Hyper Active Chaos

joe haldeman the forever war cover

I don’t have much to say here, other than this is a term I’m starting to see slowly seep into discussions, usually relating to large-scale combat operations (LSCO).

Maybe it will show up in doctrine at some point.

The only place I’ve found it in the wild is here (page 27).

I’m still not sure what hyper-active chaos is, though.

If you’ve got an inkling of where this comes from, please let me know.

It sounds nauseating.


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Social Sciences as Sorcery (Complete)

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All of the excerpts from the Social Sciences as Sorcery series.

#1 – Social Sciences as Sorcery – Introduction post.

#2 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – On the manipulation of crowds.

#3 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – Jargon and frameworks.

#4 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – The pseudoscience of counting.

#5 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – Grandma’s wisdom.

#6 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – The gravest kind of danger.

#7 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – Do it with math.

#8 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – On ideology.

#9 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – On socialization.

#10 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – Vague associations.

#11 – (More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – The Americans.


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Ideology is the science of idiots

Maybe you’ve seen a variation of this meme.

Well, that’s not what he said.

But maybe it’s what he meant?

3. Vols of Idiology!” Pray explain to me this Neological Title! What does it mean? When Bonaparte used it, I was delighted with it, upon the Common Principle of delight in every Thing We cannot understand. Does it mean Idiotism? The Science of Non compos menticism. The Science of Lunacy? The Theory of Delirium? Or does it mean the Science of Self Love? of Amour propre? or the Elements of Vanity?

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 16 December 1816

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A Blue-Collar Approach to Assessments

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If you’ve been here a while, you know how I feel about assessments and measurements. If you haven’t, you can go through the social sciences as sorcery posts.

But, simply stated, I think that our hyper-focus on assessments and our obsession with metrics hinders us.

Early this summer, I wrote about the ‘dysfunctional consequences’ of measurements (originally in the newsletter), and a friend of the blog recommended this article – A Blue-Collar Approach to Operational Analysis: A Special Operations Case Study (NDU Press).

The article discusses how the authors ditched traditional assessment methods in favor of a different approach.

That, by itself, is brave.

We say we want to be innovative, but we often roll our eyes or dismiss new ideas. Especially when it comes to assessments and measurements.

The article is worth reading in its entirety by anyone interested in the topic, but I’ve excerpted some particularly interesting points below.

On how they did it before – no surprise here, always with math.

We compounded these mistakes by quantifying and aggregating everything through a complicated system of questionable mathematical models.

The new method – ditch the MOPs and MOEs and go for RoI (Return on Investment).

In late 2015, we scrapped our existing methods and charted a new path. We stopped adhering to common practices, including the strict mechanical process rooted in MOEs and MOPs. Instead, we developed what we view as a “blue-collar business case” analysis focused on measuring and articulating SOCCENT return on investment (RoI) to resources in areas of operation (AOR).

When there isn’t a clear requirement (ie: sell more widgets), measuring returns is difficult. So how do you do it? Well, this does require a little sorcery, unfortunately.

In the financial world, the requirement is clear: apply human and physical capital to generate a profit, and measuring returns is a simple accounting drill. In organizations not driven by profit, such as the military or other public-sector entities, measuring and articulating RoI is more challenging. For example, no commonly agreed-upon method exists for measuring and comparing investments and returns between training a partner SOF unit, conducting a key leader engagement with partner special force commander, or exploiting the information environment to degrade support for violent extremist organizations.

I liked their deliverables: desired returns and actual returns.

  • Desired returns: Objectives in regional plans, or the state of the operational environment that SOCCENT expected to materialize by applying SOF resources to them.
  • Actual returns: The observable impact SOF resources—through the execution of operations, actions, and activities (OAAs)—had on objectives

On the importance of going to the source to collect data, as opposed to relying on passive collection streams. Related here, is the concept of doing things in person, as opposed to via email or over the phone.

To overcome this plight, we physically went to the source of the data. 

On resisting the urge to turn everything into data. This is important. Saying things with stories and pictures is way more effective than bludgeoning with data.

After we collected, validated, and adjudicated the data, we did not aggregate the results. We kept our sleeves rolled up and wrote nuanced, qualitative descriptions of progress and gaps at the effect and IMO levels.

And finally:

Instead of stating we were yellow on a scale of red to green, we found that a narrative focused on successes and gaps in the context of each objective was the most effective form of articulating RoI. 

A good paper. And while this is geared towards operational assessment, it has application in other domains.

But, there is still work to do.


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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – the Americans

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It’s always the Americans, isn’t it?

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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – vague associations

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Related: the weaponization of benign information.

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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – on socialization

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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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – on ideology

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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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – do it with math

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Give ’em the ‘ol razzle dazzle.

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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – “the gravest kind of danger”

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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.

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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