutral conception of ‘ideology’, defining it as a set of beliefs about facts, causal relations and values in human affairs, which support one another either through logic or the affinity of the sentiments inspired by them, and at least some of which are either unverified, or unverifiable, or false in the light of reason.
To me it is as certain as anything can be in the study of human conduct that every social system supports and is supported by an ideology in this sense – which may be benign or wicked, fairly honest or outrightly mendacious … but that is another issue.
However, since few people will admit that their ideals might rest upon unproven or unprovable or even disproved assumptions, they will resist any definition of “ideology’ which would extend to their cherished beliefs the insinuations of untruth which the word carries.
As, on the other hand, they are only too ready to regard what their opponents believe as a pack of vicious lies, they will welcome a definition of ideology which will cover the beliefs of their enemies while excluding their own.
During his stay at the court of Catherine II of Russia, great Swiss mathematician Euler got into an argument about the existence of God. To defeat the voltairians in the battle of wits, the great mathematician asked for a blackboard which he wrote:
‘(× + y)² = x² + 2xy + y² therefore God exists’
Unable to dispute the relevance of the formula which they did not understand, and unwilling to confess their ignorance, the literati accepted his argument.
He’s talking about the recent shift to all things data, all things analytics, and how that may be a trap. Fans of the blog will know that I’ve become increasingly skeptical of anyone claiming to have the answers, especially the answers to complex social phenomena.
Specifically, he references the book “The Eye Test,” which I haven’t read, but is now on the list.
Second, this leadership maxim that ends the episode: 4+1 – the four things leaders do and the one thing to keep in mind.
Allocate resources – “There’s never enough radios for the number of people that need a radio.”
Provide commander’s guidance – “Guidance gives us left and right limits.”
Report to higher – “Reporting to higher creates freedom of maneuver for subordinates.”
Keep higher out of your business – “If we’re on line with the first three, higher will stay out of your business.”
And the plus 1?
Maintain relationships outside of the military.
Staying inside the bubble can get real toxic real quick.
The episode concludes with a powerful anecdote that illustrates this. And if you have been in the military for any period of time, it will resonate.
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One must take into account the “mental factors.” Better yet, engage in a little empathy and consider how things might look from the other side.
The gravest kind of danger stems from the illusion that, because certain kinds of data can be quantified and processed by a computer, therefore they must be more important than those which cannot be measured.
It appears that an error of this sort lay at the root of the decision to send the American troops to Vietnam: the quantities of weapons, numbers of soldiers and means of transport were, no doubt, carefully calculated without taking into account the mental factors; although a bit of ability to put oneself into other people’s shoes and a wider acquaintance with history could have helped the decision-makers to imagine what might be a popular reaction to a massive influx of tactless, self-indulgent and fabulously paid soldiers of strikingly different physique and with manners extremely repugnant to the natives.
What’s one thing that has an outsize effect on influence and emotion but doesn’t get the respect it deserves, especially in the security space?
Fascinating episode of the Cognitive Crucible:
During this episode, US Army Sergeant Major Denver Dill discusses how music and the arts can be used as tools of influence. Our wide ranging conversation covers the role of music in military operations to the theme park experience to movies to sports.
In the episode, they discuss the role music can play in influence, especially on the active battlefield. As an example, they mention the use of bagpipes as a tool of intimidation. The ominous and unsettling sound of bagpipes was used to confuse and strike fear in enemy troops.
More examples where you can see music at work – in this case, to increase anxiety – are the films of Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Inception). Here is a good write-up about the “Shepard tone” which is deployed effectively in those films.
Shepard tone, huh?
This is an area that needs a lot more research.
What other ways can sound and music be applied to the modern battlefield?
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