Security Ecology IFF Immune Ontology

Adaptive Cognitive Reconstruction/Deconstruction


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Security Ecology of Mind

Security Ecology is the notion that security -- i.e, safety against (1) malevolent "external" forces, (2) dangerous "environmental" situations, and (3) harmful "internal" influences -- is a very complex thing.   In contrast, the mental models and verbal language used by most people dangerously oversimplify the concept of security.

This site's purpose is educational:   to show how (and to warn that) our ways of seeing, "ways of knowing" and ways of speaking -- our own Epistemology -- tends to become a significant security threat in itself -- because the chaos of Reality tends to diverge from our discrete categories and orderly Representations.

Two common examples of dangerously oversimplified Security Models are the notion of disease in the human body, and the notion of military conflict, as simple matters of 2 clearly-defined things in opposition -- the "Human Body" vs. "Germs", and "Redcoats" vs. "Bluecoats".   Each model is based on an implicit (unexamined) assumption that the task of "I:F.F." -- Identification: Friend or Foe -- is not a problematic issue.   These (monotonic) conceptual models also assume that I:F.F. has a permanent solution -- i.e, they assume that Friends never become Foes, and Foes never become Friends.

Yet the human body is "infiltrated" by 10 times as many "germs" -- microbial cells -- as human cells.   [See Science News 171.20 (May 19, 2007): 314(3). "Our Microbes, Ourselves: How Bacterial Communities in the Body Influence Human Health."]   The human body, itself, is a complex ecosystem -- a composite organism. Not all "foreign" cells are dangerous. Indeed, many "foreign" cells are nearly essential for proper human metabolism. (Mitochondria are former "foreign" symbiotes that our cells have "captured and enslaved". Their loss now would be fatal for all human life.)   Hence, microbiologists say, we humans need to, "have a broader view of ourselves as a life form -- as a composite of different species".

In post-9/11 American society, it should now be obvious that "enemy soldiers" don't necessarily announce their allegiance via explicit uniforms. Yet many Americans simplistically identify an "Islamic phenotype" with a "Terrorist genotype". This neglects complex I:F.F. issues of false positives and false negatives; confuses symptoms, causes, and correlations; and leads to abusive security operations (surveillance, infiltration, searches, and stings) that can turn Friends into Foes.

Individual Minds in a Risk-shifting Social Epistemology Mind-field

"We" can be infiltrated by "Them", and one's physical "Self" is a composite with "Others".   Even more important, the "individual mind" is a composite.   The conceptual Security Model of "my mind" as privately-controlled human terrain -- protected "inside my own head" -- is dangerously misleading:   Individual thinking and sensemaking in complex modern environments is inter-dependent -- profoundly influenced by techno-mediated reflexes, and by the networked social psychology matrix.

Organizational psychologist Karl Weick says that "mind" and "thinking" have necessarily become more distributed and socially-networked, because making sense of the modern world of technological infrastructures is, "too complex these days for individual minds to comprehend. "I don't think the mind is located inside a single head, anyway."

Our simplistic conceptual models perpetuate the comforting -- but dangerous -- myth that we think independently. Yet individual "internal minds" are diverted and subverted, by programming "external" technologies, and by manipulating "external" social embeddings.   Individuals are vulnerable to cultural drift and group-think shifts, because we are cognitively- and emotionally-anchored primarily to "Social Reality" -- which insulates us (temporarily) from adapting to the chaos flux of "REAL Reality".

Together, we construct "Epistemic Bubbles" -- via our specialized occupational roles, our subcultures, and cultures -- that reflect our simplified Social Reality narratives.   Our Epistemic Bubble filters then refract and abstract the inconvenient complexity of Real Reality, to obscure or downplay potential or actual contradictions. (When we negotiate short-term tactical goals/alliances, we defer -- or agree to plausibly deny -- long-term strategic contradictions.)

The term, "Epistemic Bubble" is unfairly pejorative: Although it is wise to consider the risks from "unknown unknowns", we cannot know how over-inflated any Ontological Frame is, until its picture crashes against the chaos surface of Real Reality.   "Epistemic agility" means being mindful that the "ground truth" of our Procrustean bedrock Categories is illusory -- Epistemology is but symbols painted on Social sails.   (Sea shipwreck as falsification ;-)

Emotionally, everyone needs some sense of Identity and Ontological Stability -- some relatively constant Cultural Fulcrum -- to anchor our cognitive frame. Hence, it is a "necessary illusion" that Social Norms reflect a generally stable epistemic bubble of "Social Reality". They refract "Real Reality" as needed to support that Illusion. The "Individual mind" is embedded in Social Institutions that are "Epistemic Equilibria".

Example:   The concept of "Liberal" -- like that of "Conservative" -- is, itself, a dynamically-changing Epistemic Equilibrium. The stability (relative to "Social Reality") of each polarized subculture is maintained partly by Ontological Herding -- driven by high-status Epistemic Authorities who exercise ontological "selection bias" by ignoring, downplaying, or denying "new facts" that threaten the old equilibrium. If and when newly "inconvenient truths" in "Real Reality" must be openly acknowledged, then the Ontological Herd is driven to graze contentedly at a new Epistemic Equilibrium pasture, where all those "inconvenient truths" can be explained as the result of "Enemy Action" -- i.e, caused by the opposing ideological camp.

In 1947 Jean-Paul Sartre described a "crisis of language", driven partly by elites who change the meaning of words, to manipulate the public for their political advantage:
"Each party shoves [words] forward like Trojan horses, and we let them enter because they make the nineteenth-century meaning of the words shine before us. Once they are in place, they open up, and strange, astounding meanings spread out within us like armies; the fortress is taken before we are on guard."
Have the new meanings of both "Liberal" and "Conservative" become so mal-adapted to "Real Reality" as to constitute suicidal social insanity -- a Mutually Attractive Delusion (MAD)? This concept threatens the stability of both epistemic herds -- and the power of the respective herd leaders -- hence it is the most Inconvenient Truth of all!

Although America's peculiar Liberal / Conservative epistemic polarization has become a bona-fide Cultural Pathology, one bad example does not negate other Social Epistemology benefits of having Mind distributed between the Individual and the Social Institutions. Indeed, much of our evolutionary epistemology may be inchoate, implicit, or "better than conscious".

(Magnani and Bertolotti conveniently accept a narrowly flawed hermeneutic interpretation of Charles Sanders Peirce. But Peirce did not subscribe to the modern cognition-emotion schism. Peirce vehemently rejected the possibility of Cartesian introspection, and he also rejected the Individual Mind as privately-controlled human terrain. In 1901, Peirce wrote: "We are thinking beings ... the home where we already find ourselves ... is not inside our skulls, either, but out in the open." -- i.e, in inter-subjective territory.     Indeed, in opposition to William James, Peirce "came to regard ethics and esthetics as epistemically more fundamental than logic."     Long before Alasdair MacIntyre's "Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry", Peirce wrote, "logic ... must begin in emotion."     Bottom Line:   Magnani's newly-coined term of "Cognitive Bubbles" -- in the context of Social Epistemology, and their not-coined term of "Emotional Ontology" [to explicate Peirce's notion of "Emotional Interpretants"] -- is but a welcome and long-overdue popularization of Peirce's thought. See: Peirce on the Passions: The Role of Instinct, Emotion, and Sentiment in Inquiry and Action". )

Epistemic Empire Projects Powerful Delusions

How are distributed Minds structured, and how do their components communicate?   More importantly, what biases are pathologically amplified ("Madness of Crowds") or therapeutically reduced (crowd-sourcing the "Wisdom of Crowds")?   Which epistemic interests and "Ways of Knowing" are favored -- even though Reality may have diverged from our Representations?   In a 1943 speech at Harvard (advocating a UK-USA campaign to promote Basic English throughout the world), Winston Churchill asserted,

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind".

In 1977, historian Henry Steele Commager proclaimed America, "The Empire of Reason" -- the realization of the Enlightenment project to re-channel human thinking, and thereby construct Francis Bacon's invention of the idea of Progress via Knowledge.   In 2008, America's (classified) National Defense Intelligence College openly published, Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire.   The cover's description is accurate:  

This book explores the limits of institutional knowledge.
What does an empire know and how does it know it?
How does its own culture, general or bureaucratic, shape the information it receives and its ability to "process" information?

But "Remapping the Mind of Empire" is too important a job, to be limited to professional specialists in Intelligence agencies.   Indeed, our American Epistemic Empire has been sucked through our own Looking Glass Bubble:   We indulge in comforting fantasies of control, rather than critiquing optical-path flaws in the narcissistic Social-Media technoculture kaleidoscopes that project our stained old American Exceptionalist Manifest-Destiny PowerPoint image onto multi-dimensional Worlds, whose ramifying Political-Economic security feedbacks (e.g, China owning over $1 Trillion of US government debt), neither Hubble nor Eddington could imagine.

Via our Epistemic Bubbles, we are entangled in more than we can know. And our "Ways of Knowing" change those entanglements. Eight years have passed since this famous 2004 quote:   "We're an Empire now, and when we act, we create our own Reality." Yet neither so-called liberals nor conservatives can grasp the power -- or the IED security-vulnerability risk -- of our entanglements in Epistemic Empire.

(In "An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets", Donald MacKenzie described how Individuals and Institutions tend to cluster around a plausible epistemic model. This "reflexivity" amplifies and solidifies the model's Social Reality descriptions -- turning its predictions into Real Reality prescriptions. A similar, but more powerful, epistemic feedback process entangles those who adapt to an Epistemic Empire (whether in supporting, parasitic, or opposing roles).   Thomas Fingar, former chair of America's National Intelligence Council, recognized the Real Reality prescriptive Power of an Epistemic Empire's Social Reality description:  
"perceived reality may be more important than reality itself, because many [foreign policy] players will act on the 'reality' we captured in Global Trends 2025.")

As "irrationally-exuberant" Epistemic Bubbles burst -- ejecting us from our comfortable Military Power-point fantasies of Mideast mastery, and our Economic Ponzi-tron fantasies of debt-fueled perpetual money machines -- it's worth recalling what Charles MacKay wrote in his 1841 book, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds":  

Keep up with the Jones Herd-Mentality!  Imitate what works.  Think like the In-Group!
0% APR !!!
Reinflate that credit bubble?  Let it die?  Suburban rubble.
Cash-out Refinance!

"How imitative ... men are · · · Men ... think in herds; ... they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."   The alleged "rationality" of modern organizations has not prevented what MacKay called "epidemics" of "delusions".

Instead, modern neuroscience offers biological support for MacKay's prediction that: "The present [1841 book] may be considered ... a chapter only in the great and awful book of human folly which yet remains to be written."   Indeed, modern civilization is now globally vulnerable to "IEDs" -- Induced Epistemic Delusions/Disasters.

The modern individual's composite mind has "internal-Self" linkages that ramify throughout "external-Other" social and technological Infrastructures. These extended "semantic supply lines" are vulnerable to infection and disruption -- they are continually "upgraded" by "Friends", and sabotaged by Foes.   Thus, referential integrity is easily destabilized in modern mediated environments -- aggravating the mismatch between "Rational" Representations and Reality.   "Epidemics" of risk-shifting epistemic "delusions" spread -- because The Mind Has No Firewall.   Hence these IEDs can "precipitate a collapse of sensemaking in organizations".

Likewise, an Opponent is also a composite "They", which can be divided and deconstructed by analyzing and exploiting its "internal" links and divisions. Applying leverage to wedge fissures and linkages works whether the opponent is an Individual, an Organization, or a Cultural (counter)-Insurgency. Caveat -- epistemic deconstruction does not respect the neat ontological boundaries of our own Identities and Representations.

Adaptive Immune Ontologies vs. Simplistic Monotonic Mental Models

Any model must be a simplified abstraction of Reality. But we tend to use dangerously simplistic mental models, that are biased in particular ways:   We may be dangerously over-optimistic -- and view the Opponent as vulnerable to internal divisions, while we deny that differing Motivations arise from differing Organizational Perceptions inside "Us".   Conversely, our simplified mental models of "Us" may be overly-pessimistic -- e.g, the CIA may offer only limited and grudging cooperation with the DIA, because historic "Organizational Turf Wars" created a monotonic I:F.F model of permanent Foes, vs. potential Friends.

"IFF" also symbolizes the logician's biconditional. So, yes, I am explicitly claiming that genuine Security is only well-defined, meaningful, and achievable as Security Ecology -- which occurs IF AND ONLY IF Immune Ontology is well-defined, meaningful, and achievable.

An Ontology is a perceptual and conceptual parsing of Chaotic Continuous Reality into Orderly Discrete Representations. And since Reality constantly changes, our "I:F.F." -- Identification: Friend or Foe -- Immune Ontology cannot be monotonic. Our Ontology must constantly adapt:   The very notion of Identity changes -- what does it mean to be "Us"?   Versus what (evolving) criteria reveal that former parts of "Us" are now "Double Agents" -- acting as parts of "Them"?

(In his "Annual Threat Assessment", the Director of National Intelligence estimated that: "Botnets -- networks of hijacked computers used to · · · launch · · · attacks -- compose 15 percent of all online computers."   Has your own PC changed its Identity: Friend or Foe? Does your Immune Ontology have a "way of knowing", whether "You" are now acting as a Risk-shifting Double Agent on behalf of "Them"?)

Hence I reiterate the important point:   Our own Procrustean epistemology tends to become a significant security threat in itself -- because Reality tends to diverge from our Representations of it   (even if opponents do not wage intentional InfoWar).

A popular, well-written computer security primer emphasizes that our "mental models ... habitual and unconscious ways of thinking" and unexamined worldviews are conceptual blind spots that will be exploited by opponents . . . unless our own incompetence kills us first. [See Framing the Corporate Security Problem: The Ecology of Security.]

An ongoing cause of the Afghanistan debacle is an I:F.F. conceptual blind spot in the worldview of the Pentagon and the U.S. State Dept. -- the failure to question or challenge the "Westphalian nationhood" mental model -- which insists that although Afghan Identity can change, it always requires a "sovereign, national government" as a mouthpiece, i.e, Karzai. But evidence (e.g, official corruption as a large percentage of Afghan GDP) indicates that Karzai's organization may be as much a Foe (to the interests of the American and the Afghan people) as the Taliban.

I examine conflict and cooperation scenarios in Military, Law Enforcement, and Biological affairs, as concrete examples that illustrate principles of Security Ecology. These case studies show how disasters occur, when we use simplistic large-granularity I:F.F mental models -- Monolithic or Monotonic Identities -- to represent large abstract entities like Nations, Governments, Militaries, and Species.

Infected Infrastructures -- Technological, Economic, and Ethical

But the most important arenas for Security Ecology involve abstract entities, composed of small-granularity mosaics:   Our greatest vulnerabilities are epistemic blind spots -- IED social mind-fields -- buried in the Economic, Technological, and Ethical realms.

Because when human Power Relations are embedded in Infrastructure, they operate automatically and invisibly -- as "legitimate" parts of our Cultural Environment -- and this camouflage blends them into the background of "natural laws" governing Reality.

"The automobile is an ideology on four wheels.
  The Russians will never be the same again."

Security Ecology recognizes that persistent social conflicts undergo covert escalation -- to tilt "background" Environments (resource-wars, Enclosure Movements, toxic and GMO pollution), and occupy "neutral" Infrastructures (cyber-wars, judicial wars, school textbook wars).   Therefore, our Immune Ontology must constantly adapt:   We must periodically examine and challenge risky value shifts and ethic drifts, that can embed in our Technological and Economic "background culture". We are vulnerable at many levels of granularity, so we must maintain vigilance, and continually ask, "I:F.F. -- Infrastructure: Friend or Foe?"

The 9/11 attacks -- Friendly civilian airliners morphing into Foe's military missiles -- introduced more Americans to the concept of "Dual-use Technologies". This clashing cognitive dissonance between friendly Representations and hostile Reality showed the dangers of simplistic mental models. It induced more nodes in the social mind-field to adapt their Immune Ontology -- to recognize that purported "Technological Progress" is not a monolithic and monotonic Ethical Good.

The Economic Meltdown chain-reaction -- triggered by "Collateral Damage Shrapnel" (CDS) exploding from social mind-fields -- induced more Americans to adapt their I:F.F. Immune Ontology -- to recognize that alleged "Economic Innovation" is not a monolithic and monotonic Ethical Good.   Contrary to the hype saturating the social-networks, those Friendly mortgage brokers and synthetic CDO syndicators turned out to be Risk-shifting Double Agent Foes. The infiltration and covert escalation of "toxic asset" risks caused an epidemic of financial "contagion". Even the moderate, non-partisan Peterson Institute for International Economics emphasized that:

Infrastructure is a constantly tilting "non-level playing field" of risk-shifting conflicts and cooperation. It is more Friendly to some people, for some purposes, than to other people and purposes. Technological and Economic Infrastructure is a covert battlespace, like politics. Security Ecology recognizes that, "Everyone is involved in Politics: some people do Politics -- others have Politics done to them." Similarly, those who ignore Infrastructure -- because they perceive it as "neutral, unbiased Background", or because it seems too "complicated", or too "corrupted by Big Money and Bureaucracy" -- do so at their peril:   Those people will have Infrastructure done to them.

"War is merely the continuation of politics by other means."
            -- Carl von Clausewitz,   On War   (1832)
"Where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase."
            -- Herman Melville,   The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade   (1857)
"Politics is the continuation of war by other means."
            -- Michel Foucault   (1975)
"To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket."
            -- Charles Tilly,
                War Making and State Making as Organized Crime   (1985)

Either our individual Immune Ontology adapts to recognize covert new infiltrations and infringements   · · ·   or else "background" herd-mentality Environments and "new improved" group-think Infrastructures will adapt us and enslave our freedom of thought and freedom of action -- conditioning us to conform to new "menus" of Behavioral-Economic "choices" -- new Power Relations and new Risks embedded in these social mind-fields.

Security Ecology makes no ideological judgments regarding who should rule over whom. But it emphasizes that keeping Power Relations hidden -- disguised as "neutral Background" or "natural laws of Infrastructure" -- to preclude an Immune Ontology reaction, is an effective means of conditioning a population, and subjugating them via internalized Power Relations.

The Roman Proconsul and historian Cassius Dio ascribed his Empire's fateful disaster at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (in 9 C.E.), to the failure by the new Roman governor (Quintilius Varus) to keep Power Relations hidden in the Background. Under the previous governor, the Romans had practiced a successful strategy of covert domination:  

"The barbarians were gradually re-shaping their habits in conformity with the Roman pattern · · · under careful surveillance, they ... were unconsciously altering their disposition."

A 1906 translation of Cassius Dio emphasizes the centrality of Immune Ontology concepts like Identity change ("constitution"), and the necessity of either adapting one's Immune Ontology to detect and recognize covert threats, or the alternative -- "imperceptibly" becoming adapted to "foreign domination" by the hostile Other:

"The barbarians were adapting themselves to Roman ways ... they were unlearning   [their old "independence" and "authority"]   gradually and imperceptibly ... they were becoming different without knowing it."
[But when Quintilius Varus switched from covert to overt control,   · · ·   ]
"This, they were not inclined to endure, for the prominent men longed for their former ascendency, and the masses preferred their accustomed constitution to foreign domination."

Security Ecology acknowledges that there will always be human sheep dominated by human wolves, and that the most efficient dominators will be "foxes" -- wolves in sheep's clothing -- who camouflage their teeth as beneficial Infrastructure.   But when the evolution of our common Cultural Infrastructure is driven mainly by how well it insulates polarized Herd Mentalities inside "Social Reality" epistemic bubbles -- to hide the sharp teeth of wolves, and the jagged terrain of "REAL Reality" -- this makes wolves the temporary "kings" of a degraded and collapsing "hill".

In the long run, allowing the Escalation Topology of the Infrastructure battlespace to be dictated by short-term, tactical self-interest, creates permanent strategic burdens for all humanity.

We realized (belatedly) that short-term tactical benefits of landmines imposed unacceptable long-term costs:   A permanent "scorched-earth" policy did not benefit even the "winners" who survived. But so far, we have failed to recognize that covert escalation of risk-shifting via Behavioral-Economic Infrastructure -- between individuals, organizations, and generations -- has insulated us from the reality that our net "Information Infrastructure" detriments outweigh the benefits.   We have created a dangerous, warped, and dis-integrating social Mind-field for all humanity:   an IED  Infrastructure of Epistemic Degradation.

To illustrate Security Ecology via concrete situations, below are 3 draft case studies of military issues (some with -subsections). These build a tangible understanding of what it means -- individually and organizationally -- to live in a dis-integrating social Mind-field.   Following those, I briefly sketch a few other topics and links.

Table of Contents

            + Introduction:   Steps to a Security Ecology of Mind   (above)
                        - Individual Minds in a Risk-shifting Social Epistemology Mind-field
                        - Epistemic Empire Projects Powerful Delusions
                        - Adaptive Immune Ontologies vs. Simplistic Monotonic Mental Models
                        - Infected Infrastructures -- Technological, Economic, and Ethical
            + Cognitive Bias, CounterInsurgency, and Security Ecology
            + Perception, Interpretation, Metrics, and Reality:
                                                      Organizational Learning Dysfunctions as Lies
                        - Motivated Organizational Delusions and the Madness of Institutions
            + An Empire of Pathological PowerPoint Epistemology
                        - Organizations Create an Internal Fog of InfoWar
                        - Slip-Sliding Away:   A Thesis on Organizational Sanity
            + Other Topics and Links
                        -Domestic Security Ecology and dysfunctional Immune Ontology
                        -David Kilcullen's model of a "Conflict Ecosystem"
                        -How does Security Ecology differ from International Relations?
                                                            · · · and from Political Ecology?
                        -Stings, Stazi, Honeypots, and Sterile Medflies
                        - "Dark Satanic Hamster Mills"
                        (a poem on co-embedding human minds in surveillance grid infrastructures)

For those who prefer a lighter, more humorous introduction to the heavy notion of an IED  Infrastructure of Epistemic Degradation, I highly recommend the subsection called Slip-Sliding Away:   A Thesis on Organizational Sanity.

Cognitive Bias, CounterInsurgency, and Security Ecology

Historically, scientists were able to identify many specific cognitive biases precisely because -- in some circumstances -- they do appear as "anomalous". But only in recent decades, have neuro-scientists learned that a "normal bias" -- "Motivated Cognition" -- plays a biologically-necessary role in all human thought. Cognitive biases are ubiquitous in human affairs. Our normal, underlying Motivated cognitions -- in conjunction with our "abnormal" Cognitive biases -- have profoundly influenced the evolution of our concepts and categories ["The Order of Things" - Michel Foucault; "Historical Ontology" - Ian Hacking], our language, and our institutions. And cognitive biases continue to influence the current trajectories of all those aforementioned cultural tools. (All conceptual tools have pros and cons -- hence they operate simultaneously as cultural and cognitive constraints). The fact that our language identifies "Conventional War" as an allegedly well-defined category -- in contrast to "CounterInsurgency", "Irregular Warfare", and "CyberWar", which we acknowledge to be dangerously fuzzy categories -- exemplifies how social institutions develop functions for internal "Perception Management", via which individual cognitive biases are thought to magically disappear (for those unable to conveniently deny the very existence of biases). Institutions evolve to implement a (hopefully accurate and efficient) Groupthink "rush to judgment" process -- a controlled stampede in which each individual beast sees primarily his "departmental interfaces" (the rumps of adjacent beasts). Thus, unless the institution continually adapts to its environment -- and maintains Situation Awareness despite the Fog of InfoWar -- this "Herd Myopics" can produce "OODA loop kaleidoscopics", rather than actions that promote the survival of the institutional herd and its individual beasts. A primary thesis of this work is that institutions -- particularly warfighting institutions -- pretend that they evolve smoothly, but in reality, they undergo long periods of stasis during which their adaptations -- particularly their conceptual tools and evaluative processes -- increasingly diverge from "optimal". ("Fighting the last war," is a misleading oversimplification of this issue.) But being large, apparently formidable beasts, Reality may not challenge their dominance for a while. (Implicit and informal communication structures may evolve to patch formal functional weaknesses, but individuals retire and are transferred, degrading these "soft-tissue" cultural supports.) Eventually, stresses build, an "existential threat" is acknowledged to be unmanageable, and the institution is forced to rapidly adapt to what seems a suddenly-changed environment. [E.g, see "An Army Transformed: The U.S. Army's Post-Vietnam Recovery and the Dynamics of Change in Military Organizations".] If, "War is the great auditor of Institutions," then institutional evolution is best understood as a series of "punctuated equilibria" -- punctuated Epistemic Equilibria. Why do warfighting institutions pretend that they evolve smoothly? Partly because Groupthink values stability, and loyalty to the herd's traditions. The military values tenacity, determination, and a "Can Do" attitude. The "Burden of Proof" that revolutionary change is needed, falls on those individuals whose diverse perceptions and conceptions deviate from the comfortable, career-enhancing social norm. Thus -- especially with our defacto "Zero Defect" policy for officer promotions -- even those who perceive that institutional change is desperately needed, have a major disincentive to speak out. It's much safer (less hazardous to one's physical and career health), to remain silent, and wait for some other brave soul to speak out. If that point person survives, that indicates it's now safe to deviate from the Herd's former trajectory. This brief essay does not attempt to cover the entire subject of COIN, cultural blinders, and cognitive bias. Rather, it hopes to highlight some large holes in other, more "conventional" analyses of the subject. (My purpose is to widen the scope of analysis, by rejecting what I take to be unconscious "social-convention" assumptions that have limited that scope, thereby preventing important questions from being posed.) For example, FM 3-24 states that Individual "Soldiers and Marines ... must also rapidly adapt cognitively and emotionally to the perplexing challenges of counterinsurgency, and master new competencies as well as new contexts." Absolutely true. But FM 3-24 is silent on whether that excellent advice applies to Institutions. (Before denying the power of institutional emotion, recall Napoleon's famous dictum -- "The moral is to the physical as three to one".) It is instructive to consider Behavioral Economics during organizational (re-)design, and when assessing the "fit" between a new mission (e.g, COIN) and an old organizational structure. Individual behaviors are influenced ("Motivated Cognition") not only by explicit monetary incentives, but also by individual cost- and risk-benefit perceptions, where the "currency" is various dimensions of organizational status -- credibility, respect, reputation, patronage/promotion, and power. Institutional structures can compose and amplify bias-driven behaviors of Individuals, to produce pathological organizational behaviors. Thus, issues of "Organizational Sanity" should be (but rarely are) considered when assessing and (re-)designing the Security Architecture of any organization. The U.S. military's blind spot regarding its own cognitive dysfunctions, conceptual assumptions, and cultural biases, constitutes its greatest vulnerability. Yet, mainstream military culture views a self-reflective attitude as, at best, counterproductive "navel-gazing". Meanwhile, opponents are intently and productively scrutinizing the vulnerabilities revealed in the U.S. military's own navel.
(Back to Table of Contents)

Perception, Interpretation, Metrics, and Reality:
        Organizational Learning Dysfunctions as Lies

This essay begins as a commentary on Ann Marlowe's (June 2011) "policy review" of U.S. Counter-Insurgency operations. Like Marlowe, I rapidly expand the context to indict certain aspects of U.S. military culture. But the prosecutorial case I build differs from that of Marlowe -- I bring different charges, and I indict different cultural dysfunctions.

Ann Marlowe's study -- "Afghanistan: America's War of Perception" -- summarizes many specific criticisms of the U.S. war effort, that I consider important and entirely valid. Unfortunately, it then tries to recruit these points to support the thesis that our warfighting institutions suffer primarily from a flawed philosophy -- a culturally-biased confusion between "Objective Reality", and a COIN doctrine that mistakenly targets a "Postmodern Socially-Constructed War of Perceptions".

To re-connect with "Objective Reality", we must purge "Subjective Perceptions" from COIN. We are told the simple solution is physics-style "hard metrics" that are falsifiable, and hence must be solidly-anchored in Objective Reality. The argument replays an attack from the 1990s "Science Wars" against one particularly defenseless Straw Man target:   The winning stance offered to the U.S. military is hard-power Logical Empiricism -- even though this was scientifically-discredited long ago. Yet, supposedly, that is our only alternative to the U.S. military's defacto COIN practice under General McChrystal, which, allegedly, was tantamount to soft-power Literary Criticism -- weaponized into symbolic Perception Reconstruction -- to fight an Af-Pak war (and socially-construct cold fusion :-), by inculcating positive thinking in hearts and minds (and correcting the oppressive patriarchal discourse of the Taliban :-).

I share Marlowe's frustration. And I agree she correctly identifies many symptoms of pathology in U.S. military culture. But I reject her diagnosis of the underlying disease. I wish the solution were as simple as revising U.S. COIN doctrine (FM 3-24, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps' Counterinsurgency Field Manual), and its explication via specific policies, procedures, and planning.

There is much to criticize about FM 3-24. But I contend the deeper problem is the "fit" between COIN and the U.S. military:   U.S. military culture has failed (indeed, seemingly refused) to "rapidly adapt cognitively and emotionally" -- and organizationally -- to the conceptual revolution in I:F.F., that is necessary to recognize and counter modern forms of power covertly deployed by evolving Sub-State and Non-State Actors.  

In "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World", our National Intelligence Council (NIC) warned that the international system "will be almost unrecognizable by 2025" due to, among other factors, "the rising influence of nonstate actors".   Granted, even our NIC has no infallible connection with Objective Reality. But the mainstream of U.S. military organizational culture seems determined to ignore the NIC's insights, and deny the risk that Reality has diverged from its Representations in our conceptual comfort zone. The U.S. military -- and the entire American civilian culture -- must re-engineer its Immune Ontology.

(Outsourcing the functions of modern I:F.F. Ontology to small, organizationally-agile Special Operations commands, only creates another cognitively-balkanized social "epistemic epicycle".   This short-term patch is a security blanket that further insulates our dangerously dysfunctional civilian and military cultures from the evolutionary selection pressures they need to adapt to modern Realities.   It risks transforming the moral responsibility chasm of America's vast Civilian-Military Divide, into an unbridgeable social bifurcation:   akin to that between the "See-No-Evil, cognitive-Green-Zone-dwelling" Eloi, and the "Darkside-dealing" Morlocks -- as portrayed in H. G. Wells' 1895 Sci-Fi story, "The Time Machine".)

These ideas are difficult and subtle. Marlowe's Hoover study is thought-provoking, and well worth (re-)reading. As is, "Fourth Generation War and Other Myths", for its examination of the need to, "break the political will of the other side"; yet, since willpower arises from subjective perceptions, the objective metrics of war are refracted through (at least) a 2nd-order perceptual prism. Hence there is an inherent risk of, "believing that the will of the other was just about to break, and that one more major offensive would do the trick". That is, objective metrics can never conclusively prove or falsify success in war, short of killing an entire "enemy" population, and eradicating all its technological spawn (which assumes your I:F.F. can be proved correct). But subjective perceptions of Reality can break the will of either side.

Despite its other valuable insights, the Hoover study may compound the U.S. military's perceptual fog. By promoting an ideological "Either-Or" dichotomy between "Objective Reality" and "Social Perceptions", it obscures the essential understanding that every "hard metric" must be interpreted to be a meaningful proxy for "Objective Reality". And prior to that, how do we discover these "hard metrics"? Do they exist eternally (as Platonic Ideals) in "Objective Reality", broadcasting their existence and their purpose on all Social frequencies of "Subjective Perception"?

How do we establish some (but not others) as official standards? Who decides? How? What process to "persuade" others to accept a particular metric is considered "legitimate"? Who benefits from choosing one metric instead of another? Cui bono? What are the standards of evidence? (And how are those determined?)

And is it possible our hard-metric "yardsticks" might change their own length? (E.g, wooden yardsticks erode and shrink; metal yardsticks change with temperature, and all yardsticks change at relativistic velocities near the speed of light.)

Who benefits from a particular initial choice of yardstick? Who benefits if that yardstick changes in particular ways? Who benefits from hiding the fact that the yardstick has changed? Cui bono?

Consider how the economic "hard-metric yardsticks" of inflation and unemployment have undergone radical changes in the past century. Most modern people would agree that the initial changes in these "yardsticks" constituted progress in measurement technology -- yardsticks that more accurately corresponded with "Objective Reality". But "tweaks" in these yardsticks over the past 2 decades (by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) -- e.g, the use of "hedonic regression" -- are quite controversial even among mainstream economists.

Hopefully it's now obvious to everyone that any economic Accounting or Risk metric can be subverted by "financially engineering" and "credit rating" a new special-purpose investment vehicle.

Humans have no direct ontological connection with "Objective Reality".   Hubel and Wiesel's Nobel-prizewinning studies of mammalian neurobiology showed how each individual brain's permanent functional organization is profoundly shaped by particular stimulii during infancy -- stimulii that (for humans) are inescapably mediated and influenced by the Cultural Environment in which we are raised.   [E.g, see "Eye, Brain and Vision". D.H. Hubel. Chap. 9 in Scientific American Library. W.H. Freeman. 1988.   Also see "Brain and Culture". B. Wexler. MIT Press. 2006]

Situation Assessment and Sense-making require us to interpret our (already mediated) "raw perceptions" in terms of concepts and categories, processes and operational definitions.   Any interpretation is inherently a social process, into which both Individual and Institutional cognitive biases will creep · · · not to mention cultural and ideological biases.   And those "anomalous" biases are in addition to the normal (and biologically-necessary) role that "Motivated Cognition" plays in all human thought.

Examining, in 20-20 hindsight, any human catastrophe that might have been prevented (e.g, the Chernobyl disaster, the USS Vincennes' destruction of civilian Iran Air Flight 655), shows the underlying causes to be flawed interpretations and evaluations of "Objective Reality". Almost never is simple, Individual "operator error" to blame. Rather, behind every Individual error, stand large flaws in Institutional cultures of design, doctrine, testing, maintenance, training, promotion, etc.

"Motivated Cognition" always mediates our underlying perceptions of "Objective Reality". Legendary physicist Richard Feynman's "Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle" documents how NASA's divided organizational culture killed 7 astronauts, by different interpretations of a "hard metric" -- the numeric probability of failure.   Feynman contrasts NASA engineering management's "fantastic faith" in the reliability of Space Shuttle Challenger, with the failure risk as perceived by working engineers.

In the Vietnam War, the Body Count was the perfect "hard metric". But we learned how Individual and Institutional motivations and interpretive biases tend to conspire, to sever any useful connection that proxy once had with "Objective Reality".

The underlying purpose of any "hard metric" -- its relation with "Objective Reality" -- can be socially-subverted, both intentionally and inadvertently. For example, unions can cause a significant work slowdown by "working to book" -- i.e, by actually adhering to the "hard metric" of objective rules specified in the contract that management negotiated.

Curiously, Marlowe's Hoover study recognizes that metrics can be subverted, e.g, "Afghans have first planted, and then reported the planting of IEDs, in order to pocket reward money." Yet, this does not shake its strict dichotomy between Metrics and Perceptions. The possibility that perceptions influence our choice of metrics -- and metrics then alter our perceptions -- is excluded.   As is the issue of what implicit standards we use to assess the "truthfulness" of various metrics, when deciding whether to adopt, revise, or reject a metric.

Engineers can suddenly decide to reject a software or hardware product, because it fails to meet its written specification (even though it seems to function normally). "Reasonable people may disagree" (sometimes vehemently) whether the flaw -- the "bug" -- is in the product, or in the specification · · · or in the Quality Assurance "hard-metric yardstick" used to measure how well the product conforms to the specification.

Which of these 3 standards do you consider "truly correct"?   That will depend on your implicit Theory of Truth -- Pragmatic, Coherence, or Correspondence. And it will depend on motivational biases -- the Individual or Institutional benefit to you -- Cui bono?

Human interpretation mediates our connection with "Objective Reality".   This same (inherently fallible, biased, motivated) human interpretation mediates our connection with our ontological concepts, categories, and operational definitions -- and with whatever "hard metrics" we then discover, construct, and or subvert, as proxies for Reality.

Some specifics illustrating the above points are explored in, "Metrics in Iraq's Complex Conflict Environment", chapter 11 in, "Three Circles of War: Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict in Iraq" (2010) -- ed. by Heather Gregg, Hy Rothstein, and John Arquilla. The author, Karen Guttieri, discusses the inadequacy of Metrics without Interpretation, and without a Framework (i.e, a theory of the conflict ecology).

Indeed, our "fantastic faith" in the efficacy of "hard metrics" can, itself, constitute a significant security threat.   As former State Dept. diplomat Peter Van Buren documents, many Iraq reconstruction project boondoggles occurred because of the bureaucratic need to demonstrate objective "measurable progress", not because of a "War of Perception" targeting a Mideast population.

Motivated Organizational Delusions and the Madness of Institutions

The Hoover study's ideology-driven dichotomy between perceptions vs. hard metrics seriously underestimates "America's [Domestic!] War of Perceptions" as a factor driving decisionmaking in both the Pentagon, and the Bush and Obama administrations.

I contend that one of Washington's primary motivations in devising many plans and reconstruction projects crystallized into "Perception Management" or "Perception Reconstruction" targeting the American public. Predictably, this "War at Home" took the form of efforts to "Put time on the Washington clock" -- by providing "objective metrics of progress" as political cover for politicians to justify extending the war effort.

America's civilian politicians were eager to evade responsibility, by deferring to the Pentagon. As a result of this bureaucratic dance, the Pentagon and both Administrations could agree to "Put time on the Washington clock". (This -- itself -- could be justified as a legitimate aspect of "strategy", because it would help convince the Afghans and the Pakistanis that we were there for the long haul.) Thus, two Administrations deferred making tough decisions about what it means to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this dereliction of strategic leadership allowed the Pentagon to defer making tough decisions about exactly what to do with that extra time.

Hint to top civilian and military players:   Play for more time, in which to decide · · · and to punt those decisions to your successor.   (Gen. McChrystal apparently was one of the few leaders who lacked this careerist risk-aversion to decisionmaking.)

Unfortunately, the tough decisions about what it means to avoid losing, were also deferred indefinitely.   (Hint: Growing a new globalized criminal heroin syndicate with ties to militant Islamists, and nudging Pakistan's ISI back toward clandestine nuclear proliferation, might be considered "losing".)   The insulated bureaucratic culture of Washington stuck its head in the sand -- sheltering itself from domestic and Mideast heat -- under a conceptual security umbrella called COIN.   But Reality kept ticking, and the "Washington clock" was overtaken by events.

Our defacto strategy defaulted to Extend and Pretend -- "Counterfeit COIN".   And the public evidence I've seen is consistent with what I call the "Organizational Perception Adaptive-Pruning Thesis":

If a Group-think preferred strategy is undermined (or worse, falsified) by some metric, then that metric tends never to be adopted by the bureaucracy, or its use is deprecated.

(Karzai government corruption as a percentage of Afghan GDP is a "hard metric" that's considered important ... by everyone except the Pentagon and the Bush and Obama administrations.)

Progressives are quick to condemn this Extend and Pretend domestic strategy as an unconstitutional subversion of democracy by the military. But the practice of "Putting time on the governing Institution's clock" is a time-honored civilian tactic for subverting a hard-metric yardstick. Gen. Petraeus merely copied this organizational behavior; he did not invent it.

A similar tactic has been standard operating procedure in several prominent civilian bureaucracies:   There is a constitutional deadline (June 15) for the Calif. Legislature to adopt a state budget, but that deadline is seldom met. Instead, the legislative Sergeant at Arms is ordered to "stop the clock" a few minutes before midnight on budget deadline night.   (Typically, that clock remains stopped for several months of realtime, during which the State pays its bills with IOUs.)

This social subversion of a hard-metric yardstick has been standard operating procedure in New York, Wyoming, and Alabama, among other bureaucracies. Indeed, the practice is so common that some states' online Legislative Glossaries officially define the term, and specify how it is to be accomplished -- e.g, by "pulling the plug of the electric clock in the Senate or House chamber"! (In California, the Sergeant at Arms was forced to climb a ladder to reach the clock.)

Every bureaucratic organization tries to measure its progress, achieve its mandated goals (by hook or by crook) -- and justify its existence and funding -- via "Objective metrics". This is natural, legitimate · · · and (as I hope I've now shown) inherently problematic.

"Stopping the clock" is a transparent practice -- we all agree to tell the same lie about "Objective Reality" -- so no one is fooled. (Nevertheless, many people may be harmed. Certainly, respect for and trust in that Institution suffers.)

More serious problems can occur when such Institutional Lies are known only to some. Most dangerous of all, is when the liars deceive even themselves -- as SecDef Robert Gates commented in contrasting Wikileaks with the situation revealed by the Pentagon Papers.

Michael Vlahos, a Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, has written extensively about how our own Organizational Culture's biased mindset produces warfighting pathologies. In "Fighting Identity" (p. 176), he writes regarding the Iraq war:

"actual reality was officially denied · · · At the end of 2006, military operations resembled not so much a failure as an official lie."

Being deceived by one's own unconscious or inadvertent "lies" comes in many forms. One of the most pernicious, is when an organization adopts particular metrics to represent reality, then subsequently defacto agrees to "Confuse the Map with the Territory".

Metrics and perceptions operate in a psychological influence cycle -- via projections and expectations (e.g, "scenario fulfillment"). But every model abstracts-away some complexities from Reality; every metric has limitations (including "unknown unknown" limits). Eventually -- as Representations and Realities diverge for various reasons -- every Map lies to us, about the Territory it represents. E.g, in describing the causes of the First World War, Austrian journalist Karl Kraus aptly characterized how inadvertent InfoWar blowback envelops the practitioner in a distorting Epistemic Bubble mentality:

"Politicians lie to journalists, and then believe those lies when they see them in print."

But what Kraus wrote about Individuals applies even more strongly to Institutions. When any bureaucratic organization adopts "hard metrics" to measure its progress, individual members are evaluated and promoted internally, based on how they contribute to that organization's "objective, measurable progress".

Several internal dynamics then arise from a form of Cognitive Bias called the "Sunken Cost Fallacy":   At the Individual level, after one has spent time, effort, and emotional angst to establish, achieve, or maximize specific metrics, any human being is reluctant to admit that the metric was spurious -- even when faced with evidence s/he previously might have found persuasive. At the Organizational level, after prolonged internal wrangling and discussions have finally settled on particular metrics, there is reluctance to "re-open that can of worms". Moreover, the internal stability and "legitimacy" of modern Organizations depends on members perceiving the Institution as a Meritocracy. "Changing the yardstick" tends to raise internal conflicts over "fairness". And by reducing the credibility of Organizational metrics, it also risks de-motivating members' efforts at future metrics.

Besides such "anomalous" biases, cynical self-interest plays a role: It is not conducive to career enhancement, to criticize the yardstick by which one is measured. Iconoclasts seem particularly unwelcome in today's "Zero Defect" U.S. officer corps.

When insulated from Reality within Bureaucratic Herds, individuals live or die by the official ontological Map, not the Territory.   "Official Lies" may grow from seeds that once were organizational truths, rooted in "hard metrics".

To dispel self-inflicted Fogs of InfoWar, we must recognize that wrestling with the hard problems of Organizational Learning and Social Epistemology -- i.e, "Extraordinary Conventional Delusions and the Madness of Institutions" -- must be a never-ending task.

What Charles MacKay wrote in 1841 (roughly coinciding with the first British invasion of Afghanistan) applies internally to every Organization:

"Men ... think in herds; ... they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

We understand that every viable organizational Security Architecture somehow must institutionalize a Counter-Intelligence function. But Epistemic "Counter-Insanity" is presumably either unnecessary, solely an Individual responsibility, or (170 years after Charles MacKay documented the problem) still impossible to address via any Institutional mechanisms.

Engaging the issue of organizational sanity -- rather than denying the possibility of Groupthink Irrationality -- is necessary, if we are to address the limits of process in large organizations.   A Rational Theory of System-making Systems discusses why the organization, itself -- with all its dysfunctions and internal politics -- must be considered as part of the "ecology of system design". Again, a central emphasis of Security Ecology is that supposedly internal workings of a supposedly unitary "Us" must be treated as potential self-inflicted fatalities, when devising strategy and tactics against a supposedly external "Them".   (Mao's faulty implementation of "Institutionalized Revolution" effectively spawned a destructive Auto-Immune chain reaction. But at least he recognized the need for an Institutional Immune System to combat organizational cancers.)

"War is the great auditor of Institutions". Unfortunately, it's the front-line troops (and innocent civilians) on the periphery exposed to Reality, who pay the audit penalty -- rather than the rear-based staff, insulated within the herd mentality of their (morally corrupting) bureaucratic sinecures. It is indeed "Self"-destructive if our mental models exclude our own human fallibility. But some "Selves" are more expendable than others.

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An Empire of Pathological PowerPoint Epistemology

"Afghanistan and the Culture of Military Leadership" -- by Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D
( )   states:

"The systemic misuse of PowerPoint as an intellectual crutch and the Pavlovian briefing culture are now endemic in the military bureaucracy and function as substitutes for honest thinking and logical analysis. Both provide little, if any, authentic situational awareness, but offer the illusion of understanding and progress."

My worldview and policy preferences differ considerably from those of Col. Sellin. Nevertheless, I find his screeds on Organizational Dysfunction quite valuable, because they explicitly critique both Form and Content, and how Form/Structure influences Content/Function. Hence they serve as useful entry points to discuss much that is wrong with the Epistemic Empire that has conquered America -- and with all modern cognitive divisions of labor -- the subdividing specializations in Sciences and Humanities; the stovepiping bureaucracies in Militaries and Markets; and the dangerous diaspora (and dysfunctional compartmentization) of outsourced Intelligence services.

First the Form:

+++ Framing Error, Real-world Terror: Old Forms Warp New Realities +++  

"Death by PowerPoint" deserves to be attacked by Edward Tufte, and by intellectual leaders in our Military and Intelligence services. Digitized boredom and plummeting productivity were the initial symptoms of this epidemic. But as our entire Empire has been sucked through our own epistemological Looking Glass, "Death by PowerPoint" now serves both to predict -- and to excuse -- the kinetic consequences of encountering any species of untamed beast in the wild, armed only with BulletPoints that are impotent when real-world threats refuse to conform to the ontologies of Imperial Epistemology.

("Stuff happens," quoth the Neo-Con, as he excused the plundering and vandalism of ancient Mesopotamian treasures in Iraq's National Museum.)

By forcing complex Realities to conform to simplistic graphical Frames, we flush our human intelligence down the PowerPoint technological toilet, implementing a defacto "Brain Drain".   Comforted by the illusion of knowledge transmission, we don't even realize the context leakage is killing people.

PowerPoint-mediated information exacerbates our modern problem, of subdividing human intelligence into ever more "Bureaucratic Brain-slices".   Adam Smith -- the pioneering Political-Economist -- called this cognitive division of labor, "Mental Mutilation".

In all large organizations, these administrative "Brain-slices" engage in inadvertent or intentional "Turf Wars" among themselves, by limiting and distorting "their" information, when they communicate with other "Bureaucratic Brain-slices".

Organizations Create an Internal Fog of InfoWar

Even the best organization is impacted by its own communicative Fog of InfoWar, as its "OODA loop" -- "Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act" -- tries to synthesize both internal and external data streams into coherent strategic and tactical "sense-making", and then decide how to act.

Distorted organizational perceptions and decisionmaking always exist. But they become far more risky -- far more damaging -- in an organizational culture that promotes those who promote ever more "PowerPoint Brain Drains", and who promote ever more subdividing "Bureaucratic Brain-slices".

In a scathing 2007 critique of top brass, Colonel Yingling condemned senior generals for their lack of moral courage: "Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers," he said. In analyzing why "mediocre conformity rises to the top" (my language, not his), Colonel Yingling attributed the Army's top-level moral cowardice and mendacity to a promotion system that rewards Group-think conformity, and discourages creative and constructive criticism of Group-think norms:   Senior officers, who have achieved their positions due to their risk-aversion and conformity, promote others like themselves.

Colonel Yingling recommended "360-degree evaluations", because, "Incorporating subordinate and peer reviews into promotion decisions for senior leaders would produce officers more willing to adapt to changing circumstances, and less likely to conform to outmoded practices."

In 2007, this is how Colonel Yingling summarized the military's disincentive system:

"A Private who loses a rifle, suffers far greater consequences than a General who loses a war."

But in 2010, on our Virtual-Imperial-Reality side of the looking glass, it was Colonel Sellin -- whose Op-Ed envisioned misplacing a BulletPoint -- who suffered far greater consequences than the Generals losing "our" war.

In homage to this self-sacrificing act of intellectual valor, and in an attempt to leverage a "teachable moment", I penned the following Ode. I call it . . .

Slip-Sliding Away:   A Thesis on Organizational Sanity                

[  Definition: "Brain-slicing" is the implicit, unquestioned global Gulag of modern Social Epistemology.  It subdivides, partitions, and compartmentizes all knowledge and all tool-using procedures --   indeed, all of Reality -- into mental Representations that are specialized, "professionally-correct" roles, occupations, self-images, leisure protocols, academic fields, and business segments.

Adam Smith bluntly called it "Mental Mutilation".     Max Weber called it Bureaucratic "Instrumental Rationality".     Jacques Ellul called it "La Technique".     Herman Daly viewed this "Discipline-Idolatry" as conformity to ontological boundary taboos.

We have unconsciously adapted to -- and internalized -- cognitive divisions of labor
that implement a dysfunctional social system:   defacto Moral and Cognitive Apartheid.           ]

		Driven mad by Afghan boredom, 
		PowerPoint production whoredom,  

		Brain-slice fevers (Org-chart cleavers!), 
		Torched our cognitive transceivers.  

					     ^^                     ^^ 
		Brain-slice shuffle <======> ||Stove-piped Org bloat|| 
					     vv                     vv 
		Knowing ("slice-wise"!) press would him quote, 

		Heeding not fine line of good taste, 
		Colonel Sellin's mind a vast waste, 
		Took Stan McChrystal's death-wish tack, 
		He phoned the press without his flack.  

		Wrote an Op-Ed (text -- not picture!), 
		Dared subject top brass to stricture:  

		Discrete Points march before our Eye, 
		Real World awry, threats multiply.  

		Group-think Herd:  Stampede-Myopics.  
		"OODA":  Loop-Kaleidoscopics!  

		Might "Era of Persistent War", 
		be artifact of slides galore?  

		"Stuff happens," quoth the Chickenhawk men, 
		"War forever more."  
		Quoth the Craven, Raving Con-men, 
		"More Forever War."  

(Please don't interpret my Thesis via a simplistic "liberal anti-war" stereotype. If you must cage it in some Category, then confine it in the cognitive dissonant chorus with Russell Ackoff, Andrew Bacevich, Michael Vlahos, Karl Weick, and George Orwell, who wrote in 1936:

"I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing ...
I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British ...
But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated ...
I did not even know that the British Empire is dying;
still less did I know that it is a great deal better than
the younger empires that are going to supplant it

As an epistemic Empire, we have responsibilities -- to ourselves, and to those who will follow -- especially if and when our Empire is dying.   We're not meeting those responsibilities.   If humanity survives the next 1000 years, men will never say, "This was their finest hour".)

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Section Summary: The fundamental issue is not Military (or even civilian) PowerPoint. The problem is that modern globalized culture's habitual epistemic Forms , Frames, and ideologically-charged Categories are no longer adequate to deal with the Content of Reality -- neither global nor domestic realities, neither Af-Pak War nor Cyber-War.

Now the Content:

Neither are those "ways of knowing" capable of comprehending an "Economic Market" that has morphed into a theatre of Cyber-Financial-WMD "Political War". It was foolish ever to subdivide Adam Smith's concept of "Political-Economy" into 2 separate Brain-sliced specializations.  

In his "Wealth of Nations" [V.i.f.50], Adam Smith warned that "the progress of the division of labour" would produce people, "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become," and that such progress would be, "acquired at the expense of ... intellectual, social, and martial virtues."

Indeed, Adam Smith had a very blunt term for this Brain-slicing. In "Wealth of Nations" [V.i.f.60], he called it, "mental mutilation"!

Framing Error -- reliance on outmoded "Ways of Knowing" that project a rigid, reticulated ontological interpretive grid -- warps new Realities to conform to fit old Frames. This can blind us to genuine threats -- "false negatives" -- or underestimate their significance. It also can create or spuriously magnify threats -- "false positives". We have diverted disproportionate resources from our National Security OODA loops, to deploy against Symptoms -- false positive threats. This has induced and exacerbated the Real-world Terror we sought to minimize. Worse, we seem incapable of recognizing and confronting our vulnerability to their underlying Causes -- internally-generated threats in the Economic and Technological domains.

The most pathological result of modern America's Moral and Cognitive Apartheid is the Civilian outsourcing of all Security responsibility -- physical, cognitive, and moral -- to the Military (and to a necessarily more militarized "Law Enforcement"). Civilians have freedoms, whereas the Military -- and especially the Intelligence Community (IC) -- have responsibilities.   This allows and encourages various civilian Non-State Actors to create, amplify, and externalize risks -- shifting responsibility onto our Military and IC.

This internal risk-shifting among social Brain-slices has created the greatest threats to our National Security -- in the Economic, Energy, and Climate domains.   Our other greatest National Security threat also was internally-generated by this socially-Brain-sliced risk-shifting -- the growing vulnerability of all Critical Infrastructure in the Cyber-War domain.

The "Guardians of Mecca" -- Saudi Royal Family members -- likewise benefit by externalizing risks and costs onto the U.S. Military Security Umbrella. The Saudi Royal Family maintains its internal stability and "divine legitimacy" by exporting its society's toxic Wahhabi waste-products:   Saudi Arabia's unemployed and "angry young men" fight jihad (at a "royally-safe" distance) throughout Central Asia, North Africa, and Europe. Saudi society's upper echelons (with Osama bin Laden being the main exception) purchase "Islamic Indulgences" -- by funding mercenary charities to fight jihad for them (having learned this efficacious Political-Economic tactic from the medieval Catholic church).

There is a longstanding defacto conspiracy of interests between the Saudi Royal Family and various American Non-State Actors -- to benefit by externalizing risks -- dumping them onto the U.S. Military, and the broader U.S. civilian population.

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Other Topics and Links

Domestic Security Ecology and dysfunctional Immune Ontology

How American institutions of Political-Economy are evolving a de-facto Zeta Army destabilization strategy -- of internalizing benefits, by externalizing risks and costs.

One needs no specific ideological orientation to observe that Mancur Olson's famous 1965 "Logic of Collective Action" -- i.e, parasitic, cannibalistic action -- has been elevated to the level of Doctrine in organizational DNA.   For better or worse, the primary domestic Non-State Actors -- political parties and economic corporations -- seem to have carved out "Zones of Impunity" for themselves · · · while they amplify entropy that destabilizes our common Cultural Environment .

The famous economist Joseph Schumpeter is widely known for his insights into the dynamics of "Creative Destruction".   He claimed -- as "a real fact" -- that, "our society is in the process of falling apart." And Schumpeter identified its cause as, "This system of ... social irresponsibility" for its longstanding tendencies to internalize benefits by forcing others to cope with the socialized costs and risks. Schumpeter decried this immoral risk-shifting as a "pathological phenomenon":

"in the midst of moral confusion, [political]-economic success serves only to render still more serious, the social and political situation."
[History of Political Economy. Vol. 7; No. 3; pp. 294-298]

David Kilcullen's model of a "Conflict Ecosystem"

Deficiencies and unexamined assumptions -- particularly the parsing of Reality into neat Categories which, themselves, are typically merging, splitting, failing to mesh with new realities, or are contested by various "legitimate" parties.

In "Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency", Kilcullen also neglects to pursue the implications that his statement,

"It is critically important to realize that we, the intervening counterinsurgent, are not outside this ecosystem ..."

has for Organizational Perceptions and Cognitive Bias within domestic Institutions (even if those organizations are not explicitly involved in Counterinsurgency).   The "Framework for Inter-Agency Counterinsurgency" he offers as a "common mental model" fails to include any explicit Representation of internal politics.

A more recent analysis by Kilcullen at the Global Trends 2030 site offers important insights into future urban conflict dynamics. But again -- unfortunately -- it is silent regarding our own contributions to the original causes, and how our various factions will try to benefit from the effects, and thereby metastasize these "conflict zones" into globalized "conflict layers".

How does Security Ecology differ from International Relations?
How does Security Ecology differ from Political Ecology?

Security Ecology -- unlike the "standard models" of academic Political Ecology or International Relations -- does not worship the "legitimacy" of Westphalian states or international law.   Rather, Security Ecology explores the dynamics of Power, via whatever structures and processes it manifests.   Specific examples of this security ecology approach are: "The Ontology of 'Political Violence': Action and Identity in Civil Wars" and "Stationary Bandits: Understanding Rebel Governance".   Here's an illustrative excerpt on the dangers of static Ontologies and Identities:   "Costume and casting directors changed constantly · · · While the context shifted and factions and their alliances split and realigned."

(It's interesting that the iconoclastic report, "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan" was sensitive to these issues · · · and even more interesting that its primary author -- Michael T. Flynn -- was recently selected to head the DIA.)

Another useful Security Ecology paper (although ostensibly about Political Economy) is: "Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule" (Acemoglu, Robinson, and Verdier).   It analyzes a ruling strategy, via which an entity at a "pivot of power" (my terminology, not the authors') can extract money from potential rivals, then pay off that rival's potential allies, thus disrupting the formation of an opposing power coalition. As a mathematical model, Acemoglu, et al's strategy is new for Political Economists. But a generalized Security Ecology form has long been recognized throughout the world.   E.g, in the Mexican narco-state nexus of "Distributed Kleptocracy", the strategy is recognized as "plata o plomo" -- silver or lead -- the bribe or the bullet.

Acemoglu, Robinson, and Verdier hew to the narrow, standard ontology of their field:   They note that Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, "used coercion and force against potential rivals, and murdered and tortured many opponents."   Nevertheless, they exclude those instruments of power from their model, since the mathematical analysis would become intractable. But from a Security Ecology viewpoint, this assumption of non-violence renders their mathematics fragile:   their equilibrium results could be shattered by a single bullet.   And in a Kleptocracy enforced by coercion and murder, assassinations are not unexpected, Black Swan events. Hence, intellectual honesty demands that bullets be included in realistic models.

The longevity of Kleptocracies such as those of Trujillo and Mobutu relies on a primary foundation of violence and good intelligence networks. The redistributive transfers analyzed by Acemoglu, et al, are a secondary stabilizing mechanism.   BOTTOM LINE:   Intellectual honesty suggests that their Kleptocratic equilibrium results (although based on an invalid model) seem more applicable to situations such as Venezuela and the U.S. -- whose Kleptocracies rest less on violence than on strong institutional "allies":   In Venezuela, an elected "dictatorial Robin Hood" buys the allegiance of poor allies. In the U.S., moneyed institutional interests buy the allegiance of politicians at various redistributive "pivots of power".

Political ecology has focused mostly on the "natural resource" Economics of "Developing Nations", and on those forms of Politics that can be comfortably studied -- and published -- by Western academics. Hence, political ecology accepts a very standard Ontology; it does not question common assumptions or conceptual frameworks.

In contrast, security ecology takes Power as its primary focus, and then selectively broadens its context to include those factors most relevant to understanding Power. Hence, security ecology considers Technology, Infrastructure, and Cultural Epistemology of developed nations as the more important factors to analyze.

Since over half the world's population is now urban, various "Built Environments" constitute the "Ecological Niches" for most human habitat. Security ecology recognizes that most Individual human life -- and virtually all organized Institutional actions -- depend on life-support Infrastructure. Given the lack of robustness -- since Infrastructures are optimized for very narrow ranges of environmental and economic conditions -- that means all infrastructure becomes "Critical Infrastructure".

It also foregrounds how new forms of "Infrastructure Protection Rackets" will be induced by the intersection of four factors:   (1) entrenched cybersecurity vulnerabilities, (2) climate change, (3) growing Cognitive Apartheid gaps between technocratic elites and the majority, and (4) a popular culture whose Epistemology lacks a sophisticated, adaptive Immune Ontology.   (The "Risk-Shifting" social quakes caused by new financial actors wielding innovative new Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction fit nicely within this context.) For those who have learned a healthy respect for non-Westphalian Actors (Non-State Actors, Sub-State, and Anti-State), this might productively be viewed as Version 2.0 of Charles Tilly's War Making and State Making as Organized Crime (1985):

"To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket."

Given humanity's dependence on Infrastructure, virtually all risks to security are now man-made:   All security threats are now "manufactured risks" that are shaped, channeled, and mediated by Infrastructure (or lack thereof).   Extreme weather, earthquake, and disease risks are not exceptions; rather, these risks are functions of man-made climate change, and of economic inducements to situate certain types of infrastructure activities in certain areas.

Humanity now lives --not in a Western-style "Risk Society" -- but in a globalized "Risk Infrastructure". This manufacturing of risk has two important implications. (1) Risks (and benefits) are unevenly distributed. (2) Any significant social activity will involve intentional or inadvertent risk-shifting.

This centrality of Infrastructure -- including Epistemic Infrastructure -- tends to collapse neat ontological Category boundaries between (1) malevolent "external" forces, (2) dangerous "environmental" situations, and (3) harmful "internal" influences.

For its analytic tasks, security ecology necessarily employs conceptual tools that transgress the "socially approved" Category boundaries -- both "Liberal" and "Conservative" -- of modern Western culture's globalized Epistemology. Hence, security ecology views the tight coupling between Cultural Epistemology and Political Economy not as a logically necessary and "objective" relationship, but rather as a mutual adaptation -- a co-evolution. From this perspective, Security ecology views Epistemology as a fundamental component of Security Infrastructure.

Political ecology -- as a broad academic field -- has somewhat of a neo-Marxist ideology that attempts to promote social justice. Security Ecology (at least the version on this website) is more skeptical of such normative stances: Greater social justice seems like a "good thing", but -- given human fallibility -- who defines it, how achievable is it, how stable, and what are the tradeoffs and costs?

In addition, security ecology asserts that no Epistemology is Value-Neutral. That is, any conceptual tools we use, will impart some type of "bias" to our analysis. Having said that, it's important to emphasize that security ecology does not imply cultural relativism, a rejection of epistemological realism, or the rejection of rationality.

Rather, it might be said to combine (1) Economic Nobel-winner Herbert Simon's notion of "Bounded Rationality" with (2) a neo-Kantian sensitivity to the fragility of any allegedly "firm" epistemic foundational assumptions, and (3) the co-production and co-embeddings of Epistemology with Organizations of Institutional Power and Individual Psychological Identity.

Thus, security ecology claims -- as an essential aspect of the changing security context -- that our epistemic "Ways of Knowing" the world are inseparable from our "Methods of Ordering and Controlling" the world. (I.e, Declarative Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge are 2 sides of the same coin; one side is labelled "Knowledge", the other side is stamped, "Power".)

Since both Declarative and Procedural knowledge are continually changing, "Progress" -- itself -- is one cause of Representations diverging from Reality.

And since almost any change redistributes Power, opens up a new Power Vacuum, redistributes risks, and/or creates new risks, "Progress" creates new Security Ecology niches, which induce new "forms of social life". (E.g, hedge funds as new forms of compartmentized, digitally-encrypted Transnational Criminal Networks.)

SEARCH TERMS :: cybersecurity, security studies, international relations.

Stings, Stazi, Honeypots, and Sterile Medflies
[ & Evolutionary Stable Strategies ?]
"One in Four US Hackers is an FBI Informer"

How does the estimated Stazi penetration (1 in 6?) compare to penetration of the U.S. Muslim population by "awakened" or intimidated informers? What are the long-term effects of such an "internal ethnic cleansing", via what some view as COINTELPRO methods on steroids?

Might this "cure" be worse than the (possibly misdiagnosed or exaggerated) disease? To what extent might it further entrench various factions within the U.S. intelligence community as bastions of ethnic, cultural, and/or religious purity?   As the U.S. approaches its transition to a "majority minority" demographics, what does this portend for social cohesion?

And does "equal protection" of the drones, require "unequal harassment" by the drones?

NATO politics driving Afghan war -- by Gareth Porter

[Relevance: One institutional "purpose" is to justify the continued relevance of NATO, by showcasing a successful mission. But is a complex COIN environment really going to promote NATO evolution and cohesion? Or will pressures to Extend and Pretend to cooperate, instead, widen NATO's internal divisions?]

The Cognitive Dissonance of COIN: Right Doctrine, Wrong War -- by Jason Thomas


[Relevance: Gates' criticisms, in "Prisoners of Language", and "CONTINUING PROBLEM OF CONCEPTUAL CONFUSION" apply to the very term, CounterInsurgency. That's my claim.]

Credibility Assessment of Information Sources and Methods:

Americans have a dangerous tendency to make "bundled" credibility assessments of a particular source. E.g, the TV Weatherman becomes a trusted expert on Climate Science, or a media-designated ideological weathervane becomes the divine authority regarding what constitutes "Conservative" or "Liberal". Conversely, an assessment of Distrust becomes monolithic and monotonic. Such bundling virtually ensures conceptual bungling and behavioral blundering.

But the "I:F.F." -- Identification: Friend or Foe -- of a more nuanced Immune Ontology cautions us to unbundle our monolithic Trust/Acceptance (or Distrust/Rejection) into multiple dimensions within each category of Values, Motivations, Content, and Character.

Specialized Divisions of Labor Dis-Integrate Moral Responsibility,
causing Ethical Climate Deterioration

Outsourcing responsibility to bureaucracies and infrastructures (both governmental and corporate) produces an unsustainable social system of Moral and Cognitive Apartheid. The "Military-Civilian Divide" is merely one prominent instance of this.

An Oct. 2010 primer on important basics of Cognitive Bias and Counter-Insurgency ("COIN") is here:

How the "surge panacea" is becoming a self-inflicted InfoWar lie.
Ethical blowback -- to military institutions, and to its larger society (particularly via corruption channels with the client regimes). E.g, see discussion at:

Dark Satanic Hamster Mills
[ Is it wise to co-embed Human Minds in Surveillance Grid infrastructures? ]

The motto of the 1933 World's Fair was, "Science Finds -- Industry Applies -- Man Conforms".   The official text for this event went on to explain that, "Science discovers, genius invents, industry applies, and man adapts himself to, or is molded by, new things.     · · ·     Individuals, groups, entire races of men fall into step with ... the march of science and industry."

In a nutshell, "If we build it, they will adapt." But is it always wise, to adapt deep cognitive and social epistemologies and value systems, to shallow, short-term technologies and infrastructures?

In a 1946 Preface to his 1932 "Brave New World", Aldous Huxley wrote that it was crucial to understand the relationship between Sanity, Science, and Adaptation:

"I remain ... sadly certain ... that sanity is a rather rare phenomenon. I am convinced that it can be achieved and would like to see more of it. · · · Between the [dystopia of Brave New World] and the primitive [lifestyle chosen by Huxley's character, the 'Savage'] would lie the possibility of sanity · · · [in which] Science and technology would be used as though ... they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them."

Motivated partly by Google's insistence on redefining Evil, so as not to be "Evil", I wrote the following poem:

Dark Satanic Hamster Mills

Techno-Ladder status climb;
"Cool"!   Tech-Hamster-Cage sublime.

Data-mined, your every move;
"Consumer Paradise" improve.

"Machine-Learning"; machine gains.
Your neural-net is what it trains!

Hamsters restless?   Questions grind?
Download "upgrade" 2 their mind.

Embed your mind; "enhanced" machine?
Humanity, your fading dream.

Cyborg stake thru human heart:
Transistor Ethics? Not real smart!

Human moths seek Techno-Flame.
Celebration dance? Insane!

Nanotech in Frankenstein?
Gray Goo brain; Trans-Human slime.

Techno "progress"?   Techno FAITH!
Each Tech toy seeds future wraith.

Social "problem"?   Tech "Solution"!

Each Tech-Fix you call "progress".
How falsify?   Your mystic mess.

What's Tech's NULL HYPE-othesis?
Science rigor:   Can't dismiss!

Twitter, twitter, little minds.
Fast-twitch discourse; slaves' time-binds.

Over your head, ideas fly.
Concepts you need, to ask Why!

Dark Satanic hamster Mills,
Dissect our brains; rewire our wills.

Techno-treadmill, hamster wheel.
Why your soul, you let it steal?

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