Breaking in Combat

John Spencer is having a moment.

I’ve always enjoyed his takes, mostly because the senior NCO always shines through. It’s a rare thing these days and I appreciate it.

He was recently on Mike Burke’s Always in Pursuit where they discusses John’s book, his experiences in combat, and Ukraine.

One thing that struck me was an extended discussion on the concept of “breaking” in combat. John recounts an episode in his experience where a senior NCO in his unit basically checks out. Still deployed, but didn’t do much.

Many of us who have served saw this, or a version of this.

We talk a lot about mental health now, and trying to get people the help that they need when they come home (or even when deployed). But we don’t really discuss the psychological aspects of combat and what happens to soldiers when they are overcome by fear – which is something you would expect to happen on the battlefield. It’s combat, after all.

There are still lots of folks in our ranks who have experienced combat and have seen this in action. But those ranks are thinning every day.

Something to think about.


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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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The First Thing They Hear

Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

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Flow

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I read Flow years ago. If you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of the concept.

And if you haven’t heard of the concept, you’ve probably experienced it.

What is “flow?”

Flow denotes the wholistic sensation present when we act with total involvement. It is the kind of feeling after which one nostalgically says: “that was fun”; or “that was enjoyable”; It is the state in which action follows upon action according to an internal logic which seems to need no conscious intervention on our part. We experience it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.

Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975)

A recent episode of Very Bad Wizards examined the article that initially discussed the concept, titled Play and Intrinsic Rewards (1975).

If the idea is completely alien, it is worth reading the article, and maybe the book. Once you understand the concept of flow, it becomes clear that if you want to get anything done, you need to be able to focus your time and attention. Blocking out your time becomes essential.

But there was something else I took away from the episode and reading the article. It’s the way that the research was conducted. It’s not overly quantitative. It’s not sorcery.

We started our study by talking to a variety of people who have invested a great deal of time and energy in play activities.

After these pilot talks, a standard interview and questionnaire form was developed and administered to 30 rock climbers, 30 basketball players, 30 modern dancers, 30 male chess players, 25 female chess players, and 30 composers of modern music.

Today, this type of study would likely be deemed too simplistic.

But if the results are legit, then who cares?

The best ideas come from old books.


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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt

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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt. AKA, “FUD.”

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (often shortened to FUD) is a propaganda tactic used in sales, marketingpublic relations, politics, polling and cults. FUD is generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information and a manifestation of the appeal to fear.

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt, Wikipedia

Discussed during a recent VBW episode (EPISODE 238: I AM NOT IVAN ILYICH…AM I?)

There’s also a fantastic reference to this essay, of a woman who survived an attack by an alligator. It’s short, and worth reading in its entirety.

Below, a couple of excerpts.

On the “glow” that lasts for a time after surviving a near-death.

The wonder of being alive after being held – quite literally in the jaws of death has never entirely left me. For the first year, the experience of existence as an unexpected blessing cast a golden glow over my life, despite the injuries and the pain. The glow has slowly faded, but some of that new gratitude for life endures, even if I remain unsure whom I should thank. The gift of gratitude came from the searing flash of near-death knowledge, a glimpse “from the outside” of the alien, incomprehensible world in which the narrative of self has ended.

And on becoming a “mere piece of meat.”

Before the encounter, it was as if I saw the whole universe as framed by my own narrative, as though the two were joined perfectly and seamlessly together. As my own narrative and the larger story were ripped apart, I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me, I’m a human being, I am more than just food!’ was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat. 


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A ‘crystal ball’ for info warfare

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Two short articles I came across recently.

The first: Google exec to UN: Ukraine ‘a crystal ball’ for info warfare

“States must find a way to turn the volume down and settle on some kind of deterrence doctrine for the cyber domain,” Jared Cohen said at a council meeting on hate speech, incitement and atrocities in Ukraine. 

He argued that while tech companies have needed expertise, “there is no magical algorithm or single fix for this,” and finding a solution will take a lot of experimentation.

And then, later in the article:

A recent report from Mandiant, a cyber security firm, found that Russia used disinformation, fear and propaganda to demoralize Ukraine and divide its allies.

“Hate speech can also be a war crime,” British deputy U.N. Ambassador James Kariuki said Tuesday, calling on Russia to “stop making such statements.”

And then this: Why We Fall for Disinformation

A good primer on the psychology that underpins the effectiveness of propaganda.

Here’s the offered solution:

Our analysis, suggests another path that merits additional attention: empowering individual citizens to reject the disinformation that they will inevitably encounter. Our work outlines two promising categories of techniques in this vein. One is to provide preventive inoculation, such as warning people about the effects of disinformation and how to spot it. The other is to encourage deeper, analytical thinking. These two techniques can be woven into training and awareness campaigns that would not necessarily require the cooperation of social media platforms.

I don’t think the above is wrong, but I have little confidence that this can be accomplished quickly. Critical thinking skills take years to develop. And one of the chief problems here is that everyone thinks they have those skills and they can see clearly. It’s those “other” guys who are being duped.

We’ve been hunting for a solution to this for a long time.


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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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