Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Intuition, intelligence and policy making

What many an intelligence analyst must have realised, politicians don't always make decisions on the intelligence reports that have been painstaikingly put together, but does it on a hunch and from personal preferences.

Now the good social scientists have turned their attention to this and in a report from the University of Amsterdam it is stated that decisions made on intuition are often superior to deliberated ones.

FAS reports:

"Intuition is often understood as an antithesis to analytic decision-making, as something inherently nonanalytic or preanalytic," Halpern quotes neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg. "But in reality, intuition is the condensation of vast prior analytic experience; it is analysis compressed and crystallized."


International politics - and lååååve!

Who said that studying Intl. relations is always a matter of stern seriousness? Foreing Policy has published a story on who loves who in connection with that loveish Valentine "holiday" that spreads like bird-flu.


Done and done

My dissertation has been turned in and I have been turned out, almost. Yippiekaiay!

Abstract: Propaganda as a rhetorical concept

The concept "propaganda" is being used extensively in contemporary media, politics and popular culture. This has led to a recent revival of the academic study of the phenomenon. The properties of propaganda are being debated extensively. The rhetorical tradition in its modern incarnation however, has not really stood out in this debate, despite its preoccupation with ethical communication in general. This striking lack of interest and insight in the term propaganda on behalf of rhetorical criticism is being investigated from a thesis that holds that rhetoric has epistemological features, that in turn obscures vital features of propaganda.

First a sketch of the common notion of propaganda is outlined and then nuanced to form a foundation for three critiques, focusing on the rhetorical epistemology concerning propaganda. First it is shown that the rhetorical orientation towards the individual is not sufficiently nuanced when discussing propaganda. The classical conception of intention and perception in the humanities has neglected the influence that social environs impart upon the individual's intention and perception. This questions the notion of propaganda as mysteriously manipulative. There has been an extensive rhetorical interest in "ideology" but the findings here have not been applied to propaganda. The next critique questions the rhetorical assumptions about social entities such as the organisation and the mass. In rhetorical texts these are often treated as a synecdoche of the individual and thus fails to account for unique rhetorical features. This deficit is in contrast to the extensive rhetorical work on the conception of a "public sphere". The last critique concerns itself with ideas of power in rhetoric. It holds that the Platonic criticism of rhetoric as an unethical technique has imparted the rhetorical tradition with a suspicion of power, both in the form of actual power and the will to power. This is especially seen in the idea of agonism as a feature of propaganda and highlights an estrangement towards the basic competition as a driving feature of rhetorical action. The critique ends with a suggestion for the abandonment of an essential conceptualisation of propaganda and an enlargement of rhetorical criticism in the form of a "rhetorical sociology". This sociology will be able to deal with "background" features of communication and its level of description is illustrated by the call for a differentiation between demagogy and propaganda: Demagogy bearing resemblance to most traditional rhetorical propaganda analysis, propaganda concerning itself with the extra-individual features shown in the critiques.


Emergent intelligence - and rhetoric?

The always challenging weblog Global Guerrillas has an interesting post on "emergent intelligence"

Emergence is the phenomenon where a large number of individual entities and their actions contribute to a larger phenomenon, like the neurons - in themselves pretty simple - that forms the complex human brain - or a flock of birds that turns and flies in a pattern with no central coordination.

John Robb over at the Global Guerillas sets up a description on how intelligence on a tactical scale among insurgents in Iraq can form a larger "intelligence community" or "intelligence output" that can be utilized by whoever has been in contact with the separate entities themselves. He writes: "Rather, it is a form of group intelligence that learns, achieves goals, and engages in self-preservation."

The thought of emergence is wildly puzzling. As I am writing on propaganda right now it seems that this might be a concept that would be worth investigating more. In my research I have come up with a model where you can separate two levels of description "demagogy" and "propaganda". Emergence could explain how the individual statements ends up forming a debate "climate". In the same line of thought it could explain the interaction between individual and ideology.


Unfortunately I'll have to turn in my dissertation on Wednesday, so I think it is a fair assumption that I probably won't have time to integrate a whole new, social-scientific theory into my humanistic project.


Cartoons that divide and unite

The good people at Strategic Forecasting, Stratfor has come up with another interesting analysis - and of course concerned with the Mohammed-cartoon row.

Their main finding is that this incident serves to unite across two faultlines: the US-European and the Sunni-Shiia. Those two faultlines has been exploited by the pro- and antagonists in the "War on Terror" but now they are being bridged somewhat by this clash of principles: a religious, moslem one with a liberal democratic one.

Stratfor ends up by saying that the beneficiaries of this conflict - naïvely set off by Flemming Rose and his crew at the conservative provincial newspaper Jyllands-posten - are Iran and the US:

Still, there are two clear beneficiaries. One is the United States: The cartoon affair is serving to further narrow the rift between the Bush administration's view of the Islamic world and that of many Europeans. Between the Paris riots last year, the religiously motivated murder of a Dutch filmmaker and the "blame Denmark" campaign, European patience is wearing thin. The other beneficiary is Iran. As Iran moves toward a confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons, this helps to rally the Muslim world to its side: Iran wants to be viewed as the defender of Islam, and Sunnis who have raised questions about its flirtations with the United States in Iraq are now seeing Iran as the leader in outrage against Europe.

This is an interesting observation, but the Americans here might overlook the tendency there is for so-called "moderate moslems" (another way to describe secular moslems I fear) to become more visible in the debate and thus strengthening the integration efforts. This is a tendency that is sketchy at most, but will be interesting to follow.


Presence og psykopati: kolde pølser

Ja, min overvejelse omkring presence og psykopati er blevet vendt på hovedet, men gælder stadigvæk.

Intelligence: Remote medical diagnosis

There are still few areas of intelligence-work that are imbued with cloak-and-dagger mythos. A CIA study from 1979 has recently been declassified, dealing with remote diagnosis of foreign leaders. An example is the observation that French president Pompidou's face became swollen, indicating a high cortisone level and hinting a lympo-proliferative disorder (whatever that feels like) - that would eventually kill him on 2 April 1974.

These kinds of diagnoses are important when planning policy towards a country - and non-state groups. I guess there must be some interesting studies in secret drawers around the world on the mysterious end of Arafat (HIV was hinted - not a very "worldleaderly" disease, and thus not one you would advertise with yourself).

Download the article here (PDF) - via FAS.


The Iranian connection

UPDATE: A former Danish diplomat to Syria now speculates that Hezbollah was responsible for the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut.

If true, this is a very interesting development. It marks the involvement of the Shiites in the form of the Iranian backing to Hezbollah (Hizbollah)and it opens up another front in the Cartoon-debacle - one that Iran might not be willing to be seen to front because of the energy directed at steering the nuclear programme through the international criticism. The former Danish ambassador Ole Wöhlers Olsen underscores how much the situation is a product of political tensions in the country, the cartoons just being the symbol that is needed for unrest. He point to the fact that the situation very much resembles the one that started off the long civil war in the 1970s.

The Syrian connection

Another day of embassy-burnings - this time in Beirut.

I just wonder how this incident is connected to the one in Damascus yesterday. I am no great expert on Lebanese-Syrian connections, but it seems strange to me that there would be a demonstration of several thousand people and it not having anything to do with the internal problems of the two countries.

I have written on the Syrian intelligence services and I am now trying to figure out how this could fit in with the picture. There is an interesting thing to note here, namely that it seems that the police has been far more active stopping the Beirut riots, hinting a division between "the streets" and government - a division that seemed absent in the pictures from Damascus, where policemen in green cover-alls watched the spectacle up close. I wonder if the Syrian Mukhabarat is able to conjure up a crowd like that.

Furthermore it really puts my thinking on propaganda into perspective. I am of the conviction that propaganda is a social phenomenon, not a communication-one as such. But these last days have been a powerful demonstration of how demagogues are able to rally a mass and give it a direction.

Presence og psykopati

Muhammed-sagen har givet et symbolsk fokus for meningsløs vold der nu kan kondenseres som politisk meningsløs vold.


Psychology of the mass

A strange day in Denmark indeed. Suddenly we saw burning embassies and an angry mass, smashing, burning, looting. All directed at us, sitting with hangovers around the coffeetable staring at the screen. I don't know if my sense of unreality has been hightened by the possible youth-gang mugging I witnessed on my way home and shouted at to determine if it was just fun or what, but today foreign affairs has certainly had an impact on our lives.

Seeing the pictures of the protesters in Damascus, I vividly remembered Elias Canetti's book "Masse und Macht" (Crowds and power).

In this he states that the function of the crowd is to dispel hierarchy momentarily. The greatest primitive fear is to be touched by the unknown in the dark, and only in the mass is this fear removed and even inverted. The mass has four dynamics:

1) It will always grow
2) In it there is equality
3) It loves intimity, closeness
4) It needs a direction

He writes that the mass has a desire for destruction, most potently by fire, but tends to smash things that breaks easily, like doors and glass. The mass has a feeling of being chased, endangered, both from outside (police) and from within - by all the members of the crowd who are traitors by heart, just wanting to get by.

There are a number of types of masses - the one we saw in Damascus was of the type the chasing mass - it forms to achieve an easily obtainable goal, a victim that must be done away with. The murder is central, either as an expulsion or a communal killing. When the murder is committed, the mass flees and disperses, reminded of its own mortality.


Dissecting the dissenters

A striking feature of the demonstrations of the last few days in the cartoon-debacle is the composition of the demonstrators. In the west-bank it is a very distinct demographic group that are doing theirs: young, armed men in casual clothes. The colour green is absent from these demonstrations.

This suggests that two of the trends that I have mentioned on the blog, this one, and this one, has run together: Hamas is clearly staying out of the trouble and leaves the demonstrating to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Fatah. These two groups on the other hand takes advantage of the presence given to the Danish case and tries to rally themselves and their surroundings in the wake of the utter electoral defeat.

In that way the Cartoon-case has become a useful symbol for domestic politics in the Palestinian territories.


Symbolic action: building a mosque

Herbert Pundik, a senior figure at the Danish paper Politiken now suggests that building a mosque would be a good counter-move to the overblown, super-heated debacle going on around the Muhammed-cartoons.

And I for one think that is the most constructive suggestion that has come from anyone in Denmark during the incident.

As it is today, Danish moslems gather in old factory-buildings, garages and basements to worship. You see them flock to these dismal places every friday and can't help thinking that there is a reason why some become disgruntled. Who wouldn't, worshipping the Lord of the World in a damp garage, with a smell of mold and old farts?

So it is about time that the Danish moslems got a mosque that would be graceful and dignified.

If this was done through a popular collection with some public donation as well, this could be a nice way to signal "Hey, Islam has been around for 30+ years. We know it won't dissappear like that, so we would like to get it out into the light and show that the majority of Danes are all for religious freedom - and that this means not hiding away in a basement." Furthermore it would keep the Saudis away from such a project, definitively a good symbolic message to the Danes who are wary of Islam alltogether.

Of course there are going to be groups of young, bearded and disgruntled "talebeh" in such a new, light, Danish-design mosque - plotting the Caliphate. But at least they will know that the Danish people gave them the very table around which any conspiracy against Denmark should be thought out.

And of course it is going to be a hassle with neighbours complaining about the call of the muezzin and all that strangeness (if Moslems only had had to do the call to prayer on sunday mornings at 9, then it could blend in nicely with the churchbells). But tough luck. Symbolic diplomacy means symbolic concessions.