The Importance of a Daily Writing Practice

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When I first started listening to the FTGN Podcast, I kept getting tripped up on the quote that opens each episode.

How do I know what I think till I see what I say?

Wait, what?

But when you stop and think about it, it makes sense.

How do I know what I think… until I see what I say?

We often don’t know what the next word will be that comes out of our mouth, until it shows up.

The same goes for thoughts. They’re in there, swirling.

A recent episode with Susan Cain explored this, especially in the context of writing.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking  joins the show to discuss her latest book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. Joe and Susan talk about the power of harnessing our pain and struggles and turning them into creativity, connection, and transcendence. 

S2,Ep36: Susan Cain-Finding Strength in Pain, FTGN Podcast

Joe and Susan discuss the process of journaling and “expressive writing.” This is where you literally just sit and write, whatever is in there – let it come out.

I’ve been doing variations of this for years. Ten minutes in the morning. Just write.

Often, thoughts and ideas emerge that I wasn’t aware of. Often, these turn into tasks, projects, or activities.

Other times, it’s nothing.

And that’s okay. It’s a practice.


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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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What to read at ILE?

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A nice, short article over at SWJ that discusses the importance of self-development – specifically for SOF planners – as they move up the ranks.

Given the nature of the rapidly expanding challenges in the current near-term security environment, planners at all levels are challenged having timely access to traditional educational opportunities such as Command and General Staff College (CGSC) for individual or other collective joint training events. This requires a greater degree of continual individual initiated professional development. 

Greg E. Metzgar, PLANNING TO READ—READING TO PLAN: A PRIMER FOR SOF JOINT PLANNING DEVELOPMENT

From what I understand, there is some free time when one attends ILE. And I’ve heard lots of different pieces of advice.

I’ve heard that it’s important to ensure that you brush up on the basics of your branch. You’re expected to be a “master” at it when you return. And these might be skills that you haven’t touched for years.

I’ve also heard that it’s important to jump into big Army doctrine, and as the SWJ article says, joint doctrine.

I’ve also heard – depending on where you go – it’s an opportunity to explore something completely different.

You can’t do it all.

So what’s the right approach?


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(More) Social Sciences as Sorcery – grandma’s wisdom

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Most social science takes the long road to tell you what your grandmother told you when you were a kid.

“…as when, after wading through mounds of tables and formulae, we come to the general finding (expressed, of course, in the most abstruse manner possible) that people enjoy being in the centre of attention, or that they are influenced by those with whom they associate… which I can well believe, as my grandmother told me that many times when I was a child.”

Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

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Social Sciences as Sorcery

Many years ago someone recommended that I find an old book titled “Social Sciences as Sorcery.” I was in a seminar, and the speaker was (and still is) a revered thought leader on the topic of counter-insurgency.

I was asking lots of challenging questions, poking holes in some of the assumptions and assertions that underpin COIN, and there just wasn’t enough time to address them all.

“Find Social Sciences as Sorcery,” he said.

And so I did. 

This was well over a decade ago. And the book itself was published in 1972.

I found a copy and read it.

Well, actually, I read part of it. The subject matter is dense. It’s not an easy read. You have to focus.

I recently came back to it, and I’m glad I did. 

The thesis, at its core, is that understanding the human dimension – the mind, psychology, complex social interactions, etc. – is incredibly difficult. So much so to be nearly impossible. 

How do you understand the mind of another with your own mind? 

No one said it was going to be easy, but because it is precisely so difficult, and because so many of our problems seemingly call for a “social” solution, this opens the door for social scientists to offer solutions. 

Unfortunately, most of this is just sorcery.

Hucksterism.

The author, Stanislav Andreski writes:

“The easiest way out is always not to unduly worry about the truth, and tell people what they want to hear, while the secret of success is to be able to guess what it is they want to hear at the given time and place.”

The “truth,” when it comes to complex social dynamics and psychology, is that we usually don’t know the answer. 

So then, why wager a guess?

Because there is always someone out there who is hoping you might be right. This person is desperate for a solution.

And there is always someone out there ready to cash in on that hope.

There were a bunch of tweets going around recently quoting this line from Stanley McChrystal:

“Implementing an effective counter-insurgency requires ‘a level of local knowledge that I don’t have about my own hometown.'”

I disagree. 

Do you really think if we just had that one expert sitting in the room who could tell us what to do and what to say and what image to put in the tweet, we could turn this whole thing around?

I don’t.

Related: How important is culture training, anyway?


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