Across the Central Asian Steppes live a group of peoples who believe that the sun is chased from horizon to horizon each day by a sky-blue wolf. They believe that the night is caused by the wolf catching and devouring it before the cycle begins again the next day.
Of course, being resident in a particular piece of geography does not make one more credulous than anyone else, and it’s pretty clear that they don’t believe this literally and against all the evidence of science. What’s also clear though, is that this belief co-exists simultaneously with contemporary understandings of the physical realities of the cosmos.
This (to us) mind-bending understanding of the nature of reality might seem like no more than an exotic curiosity, until we realise that where these people live – with their re-conditioned Soviet military bikes, Mongolian ponies, and grab bag of flintlock muskets and Kalashnikovs – straddles one of the more strategically important sources of energy discovered in the past fifty years.
This, not to mention their reputation for bellicosity, makes understanding these peoples of the steppe – what they want, and how to influence them – vitally important for anyone wishing to buy and sell energy leases, negotiate rights of way, and keep their staff and operatives safe. And it’s near impossible to understand a people without also having some understanding of how they see the world.
This is an extreme example, but the basic principle has obvious relevance to ADF operations and exercises. Both within and beyond the Anglophone world, cultures which are not our own have similarly alien frames of reference. A simple and more common example is the attribution of gender to everyday objects, which happens in many European languages but not in English. There is an impressive body of research on how this linguistic difference has measurable effects in rendering the affective or emotional reality-scape of individuals across different languages.
Given this, there is a definite limitation to what our machines – the 'manu' of the manu/mente dichotomy – can achieve unaided by the 'mente' of human understanding. An effective influence operator needs a good understanding of ethnography, sense-making, hermeneutics, and other arts-related disciplines if they are to effectively manoeuvre within an alien information environment.
This is essential for creating valid audience analysis frameworks for targeting populations outside our known cultural complexes. It is essential for constructing models for the measurement of the effect of our influence efforts, and for understanding their responses at all. It is essential for creating the dissemination plans we task the creators – both human and non-human – with fulfilling.
There is a danger in headlong pursuit of technological solutions, which I have written about before in the article Metacognitive Dragons. The danger is that we may end up with many 'hands' or tools without having properly thought through how they might be used.
In light of this, I intend to write a series of articles laying out how we at the Training Adversary System Support Cell (TASSC) have attempted to marry 'soft' – or arts-based understandings of adversary and ally ethnography – with the development of DATE adversaries, and with the technologies and sciences of information warfare; as we try to ensure that our technological hands are most effectively orchestrated by our minds.