HUMINT: Mental Models

Seductive: tending to entice into a desired action or state.

Successful: having succeeded or being marked by a favorable outcome.

HUMINT: Survival depends on a clear conception of how the world works. You can be wrong but it always has consequences. Your personal understanding of the world and its mechanics is a model of reality. Your model transcends your personality. It transcends your nationalism. It transcends your religion. It’s true no matter what threatens the survival of your model or what threatens your reality. Understanding our history in the context of world history helps us form our models, but history alone cannot serve as sufficient mental model. At best, history is a user’s manual for society. That’s why historians tend to be extremely competent model makers. Historians can see patterns most of us can’t. But don’t embrace a historian’s version of reality casually. Just because historians can see patterns and articulate them doesn’t guarantee those patterns are real or relevant to the rest of us today. History is an interpretive enterprise. Historians aren’t priests. They don’t demand your faith so don’t give it to them. History is comprised of disconnected windows into the past; like pieces of a model that someone is going to glue together. Too often history is ignored when we’re building our mental models. What I’d like American professionals, professors, and politicians to realize is that history’s pieces will be fashioned into a model, by someone, whether we like the results or not.

If you’re expecting me to force my model on you, that’s not what this essay is about. That’s not what my writings here at human intelligence are about either. It’s a fool’s errand to force a model on anyone. By virtue of their existence, all models are seductive. Put a brick on a podium in an art gallery and you’ll see what I mean. As the pontificators gather around it, they’ll invest their own meaning in the brick. I’d like to believe the most accurate mental models are the most socially seductive, but they’re not. The most accurate models are usually the most successful, but success is not universal, therefore successful mental models tend to be unseductive when other illusory choices are offered. Ultimately, it’s not what a mental model looks like that matters. It’s what a mental model does for its subscriber. Successful Washingtonian, Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, to name a few mental architects, have a high melting point in our American melting pot, but the mental models they created for Americans are not indestructible. The work done by the Founding Fathers is being undone by a number of disingenuous members of American Authority who claim American foreign policy is an arbitrary adventure in aggression.

Any implication of arbitrary acts of aggression committed for the sake of a nation or government is enough to degrade any mental model that sustains that nation or government. In terms of Iraq and Afghanistan, empirical evidence does not support accusations that the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War were not necessary. Despite the lowest record of error and casualties in any American war ever, the daily news in America and around the world is replete with implications of misconduct. The fact is, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan are being conducted with a high degree of professionalism. Those are the facts… So, why are there implications to the contrary? Where are the implications of misconduct coming? If consensual government is a just cause, where’s the disconnect between success on the battlefield and support for our wars abroad?

I don’t know the answer. I do however know that long term peace (a highly desirable outcome of any violent conflict) fosters the idea that all aggression is arbitrary. This is a very self destructive misunderstanding of violence in the midst of a struggle for consensual government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans are ideologically and institutionally geared to fight for inalienable rights, liberty and an enduring pursuit of happiness. That’s a good thing. To be coy about that reality is a tacit acceptance of contrary mental models. Nothing could be more debilitating to the American Mental Model here at home than the belief that “conflict” and “failure” are equivalent concepts. For those that see the world through this distorted lens, are as likely to avoid decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Presumably they’re skittish of escalating conflict in the Middle East when they are doing exactly that. War without victory is a stalemate. It is a recipe for sustained conflict.

To clarify this point, let’s dissociate America’s Wars from American Sport. Non-violent competition may feel like war but each is an entirely different experience. Unlike victory, spiking a football after a touchdown may be bray. On the other hand, declaring victory after a war or the pursuit of victory during war is the only guarantor of finality. Violent engagement will only cease when one mental model supplants another in society that accepts attacks against the United States and our forces serving overseas. The mental model that remains after victory needn’t be American. It shouldn’t be. It must however peacefully accept the United States as a legitimate component of the world we live in today. If it does not, and as long as it does not, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will smolder indefinitely. Mental models do not peacefully coexist in the minds of militants. Either the United States is a legitimate nation pursuing legitimate goals around the globe or it is not. It is not bray to actively seek the elimination of dangerous ambiguities swirling around in the minds of Americans and our enemies abroad. At this important moment in history, when more and more identities are expressing their mental models in public and online (with the technology the American Market empowered them with) it is dangerous to modest.

The best of my ability, I built my model and will risk everything for it. I’m not a cognitive architect but I love my model like a mother loves her newborn. I’m still working on it but enjoy displaying it; unfinished, unpolished, with pride. My confidence comes from acknowledging my model’s limitations and my enduring attempts to articulate it. But set that aside. No matter what you may think of me or my model, think about the model you consciously or unconsciously push on the world. Is it inclusive, exclusive or divisive? How did you derive your model? Was your model a gift to you or did you earn it with blood, sweat and tears? Did you find it in your teens or are in adulthood? Was an introspective experience or some kind of group love-in? Is it sustainable? Be honest with yourself. Do you talk about or even think about your mental models? If you’re modest with your model at home or abroad, it doesn’t count. Look at the alternatives. There will always be plenty of alternatives. The most seductive models are shown often and copy themselves in the public arena. Think about it. Missionaries take their models on the road. Door to door, they sell their ideas best face to face --- with a smile!

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our world model changes as it asymptotically approaches reality. It’s very difficult to notice these changes as they overtake us. The mental model of the world we have now is our point of reference for the past, present and future. It’s not Orwellian. When your mental model of the world changes your conception of the past present and future emigrates as well. Nevertheless, we hope our model is increasingly accurate. At least the ecosystem of mental models appears to be evolving toward better precision and accuracy. It’s a trend that occurs without bias, because biased models, no matter how seductive they are, biased models always fail their subscribers. Unfortunately, I’m describing a feeling. I have no proof. I’m extrapolating because I know; no matter what models individuals subscribe to today, reality and all of our mental models of it are dynamic, no matter how wrong or right they are. Some mental models will be adopted; others will be edited to accommodate reality or abandoned in their entirety. I don’t care if you adopt my mental model or call my articulation of it bray. If you do adopt it, do it without me. I’m not trying to start a cult. If you think I’m bray, it’s a tangent worth spending a few words on --- kiss my ass! [2] I’m here to define and defend my ideas at all costs --- that applies to dinner parties and fist fights. I prefer the former to the later, but know both intimately. Defending a mental model with pleasantries does not contradict a healthy readiness to engage in violence. If anything I’ve just written is intimidating check your mental model. It’s probably biased.

That said --- During the American Revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; King George III or Thomas Jefferson? Obviously Jefferson! Right… well, that’s how it all played out didn’t it. Thank God that’s history and thank God for our British allies! --- NEXT! During the French Revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; Marie Antoinette or her pitch fork wielding, revolutionary people? With hindsight, perched high on my own mental model, I’d say both were wrong! Thank God that’s history. Thank God for our allies in France!

Let’s keep going --- During the Iranian revolution, whose mental model was more accurate; Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi or Ayatollah Khomeini? Both were wrong, but this revolutionary example is different than the American or French Revolutions. Empirical evidence suggests the Iranian Revolution isn’t over. Nothing has been settled since it occurred. It never fulfilled its purpose. We could pretend it’s over… but that would be biased. It wouldn’t explain why the Iranian Government continues to burn American flags in their streets. It wouldn’t explain why a sovereign nation like Iran is pushing the International community to the edge of smacking it with debilitating sanctions. Tehran is running a reckless nuclear program making the region more nervous than anything else occurring there. Pretending the Iranian Revolution were over wouldn’t explain the mass graves scattered across Iran. It wouldn’t explain what’s going on when student leaders and democracy advocates are tortured for their opinions, or gays hanged for being gay or feminists beaten for demanding women’s rights… The fact is, the slogans from 1979 were never realized. Victory in that revolution was suppressed and that’s precisely why turbulence continues in that country today.

Revolutions are turning points in many minds. They have influence that ripples through generations of mankind. Revolutions may be the most significant events in human history, for better or worse. Events larger than individuals like Revolution and War usually shape our mental models, even if we don’t realize they do. From my reading of history, only a few brave souls have been intelligent and brave enough to bring the world’s collective mental models closer to reality. Many of those individuals paid for their altruistic curiosity with their life. I don’t know all their names and cannot sufficiently praise them. They are the real architects of our existence today. Some names I do know and cannot be coy about. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman --- these men were architects. Their bold acts transformed into modern day gifts Americans take for granted today. Now, we look back and consider their miracles mundane. They could not have made any other choices, could they? How could we not look at them that way? It is through their design that we see the world. Their omnipresence renders Americans blind to them. No matter what we can see or what we believe exists… our current mode of survival is just one model among many that came before it. How the world really works is too complex for our minds to fully comprehend. Our beauty comes from the struggle to understand what we know we can’t fully know…

Ideally, one day, the most successful mental models will also be the most seductive… That’s not going to be easy to manifest. Get out there. Test your model. Learn something new about us and spread the word as though it were gospel!


[1] Earth’s atmosphere is protected in part by our planet’s magnetic field. The Earth’s auroras are incredibly beautiful. This image shows a solar flare to be deflected by our magnet field. We perceive such events when we see the aurora.

[2] If I come across as aggressive, you don’t know what aggressive is. There are diverse peoples in the world with bad ideas and guns to back those ideas up. They want to kill Americans. If you can’t look them in the eye and express your mental model, you definitely won’t be able to deescalate the situation. In the heat of a fight, you won’t be able to kill them before they kill you. You won’t even know when violence is about to happen. In fact, if you never express your mental model as an sign of modesty, you’ll make violence inevitable.

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