ZenPundit
Saturday, January 14, 2006
 
CULTURALLY -INFLUENCED COGNITION AND COUNTERTERRORISM

Myke Cole, an analyst at CACI and one of the more interesting and thoughtful up and coming writers on security policy, has a noteworthy article on terrorism profiling in On Point:

"The Taxonomic Obsession: Profiling as a 4GW Tactic" by Myke Cole

Cole argues that the standard counterintelligence practice of profiling for al Qaida or Islamist terrorists based on a model that represents Salafi-Jihadi characterisics is a serious and potentially dangerous error given what we know about 4GW opponents like al Qaida. The evolutionary adaptability of such loosely organized, networked opponents makes, in Cole's view, the use of standard profiling tactics an effort in self-imposed blindness. ( Dan of tdaxp, in his review, offers a counterpoint).

On the evolutionary margin - where operatives for the next catastrophic terrorist attack are likely to be found - Cole is in my view quite correct. Not only for Muslims who do not fit the Arab Salafi-Jihadi profile such as Western converts, SEA nationalities, Women, Black Africans or Bosnian Slavs but those terrorists who are non-muslims altogether. Future strategic partnerships at the operational level between radical Islamists and Neo-Nazi racial extremist groups in Europe and the United States ( who often express admiration for al Qaida) or the radical Left should not be preemptively ruled out, as slavishly adhering to profiling would have us do.

On the other hand, the inchoate nature of the Salafist-Jihadi demographic means that the itinerant, amateur, self-trained, Islamist terrorist who acts out from inspiration gathered largely from the internet or the downtrodden immigrant who becomes radicalized in the ghetto mosques will fall largely into the standard profile. We need to watch the mediocre quintiles of the terrorist bell curve as well as for the superior ones.

I would like to highlight Cole's perceptive observation though, because the implications run deeper than just profiling:

"The western cultural tendency to rely on taxonomy to classify everything it encounters, from cuisine to terrorists, greatly weakens our position to combat the threat.

... The western desire to fit things into neat boxes works against us as we attempt to gain an understanding of how terror groups organize command and control. 4GW theory, supported by our experiences in and , enforces the idea that the sub and transnational opponents we face today operate in cellular fashion; loose networks that move independently guided mostly by an understanding of the overarching strategic goal.

Given this understanding, it seems odd that we attempt to impart a corporate, hierarchical structure to terrorist organizations from the outside. Confused by the fact that they do not function as we do, we attempt to picture them functioning as we do anyway, and the result is debilitating to our national counterterrorism effort."

True.

As difficult as it is to step into another man's shoes it is impossible if you begin your thought experiment with a visualization of the other man wearing one's own boots. What appears to be a logical potential move for your opponent from your perspective is not the most probable course of action if you are ignoring the opponent's internal logic. Our national security bureaucracy needed almost two decades after the end of WWII to get a reasonably nuanced, accurate and widespread " rough sketch" comprehension of the Soviet strategic decision-making process. I hate to say this, but our understanding of the internal dynamics of Islamist terrorism stands at a point equivalent not to 1949 but to 1917.

Our governmental experts and linguists are too few and are generally not of a background that emphasizes experience gained from long cultural immersion but knowledge gained from a point of scholarly removal of the most reductionist, compartmentalized, vertical thinking kind. As a result, expertise in Islamism at the higher reaches of the IC is not only relatively scarce but most likely to suffer from the blindness of "Educated Incapacity" and a lack of imagination. Our taxonomic, model-based, extrapolative, thinking process is a legacy of Aristotle, Bacon, Descartes and Newton and has been a tremendous boon to the West. In terms of mental efficiency, specialization, accumulation of knowledge and creative invention it is a robustly dynamic culture of cognition but it has a few drawbacks.

First, we Westerners tend to naturally underrate interconnectivity and are psychologically intolerant of paradox and ambiguity. Secondly, while much of the world has been forced to adapt this Western cognitive model in science, commerce, diplomacy and so on, it does not mean that " the other" naturally thinks in such a way as to arrive at similar perceptions of events, much less to the same conclusions, that we do. Abandoning our accustomed cultural thinking patterns, in order to emulate a foreign ones for the purposes of analysis, is an exceedingly difficult enterprise.

Yet, it must be done.
 
Comments:
Don't fall into the trap of deciding that because your enemy does not think like you do, he is immune to rational analysis.
 
No, not immune to rational analysis - simply we need a better grip on their internal logic and its premises ( beyond the obvious ones of course). Much like what spurred the War Department to fund the Ruth Benedict study on Japanese thiking that became _The Chrysanthemum and the Sword_
 
I wonder how horizontal thinking relates to corruption.

Lady of tdaxp was complaining that Chinese workplaces are more difficult than American workplaces, because of the "complex, interpersonal relationships" of Chinese workplaces. This compares to a relatively more meritocratic American method of hiring & promotion.

When I give final grades to students, I face this quandry. More flexible grades can be a truer evaluation of students then just a distribution of points, but opens the door to teachers-pet and teachers-peeve.
 
"Lady of tdaxp was complaining that Chinese workplaces are more difficult than American workplaces, because of the "complex, interpersonal relationships" of Chinese workplaces"

Jodi, the Korean-American proprietor of The Asia Pages and resident of Korea has written in great detail about such complex relationships in Korean firms - which she suffers from and alternatively is exempted from as an American.
 
Lady of tdaxp was complaining that Chinese workplaces are more difficult than American workplaces, because of the "complex, interpersonal relationships" of Chinese workplaces. This compares to a relatively more meritocratic American method of hiring & promotion.

I presume you mean by this, that realationships other than "org chart" trump org chart hierarchies.

Typical of non-US workplaces.
 
another exceedingly interesting, and dare say it, entertaining post. i hope it isn't too much of a bother if i point that out this:

First, we Westerners tend to naturally underrate interconnectivity and are psychologically intolerant of paradox and ambiguity.

is yet another case for the relevance of hegel. where the importance is not so much in the substance of the logic, but in the process of speculative reason.

next, and more to the point, where should we be looking in terms of our own for the minds that will be able to achieve this?

let me elaborate, i work in finance at a multistrategy hedge fund. recently we abandoned the traditional sorting mechanisms we've used to find talent. not that we are unhappy with the well pedigreed. but we have noticed an undeniable trend in those strategies that are not market correlative (which is where we are expanding). at those desks the performers are almost always people coming from rather non-traditional backgrounds. we don't have hundreds of employers or anything, not even sure its statistically significant, but it is a definite trend insofar as our experience is concerned. why do you think that is?
 
Hi Fed-X

You wrote:

"we have noticed an undeniable trend in those strategies that are not market correlative (which is where we are expanding). at those desks the performers are almost always people coming from rather non-traditional backgrounds

I would speculate the reasons for "gifted amateurs" or " gifted outsiders" would be:

1. Self-selection bias. To succeed in a difficult field for which you have no training or experience indicates a reasonable probability of having more innate talent than the mean.

2. Not having ever acquired the habitual blind spots of a field where an orthodox methodology/view is inculcated by training. They
"see" a somewhat different field.

3. They may have already acquired considerable vertical expertise in another, unrelated or cognate field. They compensate for the lack of formal training by horizontal thinking - spotting patterns or analogies not obvious to the orthodox practitioner.

4. Other professions exist where complexity, risk-tolerance, nonverbal/mathematical thinking and intuitive social psychology all play a role in career success. Such people would translate well into market related careers.

Hmm....perhaps you and Collounsbury should get together for a Hedge Fund blog ;o)
 
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