Social Emotions
by Chetan Parikh
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In a great book, “A Crowd Of One”, the author, John Henry Clippinger, writes on the social emotions.



“ONE OF THE FIRST MODERN CHALLENGES TO CENTRALIZED MILITARY authority began-improbably with Carl von Clausewitz, the nineteenth century Prussian general, whom some military scholars consider the intellectual father of modern warfare. Clausewitz wrote extensively on the unpredictable nature of warfare, emphasizing that war was essentially nonlinear: Small, unpredictable changes could result in massive, unanticipated outcomes that he attributed to the “fog and friction of war.” Once the war begins, the battle plan often becomes obsolete, and the commander must count upon the resourcefulness of the troops to make their own judgments. This was the same argument that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made in 2003 during the Iraq War when he argued that battle plans continually change and that one of the achievements of the new U.S. force structure was its ability to revise a battle plan constantly. The press misconstrued this to mean that Rumsfeld had no battle plan at all. Although that was certainly true for what has been ironically called the “post-conflict” phase of the war, the Pentagon did have a process for making and revising war plans in the midst of the conflict. The failure was in not recognizing that domination on the battlefield is one very limited means for controlling a population or enemy and is also incomplete and contingent upon the success of other factors outside the field of battle. The Pentagon's distinction between the conflict and post-conflict phases in its planning and subsequent occupation is indicative of how deeply it has misunderstood Clausewitz’s insights about the nature of war.


However, the Pentagon has been a genuine pioneer in its attempt to flatten the chain of command. It has pursued new technology to enact its networked structure. It is constructing the $17 - billion Global Grid, a communications and sensor network that provides real-time intelligence as well as the capability for any “asset”-human or technological-to communicate and coordinate with any other asset on a global basis. The system is equivalent to a parallel, private Internet. The Afghanistan War in 2002 showed that a corporal on horseback now has the technological means and the decision rights to call in a B2 bomb attack through a satellite linkup, something unheard of six years earlier. The technological as well as the organizational challenges are daunting: How do you interconnect tens of thousands of “assets”-human and technological and decide who or what is to be trusted, who has the right to decide, who has the right to intervene and override, and how these rights should be assigned or revoked? Clausewitz had acknowledged the problem of the unpredictably of battle, but it took a century of technical innovation before the Pentagon in its doctrine of Network Centric Warfare of 2002 began to address it through the creation of a global self-organizing network. There is more than a little irony here. Here is a case of what many would consider one of the most hierarchical, authoritarian, and hidebound institutions on the surface of the planet leading the way to one of the most fundamental and profound changes in how large organizations are to be networked and peer managed and governed. However, it is by no means clear, after the disasters of the Iraq War and the disaffection of many of the senior military leadership who helped construct the transformation in the 1990s, whether these reforms will survive the highly politicized and ideological tenure of the Bush administration.


Although former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was a vocal proponent of the doctrine of Network Centric Warfare, stressing agility and deceit and the role of information in warfare, he was, nonetheless, very traditional in his understanding of the use of force to “change behaviors,” a phrase he used with some frequency. Rumsfeld had a traditional view of power: If you want to change a regime's behavior, use force. Lots of it. Many, including some within the Pentagon, see the absence of a post conflict plan as not only an enormous and altogether avoidable failing but a demonstration that Rumsfeld had only understood in a limited way the concept and opportunity presented by network-centric conflict.


Among the Bush civilian leadership of DOD, there is an unwavering conviction that force, fear, and intimidation are not only effective deterrents but are the necessary ingredients for fostering democratic behavior around certain parts of the world. Implicit in this policy are a number of unexamined assumptions about human nature. It is assumed that to shy away from the use of force is to communicate weakness, that it will only encourage further aggression. The historic example of Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to placate Nazism, rather than Winston Churchill’s defiant antagonism, is often offered as justification. Churchill, as a model, has lost little of his luster; Chamberlain never had any. But their examples are generalized out of time and context. Foreign policy options are framed as absolute moral imperatives, where the objective is the conquest of Evil by Good. Accordingly, victory requires the complete submission of the opponent. It is a position that fals to examine how different cultures and religions actually respond to threat, force, and humiliation. This perspective is axiomatic to the Bush civilian leadership of the Pentagon, but it is not shared by many of the most seasoned uniformed leadership, especially among the most respected senior leadership, such as retired Marine Corps Commandant General Anthony Zinni, one of the leaders in the transformation of the DOD.


At one of the Highlands Forum summits, a former commanding officer of a battleship eloquently expressed doubts about the efficacy of hard power in the fight against terrorism, reflecting that “there is nowhere to point your guns.” Many military leaders are thoughtful about the appropriate and changing role of the military, not least because unlike the civilian leadership, the career military leadership has a commitment to the long-term viability of the institution. Committed to the service of their country-as citizens, not just soldiers-they are cautious in asserting a military solution to highly complex problems. This reluctance has been stigmatized as a lack of courage by some of the conserving civilian DOD leadership, but that is far from the truth. One of the tenets of informed and reflective military thinking is the importance of the subordination of military goals to political ones. Clausewitz wrote:

It is of course well known that the only source of war is politics-the intercourse of governments and peoples. . . . We maintain. . . that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means.


But he did not intend his words to justify warfare as a legitimate extension of diplomacy. Instead, as Clausewitz repeats throughout On War, political outcomes-that is, the “intercourse of governments and peoples”-should be the benchmark of military success. In certain circumstances, when the destruction of one adversary creates ten more, it was obvious to Clausewitz, and the much-cited Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, as it is to many senior American commanders, that war is not the most effective means for achieving a political end. Both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu believed that the end goal of war was to break the will of the enemy to fight. Unless “victory” meant total annihilation-something neither advocated-it really entailed achieving a psychological state rather than a physical condition. Consider the conflicts in Kosovo, Palestine, the Congo, Afghanistan, So¬malia, Lebanon, and Iraq. Was "force of arms" really the most effective means-disregarding any moral concerns over loss of life-for "changing behaviors," eliminating the will to war and promoting the building of civil society? Force may be required; but how and when it is used and by whom becomes critical, and the attainment of classic combat objectives, such as temporally “securing a city,” does not necessarily translate into “political” outcomes that Clausewitz saw as the ultimate measure of military success. Although "nation building," “peacekeeping,” and policy functions have been disparaged by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, it is these components of the U.S. force structure that are most in demand.


It is vital that this be appreciated because violence itself seems to be an inescapable human component. From the time of Homeric epics to the present, cycles of violence and retaliation reflect an apparently immutable aspect of human nature. Heroes of all ages seem to be aware of the tragedy and waste of warfare, but are unable to avoid it. But perhaps they simply lacked the information and the understanding, in the same way that complex natural science was imperfectly and metaphorically understood. Now that our world contains weapons of mass destruction that in the future may become available to anyone who wants them, warfare as a means of “deterrence” seems not just questionable but collectively suicidal. In a world where an adversary can surface anywhere, anytime, and has the means to inflict enormous damage through nuclear and biological means, the classic military option increasingly seems untenable. This is especially true in asymmetric conflicts, where the “us versus them” objectification of the enemy that military engagement requires doesn’t work. Where the goal is to change people's will to use violence, as the war in Iraq demonstrates, the power of military might is never so great that it can clamp down on all aspects of opposition without destroying the very “intercourse of government and peoples” that is the ultimate objective. Instead, we have to create a circumstance and an environment in which we can explore what we have in common, not what divides us.


Going to war to resolve conflicts need not be the habitual option it has been. If warfare were the single and predominant mode of human collective behavior, it is highly unlikely that we would have evolved the way we have. Fortunately, all human beings possess highly innate abilities for social exchange, and it is this ability to trade with friend and foe that offers the greatest hope for building cooperative and noncoercive situations and institutions. No one knew it better and said it better than the eighteenth century philosopher and economist Adam Smith, writing in the book for which he is best known, The Wealth of Nations (1776):


Every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally indeed neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.



It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.


These often-cited quotations have long been held up by free market advocates to argue that the public and individual interests are best served by everyone acting in their own narrow self-interest. By this argument, it is both “rational” and natural for people to maximize their own self-interest, and in doing so they advance the public good. People can negotiate their self-interest and unleash a process where goods and resources are efficiently sourced and allocated. The market, in this interpretation, is not merely efficient: It is morally good.


But Adam Smith also argued for the limits of human self-interest. In an earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith argued that there were certain virtues and innate moral sentiments that were essential for civilized society, the rule of law, and the function of fair and free markets. In this book, individual rights are not seen as absolute. They are constrained by the individual's ability to have sympathy and constrain his behavior through “virtue.” Indeed, it was these moral sentiments that mitigated people’s other propensity to exploit one another. Human sympathy-a moral capacity to feel with “exquisite sensibility” balances the excesses of self-interest:


How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.



Smith argued that a civilized and commercially viable society depended upon the virtues of its citizens, the ability of the individual to assume what he called “self-command”:


Concerning the subject of self-command, I shall only observe further, that our admiration for the man who, under the heaviest and most unexpected misfortunes, continues to behave with fortitude and firmness, always supposes that his sensibility to those misfortunes is very great, and such as it requires a very great effort to conquer or command.


Though Smith extolled the value of reason in commercial transactions and deplored the intervention of the state as overly intrusive, such as he had observed in the highly centralized economy of France, he also acknowledged the social cost and injustice of the absence of moral sentiments and attachments. In this quotation, he seems to anticipate the social costs of too commercial a culture:


In commercial countries, where the authority of law is always perfectly sufficient to protect the meanest man in the state, the descendants of the same family, having no such motive for keeping together, naturally separate and disperse, as interest or inclination may direct. They soon cease to be of importance to one another; and, in a few generations, not only lose all care about one another, but all remembrance of their common origin, and of the connection which took place among their ancestors. Regard for remote relations becomes, in every country, less and less, according as this state of civilization has been longer and more completely established.


As a leading member of the Enlightenment, Smith separated intellect and reason from emotions and passions, regarding them as two separate spheres. In this respect he was no different than any of his contemporaries, among them David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke, Adam Ferguson, and Benjamin Franklin. Crucially, he recognized that reason and narrow self-interest were not sufficient for both commerce and civilized society. Rather, Smith understood that underlying the social and commercial order was an innate sense of right and wrong. Such sentiments underpinned laws and markets; it was not the markets that underpinned morality. A noted Smith scholar makes this point in a preface to Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments:


Smith took a completely new direction, holding that people are born with a moral sense, just as they have inborn ideas of beauty or harmony. Our conscience tells us what is right and wrong: and that is something innate, not something given us by lawmakers or by rational analysis. And to bolster it we also have a natural fellow-feeling, which Smith calls “sympathy.” Between them, these natural senses of conscience and sympathy ensure that human beings can and do live together in orderly and beneficial social organizations.



So our morality is the product of our nature, not our reason. And Smith would go on to argue that the same "invisible hand" created beneficial social patterns out of our economic actions too. The Theory of Moral Sentiments establishes a new liberalism, in which social organization is seen as the outcome of human action but not necessarily of human design. Indeed, our unplanned social order is far more complex and functional than anything we could reason out for ourselves (a point which Marxist politicians forgot, to their cost).


Since the 1990s, significant advances in evolutionary biology, brainimaging technologies, neuroscience, and cross-cultural studies have made it possible to explore with scientific insight the Enlightenment notions of human nature. For at least 300 years, emotions have been considered as irrational “passions”-something from our lower nature, something that had to be curbed and certainly not something that was intelligent. But suddenly the invisible hand of moral sentiments-to use Adam Smith's term-can be tracked and modeled. For the first time, science can help to explain what Adam Smith could only express symbolically: that rational self-interest and moral sentiments are combined in the human brain in ways that are analyzable, and predictive. Human nature, then, is not what we thought it was, any more than Clausewitz's battlefield remains befogged. We now have the technology and insight to see into both.



We can now understand how emotions and reason are interwoven in the human brain. The most recent neuroscientific research shows a strong and unequivocal conclusion that there is no such thing as “pure reason” in human activity. The dichotomy between emotion (irrational) and reason (rational) is no longer scientifically valid. Neuro-economics, for example, is beginning to demonstrate how a combination of social emotions and higher cognitive processes combine to become not just the invisible hand of markets-but other forms of human social activity.”