Hearts and Minds
The Spiritual Component of War
'Hearts and minds' is the verdict of History on why America lost its war in Vietnam. Battlefield successes could not prevail against the self-inflicted damage wrought by successive American presidents, diplomats, and generals. The American people clearly demonstrated their lack of trust in U.S. leadership and in the credibility of the military narrative. They believed they were on the wrong side until the war could be brought to an honorable end. The enduring lesson of the Vietnam war is that civilian morale determines victory or defeat in war. Unless the hearts of a nation's citizens are fervently beating for victory, and the minds of a nation's citizens are focused on the effort required to achieve it, that nation cannot possibly appeal to the hearts and minds of its adversary.
Winning Without Fighting. Cognitive warfare is the latest incarnation of this age-old principle, updated to the Internet Age. According to David Pappalardo of the French Air Force, it aims to 'directly alter the mechanisms of understanding and decision-making in order to destabilize or paralyze an adversary', and to hack the heuristics of the human brain in an attempt to 'win the war before the war'.'
The concept is intriguing for diplomats and military strategists, holding out the prospect of 'winning without fighting', as the Chinese put it. Yet is it merely 'old wine in new bottles'?, Pappalardo asks. War has always involved an effort, through violence, to compel submission. Trickery, subversion, dissimulation, and influence have always been integral to war, acting on an adversary's mind to obtain strategic advantage. If an enemy can be made to believe that an attack will come from one direction, then he will be ill-prepared to repel an attack from another direction. Such is the purpose of feints, decoys, and threats, which are most convincing when carried out with actual military forces, equipment, and communications. Intentionally misleading communications were deployed in the lead-up to the massive D-Day attack in WWII, inducing false beliefs in the Nazi high command about where the attack would occur -- one of many examples in military history.
Alternatively, if an enemy believes that overwhelming force will inevitably follow his violation of any red line, then he may be persuaded not to step over that line. Adding persuasion to force has often been preferred, as it preserves the appearance of voluntary action. A Mafia gangster, asked how he will obtain agreement from an associate, unforgettably says 'I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse'. Both parties clearly understand the consequences, so that a threat achieves the same ends as actual violence. Deterrence, whether at the inter-personal or geopolitical level, has always been a fundamental principle of warfare. To be effective, deterrence must present a clear and present danger to the mind of the adversary, enlisting his understanding of a cause-and-effect relationship between his own actions and certain death and destruction. Conflict has always called on an adversary's mental processes, perceptions, and beliefs.
War has also always been a test of the two sides' levels of commitment, how much they were willing to sacrifice in blood and treasure to achieve victory. As America discovered in Vietnam, home-front morale can snatch defeat from the jaws of battlefield victory. U.S. President Johnson belatedly acknowledged that once he'd lost newscaster Walter Cronkite (legendary for his fair-minded judgment), Johnson knew it was over. Despite an aerial bombing campaign of incomparable ferocity conducted by his successor, President Nixon, America was ultimately defeated by its loss of the hearts and minds of its home population.
Influencing the Stuff of Thought. So what's new about cognitive warfare? The Internet, in a word. The explosion of real-time communications vastly expands the scope, quantity, and availability of both true and false information. Secrecy, and the element of surprise essential to successful attack, becomes very much more difficult to achieve and maintain. These are, however, mere extensions of existing domains of warfare. The greatest novelty of cognitive warfare lies in operations conducted through global communications media on the human brain itself -- on understandings, assumptions, perceptions, methods of analysis, and emotions -- the very stuff of thought. The notion that the mind -- my mind and yours -- may be subject to remote control upsets the entire basis of human existence. If ‘cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am') can be reduced to processing of externally generated narratives and memes, then we are nothing but automatons. To be clear, these words that you are reading now are directed to your independently thinking intelligence, intending to show you that cognitive warfare is indeed someting new. It is frighteningly real, and like many weapons of war, manifesting itself today in our everyday lives in unexpected ways.
'After all', Pappalardo writes, 'narratives are heuristics used by the brain to process and organize information so as to make sense of a given context and create meaning. As such, they are central to cognition.' We are dealing here with the very structure of common-sense, which is what this blog is all about.
Traditional common-sense distinguishes war and peace, war entailing mobilization for destruction, peace enabling production of useful and pleasing goods and services, and the leisure to enjoy them. Peace might be interrupted by some temporary crisis, which only rarely might lead to an overt 'declaration' of war, followed at some interval by actual hostilities. But that's so, like, yesterday. War and peace are now thoroughly inter-mingled. 'Activities that blur the lines within the peace-crisis-war continuum until those categories are simply no longer meaningfully distinct' are commonplace, a view expressed by General Valery Gerasimov. Such phenomena as economic warfare and sanctions, proxy wars, state-sponsored terror, simulated grass-roots rebellions and riots, false-flag operations, and similar staged events likewise elude any easy categorization as war or peace. Announcements emanating from adversaries aim to induce a constant state of fear in the target populace, thereby changing conventional expectations in the direction of perpetual conflict. This in turn induces confusion and paralysis. Cognitive warfare requires awareness of these techniques and development of ways of defending the home populace against them.
Defense against cognitive warfare goes well beyond finding the signal amid the noise. It involves, according to Pappalardo, interfering with the way an adversary thinks:
'The desired effects are not limited to the control of information but extend to the control of the executive and arbitration function of the brain itself. In this sense, the framework goes beyond the field of information warfare: Acting on information is only acting on the data that feeds cognition, whereas cognitive warfare seeks to act on the process of cognition itself. The objective is to act not only on what individuals think, but also on the way they think, thus conditioning the way they act.'
This opens up a seemingly broad vista of attack, but Pappalardo's chosen line of defense reveals a classic French Cartesian bias toward rationalism. Following psychologist Daniel Kahneman and many others, he locates the remedy in identification of one's own biases. Separating rational analysis from emotional reaction -- as if that were possible! -- supposedly enables military planners to counter an adversary's attempts to take advantage of our biases. By selectively activating those functions of one's own brain that promote rational understanding of the problem at hand, one can allegedly eliminate or at least minimize bias-driven mistakes. Organizational biases such as groupthink, siloing, not-invented-here, bureaucratic inertia, if identified, can likewise be reduced by adjusting command structures so as to surface unconventional ideas. But never under-estimate bureaucratic attachment to irrational and counter-productive ideas! The reforms he suggests are reasonable, but are no match for the far more sophisticated attacks conducted by those who weave together rational and emotional appeals seamlessly.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Surprise. Chinese strategists since Sun Tzu have favored winning without fighting, using every form of influence to bring about a state of compliance with a fait accompli. By winning 'the war before the war', they avert the necessity of engaging a possibly superior enemy in kinetic (tanks and bullets) warfare. The ancient Chinese refinement on the art of surprise involves, as Sun Tzu taught, pretending to be strong when one is weak, and pretending to be weak when one is strong. The modern Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) have practiced these arts masterfully, conquering Wall Street, U.S. academia, the U.S. Presidency, and major elements of both political parties and Congress, without these worthies even recognizing the conquest! Renmin University Economics Professor Di Dongsheng boasted about how it was done:
Each motivation -- money for Wall Street, prestige for academics, power for politicians -- was carefully recast into rational, career-building, and even patriotic molds, with a dash of Oriental mystique, and special attention to selecting credulous recipients. In fact, a Chinese think-tank assessed all 50 U.S. Governors as to whether they are friendly, hardline, or ambiguous toward China. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a National Governors Association meeting in August 2020, 'I’ll let you decide where you think you belong, someone in China already has. Many of you, indeed, in that report, are referenced by name.'
This sort of triage enables provincial-level Chinese officials to practice their brand of cognitive warfare on those Governors most likely to be receptive. As far back as 2012, and likely long before, CCP cognitive warriors hacked into and stole records of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), targeting Federal officials.
Academic and media institutions have been subjected to similar scrutiny, to devise inducements individually curated to each person's ruling motivations. Let no one accuse the Chinese Communist Party of being not caring about individuals! And all of this while China was posing as an underdeveloped nation deserving of special consideration by global finance (like carbon credits). At the same time, CCP officials indulged the West's wishful thesis that trade and cross-national investment would inevitably lead to democracy and respect for the Western rules-based international order in China. As later became clear even to the most credulous wishers, CCP officials never intended to do anything of the kind. Their only use for the rules-based international order was to exploit it to their own advantage, which they have done skillfully in every international organization they participate in.
The Spiritual Component of Cognitive Warfare. The Hudson Institute's Colonel Koichiro Takagi traces the recent history of CCP cognitive warfare through contemporary strategic thinkers: China's long-sought goal of winning without fighting is updated by Pang Hongliang, who observes that 'the cognitive space composed of people's spiritual and psychological activities is becoming a new combat space for war'.
His understanding is far more sophisticated than facile rational-emotional bifurcation: Cognitive space 'reflects the invisible space of human emotions, will, beliefs and values.... The national cognitive space is scattered in the subjective world of each individual.' He sees that this involves a collective mind 'formed by the superposition of the cognitive space of countless individuals in the whole society. The target of cognitive space combat is people, and the battlefield is the entire human society.' And he does not shy away from recognizing the spiritual dimension: '[T]he weapon of cognitive space contest is spiritual information. Any place where spiritual information can be spread can become a battlefield.' The implications are chilling, and Pang Hongliang follows them through relentlessly: 'Controlling the cognitive space is to influence and even dominate the cognition, emotion and consciousness of the public and national elites, and ultimately influence a country’s values, national spirit, ideology, cultural traditions, historical beliefs, etc., and urge them to give up their own exploration.' He cites the U.S. Army's identification of the physical, cognitive, and information domains, as if to indicate parity, but these artificial divisions are amateurish compared to the blending of disparate domains in his own account. Or perhaps he is attributing greater cognitive warfare capabilities to the U.S. Army than actually exists, in order to prod the PLA into upping their own game in that endeavor.
Colonel Takagi asks what China is learning from the Ukraine war about the prospect of invading Taiwan. His answer is that despite some successes in the cognitive domain, cognitive warfare is a long way from winning without fighting. Russia, he says, annexed Crimea in 2014 by acting quickly and creating a fait accompli, while disguising the identity of its soldiers. It's doubtful, however, that anyone could have believed military operations in Crimea were carried out by any nation other than Russia, and in any case Crimea had been part of Russia for hundreds of years as the successor of Byzantium. So this is hardly an argument for the success of cognitive warfare. Takagi also considers Russia's case for invasion of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to be a failure of its assertions concerning Ukraine's attacks on Russian residents during the 2014 - 2022 period. Be that as it may, the fact these these assertions are disputed indicates that cognitive warfare has not worked in that instance either.
Ukraine's cognitive warfare, in the person of media-savvy President Zelensky, has rallied international support, and with it tens of billions of dollars' worth of weaponry. (Diversion of some of this largesse to his own personal account has not diminished the success of his campaign.) In Takagi's view, the Ukraine war shows China that invading another country -- even one that was once part of the invader's territory -- inspires fierce resistance. Even had Russia achieved greater success in the cognitive domain, there was no chance of its winning without physical fighting on the battlefield.
Observing the Ukraine war, China has redoubled its efforts to persuade Taiwan that resistance to an invasion is hopeless. Firing missiles into the South China Sea, massing naval vessels around the island, and staging live-fire air-attack simulations are all designed to convey this message. Internationally, the CCP repeats its 'renegade province' rhetoric at every opportunity, tries to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, and works aggressively to exclude Taiwan from all international organizations. The CCP also tries to sow internal discord in Taiwan with economic sanctions and direct threats to pro-independence groups. The CCP's cognitive warfare against Taiwan thus encompasses direct threats, economic sanctions, and diplomatic efforts to persuade Taiwan that its only hope of survival is as a province acceding to Beijing's terms. The experience of Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet suggests, however, that such integration would not end well for Taiwan. For a people deeply engaged in national survival and aware of the alternative, there is very little that cognitive warfare alone can do to dissuade them from independence.
Awareness -- The Critical Factor in Defending Against Cognitve Warfare. Colonel Takagi hints at a crucial defense against cognitive warfare -- awareness -- but does not explore it further, perhaps because it's difficult to assess when deployed against a foreign enemy. But we have other cases where cognitive warfare is in active use against domestic groups who are perceived as enemies by government agents. This may seem strange from a traditional civics-lesson perspective, which holds that government acts on behalf of 'the consent of the governed'. But government agents, regardless of the brand of government -- socialist, democratic, communist, green, monarchist -- have for some years been acting as a party in their own interest. Through global organizations like the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Economic Forum (WEF), they have discovered a common interest among themselves as opposed to the common citizenry. Significantly, they are unelected and not subjected in any way to popular accountability, deriving what they think is their mandate from some vague notion of expertise or science. Circulating between the globalist echelons of foreign ministries and staff positions at international agencies, they are the most expert practitioners of cognitive warfare today. They fulfill the classic criteria of Sun Tzu, winning without fighting.
'Winning' in this context means getting people to do things they would rather not do, such as accept debt-servitude 'austerity' programs of unemployment and impoverishment, take experimental harmful drugs, imprison whole cities in house arrest, import massive numbers of refugees, celebrate perversity, and divert resources to peripheral energy technologies of dubious value. All of these programs have been implemented around the world largely by cognitive warfare -- against the citizenry. Mass imprisonment has required overt coercion, significantly in countries where such traditions exist, such as China, Italy, and Austria. The United States has pioneered indirect coercion by deputizing employers to force employees to choose between their jobs and an experimental drug, though judges have determined this was illegal. But an essential element of this campaign was messaging delivered through all media, designed to activate concern for family and friends, belief in bogus science (as an authority rather than as a method of inquiry, exemplified in the phrase 'follow the science'), and induce blind fear, along with social pressure to grant blind consent to violation of bodily autonomy, adding fear of loss of livelihood to other fears. All of these campaigns posited some greater good to be realized someday (exactly when is never specified) in return for some present sacrifice which is experienced here-and-now as a lower standard of living, an enhanced risk of disease and death, and/or demographic decline. Incomprehensible computer plots, many emanating from the same college in London, featured prominently in forecasts of both ecological and health disasters. Indeed they could have used the same graphs, merely changing the names of the variables. In this way the psychological, 'spiritual' (if virtue-signaling may be so exalted), pseudo-scientific, informatics, and coercion-lite elements were brought to bear on obtaining specific outcomes from an adversary -- the citizenry -- that would certainly not have otherwise occurred. A clear victory for cognitive warfare.
Fundamental to its success is the practitioners' lack of acknowledgement that they were actually engaged in cognitive warfare. In fact, many of them, particularly at the outset of each campaign, may not have been aware of it themselves. They were, in their own minds, following a 'higher calling'
§7. Notes On A Higher Calling, January - June 2017
at least at the outset of their efforts. They believed, with various degrees of self-deception, that they were ensuring economic stability ('austerity'), promoting public health (experimental drugs, mass imprisonment), saving the oppressed (migrants, anal-sex celebrants), and/or saving the planet (green energy). While they recognized that a multi-faceted program of persuasion / pressure / coercion would be required, they would not at first characterize these activities as a form of warfare. Only after substantial resistance materialized would opponents be recognized as enemies. Such opponents were labeled racists, populists, domestic terrorists, far-right extremists, etc. Even at the current (August 2022) advanced stage of conflict between globalist agents and the citizenry, neither group would consider itself involved in cognitive warfare.
This lack of awareness is critical for the further success of cognitive warfare efforts directed against the citizenry. As Colonel Takagi and David Pappalardo note in the context of international conflict, cognitive warfare involves a whole-of-government approach, the blurring of boundaries between peace, crisis, and war, extraordinary effort devoted to controlling the narrative, popularizing memes or frameworks of understanding, and other activities that influence the very content of thought. Now in the context of many nations' domestic politics, these are actually features of our everyday lives. Not for the first time in history, weapons developed for use against foreign enemies are deployed against domestic political opponents.
As one who has been skeptical of the 'artificial intelligentsia' since my days at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), I've been inclined to dismiss claimed capabilities of remote influence on thinking and thought processes, without personal interaction to validate beliefs and practices. It sounds far-fetched, science-fictiony. Yet the extraordinary success that that these campaigns have enjoyed, in quickly commandeering the views of highly educated and apparently intelligent people in the U.S. and Europe, suggest that some such techniques are at work.
In the 1930s, Freud's nephew Edward Bernays sold cigarettes to women by persuading them they could own a penis in that way. Madison Avenue adopted Bernays' technique en masse, connecting consumer products with hidden desires. In the 1950s when this technique was still in its infancy, Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders put people wise to how they were being manipulated. Almost overnight, the effectiveness of this brand of advertising plummeted. Awareness made the difference. Consumers who had read 'The Hidden Persuaders', and who knew what advertisers were up to, developed immunity to their message.
AI, information management, narrative control, and kindred sciences have become vastly more complex, and harder to detect, since then. They have become so thoroughly embedded in seemingly neutral or trustworthy information sources that it is a major task to sort the wheat from the chaff, or signal from noise, whatever metaphor you prefer. Google, Facebook, et al have become adept at up-regulating certain types of messages and down-regulating others. They hide their algorithms for the simple reason that they would be less effective if users knew about them. And it has recently been disclosed -- surprise! -- that their speech-regulation practices are closely coordinated with handlers in Government, who often give explicit instructions on what to censor and what to promote. Psychologist Robert Epstein identified the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) which can turn a 50/50 split among undecided voters into a 90/10 split without people's awareness:
§7a. A Higher Calling, January - June 2017:
In this contemporary 'arms race' between practitioners of cognitive warfare and civilians seeking honest guidance, awareness has a lot of catching-up to do. Purveyors of mass psychosis have been astonishingly successful, far moreso than I would have previously thought possible. Vaccination rates approximating two-thirds of the populace accepting, albeit with coercion, an experimental drug that is not a vaccine wreaking vascular havoc, is only one of many examples of the success of mass conditioning. Less successful, but persuasive to about one-third, are the propositions that humiliating military defeat is victory, economic decline is prosperity, boys can be made into girls and vice versa, anal sex is healthy, and electric cars are cleaner than gasoline-powered cars. Dismal example upon dismal example could be piled up, but you get the idea. By the time the falsity of each becomes clear, variants emerge, newly armed to befuddle the populace.
Awareness is the most successful antidote, powered by common-sense and spiritual
wholeness. It's painfully difficult, though, to treat people and sources, on
whom one has relied for decades, as suspect; or to read a newspaper or a
social-media feed with the thought constantly foremost 'What are they trying to
make me believe?'. But as difficult as it may be, thinking for oneself, and
doing the research to find the truth really will set you free.