Vinay Gupta: The Authoritarian Cause Will Be Defeated by Its Own Cognitive Dissonance

I (@KevinCarson1) just had an amazing Twitter exchange with Vinay Gupta (@leashless).  I’ve collated it below, with the Twitter shorthand filled in and separate tweets combined into paragraphs where it seemed natural.

GUPTA:  1> No national government is capable of planning clearly for the horror of resource wars between China, America and Europe/Russia.

2> Therefore, other narratives are being created to cover these inevitable economic and standard-of-living conflicts: drug war, terrorism.

3> This is why so much of the war seems to be huge amounts of money and manpower for totally ineffective results: immoral == blinding self.

The implication is that a moral side – even a smaller one – could out-compete the Great Powers because moral ground = intellectual clarity.  The strategic advantage of a moral war is the ability to think clearly about the ends required to meet a genuinely justified end….

Now refactor that through national politics: the government is stupid because the government is evil. Clarity would reveal it as such.  The implication is, frankly, that you cannot be smart unless you’re going to be good, excepting the genuinely evil who know that they are.

CARSON:  [This is an afterthought, not part of the Twitter exchange]  There are very few, if any regimes headed by “the genuinely evil who know that they are” — i.e. true sociopaths.  There are plenty of such people available as hired help in the Gitmos, Baghrams and Abu Ghraibs of the world, in the Lyubianka or the Chilean Ministry of Interior.  And the top leadership is willing to hire them in full (or not very deeply buried) knowledge of what they’re doing with those pliers and razor blades.  But the top leadership, while considering itself “realistic,” never really believes itself to be evil.  They’re just carrying out the thankless, necessary tasks for “securing the gains of the Revolution,” “letting the silent majority sleep in peace and security,” etc.  And the same is true of most of the public and the foot-soldiers of the regime — even those who engage in brutality.  Except for a tiny minority of true sociopaths, they compartmentalize whatever awareness they have in order to avoid confronting it directly, so that they can maintain a fragile construct of “who I really am.”  Therefore, ceteris paribus, all evil causes are weakened by cognitive dissonance.

GUPTA, Cont.:  This is important, even though it seems simple, because it’s a moral asymmetry in warfare – it’s a reason to believe the good guys do win.  In a conflict, the side which can bear to define it’s goals clearly can then plot a strategy to attain them. It can win.  You can’t win a war who’s purpose you cannot bear to define: the Americans in Iraq defined fighting with their eyes closed: empire narrative.

Now, what this represents is an opportunity to develop new fundamental doctrine based on whole-of-society offensive/defensive engagement.  There is room here for a new moral philosophy, a doctrine of war that cannot easily be used to empower evil regimes. Seriously….

Now, consider a whole-of-society democratic engagement in defensive war: “Why are we here? To defend ourselves from <those bastards>”.

Here’s my question: can soldiers who do not understand their purpose out-compete those who do? Answer: probably not. Poor strategic thinking….

And this is the critical opportunity to modernize the defensive military of democratic States: put strategists on the front line, networked.

CARSON [Another after-the-fact rumination]: Even comparatively “good” and “democratic” states are at a disadvantage in this regard compared to networked, open-source insurgencies.  The military bureaucracies of comparatively benign states may adopt networked warfare as a doctrine.  But they’ll never take off the training wheels.  Compare the goals of the 4GW doctrines coming out of the War Colleges and Command General Staff School (take advantage of networked communication tech to cut the tether and empower the boots on the ground) to how they’re actually implemented (take advantage of networked communication tech to increase the number of sign-offs required from field grade officers, or middle management, before an op is approved).  A genuinely networked movement, in contrast, will be at an advantage because there is no legacy bureaucracy to impede the advantages of totally stigmergic organization.

GUPTA, Cont.:  Because, actually, brainwashing the initiative out of soldiers then trying to breed it back into special forces is Medieval, literally.  The Thinking War, which is what all high tech war is, requires people who can clearly model why they are fighting to for effective decisions.  In a networked environment, if we were going to radically empower individual initiative in war, we’d have to have moral alignment first.

What I’m driving at is a moral limitation which command-and-control evolved to get around: wars for the goals of the ruling European classes.  And that stuff is all baked into the military, right down to the bone. But we know from Deming that Understanding & Equality = Quality.  If you look at a modern military through Deming’s eyes, the entire thing is a machine for producing cockups.

In short,a transparent and cooperative battle space is only possible when soldiers individually understand their true purpose and objectives.  Because if you feel you’re in the wrong, you can’t bear to look at the data, and you live in a fantasy world: SNAFU and hierarchy lies.

CARSON [Yeah, this is actually from the Twitter exchange]:  Your train of thought suggests fascist regimes can’t afford to let their soldiers be smart; they will therefore be defeated by networks.  Soldiers fighting for an authoritarian cause have morale trouble from cognitive dissonance, and can’t be trusted with  initiative.  That’s the same thing Julian Assange said about hierarchies becoming more brittle and opaque to themselves, in response to attack — wasn’t it?

GUPTA:  And the side which can bear to face its actions head-on can see the battlespace clearly right down to each individual fighter.  The more monitoring and intelligence gear you have, the worse it gets: the intel analysts can’t bear to think about what they’re seeing.  Moral failure means your front lines get shit information: self-deception is a critical strategic failure which your enemies can exploit.

In short:  hit them in their cognitive dissonance. Map it as a strategic asset, and whip ass on it as hard as possible.

CARSON:  Fuckin’ A.  Just like any hierarchy. The only difference is, an army can’t use a cartel to shut down competition from the insurgency.

GUPTA:  What I am suggesting here is simple: TECHNOLOGY EMPOWERS MORAL WAR. I think we may find that it cripples immoral war: evidence is current.

GUPTA [in response to mention of drones by Smari McCarthy @smarimc]:  Drone pilots are getting horrible problems… Air Force’s number one staffing issue is drone pilots.

CARSON [after the fact again]:  Not to mention Iran’s demonstration of GPS hacking against an American drone, and the likelihood that cost implosion will result in drones being a cheap off-the-shelf Assassin’s Mace technology in five years’ time.

GUPTA, Cont.  Now, imagine the Iraqis and the Afghans had a a vast supply of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft weapons and good quality anti-tank gear.  All that stuff is cheap, weapon cost less than 1% of target cost, say. They did this based on RPGs and landmines. Imagine if they’d had kit.

Why? To have effective swarm response, fast, fluid tactics, you need a general consensus on strategy, which comes from political clarity.

What I am suggesting, in short, is that it cost $80 million to kill each Iraqi fighter because Dick Cheney was a lying cunt.

Now, let’s take this and look at post-economic Greece, Spain and Italy. Italy is city states. Greece and Spain nearly went Anarchist nr WW2.  With a moral case for war in those nations, they could be the first testbeds for first world populations fighting for new politics. Shit….

If you just dump the data into a bucket, in a transparent battle space, the moral clarity is what results in coordination at the macro scale.  That efficient swarm coordination requires shared goals and common knowledge, and IMMORAL WAR has split goals in the force and secrecy.  The battlespace inevitably becomes transparent because the world is turning into one big camera. Even EMP won’t do it, in 5 years.

CARSON [after the fact]:  Same thing goes for the battlefields at Oakland, UC Davis, NYC.  For the first time, the public is forced to confront what that “thin blue line” really does.  Moral unity between the public and those sainted “first responders” is disrupted.

GUPTA, Cont.:  And that’s the core concept: transparent battlespace == local decision-making (hello RTS games) == side with lower cognitive dissonance wins.  The idea that the structural stupidity of the immoral force would be revealed to its own fighters by its own software seems to be new….

Conclusion: a shared, rational moral reason for war is an essential part of winning in a transparent battlespace because it enables thinking.  And particularly in urban environments, the pace of war requires decision-making to be done as far forwards as possible, and in teams. multiplied by every team plugged into the battle computers, looking at the carnage wrought, in short….

It also suggests that, in high flux environments, the better trained side will lose because they’re better at doing what they’re told.

Tech provides coordination, which makes Just Following Orders a less adaptive response than looking at the map and acting. Power shift.

In short, when the Army is no longer a Will-Multiplier for a Strong Center, but a self-service collective defense system, it works different.  That’s actually the key, right there: the military was constructed to magnify the will of a Sovereign, and when that breaks down, boom.  Because a sufficiently transparent society, or battlespace, highlights the conflicts of interest between Sovereigns and Soldiers.

CARSON [after the fact]:  That’s essentially the argument Ursula LeGuin made, speaking through the character Shevek in The Dispossessed.  Hierarchies and chains-of-command exist to coordinate organizations whose members have no interests in common with the leadership and no rational interest in meeting the objective:

Atro had once explained to him how this was managed, how the sergeants could give the privates orders, how the lieutenants could give the privates and the sergeants orders, how the captains… and so on and so on up to the generals, who could give everyone else orders and need take them from none, except the commander in chief. Shevek had listened with incredulous disgust. “You call that organization?” he had inquired. “You even call it discipline? But it is neither. It is a coercive mechanism of extraordinary inefficiency–a kind of seventh-millennium steam engine! With such a rigid and fragile structure what could be done that was worth doing?” This had given Atro a chance to argue the worth of warfare as the breeder of courage and manliness and weeder-out of the unfit, but the very line of his argument had forced him to concede the effectiveness of guerrillas, organized from below, self-disciplined. “But that only works when the people think they’re fighting for something of their own–you know, their homes, or some notion or other,” the old man had said. Shevek had dropped the argument. He now continued it, in the darkening basement among the stacked crates of unlabeled chemicals. He explained to Atro that he now understood why the Army was organized as it was. It was indeed quite necessary. No rational form of organization would serve the purpose. He simply had not understood that the purpose was to enable men with machine guns to kill unarmed men and women easily and in great quantities when told to do so.

GUPTA, Cont.:  Under those circumstances, a sort of Digital Swiss Model – cooperative, networked hedgehog defense integrated to the political level wins.  Your cadres vote on procurement, on recruitment, and on mission, and it carries fluidly right into the urban conflict environment…

In short, for exactly the same reason Communism was out-competed by Capitalism, Networked societies will out-compete Capitalist ones.  It’s only the unified moral basis which allows for a networked fighting force to find effective unity: without that,transparency tears apart.

I keep saying it in different ways: when everybody can see everything, the goal of transparent battlespace, the good guys tend to win.  Because what I’m saying here is very simple: the Americans are probably going to be the Bad Guys on the next outing. #NDAA

And I think it’s important to understand their failings in Iraq and Afghanistan as being optimistic signs for global Liberty. Learn & repeat.

Conclusion of conclusion: there is a decent chance that Netwar will cripple American offensive capability in unjust wars due to moral loss….  To fight on a high tech platform is going to require a fundamental political rethink, rebuilding command-and-control from first principles.  And in that process, we might discover an effective, population-led decision-making process to replace our broken electoral democracies.

War, by the people, for the people, and of the people must be the inevitable consequence of transparency on the battle field.  Because, to win, the left hand must know what the right hand is doing, and the right hand is stuffing money down Dick Cheney’s pants….

And now for some scholarship: the classic “Why Arabs Lose Wars” – it’s this but for our own nation state militaries.

[Eleanor Saitta (@dymaxion) entered the discussion around this point.  Excerpts below]

GUPTA:  Networks vs. Hierarchies is a red herring. It’s people who Understand the Situation vs. those who Just Follow Orders. That’s all.  It’s not about structures, it’s about Freedom vs. Obedience. It’s about Transparent vs. Opaque governance in the battlespace.

SAITTA:  Eh, I think structural effects are still pretty important.

CARSON:  I agree. It’s transparency from communications that shifts balance of power from hierarchical 2 networked structures.

GUPTA:  A system where the Polity self-organizes local Defence, without reference to centralized democratic decision-making and so chain of command.  The political and military decison-making processes, the political, strategic and tactical are unified in irregular warfare:networks empower….  To get the accountability to a centralized Sovereign, no matter how abstract, requires chain of command vs. transparent battlespace coordination.  That’s the crux of it: the political system necessitates a particular military command structure, and it’s losing in the field vs. anarchy….

Fuck. Not good. The democratic mandate, the control of the military by voters, turns out to be the stinky albatross in the netwar room.  You can win a modern war, or you can be democratically accountable, but you can’t do both: it’s just too fast with a transparent battlespace.

CARSON:  Not so bad as that, I don’t think. As you suggested earlier, genuine networked model of Democracy 2.0 may emerge from nature of warfighting.  The idea is unity of civil society with networked militia at the local level, “the unity of the army and the people.”  It’s only destroying fake democracy, the “Executive Committee of the corporate ruling class” kind that gave us Cheney, and replacing it with the real thing.

3 Comments Vinay Gupta: The Authoritarian Cause Will Be Defeated by Its Own Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Carl Swanson

    Community based democratic organizational forms would seem preeminent. Especially those that give rise to disruptive technology and create uncertainty for incumbents. I would add that what wins a war is focus but what trumps a war is peace.

  2. Nick Taylor

    Tangential thing – which is the first thing that springs to mind… I used to be in the band where the other guys were very well-versed in violence – first time in my life I’d ever come across it. Anyway – they would say that in a fight, the factor that really mattered the most in winning, is how in the right you think you are. People who KNOW they are right, and the other guy is wrong (and he knows it), tend to win.

  3. Kevin CarsonKevin Carson

    NOTE: John Boyd made a similar argument about morally isolating the enemy, both in terms of disrupting the moral unity between leaders/command and people/subordinates, and disrupting the enemy’s internal moral unity through cognitive dissonance:

    Physically we can isolate our adversaries by severing their communications with outside world as well as by severing their internal communications to one another….
    Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their well-being to the detriment of others… by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold….

    Such contradictions within ourselves “destroy our internal harmony” and “paralyze us.”
    –John Boyd, “The Strategic Game of ? and ?” (1987).

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *