In-group/Out-group bias is one of the strongest drives in human behavior. Our learned responses to known threats and successful actions are strong survival traits that become a detriment when paradigms shift against them. U.S. foreign policy is a classic example of this phenomenon.
I got an email from my wife the other night that was really astute.
No, we don’t normally e-mail each other. After 25 years we still find plenty of things to talk about in person. But she was listening to a book on human psychology while waiting for her next Lyft customer, so e-mail.
The book in question is Everyday Survival — Why Smart People Do Stupid Things by Lawrence Gonzalez.
Here’s Camille’s observation:
Hey, this book about inflexible mental models and scripts that are reinforced by in-group/out-group bias (groupness) and confirmation bias is interesting.Xerox tried to run a tech company like old industry, it failed.
Intel was able to break their mental models of being a memory company and became a microprocessor company, and were wildly successful.This strikes me as a complete parallel for the US and Russia today. Russia had a complete break from it’s mental models and scripts, it is rebuilding itself, creating new models.
The Neocons cannot give up their mental models from the Cold War.It is evidently pretty devastating to go through a complete break down of your mental models.I think we have personally been through it.
It’s going to be hard for a whole bureaucracy to do it. Probably impossible.These are the species wide strategies that have enabled us to get here. They are going to kill us if we don’t become consciously aware of the process.
She’s absolutely right. I added in that IBM is one of the few technology companies to remake itself more than once in its lifetime — from typewriters to mainframes to home computing to servers to software. It’s an impressive run. They even made M-1 Carbines in WWII.
It makes it a remarkable case study in corporate management.
For everyone one Intel there are hundreds of Xeroxes, Eastman-Kodaks, and DECs relegated to the ash bin of history.
Why Congress Won’t Change
Our Congress is led by people with a Cold War mentality. Washington is filled with people who were inculcated in neoconservative interventionist foreign policy. They believe we are that ‘shining house on the hill’ that Reagan called the U.S. that fought the evil Communists and won.
Therefore, we cannot be the bad guys. Anything we want is good and anyone who opposes us is bad.
This is simply the way these people think. They are entitled as the stewards of the greatest country in the world to decide what is and what is not moral.
John McCain steadfastly refuses to believe that anything coming from Russia can be any good. Neither can Max Boot, Ralph Peters, Lindsay Graham or Nikki Haley.
Russia, to them, is a “gas station masquerading as a country.”
It doesn’t have advanced robotics, miniaturization, aeronautics, engine technology or anything like that. All Russians are poor, porn-addicted drunks. And Putin is their evil overlord, responsible through his shadow government for all of the bad things that happen to the U.S.
It couldn’t possibly be the fault of our morally-courageous leadership?
It’s only an American’s fault when they are on the other team during an election cycle.
Otherwise, it’s 419-3 against the Russians.
It is why the U.S. Empire will fail just like every other Empire has ever failed. Government systems are sclerotic because they are coercive and the performance of its employees is detached from their funding source — i.e. elections do not determine tax revenues.
It rewards people for inflexibility. Or, at least, it doesn’t discourage the behavior. That’s why Empires always rot from within.
The Russian ‘Other’
The U.S. Congress, its political think-tanks and the media still see Russia as a communist ‘shit-hole.’ They only see it in terms of that which they themselves advocate: state-aggrandizement, centralized control and crony-capitalism.
They hold up a mirror, look into the Abyss and assume everyone is as corrupt as they are.
In Russia, Mr. Putin is no saint, but he is making moves to gradually roll back the state from everyday affairs in Russia at a pace that causes the least amount of chaos for his people. Has he broken as few eggs along the way? No question. Was he engaged in a war against the very things I just talked about?
Yes. And those people who have that much power will fight with every erg of energy to win. So, while I wouldn’t want to be friends with Mr. Putin, I understand what he felt he had to do.
Could change in Russia have happened faster? Sure. But, let’s not quibble about disagreements of degree rather than kind. No rational observer would say that Russia is less prosperous or free than it was under the U.S.S.R.
Remember, John McCain isn’t rational.
Mr. Putin, a very flexible thinker, has been exceedingly patient with the U.S. over his career, especially in the past nine months. He hoped there would be a change in policy towards Russia under Trump that would allow the two powers to co-exist and pursue interests without conflict.
He has implored us to come to the table and treat both Russia and China like partners, not subjects.
But, it’s clear that Trump feels Russia deserves punishment for daring to defy the U.S. on important matters pertaining to its survival, i.e. the petrodollar system. The sanctions are not about interfering in the election or supporting separatists in the Donbass.
They are about energy and money. They always are.
Trump knows that Russia holds cards that allow it to undermine U.S. primacy as a financial center and now it is clear that makes Putin his adversary.
Putin uses different tactics to pursue Russia’s goals. He governs today more like a libertarian-minded person would. He seeks diplomatic solutions whenever possible with everyone. Signs major trade deals to solidify diplomatic successes. He explores new technology to improve his bureaucracy (Ethereum blockchain technology).
In short, he crafts real win-win solutions for his partners.
We thought Trump would be that guy. But, he’s not.
Because, unlike Putin, Trump is not a free-trader. He isn’t interested in mutual benefit unless the U.S. wins.
He is a mercantilist.
It sucks to admit this, because I believed otherwise about Trump for months now, but the reality is quite clear in light of where we are headed.
See, this is the hallmark of a flexible mind. Data, all puns intended, trumps opinion.
Humility always beats hubris.
Watch any interview with Trump and then one with Putin. Tell me who has which attribute. Then you’ll know who will win this fight.
Why Trump is so angry with China and Germany is that they have been allowed to be better mercantilists than the U.S. over the past twenty-odd years.
Therefore, it is right and proper for Europe to pay three times as much for its energy to ‘stifle the ambitions’ of Russia and save the U.S.’s fading petrodollar system. Any complaining from Germany on this is simpering because, as well, the “Germans are bad on trade. Very bad.”
It doesn’t matter that trade balances are irrelevant when you print the world’s reserve currency. Such subtleties are lost on Trump. His mental model is ‘trade surplus good,’ ‘weak currency good.’
That’s mercantilist thinking. And, by the way, its not sustainable.
Now, we add in that Trump has a blind-spot when it comes to Iran. He is convinced Iran and North Korea are the root of all evil in the world. What moves he has made on foreign policy support this thesis.
Nothing is going to change that because Trump is not going to change. He’s been nurturing these ideas for more than thirty years and now that he has the reins of power he’s going to implement them.
Even though they are wrong. Not completely wrong, mind you. Iran and North Korea have governance problems that need to be resolved. But they are not the sole problems in the world. And they won’t be solved with sabre-rattling or warfare.
And they are not worth a continued alliance with Saudi Arabia nor a trade war with the European Union.
Moreover, he is not the only person with the solution to them. Contrary to his opinion.
“We’ll handle North Korea. We’re going to be able to handle North Korea. It will be handled. We handle everything,” –Donald Trump this morning.
Do you see the problem?
Trump falls victim to the classic problem all authoritarians and many libertarians have.
If they can’t see a solution one must not exist.
And it’s not just Trump. This problem is everywhere. And it comes back to these faulty scripts we learned over the course of our lives. And it means that the collision course between him and Angela Merkel in Germany will not be avoided.
In fact, Trump relishes it, because it confirms the rightness of his position.
And if Russia gets in the way of this, so be it. And he’s willing to allow Congress to tie his hands to go after China and Germany over Russia.
The Chaos of Inertia
Human behavior doesn’t change. And it is the inertia of these learned systems, the inflexible minds of most people, that creates the chaos we are experiencing now and reaches a crescendo every few generations.
It’s a trait that has been wildly successful in our evolutionary past. But, today it is becoming a liability. With the pace of innovation accelerating, the ability to shift mental modes and incorporate new paradigms into your worldview is the key to success.
Believe me, I’m not saying I’m any good at it personally. But, it takes a strong person to break down old versions and rebuild themselves.
As a martial artist of high enough rank to instruct new students. I always tell them not to practice outside of class for the first year or so. Practice doesn’t make perfect.
Practice makes permanent.
And the last thing I want to see is an enthusiastic white belt become a disillusioned green belt because they didn’t allow their brain to learn things properly the first time. It’s harder to ‘unlearn what you have learned’ to quote Yoda than to learn it right the first time.
We are led by people who have misinterpreted the reason for our success in the post WWII institutional order. The Neoconservatives and the Progressives believed it was because of the rightness of our ideas not simply the inheritance of what capital survived the war.
That illusion is ingrained in nearly four generations of American thinking. It’s not going away anytime soon.