Summary: Today we have our of America’s sharpest observers, Chuck Spinney, explain what might be our core problem — our broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop. Until we can clearly see and act, even unlimited good will and patriotic spirit will accomplish nothing.
Some time ago, you asked me to comment on your statement that America’s problem is a broken OODA loop. A friend just sent me this quote by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter spoke with Margaret Warner at ‘Constitutionally Speaking’ in Concord, NH on 14 September 2012.
I don’t worry about our losing a republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because of a coup by the military, as has happened in some other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed people will not know who is responsible, and when the problems get bad enough — as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown — some one person will come forward and say: ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’
That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor not because he arrested the Roman senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
I think Souter is right about the most likely of general pathways in this direction (but it may in fact be a very low probability). A more modern variation of the Augustus scenario is Mussolini’s unelected pathway to power or, to a lesser degree, Hitler’s elected pathway. But analogies can be a dangerous way of thinking, because they can capture the imagination and blind one to the fact that each evolution of a pathway is and will be unique, flowing out of some kind of unpredictable competitive selection process driven by an interplay of chance and necessity taking place in the peculiar conditions of the immediate environment.
That said, there is no doubt the key similarity in Souter’s analogy is that the people in America today, like those in the Roman republic, do not appreciate who is responsible for their unaddressed problems. In terms of Boyd’s OODA loop, that ignorance implies their Orientation has hijacked their Observations and people are seeing what they want to see rather than what is. The mass media is complicit in this hijacking. When Orientation trumps Observation, problems will remain unaddressed, except by accident. (See my CounterPunch article for an explanation of how OODA loops are hijacked and why this outcome is inevitable.)
This inevitability helps us to understand why the Rovian political theory of manufacturing “reality” is so dangerous; and it is also why the soothing nature of Obama’s political practices and persona (which also work to protect the oligarchy of American deep state) may be equally dangerous over the long term. One fans the fires of discontent while the other reinforces and perpetuates the deeper forces causing that discontent. Sooner or later things will go boom, and the coming election will do nothing to change the direction of that trajectory, no matter who wins.
Update: a visual description of the OODA loop
Chart 3 from John R. Boyd’s The Essence of Winning and Losing (1996):
Note how orientation shapes observation, shapes decision, shapes action, and in turn is shaped by the feedback and other phenomena coming into our sensing or observing window. Also note how the entire “loop” (not just orientation) is an ongoing many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection.
For a great introduction to the concept of OODA loops — and how to use them — see “Boyd’s Real OODA Loop” by Chet Richards. It will be time well-spent, useful for everybody!
About Chuck Spinney
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney retired from the Defense Department in 2003 after a military/civilian career spanning 33 years, 26 of them as a staff analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is author of many articles about US military and geopolitical affairs.
Some of his major publications:
- Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch (1985)
- The Defense Death Spiral, 8 November 2000
- Bill Moyers Interviews Chuck Spinney, 1 November 2002 –Won an Emmy as the best news magazine show of the year
- “The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War“, chapter one in The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It, ed. Winslow Wheeler (2011)
- A contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012)
Many of his articles are published at CounterPunch:
- “Incestuous Amplification and the Madness of King George“, 10 September 2008 — “Can Obama Put Down the Brie and Opt for Real Change?”
- “The Enablers: The Central Role of Faux Republicans in the Anatomy of Decline“, 10-12 August 2012 — review of Mike Lofgren’s book The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted
Other posts by Chuck Spinney at the FM website:
- The Taliban Rope-a-Dome, 19 July 2009
- Can Obama, or anyone else, outmaneuver the war advocates?, 2 October 2010
- Chuck Spinney describes the next phases of the Afghan War: defeat, retreat, & demobilization, 9 April 2012
For More Information
(a) “Misinformation and Its Correction – Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing“, Stephan Lewandowsky et al, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, December 2012
(b) Posts about America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop)
- Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, 24 February 2009
- The housing crisis allows America to look in the mirror. What do we see?, 8 March 2009
- The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
- The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
- We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009
- A great, brief analysis of problem with America’s society – a model to follow when looking at other problems, 4 June 2009
- Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
- The weak link in America’s political regime, 16 September 2009
- Attention fellow sheep: let’s open our eyes and see the walls of our pen, 16 October 2009
- America’s broken OODA loop in action: a swarming attack by ankle-biters in our intelligentsia, 26 February 2011
- Today’s geopolitical analysis. Let’s laugh while America’s wealth flows down the drain., 11 August 2011
- A look at an enemy of America, and a discussion about the execution of al-Awlaki, 13 October 2011 — Facts are less important than our tribal loyalty.
- Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011